It started with a Craigslist ad, a “mini-estate sale” at the address of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Martin Colin.
The Palm Beach Post knew the judge’s wife was a guardian and that guardians sometimes liquidate seniors’ assets, including their belongings. So Post investigative reporter John Pacenti started looking into Elizabeth Savitt’s cases and talked to families who accused her of double-billing and taking fees without prior court approval.
The story touched on a subject of national interest. Families nationwide were telling stories of guardians and their attorneys siphoning off the savings of seniors. In April, investigative reporter John Pacenti put a local face on the issue with stories on the annulment of a senior’s marriage and the seizing of property.
Pacenti, 49, a reporter for 30 years, dug into cases involving the judge’s wife, sifting through thousands of court documents. While case dockets are available online, specific court documents could be viewed only at the courthouse and others are sealed.
Pacenti and senior investigative team editor Holly Baltz tracked Savitt’s actions and her ties to attorneys who appeared before her husband.
Data reporter Mike Stucka sorted through thousands of court records to zero in on Colin’s recusals since he became a judge and found the judge started recusing himself en masse from cases involving Savitt’s attorneys once the Post started asking questions.
Post researcher Melanie Mena tracked Colin’s and Savitt’s finances in the public record, reviewing several liens and foreclosures, as well as debts owed to the judge’s former legal clients.
Pacenti interviewed dozens of family members, sorting through their versions of events documented in court records. He talked to guardianship advocates and reformers, legal experts, two former Florida Supreme Court justices, lawyers and other judges. In several interviews spanning hours, he spoke with Judge Colin himself.
He invited Savitt’s attorneys to respond to questions and spoke with many, but they were limited on what they could say on the record.
He exchanged several emails with Savitt. As far as the sale in the Craigslist ad and an accusation brought up later in court that it may have been a senior’s items, she said, “There was no proof presented.”