Judge picks fight with ex-mobster; history of conflict with wife


Click for complete guardianship coveragePalm Beach County Circuit Judge Martin Colin is no stranger to accusations of conflict of interest or controversy in his decade on the bench.

The state Judicial Qualifications Commission received complaints about Colin in 2008, claiming he was favoring divorce attorneys from the powerhouse law firm of Weiss Handler Angelos & Cornwell, who represented Elizabeth Savitt. She and Colin were married in 2008.

The judge, first elected in 2004, was transferred around 2009 from the family to the probate and division, where Savitt became a professional guardian for incapacitated adults two years later. Her entry into the lucrative world of professional guardians created a whole new set of potential conflicts.

In 2008, the judge picked a fight with former mobster Lewis Kasman.

Colin jailed Kasman, the adopted son of Mafia boss John Gotti Sr., for about a week in February 2008 for failure to pay his ex-wife child support. It was later determined the judge acted without a proper order in jailing Kasman, who claimed it was done as a favor for his wife’s attorney, Carol Kartagener from Weiss Handler.

Kasman and two other men in cases in front of Colin filed complaints with the JQC that the judge favored attorneys who had represented Savitt, including those at Weiss Handler.

The JQC in March 2011 informed Kasman that it had considered his complaints “and has taken appropriate action on the same.”

In a paternity case in 2007 involving one of Savitt’s divorce attorneys, the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered Colin off the case and told him that disclosing his conflict with the attorneys on the other side “would have been prudent.” Savitt was the judge’s girlfriend at the time, but the court found no difference between a wife and a girlfriend, saying there was still an “appearance of bias or prejudice.”

In May 2008, Colin produced a letter instructing four attorneys — Henry Handler, Jonathan Root, John F. Schutz and Christopher Jette — to disclose the conflict, again putting the onus on the lawyers.

Controversy has followed Colin and Savitt since they started dating during Colin’s days as her divorce attorney. In 2001, Colin moved into Savitt’s Delray Beach home while he was representing her in her divorce.

The ex-husband, former restaurateur Jay Gordon, filed a complaint against Colin with the Florida Bar, but the matter was dropped in 2004 when Colin became a judge because the Bar doesn’t handle complaints about judges.

Child custody issues were argued in front of Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath. At a 2004 hearing where Colin served as the main witness and Savitt’s attorney Root acted as prosecutor, Colbath sentenced Gordon to 30 days in jail for violating a restraining order to avoid contact with his ex-wife. The conviction was overturned on appeal.

“There is a great difference between an ‘appointed’ prosecutor who develops facts to support a finding and one who misuses the appointment for injustice and oppression. The record in this case contains facts which support the latter conclusion,” the 4th DCA wrote in a 2007 opinion.

Colbath would eventually state that Colin sought to use the court system to “bully and intimidate” Gordon.

“As a result of this relationship with Ms. Savitt, Mr. Colin may have lost his objectivity and is not problem solving but is exacerbating the post-judgment conflicts between these parties,” Colbath wrote.

Colin asked for Judge Colbath’s remarks to be stricken from the record. Colbath refused.

Colbath is now chief judge of Palm Beach County.

Colin made headlines again in 2005 when he was investigated on allegations of battery on a child, accused of holding his future stepson underwater in a pool after the 12-year-old sassed him. Although Delray Beach police filed a probable cause affidavit, neither Palm Beach nor Broward prosecutors filed charges. The judge remained on the bench during the investigation.

In 2006, attorney Bill Abramson made public Colin’s driving record. The judge had averaged a speeding ticket every 18 months since 1994. Colin had failed to turn in his not guilty plea and paperwork, which caused his driver’s license to be suspended for two weeks.

Three years later, the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office asked Colin and Savitt why they were both claiming a $50,000 homestead exemption on their Atlantis and Delray Beach homes. The issue was complicated by a foreclosure proceeding on Colin’s home.

The probate judge, who presides over financial matters, said the couple were living at both homes at the time and said he didn’t know claiming homestead on both residences was prohibited.


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