Judge Avoided Jail but Loses Job after Stealing $1 Million from Elderly Neighbor

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Judge Paul Seeman

Former Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul D. Seeman, who found out in August that he wouldn’t go to jail for stealing the life savings of his elderly widowed neighbor, found out Monday that he can’t be a judge in California.

The California Commission on Judicial Performance leveled its harshest penalty: “The severe sanction of a public censure and bar is necessary for the protection of the public and the reputation of the judiciary.”

But it may take a bit more than a public rebuke and exclusion from serving on the bench—he had already surrendered his law license—to restore the “reputation of the judiciary” in this case.     

Seeman was an attorney specializing in juvenile law in 1998 when he became entwined with his Berkeley neighbors, Anne and Lee Nutting. He offered them his assistance after firefighters responded to a fall by Lee Nutting and found an unlivable packrat house. The couple was moved to a nearby hotel and Seeman began to take over their legal and financial affairs.

The lawyer obtained a “durable power of attorney” from the court within a year after claiming to have found over $1 million in stock certificates and uncashed checks in their home. It was the year Lee Nutting died. Over the next decade, according to police accounts, Seeman put his name on Nutting bank accounts as joint tenant and “transferee on death” on investment accounts.

The lawyer sold off some assets that reportedly didn’t show up in probate documents and in 2004, the year he became a county commissioner, he borrowed $250,000 at 3% interest from Anne Nutting, who was around 91 years old. Investigators said she sold part of her art collection to make the loan. He was said to have made only eight of the monthly payments.

Seeman became a judge in 2009 and a year later Nutting’s attorney raised an embezzlement complaint with the authorities. The judge returned the $250,000 but his troubles continued.

Police arrested Seeman in June of this year and he was charged with 32 felonies. Prosecutors also alleged he failed to include 40 property investments worth $1.4 million in mandatory judicial financial reports. A deal with prosecutors was struck in August and Seeman pleaded no contest to one count each of elder abuse and perjury.  

The former judge will not go to prison.

Seeman will be on probation for five years, won’t be allowed to hold other people’s financial possessions in his name and can no longer act as a financial aide to elderly people. He had to return a total of $300,000, but Oakland Tribune reporter Paul T. Rosynsky wondered what happened to the more than $1 million Seeman was originally accused of stealing.

A statement from Alameda District Attorney Nancy O'Malley attests to the severity of the penalties. “He will never serve in a position of trust or authority again,” she said in a statement that mirrored the sentiments later to come from the Commission on Judicial Performance. “He has paid for his financial abuse of the elderly victim who has since passed away.”

“Paul Seeman is not a free man,” she said.

But, of course, he is. Anne Netting died in 2010 at the age of 97.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Former Judge Who Stole from Elderly Neighbor Barred from Ever Working for Judicial Branch (by  Thomas Peele, San Jose Mercury News)

Former Alameda County Judge Accused of Elder Abuse Avoids Prison with Lenient Plea Deal (by Paul T. Rosynsky, Oakland Tribune)

Alameda County Judge Charged with Elder Theft (by Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle)

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