Hon. Paul T. Suzuki (Ret.)

Profile

PROBATE, ESTATES & TRUSTS EXPERTISE

  • Probate of Estate Contests
  • Trust Contests
  • Undue Influence and Elder Abuse
  • Spousal Petition Contests
  • Conservatorships
  • Guardianships

EDUCATION

  • J.D., University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law   1974
  • B.A. in Public Service, University of California, Los Angeles   1971

JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE

Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge   2010-2022
Judge Suzuki served as a Judge of the Superior Court for 12 years. He was last assigned to Long Cause Probate Trials in Department 3 at Stanley Mosk Courthouse, handling complex probate trials lasting five or more days.

Judge Suzuki has extensive experience presiding over trials involving various petitions for will contests, trust disputes, interpretation of testamentary documents, breach of fiduciary duty, removal of estate representative and/or trustee, appointment of private professional fiduciaries, accounting and surcharges, reformation of trusts, determination of heirs and beneficiaries, Probate 850 petitions, mental capacity issues, undue influence claims, financial elder abuse, restraining orders, conservatorship of persons and/or estates, guardianships, real property claims, enforcement of settlement agreements, spousal petitions, and court-ordered related civil disputes of quiet title, unlawful detainer, fraud, etc. to be tried with probate cases.

During his tenure, Judge Suzuki also served on court committees for Superior Court Commissioner Selection, Arbitration/Alternative Dispute Resolution, Bench and Bar, Diversity, Community Outreach, Security, Traffic, and Litigation.

Los Angeles Superior Court, Commissioner   2006-2010
Judge Suzuki began his judicial career as a Superior Court Commissioner, handling misdemeanor criminal jury trials and issuing emergency protective orders for domestic violence.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

Law Offices of Suzuki & Ito  1978-2005
Prior to his appointment to the bench, Judge Suzuki served as Managing Partner of a boutique law firm and maintained a general civil litigation practice, representing private individual, business, and institutional clients primarily in the areas of business, real property, real estate broker litigation, and plaintiff and defense personal injury litigation. In addition, he represented public sector clients such as the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, Resolution Trust Corporation, Community Redevelopment Agency, Los Angeles Unified School District, and served on a Los Angeles City conflict panel involving Los Angeles police officers. Judge Suzuki has conducted numerous jury and non-jury trials and has argued successfully twice before the California Supreme Court.

Legal Aid Foundations of Long Beach and Riverside  1975-1978
Upon obtaining his J.D. from UCLA School of Law, Judge Suzuki began his legal career working as a poverty law lawyer, providing legal services to indigent persons.

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES

Asian Business Association  1984-2000
Judge Suzuki is a native of Los Angeles, having been born in East Los Angeles and raised in South Central Los Angeles. During World War II, his parents were incarcerated in an internment camp in Wyoming. After leaving the camp, the family moved back to Los Angeles and opened a dry cleaner business in South Central, which also served as the family home. After opening his own law firm, Judge Suzuki joined the Asian Business Association in 1984 and was a member of the Board of Directors for 13 years, serving as President in 1992 and Chairperson of the Corporate Advisory Committee in 1993. The Asian Business Association worked with major public corporations and government entities to create strategic business relationships for Asian-owned businesses throughout Southern California.

During the Los Angeles Civil Unrest of 1992, Judge Suzuki worked tirelessly to organize forums between the Black Business Association and Asian Business Association, known as Unity Meetings, to improve relations between the two ethnic business communities. The annual Unity Forum eventually expanded to include the Latin Business Association and women business owners groups.

Federal Judicial Advisory Committee  1997-1999
Member of 10-person U.S. State Senator Committee to assist in selecting Federal District Court Judges.

City of Los Angeles, Salary Review Commission  1982
Appointed by Chairperson of the Los Angeles City Council to review and make recommendations regarding the salary of the Mayor of Los Angeles, City Council, and City Attorney.

Optimist International, Secretary  1979-1981

Boy Scouts, Troop 764, Assistant Scout Master

HONORS AND AWARDS

  • Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Volunteer Award   2003
  • Letter of Appreciation from Senator Barbara Boxer for service on Federal Judicial Appointment Committee   1999
  • Who’s Who, Honored Professional in Executives and Business   1998
  • Asian Business Association, Member of the Year   1995
  • Various Certificates of Appreciation and Recognition for community work done during the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, from Senator Barbara Boxer; U.S. Congresspersons Howard Berman, Lucile Roybal-Allard, Maxine Waters, Estaban Torres, Walter Tucker III; State Treasurer Matt Fong; Los Angeles County Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Gloria Molina, Yvonne Burke, Zev Yarslavsky, Deane Dana; Los Angeles City Council Members Mark Ridley Thomas, Rita Walters, Jackie Goldberg, Mike Hernandez, Richard Alarcon; Office of City Attorney James Hahn; Torrance City Councilperson George Nakano; State Assemblymembers Willie Brown, Speaker of Assembly; Antonio Villaraigosa, Sheila Kuhl, Louis Caldera, Barbara Friedman, Phil Hawkins, Grace Napolitano, Paula Boland, Diane Martinez, Wally Knox; and State Senators Don Rodgers, Hirshel Rosenthal, Richard Polanco, Robert Beverly, Hilda Solis, Tom Hayden, Dick Mountjoy, and Ralph Dills.   1995
  • Los Angeles Business Journal, Tribute to Los Angeles Top Business Leaders, Certificate of Appreciation   1993
  • Asian Business Association, Outstanding Leadership Award   1992

PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS AND ORGANIZATIONS

Judge Suzuki was a member of the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Association from 1982 to 1986, and was a member of the Southern California Defense Attorneys Association from 1988 to 1993. In addition, he was a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association from 1984 to 2006. He was a Licensed California Real Estate Broker (1980).

Representative Cases

PROBATE OF ESTATE CONTESTS

  • Decedent’s significant other files petition for probate of a Will naming her as sole beneficiary. Son opposed her petition and claims it was a forgery. Expert handwriting witnesses were called by both sides. Petitioner asserted that son was estranged from his father and had no contact with him for years. His father had established a long term relationship with the petitioner and they lived in house together.
  • Private fiduciary filed a petition for probate of a Will. The primary beneficiary of the multimillion dollar estate was a non-profit corporation which would have housed and displayed her art collection. If her non-profit corporation was found to be invalid, the contingent beneficiary was a private University. The son who was not named in the Will as a beneficiary, alleged that his eccentric artist mother created multiple estate documents that were inconsistent with each other and unenforceable. University claimed that the first trust was revocable and her amendments to the trust naming the non-profit and the University as contingent beneficiary were valid. However, the University alleged that the non-profit corporation was not validly formed or maintained. Son also asserted that his mother’s first trust was made irrevocable and that her amended trust naming the non-profit corporation and the University as a contingent beneficiary was not enforceable.
  • Son filed a petition for probate of his mother’s estate. There were multiple real properties. Only one of the properties was being contested. Mother’s original Will was drafted by an attorney. The single property being disputed was formally owned by mother’s deceased son. The deceased son was an attorney involved in a nationally well known criminal case. Mother obtained the subject property through the probate of her deceased son. Mother created a new holographic Will and bequeathed the property to her decedent son’s ex significant other who took care of her son and had an ongoing relationship. Surviving son claimed undue influence by brother’s significant other regarding the mother’s holographic Will. Son asserted that probate proceedings had already commenced and that it was too late to contest the original Will of the mother which had a different disposition of the subject property.
  • Petitioner filed a Florida probate and an ancillary Probate 850 action in California. Petitioner claimed that his father’s California business property was his. Petitioner claimed he and his father operated a business wherein his father sold the business real property to him. Petitioner claimed in exchange for refinancing the father’s property based upon the son’s credit, father agreed to sell the property to him for the remaining debt on the property. Father’s note was becoming due and the bank refused to extend any further credit to the father. Decedent’s daughters claimed that the father did not agree to sell the property to his son, and that his son was simply helping his dad with the refinance. Daughter’s claimed that their brother got a sweetheart lease from his father wherein the brother subleased and profited from and that there was no real sale to their brother.
  • Brother filed petition to remove sister as administrator alleging breach of fiduciary duty, waste, misappropriation of estate funds, mismanagement involving multiple real properties, and surcharge for damages to the estate and attorneys fees.
  • Will Contest. Decedent was an attorney and CPA. He was single and left no relatives except his cousins. Decedent’s Will was discovered in the refrigerator. Cousins filed a Will contest against decedent’s friend who was one of the primary beneficiaries of the Will. Cousins claimed that the Will was forged, lacked proper execution, and friend should be disqualified as transferee. Expert handwriting witnesses were called by both sides along with witnesses to the Will and decedent’s relatives and friends.
  • Attack on former Probate distribution order. Petitioner collaterally attacked a former probate order disposing of a real property. Petitioner claimed that the decedent named on the former probate petition, never existed. Petitioner claimed that the real decedent was a real estate broker and engaged in questionable acquisition of properties placing ambiguous names on properties. Petitioner alleged that the real estate broker’s alleged spouse was a fraud as there was no valid marriage. As the previous probate distribution order was fraudulently obtained and there was no death of the person named on the petition, Petitioner asserted the court lacked jurisdiction and accordingly, the distribution order was void ab initio. The petitioner asserted that he was in possession of the real property and entitled to it through adverse possession.

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TRUST CONTESTS

  • A son of a well known philanthropic billionaire family had a trust drafted regarding the distribution of his estate. A dispute regarding the interpretation of a trust arose between the step-children and the natural children of the family. The court was required to resolve the alleged ambiguity in the trust.
  • Brother vs. sister litigation involving multimillion dollar estate with over a dozen law firms involved. Issues were bifurcated leading to multiple trials. No Contest trial, removal and surcharge trial, discovery motions involving attorney client privilege of ousted trustee, Charitable Remainder Trust (CRAT), approval of settlement of some of the bifurcated matters, a plethora of motions in Limine, etc. Pending multiple legal malpractice trials trailed.
  • A wealthy businessman entered into a trust with a nationally known radio talk show hostess. Upon her death, a dispute arose between the businessman and his adult step-children. A written settlement agreement was entered into but allegedly deficient as to its execution. A trial was held to determine whether the settlement agreement was enforceable. Issues were whether the applicability of CCP 664.6 or alternate method of enforcing the settlement agreement was operable. Also, whether there was a valid contractual settlement and the mental competency of the businessman in entering into the settlement.
  • Decedent had ten children - five children from his first marriage and five children from his second marriage. A dispute arose between the ten children as to which set of children would get the original business property acquired by the decedent. There were a total of six properties. The litigation was over the first property. Multiple petitions were filed by both groups of children which included petitions to remove the co-trustees, petition to determine title to real property and adverse possession, promissory estoppel, petition to construe the trust, cross petitions for probate, and a Will contest.
  • A son filed a civil action for damages based upon fraud, conversion, and negligence against the trustees of the trust. The co-trustees of the trust were his mother and his brother. The trust was set up by plaintiff’s grandmother. The grandmother left most of her estate to her daughter and to one of two grandsons. The ousted grandson alleged that the trustees failed to pay him the specific gift of $75,000 pursuant to the terms of his grandmother’s trust. The trustees took the position that paying the plaintiff son would disqualify him from lifetime disability benefits. The trustees offered to pay the $75,000 but the son sought punitive damages, interest and attorneys fees under Probate Code Section 859 and other civil causes of action.
  • Husband and wife created a A/B Trust. Both spouses passed away. Based upon a bifurcated decision, it was ordered that the B Trust had become irrevocable upon wife’s death. The survivor’s husband’s trust was tried in the second phase. Grandson contested his grandfather’s amendment to the trust which gave his share to his remaining children. Grandson alleged that grandfather’s original survivor’s trust included him as a beneficiary and that he was treated as one of his children. Grandson filed a petition to invalidate the amendment (PC 15610.70), financial elder abuse (W+I 15640.30, Civil Code 3294), remove the trustee to the survivor’s trust, deem his children to have predeceased the grandfather pursuant to PC 259, and compel return of the property per PC 850.
  • Husband and wife entered into a settlement agreement over the terms of a trust. The trust contained multiple businesses and real property interests. Subsequently, wife filed a petition to remove the trustee on grounds of breach of fiduciary duty and mismanagement of the trust property.
  • Grandson filed petition to invalidate an amendment to his grandmother’s trust on grounds of competency and undue influence. Daughter opposed. Issue of late discovery and untimely amended designation of further trial experts were in issue in the trial.
  • Brother vs Brother. Petitioner filed a petition against his brother asserting that he unduly influenced his parents in amending the trust to give the residence exclusively to only one of three brothers. The sole beneficiary brother had lived with his parents and took care of them for years. The third brother supported the parents’ amendments even though he was also excluded. Issues of validity of original and amended trust, irrevocability, validity of grant deed, and the defense the statute of limitations were involved.
  • Brother vs Brother and Sister. Brother petitioned to remove his brother and sister as trustees for breach of fiduciary duty and waste and to appoint a neutral Professional Private Fiduciary.
  • Petition for accounting and removal and surcharge against trustee by three siblings against two co-trustee siblings.
  • Trustee brings unlawful detainer, petition to recover possession of real property, writ of possession against family member who asserts that she is not a tenant and entitled to ownership of the property.

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UNDUE INFLUENCE AND ELDER ABUSE

  • Conservator son filed Probate Code 850 petition and for quiet title of real property. Son claims that his mother was unduly influenced to quit claim her residence to an unrelated person who befriended her and whom she met at a gym. The property was being listed for sale. Son filed a lis pendens on the property to stop the sale. Son asserted the presumptions of undue influence under the Probate Code Section 21380 and asserted the Welfare and Institution’s Code 15610.70 definition factors of undue influence. Mother’s friend claimed that son was estranged from his mother and that mother transferred the property to her on a promise that she would take care of the mother.
  • Temporary conservator filed a Probate Code 850 petition against a caretaker who married the conservatee in his 90s. There was a 40 year difference in age. Caretaker met the elderly man and married within six months. Respondent took over $900,000 in savings and refused to turn over the money to the elderly man. Former caretaker asserted that they were in love. Temporary conservator alleged additional legal theories of monetary recovery under the Welfare and Institutions and Civil Code for Financial Elder Abuse.

SPOUSAL PETITON CONTESTS

  • Spousal petition. A person claimed she was the legitimate spouse of the decedent and claimed community property rights to certain real properties. Decedent was a wealthy businessman who was also married to a very successful woman who owned an internationally known cosmetics company. Opposing beneficiaries claimed that petitioner was not the wife as decedent never divorced his first wife. A determination of whether decedent had legitimately divorced his first wife in a foreign country was in issue. Experts were called in from both sides to testify to the legitimacy of the foreign divorce decree. Further evidence indicated that decedent had married multiple women that were not part of the litigation.

CONSERVATORSHIPS

  • Three daughters filed separate petitions of conservatorship of person and estate over their severely disabled elderly mother. Mother’s estate was worth $25 million. Daughters claimed undue influence and financial abuse. After a neutral private fiduciary was appointed as temporary conservator, one daughter asserted allegations of elder abuse against the temporary conservator. The daughters disputed each other’s petitions and their positions changed as their alliances with each other shifted. Issues in trial were accounting, surcharge, undue influence, elder abuse and attorney fees.
  • Son filed petition for temporary and permanent conservatorship over his mother. Mother disputed son’s petition indicating that she needed no conservatorship of her person or estate. Daughter joined in the opposition to son’s petition. There were competing power of attorneys from both siblings. Disputes arose over visitation, health care provider and medical care plans for mother. Competency, least restrictive alternative and custom tailored powers were at issue. Expert medical testimony was received from several doctors along with several expert care provider witnesses.
  • Son filed petition of conservatorship over father. Father and his second son opposed the petition. Issues arose as to competency, the necessity of the conservatorship, burden of proof which would support a conservatorship, what the least restrictive alternative would be to the appointment of a conservator, visitation and attorney fees.

GUARDIANSHIPS

  • Father vs. foster parents. Mother gave up her child to be fostered by a couple who wanted to adopt a young child. Mother asserted that the father was irresponsible and abandoned the child. Foster parents had the child for two years. Child was age 3. Father claimed that he got no notice of the guardianship petition. Mother and court-appointed minor’s counsel supported the guardianship.
  • Grandmother secured temporary guardianship over grandchild. Grandmother dies. Grandfather petitions for guardianship of grandchild alleging that his daughter abandoned and neglected the child for years and that grandparents were the care providers of the child for years in daughter’s absence. Daughter now says that she is stable and capable of caring for her child and has remarried.
  • Multi-family members filed cross-petitions for guardianship of child. Mother gave up the child and three separate petitions were filed by grandparents, aunt, and caretaker of child who mother permitted to informally have physical custody of the child. Minor’s counsel was appointed and a trial of all three petitions was consolidated.