[UPDATED] County CEO Seeks Overhaul, Oversight of Public Administrator/Public Guardian John Williams

UPDATE, FEB. 23, 2:58 P.M.:

The Orange County Board of Supervisors will begin the process Tuesday to strip the county's slimy Public Administrator/Public Guardian

John Williams

of his public-guardian duties and appoint a successor.

The board previously accepted county CEO Thomas G. Mauk's recommendation to appoint a manager to oversee Williams' battered agency. Now Mauk wants that new official to take over the role of the public guardian, who takes care of the finances of the ill or elderly who have no one else to watch over them.

Orange County Register reporter Kimberly Edds, who has been all over the Williams scandal, reports today supervisors will begin discussing the proposed takeover March 1, possibly hold a final vote on the matter March 15 and, if the change is adopted, have a new public guardian in place April 14.

UPDATE, FEB. 14, 3:06 P.M.:
Orange County's Public Administrator/Public Guardian John Williams was negligent in his handling of the multimillion-dollar estate of Charles "Mask" Lewis Jr., heirs of the late TapouT co-founder allege in a complaint filed with the county of Orange. Such complaints are generally the first step before filing civil lawsuits.

Lewis' two children have unintended allies on their side if it comes to that: County CEO Thomas G. Mauk, who earlier this month cited Williams' mishandling of Lewis' estate as a reason to implement reforms of the Public Administrator/Public Guardian's office, and the Board of Supervisors, which approved the sweeping changes that included appointing an overseer of the troubled agency.

Besides accusing Williams in the complaint of gutting and depleting the Lewis estate, Diane Larson, the mother of Mask's children, is seeking to have a court outside Orange County resolve a dispute over more than $190,000 in fees rung up by supposed fiscal-conservative Williams, county lawyers and others. She took control of the estate following the 4th District Court of Appeal ruling discussed below.

How bad is Williams with money? As Edds reports, he still owes himself $125,000 for his most recent campaign for the office that is quickly slipping out of his fingers.

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 3, 11:37 A.M.: Shadiness at Orange County's Public Administrator/Public Guardian office overseen by John Williams has prompted the county CEO to call for policy and personnel changes and--most damning of all--the appointment of an executive manager to oversee operations.

The call for a major overhaul and oversight of the office that serves dual purposes--settling the estates of those who die without having left wills and managing the affairs of the ill or elderly who have no one else to care for them--comes in the wake of damning investigative reporting by The Orange County Register.

The most recent was reporter Kimberly Edds' damning, extensively researched story on Williams having quickly taken over the $15 million fortune of TapouT co-founder Charles "Mask" Lewis Jr., who was killed in a May 2009 late-night collision blamed on a drunken driver in Newport Beach.

Lewis left behind no will, but he did leave behind two children who would be the apparent heirs to the mixed-martial-arts mogul's estate. But Diane Larson, the children's mother, discovered Williams convinced the Orange County Probate Court to award the estate to him after arguing it was "large, complex" and that he was better suited to oversee it.

"The public administrator is forcing itself into this estate where it is neither needed nor wanted," Larson's attorney, Adam Streltzer, complained in court filings. The 4th District Court of Appeal agreed--accusing Williams of overreaching his authority and chastising the probate judge for abusing his discretion, Edds reported.

The estate was handed back to Larson, but by then, astute businessman Williams had sold TapouT to other shareholders for pennies on the dollar, sold Lewis' Bentley and Mercedes-Benz for $58,000 less than their appraised values, and paid $45,000 to Lewis' former business partners for funeral expenses they promised to provide for free.

Williams chose not to comment to the Register, although his attorney insisted Larson had no legal priority to act as administrator because she did not personally inherit from the estate and that his client had a "legal duty" to take it over.

But allegations like those in the Mask case have dogged Williams for years.

Thomas G. Mauk wants changes.

Families of the elderly and deceased have repeatedly accused him of swooping in to take control of huge fortunes. Critics claim this has been done to essentially keep the Public Administrator/Public Guardian office's lights on. It's a self-fulfilling shakedown, they charge.

These allegations have generated much heat; besides the damning descriptions in the court ruling, back-to-back grand-jury reports have tee'd off on Williams and his office. He has already narrowly escaped having his powers stripped by the county Board of Supervisors.

Edds reports today that one thing county CEO Thomas G. Mauk has recommended is the elimination of a quirk of county government that has voters elect the public administrator and the supervisors appoint the public guardian--who are the same person operating out of the same office. Mauk would eventually like those duties split into two offices with separate administrators.

For now, Mauk seeks a manager to oversee Williams. Three of the five county supervisors must buy in, and there is the rub: The Republican-dominated board clinks glasses with powerful GOP allies of Williams. These include District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' fiance, Peggi Buff, who is a high-ranking official in Williams' office, and OC GOP chairman emeritus Tom Fuentes, who served alongside Williams for several years on the South Orange County Community College Board of Trustees. Fuentes is still there; Williams resigned in December due to "family obligations."

With the yin of court losses, serious allegations and investigative reporting and yang of entrenched Orange County politics, it will be interesting to see if Williams can survive one more time. Of course, the more things stay the same, the more they never change here.


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