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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (January 19, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---Fewer than three weeks after being sworn into office, High Court Chief Justice William H. Sullivan has resigned his post.

The judge was expected to leave the islands Wednesday this week, after giving notice to the government in a one-sentence letter that announced his "retirement," according to government officials.

Government officials indicated that information brought to light after Sullivan’s hiring confirmed that a complaint against the former Riverside, California judge was pending with the Commission on Judicial Performance relative to Sullivan’s oversight of a company that was a "conservator" for several hundred elderly people. This company, West Coast Conservatorships, since late 1999 have been the subject of investigations over a scandal involving tens of thousands of dollars stolen from elderly clients of the company.

A detailed article in the magazine California Lawyer in January 2000 exposed the scandal and painted a picture of Judge Sullivan, who retired in late 1999, as being less than diligent in protecting the interests of the elderly whose money and assets were being stolen.

It reported on a detailed private investigation, which uncovered the scam, and also reported that Sullivan had bought a house from an elderly man who was under a conservatorship over which Sullivan presided. "It’s an obvious conflict of interest and a violation of the Probate Code for a judge to buy real estate from a conservatorship he’s overseeing," said investigator Barbara Jagiello in the California Lawyer article.

RMI officials said that after this new information was brought to light early last week, it became clear that Sullivan would not pass the required Nitijela confirmation process. One official credited attorney David Lowe, Kwajalein Senator Imata Kabua’s legal counsel, with bringing the matter to the attention of RMI officials.

The Judicial Service Commission queried the California Bar Association about Sullivan before making the recommendation to Cabinet to hire him, and was told his record was clear, according to government officials. They indicated that because of the confidentiality attached to the Commission on Judicial Performance, the fact that there was a complaint pending before the Commission was not provided by the California Bar when the RMI originally sought information about Sullivan. It was only after RMI officials had hired Sullivan and then specifically asked about the complaint that California legal officials confirmed that a complaint was in fact pending -- but provided no additional information.

With Sullivan’s departure, the High Court returns to its one-judge status. Individuals on the previous "short list" for the Chief Justice’s position are now being pursued as possible replacement candidates for Sullivan.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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