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Schaefer estate hit with $28K claim

A frequent political candidate and disbarred lawyer who claims he had a 25-year friendship with William Donald Schaefer has filed a $28,000 claim against the late governor’s estate.

J. Michael Schaefer, who is not related to the governor, alleges he took Schaefer out for meals and civic appearances three times a week beginning in September 2006 through the former governor’s death in April. The claim, filed with the Baltimore County Register of Wills on Tuesday, seeks $500 per month for what Mike Schaefer described as being a part-time caregiver for the governor.

The claim should have been $1,000 a month, Mike Schaefer wrote, but was “reduced 50% to a modest amount consistent with the modest demeanor of decedent, an amount he would have readily embraced if he had had access to any of his financial resources.”

In an interview Wednesday, Mike Schaefer said he “asked for a discount so we don’t have to go to trial.”

He said he almost always paid when he and the governor went out and incurred other expenses as well, such as buying copies of Schaefer’s biography for the governor to give as gifts. He alleges the governor told him in September 2006 that he wanted to negotiate a payment plan. But the plan never materialized and he was left out of Schaefer’s will, which was last amended in 2009.

Mike Schaefer blames that omission on the governor’s longtime aide and chief beneficiary of the will.

“I was shunned away completely by Lainy LeBow-Sachs,” he said Wednesday. “The governor was never consulted. He was really a prisoner.”

LeBow-Sachs is co-personal representative of Gov. Schaefer’s estate, along with his longtime attorney, Zelig Robinson, counsel to Thomas & Libowitz P.A. in Baltimore.

LeBow-Sachs did not return a phone call seeking comment. A call to Robinson was directed to a colleague, Charles B. Jones, who said he represents LeBow-Sachs and Robinson in their roles as personal representatives of the estate. Jones declined to comment on the claim.

Competing letters

With his claim, Mike Schaefer includes an October 2008 letter to management at the governor’s retirement home, in which the governor says he does not want Mike Schaefer to visit him. The claim says LeBow-Sachs was behind the letter, which was signed “Don Schaefer,” which Mike Schaefer calls a “strange signature” for an official document, “as if he were saying ‘my arm is being twisted’.”

He alleges the visits continued anyway, and attached a letter he said the governor signed on Christmas Day 2010, giving him permission to visit throughout 2011.

Nelson J. Sabatini, who served in Gov. Schaefer’s cabinet as health secretary from 1991 to 1994, said he regularly visited with the governor but only saw Mike Schaefer once.

“He claims to be a friend,” Sabatini said. “I don’t know if Governor Schaefer felt the same way.”

Sabatini also disputed Mike Schaefer’s claim that LeBow-Sachs strong-armed the governor into signing a letter.

“He was a very strong-willed individual,” Sabatini said.

Borrowed slogans

Unlike William Donald Schaefer, who was elected to four terms as Baltimore mayor, two as governor and two as comptroller before losing his last election in 2006, Mike Schaefer’s political career has been more a matter of running than of serving.

Mike Schaefer, 73, was elected to the San Diego City Council at age 28 and served from 1965 to 1971. He has run in Maryland for U.S. Senator in 1986 and 2006 and for mayor of Baltimore in 2007, losing in the primary election each time. In 2010, he lost in the Democratic primary for Baltimore City Sheriff.

His campaigns have used the governor’s red-and-white color scheme and some slogans, including “Do It Now!”

Mike Schaefer also lost elections in Nevada, where he was disbarred in 2001. Schaefer also was disbarred in California in 2005.

A Los Angeles Times article chronicling his 1986 senatorial campaign described Schaefer as “one of California’s most notorious slumlords.” One year earlier, a jury had awarded former tenants of an apartment building he owned $1.83 million in damages, which at the time was believed to be the largest award ever in a landlord-tenant dispute.

His creditor’s claim was the first to be filed against the governor’s estate, which was estimated at $2.4 million when probate was opened May 17.

Gov. Schaefer’s will leaves $500,000 to LeBow-Sachs as well as a quarter of whatever remains of the estate after it is distributed.

Under state law, the governor’s personal representatives must decide whether to accept or deny any claim. If his claim is denied, Mike Schaefer would have 60 days to request a hearing in Baltimore County Orphans’ Court.

All claims must be addressed before the estate closes, which is typically between six and nine months after death.