OAKLAND -- Shock and doubt spread through two communities Friday about the arrest of a respected Alameda County judge on charges of financial elder abuse and perjury.
Neighbors who know Judge Paul Daniel Seeman socially and attorneys who worked with him professionally said they found it almost impossible to believe that the 57-year-old man they believed spent a career helping those in need was secretly stealing from a 97-year-old woman.
"It's shocking; my sense was that he was a very caring judge," said David Bryden, a defense attorney who has appeared before Seeman on numerous occasions. "I always thought that this is the type of guy who really tried to help people; he wasn't just going through the motions."
Seeman, a graduate of UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, began practicing law in 1980 with a focus on juvenile justice as a private attorney and then eventually becoming a referee pro-tem for the county's juvenile court.
In 2004, Seeman became a court commissioner and three years later he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As a judge, Seeman presided over the county's drug court and most recently the misdemeanor arraignment court.
"His attitude about a client I had was, 'I want to give him a chance,'" said Jo Ann Kingston, a defense attorney. "He seemed like a reasonable guy who listened to what people had to say."
Meanwhile, neighbors who have known Seeman for almost a
"It is almost 100 percent hard to believe that he would be involved in anything that is criminal," said Eve Howard, who has known Seeman for more than 10 years. "He has always extended a help; he never came across as a person that would take advantage of another person."
Seeman declined to make a comment Friday during a felony arraignment appearance at the courthouse where he once worked. Wearing a gray suit, Seeman swiftly walked through the public hallway of the courthouse after being released on a $525,000 bail, staring at a horde of reporters and television cameras.
His attorney, Michael Markowitz, also declined to comment.
While neighbors and attorneys described a man of high integrity, police and prosecutors, through court records, told a story of a man who cunningly and systematically waged a 12-year campaign to take all of Anne Nutting's money.
According to those documents, Seeman gained power of attorney over Nutting's assets and used that power to sell off her various possessions, including, among other things, a stamp and coin collection, a Lionel train set and two properties Nutting owned in Santa Cruz.
In addition, court records state, Seeman received a $250,000 loan from Nutting and stopped making payments on it as he had promised. Seeman eventually repaid the loan after he was contacted by Berkeley Police, who were investigating his actions.
All the while, court records state, Seeman never disclosed his financial gains on state-mandated statement of economic forms, which led to the 11 counts of perjury that were also filed against him.
While court records state that Nutting had no relatives when she died, Alameda County records show that another man, Ali Mehrizi, 53, also was involved in her finances.
According to Nutting's death certificate, Mehrizi was listed as her husband, a fact that was confirmed by sources. In another record, Mehrizi was shown as being the trustee of Nutting's estate at the time of her death.
But Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said Friday that Mehrizi is not a suspect.
Seeman is scheduled to appear in court July 3 to enter a plea.
Staff writer Kristin J. Bender contributed to this story.