The elderly woman can barely speak yet she was heard in the state’s highest circles, or so I hoped.
“I live in the real world,” Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch told me, in 2010.“I’ve read your columns. They cause concern and I just think that any system, it’s a good idea to take a look at all of your processes and make sure things are working the way they’re supposed to work.”
Marie Long’s story prompted both court and legislative reviews of Arizona’s probate court system. As a result, important changes were made, changes designed to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected rather than processed into the poorhouse.
But all of those vaunted reforms did nothing for Marie, who was left penniless by the system that was supposed to protect her.
Two courts have said that the probate commissioner overseeing Marie’s estate acted unethically and that the court-sanctioned siphoning of her bank account was “inexcusable”.
They just didn’t do anything about it.
Now Marie has one final chance for a fair hearing. The state Supreme Court has been asked to review what happened to the 90-year-old widow and decide whether she will get at least an opportunity to get a little of her money back.
“The idea that Marie is on welfare, doesn’t have the money to go out to lunch with her lady friends, or to get her teeth fixed, or to buy a new hat to wear to church, is just outrageous,” said attorney Candess Hunter, who along with Isabel Humphrey is volunteering her services to appeal Marie’s case.
Marie came under the “protection” of probate in 2005, after suffering a stroke and then a family dispute, over where and how she would live.
By 2009, her $1.3 million in assets were gone, much of it sucked up by attorneys and fiduciaries under the not-so-watchful eye of Commissioner Lindsay Ellis.
In March 2010, Ellis ruled that those attorneys and fiduciaries were justified in helping themselves to nearly $840,000 for three years’ work. Her 21-page ruling lambasted Marie's lawyers, people who for years had been working for free. Ellis wrote that their "venomous” attacks challenging the six-figure bills forced the fiduciaries and lawyers on the other side to defend themselves.
With Marie's money, naturally.
Two months after Ellis’ ruling, we learned that Ellis had had her judicial assistant send an advance copy of her decision to select attorneys – the ones who wound up with Marie’s money – and that one of the lawyers replied that she “could not be happier.”
I suppose not. Attorney Brenda Church’s law firms collected nearly $324,000 from Marie.
Such e-mails between a judge and one side in a contested case are called ex-parte communications and they’re supposed to be a big no-no. Turns out they’re more like a wink-wink-nod-nod.
Full Article and Source:
Will Arizona Supreme Court "Hear" Penniless Old Lady?
Marie Long, One Step Away From Getting Her Wish
CBS: Guardianship Agency Cost Elderly Woman Dearly