Part OneShannon Mullen, @MullenAPP
She has broken no law, committed no crime.
Yet Helen Hugo, a soft-spoken, grandmotherly, 84-year-old "Wheel of Fortune" fan, is a prisoner of the state.
Its laws and bureaucracy have forced the retired secretary into a nursing home. Disposed of her antiques and other belongings. Separated her from her cat, Sweetie Pie. Barred her closest relatives from visiting her, and exhausted her life's savings to pay the legal fees of the attorneys involved in her guardianship case.
In the court's eyes, Hugo is mentally incapacitated and requires a state agency to serve as her guardian and manage her care and finances.
That's what a judge ruled in 2012, after a five-day trial that Hugo didn't attend, except for a private conversation with the judge. She spent all of 33 minutes in the courtroom.
A sturdy, brown-eyed woman with warm, silky hands and wavy hair that's still more brown than gray, Hugo says the court ruling three years ago was "a lot of nonsense."
"Probably the people calling me nuts," she says, "are crazy themselves."
The terms of her guardianship aren't so easily dismissed. As a ward of the state, Hugo can't vote, write a check, receive her own mail, or make decisions for herself. Inmates in New Jersey have greater legal autonomy.
Helen Hugo, trapped by New Jersey's guardianship laws, was declared incapacitated and left broke by the court system.
Hugo has lived under those restrictions since the day she first met Barbara J. Lieberman.
An esteemed elder law attorney and respected member of the New Jersey bar, Lieberman, 63, served as Hugo's court-appointed temporary guardian prior to Hugo's capacity trial.
|Attorney Barbara Lieberman in Superior Court in Atlantic County earlier this year.|
(Photo: Staff photo/Bob Bielk)
At the same time, Lieberman was leading a double life as a thief. Using her legal skills and her status as a trusted insider, she stole millions of dollars in other cases involving 16 seniors in their eighties and nineties.
Among them was the 85-year-old widow of the former head of the Ocean County Police Academy in Lakewood.
Lieberman moved some into nursing homes and sold their homes. With several, she manipulated their wills so she could keep stealing from them even after they died, authorities have said.
More than a year after Lieberman's crimes came to light, Hugo, who never married and was living alone prior to her guardianship, is still fighting to be free again, to go where she wants, when she wants, even to be reunited with her beloved Sweetie Pie.
The problem is, she can't.
(Continued in Section 2)
Full Article & Source:
Betrayal of trust: Part 1