Thursday, July 2, 2015

Royal Oak Guardian Files Lawsuit Against Ward’s Father Over Blog About Michigan Guardianship System

PONTIAC, Mich., June 30, 2015 – A Royal Oak-based guardian has filed a lawsuit against the father of one of his ward’s over an Internet blog designed to raise awareness about the lack of checks-and-balances in Michigan’s guardianship system.

Steven (Steve) Siporin of Royal Oak, Michigan-based Siporin & Associates filed the suit June 4 in Oakland County Circuit Court against Anand Sadashivan, father of Tom Nithyanand, who is one of Siporin’s wards.

The defamation suit alleges the family’s blog at contains false and misleading statements and that the family and friends have somehow been on a mission to discredit and embarrass Siporin and his business.

Sadashivan says the site has never strayed from its original intention: draw attention to what the family feels is a severe lack of checks and balances in Michigan’s guardianship system. Sadashivan says he became familiar with what is believed to be a flawed system only after his son, Tom, was in it as a ward of Siporin.

“ has always been designed with the goal of drawing attention to what we feel is Michigan’s flawed guardianship system,” says Sadashivan. “There doesn’t seem to be any accountability for those handed tremendous responsibility by the court – the kind of responsibility that will affect my son for the rest of his life.”

Sadashivan says he believes is no different than any other form of editorial media and designed specifically to express the family’s feelings and beliefs about the system based on what they have experienced together as a family over the last year.

To defend its right to free speech, the family has been working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, among others, for assistance in defending their case.

“The bottom line is that they can take our son away, keep him tucked away in a rehabilitation facility, and drag our name through court all they want,” Sadashivan says. “But our voice and right to express ourselves? That can’t be taken away.”

Though the complaint alleges has harmed Siporin’s business since it launched March 19, Sadashivan has an email from his former attorney sent within hours of the site’s launch and dated March 20 that has “orders” from Siporin to shut down the site by March 23.

Since then, however, nearly 5,700 visitors have been to the site, many publicly and privately supporting the family’s call for change and signing the family’s petition to draw attention to the need to change Michigan’s guardianship system. Similar changes have already been undertaken or are being considered in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, and Pennsylvania (see sidebar on right for links to stories).

The family quickly became aware of the problems with the system in Michigan throughout the course of 2014-15. A press release detailing how Sadashivan’s son, Tom, ended up in the guardianship system can be found here.

Sadashivan says because the family are from India and non-U.S. citizens, they sought out the help of a guardian to assist with managing the large insurance settlement Tom received as part of a bad accident on June 26, 2010.

As the family met with potential guardians, Sadashivan says Siporin painted a picture that made him feel like he could trust Siporin to operate as co-guardian, which he ultimately was named through a court order. When Sadashivan and his son verbally argued over spending money last June, however, Siporin obtained a new court order to make himself sole guardian and within days had people who identified themselves as “bodyguards” at the family’s home with orders to take Tom to Rainbow Rehabilitation Center of Farmington Hills, Michigan. The Novi Police Department doesn’t have any records relating to domestic issues in the home.

As months passed with no indication anything would change with regard to Tom’s status anytime soon – and Sadashivan’s requests for details such as Tom’s health, schooling and overall treatment plan falling on deaf ears – Sadashivan said he and his family decided to launch to raise awareness of how an individual person like Tom could end up trapped in the guardianship system with hopes of others being able to avoid suffering a similar fate.

Seperately, Sadashivan did petition the Oakland County Probate Court to remove Siporin as guardian. However, the family’s former attorney – Jonathan A. Green – quit within weeks of the scheduled hearing. Sadashivan says he tried to find new representation but with such a short time and convoluted case to digest, attorneys wanted more money than the family could afford. Oakland County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Ryan allowed Sadashivan to withdraw the petition on May 4.

Siporin asked Judge Ryan to allow the petition withdrawal, but with prejudice, which would have effectively banned Sadashivan from re-petitioning the court. In just a few minutes at that May 4 hearing, Siporin tried to work in as many  allegations as possible against Tom’s family. The blog once again came up as an apparent issue of contention on the part of Siporin.

“I don’t understand why a guardian brought up issues of media law and free speech in a probate court setting,” says Sadashivan. “Thankfully, Judge Ryan stuck to the real issue of Tom’s guardianship and simply allowed me to withdraw the petition.”

Sadashivan says he plans to continue using available legal remedies to try and bring his son home. However, he says there appears to be no one overseeing Tom’s case other than those who are benefitting financially.

Sadashivan says he hasn’t seen any kind of treatment plan for his son. He says he isn’t provided any details on the health and well-being of Tom beyond what Tom is able to tell him on weekends. Sadashivan says he hasn’t been told about the plan for Tom to continue schooling and that there doesn’t appear to be any timeline for Tom’s return to living with his family full-time, to returning to the life he had been building before he was taken away a year ago.

Perhaps most important, Sadashivan says, is the fact Siporin is so concerned about the family’s blog that he appears to be spending a tremendous amount of time and resources on it instead of working with the family to best facilitate Tom’s continued health and recovery.

Similar cases about online content and those trying to strip away First Amendment rights of bloggers have been heard around the country, only to be thrown out by some of the nation’s highest courts.

For example, the Georgia Supreme Court weighed in on Chan vs. Ellis, a case in which one party (Ellis) did not like some of the opinions being published about her on a website. The court ruled in favor of Chan and on the side of free speech.

As the EFF (which helped back online freedom of speech by recruiting top law professors from around the U.S.) said in a post about the case, “while Ellis may not have liked what people said about her, that’s not enough to stifle publication of opinions expressed to the general public.”

Siporin’s case against Sadashivan claims more than $25,000 in damages resulting from the blog.

Sadashivan says, however, the family has no intentions of shutting down and will continue to push for change to Michigan’s guardianship system and, at the very least, hope others can learn from Tom’s experience.

“Until First Amendment laws are changed to prohibit us from expressing our opinion and feelings about the need for revision to Michigan’s guardianship system, we will continue to do so,” says Anand.

Full Article & Source:
Royal Oak Guardian Files Lawsuit Against Ward’s Father Over Blog About Michigan Guardianship System


Norma said...

Freedom of speech?

Finny said...

It's a bullying tactic.

NASGA member said...

I agree, Finny, but it's also a no winner for the family.