Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Disney Grandson Languishes in the “Unhappiest Place on Earth”

by Downey Brand LLP


While Disneyland may be the “Happiest Place on Earth,” a California probate court may be the opposite for a Disney heir, mused the U.S. Court of Appeals in Lund v. Cowan (9th Cir. 2021) ___ F.3d ___. Bradford Lund, a 50 year-old grandson of Walt Disney, sued the probate judge who rejected a settlement agreement that would have allowed him to access his approximately $200 million inheritance, and the federal appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the suit.

The real drama has played out in the probate department of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Litigation there has spanned 15 years with no FASTPASS or end in sight. Bradford’s story is unlike any Disney movie we have seen, but equally entertaining.

The Disney Family Cast of Characters

According to an article from the Hollywood Reporter, Walt Disney and his wife Lillian had two children, a biological daughter named Diane Disney Miller and an adopted daughter, Sharon Disney Lund. Walt reportedly came up with the concept for Disneyland while watching Diane and Sharon ride the merry-go-round at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Sharon adopted her first daughter, Victoria, during her first marriage. After her divorce, she married William “Bill” Lund, and they had two children in 1970, twins Bradford and Michelle. Bradford and Michelle each had learning disabilities growing up, according to the Hollywood Reporter article. Bill described Bradford as having Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome. Michelle was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Sharon’s three children – Victoria, Bradford and Michelle – were named beneficiaries of several Disney trusts through their mother’s inheritance. In 2014, these assets were valued at approximately $400 million dollars.

Bill divorced Sharon in 1977 and eventually re-married Sherry Lund.

Sharon died in 1993. Victoria died without children in 2002 and the balance of her trust was added to the principal of the trusts for Bradford and Michelle.

When Is a Beneficiary “Mature” Enough to Inherit?

After Sharon died, three separate residuary trusts were created, one for each of her children. Each trust had three individual trustees and one corporate trustee. The trustees have changed over the years, including Sherry Lund, Bill Lund, and Sharon’s older sister, Diane Disney Miller.

The trustees were required to pay the beneficiaries a yearly income payment.

Separately, the trustees were allowed to make distributions to the beneficiaries when each reached the ages of 35, 40, and 45. Each of these birthday distributions was close to $30 million.

However, the trust instrument gave the trustees a discretionary withholding power with respect to the birthday distributions. According to the Hollywood Reporter article, the trust said that the trustees “shall have the power to withhold any such distribution in the event that the Trustees, in their discretion, determine that the child has not theretofore demonstrated the maturity and financial ability to manage and utilize such funds in a prudent and responsible manner.” In the event of such a withholding, the trustees “may subsequently make such distribution, or a portion thereof, if the Trustees later determine that the child has met the required standard.”

“Frozen” Out of the Trusts

The discretionary distribution power has caused great strife.

In 2005, on Bradford and Michelle’s 35th birthday, the trustees exercised the discretionary power for the first time. Bradford got nothing. Michelle, according to Brad, received approximately $35 million.

In 2010, on Bradford and Michelle’s 40th birthday, the trustees again exercised their discretionary power. Bradford got nothing and the trustees refused to revisit the decision made at his 35th birthday. Michelle received her share.

On both occasions, the trustees withheld distributions on the basis that Bradford lacked the mental and financial abilities to manage such a fortune.

Michelle received the distributions even though she reportedly had a history of drug addiction and a brain aneurysm that left her with uncertain mental abilities. Similarly, prior to her death, Victoria received a distribution on her 35th birthday even though she had issues with heroin use and led an extremely lavish lifestyle.

According to the Hollywood Reporter article, Bradford’s lawyers argued that the trustees were trying to take control of the children’s inheritance altogether. For example, the trustees tried to seek a conservatorship over Michelle, move her to a facility in Arizona, and also sought to prolong the administration of the trust in order to get paid hefty trustee fees. The probate court was not persuaded by these arguments, and affirmed the unequal distributions to the twins.

Effectively, Bradford was “Frozen” out his inheritance. He felt that the trustees were “keep[ing] [his] trust hostage, and they refuse to hand me over what is legally and rightfully mine.”

Saga Escalates to Federal Court

Not surprisingly, in 2015, on Bradford and Michelle’s 45th birthday, Bradford again was denied a birthday distribution. By then, his distributions would have totaled an estimated $200 million.

Bradford challenged the trustees’ refusal to distribute his share. The parties engaged in mediation and reached a global settlement agreement. They then approached Judge David Cowan of the Los Angeles Superior Court to approve the settlement.

During the settlement conference, Judge Cowan said, “Do I want to give 200 million dollars, effectively to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome? The answer is no.” The judge rejected the settlement and appointed a guardian ad litem, without holding a hearing, to look out for Bradford’s interests.

Bradford initiated a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He claimed that Judge Cowan violated his rights, including those under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the complaint, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal because Judge Cowan could not be liable under the doctrines of sovereign and judicial immunity.

A YouTube recording of the Ninth Circuit argument, which we unofficially rate as “G,” can be seen here.

In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit did “find Judge Cowan’s comment troubling. That someone has Down syndrome does not necessarily preclude the ability to manage one’s own financial affairs. In any event, the record suggests that Lund does not have Down syndrome. But judicial immunity shields even incorrect or inappropriate statements if they were made during the performance of a judge’s official duties.”

Back to Probate Court

With the loss of his appeal to the Ninth Circuit, Bradford finds himself once again in probate court, hoping to get his hands on his $200 million inheritance. His “California Adventure” continues.

The question remains whether Bradford has the mental capacity and the maturity to manage his $200 million fortune. An Arizona court found that Lund is “not incapacitated” and a California court determined that he has capacity to choose new trustees. There is also DNA evidence he does not have Down syndrome and evidence that Bradford held several jobs, suggesting that he has the capacity to handle the fortune like his sister, Michelle.

Depending on the positions taken by the trustees and the probate court, Bradford might receive substantial distributions in the future.

Another Example of Fiduciary Abuse?

Bradford’s tale draws further attention to the possibility of abusive fiduciary relationships in the context of massive fortunes. As discussed in a prior post, Britney Spears and Netflix have led to scrutiny of conservatorships. Bradford’s situation, though not involving a conservatorship, also involves loss of control over wealth.

Bradford has already taken steps to draw more attention to abusive fiduciary relationships, by writing to the House Judiciary Committee to investigate corrupt fiduciaries for depriving beneficiaries of due process.

As the probate battle continues, let’s hope that Bradford gets some time away from the “Unhappiest Place on Earth” to enjoy his grandfather’s famous theme park or catch his favorite Disney film.

Full Article & Source:

Former district attorney may have violated Oregon law, ethics rules, complaints allege

By Conrad Wilson

Former Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley and his chief deputy, Leslie Wolf, may have violated state law and ethics rules prosecutors are required to follow, by withholding information for years about a city of The Dalles police officer disciplined for violating the department’s truthfulness policy, according to two detailed complaints filed with the Oregon State Bar.

The complaints were filed in the months since Nisley was voted out of office and began work as a prosecutor in Jefferson County. They make accusations of significant problems — ones that undermine the basic principles of the criminal justice system. The allegations are under investigation. If they result in a finding of misconduct, Nisley and Wolf could face reprimand, suspension or disbarment.

Nisley, who had his law license suspended before, and Wolf have asked the state bar to dismiss the complaints. The most detailed allegations were filed by their successors, Wasco County District Attorney Matthew Ellis and Chief Deputy District Attorney Kara Davis, as well as a former criminal defense attorney. Under bar rules, attorneys are ethically obligated to report potential violations or misconduct.

The Oregon’s Disciplinary Board ruled that District Attorney Eric Nisley lied when he claimed he hadn’t made Wasco County’s finance director the subject of an investigation into improper loans.

The Oregon’s Disciplinary Board ruled that District Attorney Eric Nisley lied when he claimed he hadn’t made Wasco County’s finance director the subject of an investigation into improper loans.

John Rosman / OPB

The complaints have called into question previous convictions and open cases investigated by former city of The Dalles police officer Jeff Kienlen, who was fired from The Dalles police department in March. His attorney recently told the city that Kienlen plans to file a civil lawsuit.

Bar ethics rules and a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Brady v. Maryland, all require prosecutors to disclose information that could benefit a defendant in court.

Similarly, state law requires district attorneys to disclose to a defendant “any material or information that tends to “exculpate the defendant” or “impeach a person the district attorney intends to call as a witness at the trial.” The bar rules require prosecutors in criminal cases to “make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.”

At least one drug conviction from 2011 has been vacated because Nisley withheld what’s since been determined to be Brady material around Kienlen. Other open misdemeanor cases also were dismissed, according to Ellis.

Nisley and Wolf declined to comment. Like Nisley, Wolf still works as a deputy district attorney, though now in neighboring Hood River County.

The bar complaints raise concerns about more than a lack of disclosure, however. They also allege a personal relationship between Kienlen and Wolf could have prevented a fair trial for a criminal defendant convicted of rape. That case is currently being reviewed by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office for conviction integrity.

In May 2020, Nisley lost re-election to Ellis, a former defense attorney. Ellis said when he moved into Nisley’s old office, he discovered an undisclosed disciplinary notice for Kienlen. The notice was under papers in the bottom drawer of Nisley’s desk, according to Ellis.

The Feb. 17, 2011, “notice of discipline” stated that Kienlen was demoted from sergeant to police officer for violating the department’s truthfulness policy. While attending a training conference in Eugene, Kienlen misled the department’s leaders about his need to use a city vehicle, according to a transcript of a conversation Kienlen had with his superiors, which was filed with the state bar as part of the complaints.

Rather than staying with family near Eugene, as command staff and colleagues were led to believe, Kienlen drove from Eugene to Salem twice, where he stayed in Wolf’s hotel room.

“The integrity of police service is based on truthfulness,” then-Police Chief Jay Waterbury wrote in Kienlen’s notice of discipline. “If you are not truthful, you have no integrity. Without integrity you can’t be a good police officer.”

In 2011, Nisley determined Kienlen’s discipline notice was not Brady material and did not need to be disclosed to defense attorneys on cases Kienlen worked. After Ellis found it, he determined it was “unambiguously Brady material” that should’ve been disclosed for years, but had not been.

“Both Mr. Nisley and Ms. Wolf were aware that Officer Kienlen was sanctioned severely for lying,” Ellis and Davis wrote in their April 13 complaint.

“By any Brady standard, even if he was not placed on the Wasco Co DA Brady list, they had a duty to disclose the letter in any case where he could appear as a witness. Neither one disclosed this information,” the pair wrote. “They continued to use him as a witness without disclosing evidence regarding his credibility through 2020.”

In response to the complaints, Nisley’s attorney, Lawrence Matasar, told the bar in June that the former district attorney did not commit any violations, saying the “overstated assertions are far wrong — the undisclosed information is not Brady material at all, and Mr. Nisley’s carefully considered decision not to disclose it was completely appropriate.”

Matasar said the material wouldn’t be admissible evidence.

“Therefore, Mr. Nisley’s decision not to disclose the Kienlen information was correct, and the Bar Complaints should be dismissed,” Matasar wrote.

In a separate response to the bar complaints, attorney Wayne Mackeson wrote on behalf of Wolf last month that they “defer” to the analysis of Nisley and Matasar.

“As the District Attorney for Wasco County, Mr. Nisley made a reasoned decision on behalf of the office in 2011 that the Notice of Discipline did not constitute Brady material,” Mackeson wrote.

In a separate complaint filed with the bar, former criminal defense attorney Brian Aaron stated concerns he had involving a 2010 case prosecuted by Wolf with Nisley’s assistance.

In July 2010, Aaron was representing Gerardo Garcia Gonzalez, who was charged and later convicted of raping a child younger than 12. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, where he remains. Kienlen was the lead investigator on the case. Leading up to trial, Aaron tried to introduce evidence of an alleged affair between Kienlen and Wolf, which he argued could have hurt his client’s right to a fair trial.

“I was deeply concerned that the relationship between Ms. Wolf and Officer Kienlen could cause a conflict of interest for the prosecution team and impact my client’s right to due process,” Aaron, who is now a prosecutor in Yakima County, Washington, wrote in his March 16 complaint to the Oregon State Bar.

During a July 2010 hearing before trial, several people, including law enforcement officers, testified about instances between Wolf and Kienlen they believed were inappropriate, beyond merely being close friends, according to a recording of the hearing OPB obtained through a records request.

After more than an hour of testimony, Wasco County Circuit Court Judge John Kelly ruled evidence of an affair amounted to “toxic gossip” that would not be allowed at trial and ruled the jury could determine if there was bias based on a friendship.

“I am making a determination that a jury can infer prejudice or bias by a witness, Officer Kienlen, in favor of the state because he has a close friendship with Ms. Wolf,” Kelly stated in July 2010.

Nisley helped Kienlen draft an affidavit that denied any affair but acknowledged a close friendship with Wolf that extended to their spouses.

In response to the bar complaints, Wolf said through her attorney there was never any affair — something Kienlen also told Waterbury, the police chief, years earlier.

“Ms. Wolf reports that at no time subsequent to July 6, 2010 did her relationship with Officer Kienlen ever develop into anything more than a close, personal friendship,” Mackeson wrote to the bar in response to the complaints. “The Wolf and Kienlen families have remained close, personal friends. Rumors that she and Officer Kienlen were having ‘a romantic extra-marital affair’ or that they were involved in ‘a romantic intimate relationship,’ etc., are false.”

The bar investigation could take months. Ellis and others who filed a complaint have until the end of August to respond to Wolf and Nisley’s replies.

Full Article & Source:

‘Where am I gonna go now?’ Stow retirement village closes suddenly

by: Alex Stokes

STOW, Ohio (WJW) — “I would not know what to do and how to get this accomplished,” said Susan Cullado as tears welled in her eyes. 

It’s been an emotional week for the residents at Stow Glen Retirement Village and their families after they say the health care center told them Wednesday that they were closing.

“Stow Glen right now is in some terrible financial constraints and it finally I think came the day that they could no longer do it,” said Stow Mayor John Pribonic.

He says Stow Glen has been around for 37 years in this community and that he didn’t see this coming.

Zelda Burns lived there for almost seven years. “I thought, ‘Well where am I gonna go now?’”

Cullado is her daughter and says they were told to move as soon as they could. “She said that she didn’t want to move because she really loved living there.”

Several nursing homes in the area stepped up including Briarwood Healthcare Community who took in 13 residents.

“A lot of my team here stayed and they got a lot of the rooms ready on our assisted living as well as on our long term care skilled side,” said administrator Tiffanie Kowalczyk.

But moving the residents’ possessions presented another challenge, and that’s where the mayor, the high school’s athletic director and club interact advisor found a way to help.

“The manpower came from asking our students,” said Dinah Henderson, a 9th grade teacher at Stow-Munroe Falls High School who is also the “Club Interact” advisor.

They say more than 75 volunteers made up of students, parents and neighbors, showed up Saturday morning with less than 24 hours notice.

“It went from gathering boxes to putting boxes together to getting into rooms to making sure we had the right rooms, to helping those residents put stuff in boxes,” said Stow-Munroe Athletic Director Kyle Feldman.

“Many of our students came over to their second new home and helped unpack it and said what would it be like for me or what if this was my mom or what if this was my grandparent,” said Henderson.

But the work is not done. “Right now, there is about 218 individuals there at Stow Glen and it’s gonna be a process to go ahead and move these people,” said Pribonic.

That includes non-profit Pathway to Independence, an organization that works with high functioning adults with developmental disabilities. 

“So you’re talking 15 young adults finding apartments in one place. They don’t want to lose the socialization and their friends. That’s pretty much impossible to do. The other obstacle is, this needs to stay in Summit County,” said co-founder Janeen Webb.

They are looking for a place to house them and staff along with an office that has apartment-style living or an apartment complex, something they say isn’t easy to find.

“This isn’t about Stow Glen at all, they have been wonderful, our young adults love living there, our young adults love the staff, this is just about the fact that we were not given any notice,” Webb said.

Pathway to Independence asks that anyone who might have a place for them in Summit County to reach out.

While the residents we spoke to say it was unclear when they needed to move out by, Pribonic says they have until October 26. He also said they are working with the 185 staff members to help them find another job.

We reached out to Stow Glen several times but have not heard back.


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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

An estimated 1.3 million adults are currently living under guardianship or conservatorship. Courts control roughly $50 billion of their assets.

by Morgan Keith 
 
Britney Spears' newly appointed lawyer Mathew Rosengart leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse following a hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. Spears was granted permission by a judge to hire a lawyer of her own choice.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
 
  • US Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey asked for nationwide data on guardianships in early July.
  • A National Council on Disability report estimates there are 1.3 million active adult guardianships in the US.
  • Abuse by appointed guardians may include financial exploitation, neglect, and physical abuse.

In a July 1 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland, US Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey asked for comprehensive data on guardianships across the country. 

Only a handful of states actually track and report "reasonably reliable" data on guardianships, also referred to as conservatorships in some states, and that data is often hard to sort through, draw conclusions from, or use to inform policy decisions, according to a 2018 National Council on Disability (NCD) report.

"There's no oversight and there really is no data. And if you think about how scary that is, you know, to have people who have no rights, they're in these guardianships that are potentially abusive, and there are no records being turned in, or they're not keeping track of the accounting," Marcia Southwick, director of the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse, told Insider. "You know, it's rife with problems and it's ripe for abuse."

One abusive guardian can wreak havoc for many families at once, Southwick told Insider. For example, in 2019, former Nevada guardian April Parks was sentenced to 16 to 40 years in prison for exploitation, theft, and perjury, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.

"She was not a guardian to me," said Barbara Ann Neely, one of the dozens of individuals in Parks' care, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. "She did not protect me. As each day passed, I felt like I was in a grave, buried alive." 

Brenda Uekert, a senior research associate for the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), estimated that there are 1.3 million active adult guardianship or conservatorship cases and that courts oversee at least $50 billion of assets under adult conservatorships nationally, according to the NCD report.

In addition, the extent of elder abuse by guardians nationally is unknown due to limited data, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. Court officials from six selected states that the agency spoke with could not provide exact numbers of guardianships in their states and none consistently tracked the number of cases of elder abuse by guardians.

By 2034, older adults will outnumber children under the age of 18 for the first time in the US, according to Census Bureau projections. Coupled with the direct care workforce shortage, these factors could contribute to an increase in the number of court-appointed guardianships.

NCD cites several systemic problems embedded in courts' handling of guardianships, including a lack of information about alternatives, insufficient due process, and failure to monitor abuses.

"At the [guardianship] summit that I went to, the focus was really on also diverting it away from courts ... because  they're overloaded with cases, courts can't handle them and that's the reason for the lack of oversight. It's not that all people are bad, it's that the system is so inefficient that it allows the bad people to get away with it," Southwick told Insider.

Britney Spears' conservatorship battle has exposed the public to the array of harmful acts that guardianship encompasses, including its most common form: financial exploitation. 

"Ms. Spears' case has shined a light on longstanding concerns from advocates who have underscored the potential for financial and civil rights abuses of individuals placed under guardianship or conservatorship, typically older Americans and Americans with intellectual, developmental, and mental health disabilities," Warren and Casey said in their letter.

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Judge orders disbarment of Ogden attorney who spent Roy widow's lawsuit settlement

By MARK SHENEFELT

OGDEN — A judge has ordered that an Ogden attorney be disbarred for withholding a Roy widow’s lawsuit settlement, spending it on himself and trying to cover it up when caught.

“Misappropriation of client funds is a particularly heinous charge that undermines the trust and confidence that the public should be able to place in attorneys,” 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde said in ordering the delicensure of Richard H. Reeve. Every time an attorney misappropriates a client’s money, the judge said, “the reputation of the legal profession and the legal system as a whole is diminished.”

The Utah Office of Professional Conduct filed a disciplinary case against Reeve in 2017 alleging he had deposited Jean Tonioli’s settlement share, about $254,000, into his personal credit union account in 2015. Tonioli had won the payout from a drugmaker over her husband’s wrongful death.

Over the next several months, Reeve spent $167,000 of her money on expenses such as trips to San Antonio, Las Vegas and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, plus marriage chapel and wedding ring purchases, according to evidence presented by the Office of Professional Conduct.

After Reeve’s employer learned of the diversion, Reeve provided a “misleading” screenshot of Tonioli’s account to the woman and his employer that “neither revealed he had used her money for his own personal benefit or that he had to obtain money from a separate source to pay her after he was caught,” Hyde wrote in his order, dated July 2.

Reeve “violated his duties to the public and as a professional ... by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation” over Tonioli’s money, the judge said.

Hyde said there were instances in the disciplinary bench trial in January when Reeve “was not forthright or truthful.” He determined Reeve’s mental state was “intentional and knowing,” despite Reeve’s claims that he had been under extreme professional and personal pressures in 2015.

Reeve repeatedly lied to Tonioli in 2015 about the settlement by telling her it remained pending, when in fact he had it and was spending it, the judge said.

During a sanctions hearing in May, Reeve said, “I deeply regret the conduct I demonstrated.” He argued there was no lasting harm because he paid Tonioli all she was owed, plus interest. But Hyde said it was “actual injury, serious harm” against a vulnerable victim, no matter that Reeve paid her after his actions were discovered.

In considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the factors considered pointed toward disbarment, according to the ruling.

Hyde said it was unclear to him whether Reeve “would have ever paid Ms. Tonioli if his conduct had not been uncovered.”

Hyde also found that Reeve mishandled two other, smaller settlements and violated ethical prohibitions by engaging in a fee-splitting arrangement with his paralegal.

Since Hyde’s ruling, Reeve appealed the decision to the Utah Supreme Court and successfully sought an order from Hyde allowing him to keep practicing law while the appeal is in progress.

Barbara Townsend, who handled the court case for the Office of Professional Conduct, argued unsuccessfully against allowing Reeve to continue practicing during the appeal.

“Mr. Reeve has not demonstrated that his continued practice of law poses no substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public,” she said in a court document. “Moreover, his tendency toward dishonesty suggests that there is a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public.”

Reeve and Townsend did not respond to requests for comment on the case.

According to the Office of Professional Conduct, disbarments are relatively rare in Utah. There were two in 2020, plus 24 lesser disciplinary rulings. The agency had 515 open cases at the end of 2020.

‘We don’t know how many people are being held captive against their will’— can we fix America’s broken conservatorship system?

 By Chris Farrell

The pressure for change is building; these are some of the reform ideas being discussed and ways to protect yourself

Protesters in Los Angeles call for an end to the 13-year conservatorship of Britney Spears. Getty Images

This article is reprinted by permission from 
NextAvenue.org.

Britney Spears’ newsy and disheartening conservatorship nightmare has brought to public consciousness the immense power that court-ordered guardians wield over their charges and raised alarms about the potential for abuse. And now—finallythanks to the sad story of the 39-year-old pop star, efforts are under way to tackle the longstanding problems with conservatorships and guardianships across the country, generally controlling lives of older adults deemed incapable to manage their affairs.

The public policy concern is particularly acute with the aging of the population, since America’s oldest elders may be especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation when they can no longer handle their finances or their medical issues. (The words “conservatorship” and “guardianship” are often used interchangeably. In general, a legal guardian has the power to make a wide range of personal and medical decisions while conservatorship is often limited to financial matters.)

“Whenever you have money being contracted in third-party hands, there is a potential for abuse,” says Katherine Pearson, a professor at Dickinson Law at Penn State University.

Adds Pamela Teaster, director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech University, guardianship represents “a loss of civil rights.”

Washington is looking into conservatorship

The experience of Britney Spears with her 13-year conservatorship has disturbed Congressional lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, including unlikely political bedfellows, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Warren and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) want the Biden administration to investigate the sorry state of conservatorship in America. And Representatives Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) just introduced the bipartisan “Free Britney Act,” also known as the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation Act.

That bill would: give people under guardianship the right to ask that a court-appointed private guardian be replaced with a public guardian; assign an independent caseworker to those in conservatorship or guardianship and mandate states to update their databases on how many people are in conservatorship. Records about conservatorship are pretty scarce.

“Abusive conservatorships can be an unending nightmare, and tragically we don’t know how many people are being held captive against their will under the broken guardianship system,” said Crist in a statement. “We do know, however, that we need federal safeguards to protect persons under guardianship from abuse and exploitation.”

The pressure for change is building, and not just in the Capitol.

Many of the reforms under discussion largely focus on improving the existing court-centered infrastructure, although there is also backing for alternative approaches to guardianship. (One example of that: a novel process known as eldercare coordination that is being tried in a few states; the Next Avenue article, “Could Eldercaring Coordination Be the Answer to Guardianship Problems?” describes it.)

Among the conservatorship reform ideas circulating are national standards for conservators; improved training of guardians; better legal representation for those unable to afford their own counsel; constant monitoring of conservatorships so rights of people being protected can be restored quickly when necessary and better data collection.

What reforming conservatorship will take

Taken altogether, changes like these require more money and, equally important, greater attention paid to the flawed system, where some conservators take advantage of people they’re supposed to be assisting and even steal from them.

“The problems lie in the implementation of the laws and in whether they create the right systems to encourage desired behavior,” Teaster said in testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 2018. (Little has changed to improve the system since then.)

To be sure, guardianship is complicated, and the process involves difficult, nuanced judgments between supporting individual autonomy and protecting the vulnerable.

State and local courts are generally responsible for the guardianship system. Guardians are often family members, but state courts also appoint private guardians for people with assets and public professionals for lower-income individuals. Guardianships include many older people, as well as younger children and adults dealing with intellectual or developmental disabilities or both.

Once a guardian is appointed, it can be difficult to end the arrangement, as we’ve seen in Spears’ case.

Guardianships and conservatorships can be extremely beneficial for families, when handled properly.

“Often, guardianships go well. The people who are managing the money are committed to doing the right thing,” says Pearson. “You never hear about the cases that go well.”

The troubled history of guardianship in America

That said, the guardianship system has a troubled history. And when abuses happen, the stories are chilling.

A 1987 yearlong Associated Press investigative report into guardianship practices nationwide highlighted the system’s deep flaws. “The nation’s guardianship system, a crucial last line of protection for the ailing elderly, is failing many of those it is designed to protect,” the report noted. The investigation “found a dangerously burdened and troubled system that regularly puts elderly lives in the hands of others with little or no evidence of necessity, then fails to guard against abuse, theft and neglect.”

The searing investigation spurred a string of reforms among state legislators in the 1990s, with the American Bar Association, AARP and other organizations weighing in with ideas.

Language evolved, and terms like “ward” were retired; terms like “competency” replaced “capacity.” The courts also took a somewhat more active role monitoring guardians.

“This legal momentum brought guardianship law to the fore as one of the leading issues in the developing field of elder law in the U.S.,” wrote Israel Issi Doran, a gerontology professor at the University of Haifa.

There’s also been a growing desire to bring the person under conservatorship into the process more, to involve them as much as possible in their guardianship arrangements.

“Over the last decade, the trend has been toward giving the protected person as much autonomy as possible, more of a joint process,” says Pearson. “Most states haven’t moved in this direction as a matter of law, but are taking important steps to encourage this as best practices.”

Troubles continue to erupt, however.

The data is spotty

Take a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In “Elder Abuse: The Extent of Abuse by Guardians is Unknown, but Some Measures Exist to Help Protect Older Adults,” the GAO documented how little was known about elder abuse by guardians.

The agency identified hundreds of allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation between 1990 and 2010 and, after scrutinizing 20 of the cases, found guardians had stolen or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million from 158 incapacitated victims, “many of whom were older adults.”

A frightening 2017 article by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker powerfully showed how private guardians in Clark County, Nevada took financial advantage of vulnerable older adults.  

There is an agreement about one needed reform: Data. As public policy wonks like to say, we can’t understand what we don’t measure.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are some 1.3 million adults with guardians who control about $50 billion in assets. But the national data likely understates the enormity of system as well as its problems, experts say.

In the 2017 New Yorker article, Teaster called the guardianship system “‘a morass, a total mess,” adding that “it is unconscionable that we don’t have any data, when you think about the vast power given to a guardian.”

Asked over Zoom ZM, +0.23% earlier this week whether she still held that judgment, Teaster responded, “The guardianship system is still a morass. We don’t know the people under guardianship in any systematic way.”

How to protect yourself against conservatorship fraud

Until the conservatorship system’s problems are addressed, how can you and your loved ones protect yourself from potential abuse?

There are critical steps individuals can take to minimize the odds of ending up in conservatorship.

For example, get a durable power of attorney drawn up to assign someone the authority to manage your finances if you become unable. Similarly, get a health care directive so someone can make health decisions for you if you can’t. A 2019 Merrill Lynch and Age Wave survey found that only 18% of Americans 55 years and older had a will, health care directive and durable power of attorney.

Next Avenue recently created a free online resource to help you do things like this with checklists and resources. It’s called “Fast-Forward: Take Control of the Rest of Your Life.”

With proper estate planning documents in place, “if someone loses capacity, they have set up a mechanism to manage the estate,” says Kate Wilbur, a gerontology professor at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at USC. “Talk with family members about your wishes. Especially if you want a family member to act as your agent.”

Britney Spears has brought welcome attention to America’s inadequate guardianship system. She is hardly representative of the typical conservatorship situation, with her fame and her wealth, of course.

But interest in her situation may be what’s needed to push legislators to better fund the system and to back needed reforms, especially selecting, training and monitoring guardians.

A comprehensive national database would help, too. After all, does it really make any sense that you can go online and easily track an online package, yet the information to track the safety of vulnerable Americans under guardianship is sparse?

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Monday, August 2, 2021

A complete timeline of the apparent feud between Britney Spears and her sister, Jamie Lynn

by Debanjali Bose 

Fans are speculating that recent social-media posts from Britney Spears hint at a feud with her younger sister, Jamie Lynn.
Image Group LA/Getty Images

  • Britney Spears' younger sister Jamie Lynn is a trustee of a portion of the singer's estate.
  • Jamie Lynn said she was "proud" of Spears after the singer's explosive June court testimony.
  • But Spears appeared to criticize her younger sister in a number of recent social-media posts.

Britney Spears' relationship with her younger sister, Jamie Lynn, has come under social-media scrutiny in the weeks following Spears' explosive June court testimony, with some fans criticizing Jamie Lynn for an apparent lack of support during the singer's conservatorship.

Take a chronological look back at everything that's happened between the sisters in regards to Spears' conservatorship over the years, including the recent social-media posts that appear to hint at a feud between the two.

Representatives for Jamie Lynn Spears and Britney Spears did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

2018: Jamie Lynn reportedly becomes a trustee of a portion of Spears' estate

Court documents obtained by The Blast in August 2020 show that Jamie Lynn had been secretly named a trustee of Spears' SJB Revocable Trust in 2018.

The trust was established in 2004 for Spears' children, and the 2018 filing made Jamie Lynn responsible for distributing funds from the trust to Spears' sons in the event of the singer's death, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2020

April 2019: Jamie Lynn appears to criticize the #FreeBritney movement

The #FreeBritney movement was started by long-time Spears fans over a decade ago, Insider's Rachel Greenspan previously reported. For years, people associated with the movement have voiced concerns about how the conservatorship was affecting the singer's well-being

The movement gained traction in April 2019 after the "Britney's Gram" podcast released a voicemail from an anonymous source (who said he was a former paralegal involved with Spears' conservatorship) claiming that Spears had been forced to check into a mental-health facility.

CNN reported at the time that sources close to the pop star said she had voluntarily checked herself into the facility.

Later in April 2019, a week after "Britney's Gram" shared the voicemail, Jamie Lynn appeared to hit back at the #FreeBritney movement, tweeting that she loves "my sister with everything I have."

"10 years ago, who was there?? I have been here long before anyone else and I'll be here long after," Jamie Lynn wrote in a tweet with a clip of herself and Spears being chased by paparazzi. 

"Don't come for me or the ones I love anymore," Jamie Lynn continued in a follow-up tweet.

 

February 2021: Jamie Lynn denies attending a #FreeBritney rally days after 'Framing Britney Spears' airs

In a series of social-media posts, Jamie Lynn criticized the media, apparently for its sexist treatment of Spears in the early aughts, though she did not mention her sister by name. 

"Dear media," she wrote in an Instagram Story. "Try not to repeat the mistakes of your past. Look where that got us. Do better."

Jamie Lynn's social-media posts came days after the documentary "Framing Britney Spears" premiered on Hulu. The film took a closer look at Spears' conservatorship and the media's treatment of Spears in the years leading up to her breakdown.  

In a second Instagram story posted the same day, Jamie Lynn denied attending a virtual #FreeBritney rally

"A few media outlets ran a false story about me attending a virtual rally yesterday," she wrote. "In fact, someone represented themselves as me without my knowledge. I love my sister very much, but I was not aware of the rally, nor was I in attendance for the virtual rally."

June 23: Spears says she wants to 'sue' her family during her bombshell conservatorship hearing testimony

At her June conservatorship hearing, Spears gave an explosive 24-minute testimony detailing an abusive relationship with her father, Jamie. The singer also alleged that she's allowed very little freedom in her personal life under the conservatorship arrangement.

In addition to making shocking allegations against her conservators (like being forced to work long hours and being denied the right to remove her IUD), Spears said she would "like to sue my family," without naming any of her relatives in particular. 

"I also would like to be able to share my story with the world, and what they did to me, instead of it being a hush-hush secret to benefit all of them," Spears told the court.

June 28: Jamie Lynn directly addresses Spears' testimony

In a series of Instagram stories posted five days after Spears' court testimony, Jamie Lynn said she was "proud" of her older sister "for using her voice" to speak out against the conservatorship. 

"Since the day I was born, I've only loved, adored, and supported my sister," she said about Spears. "I mean, this is my freaking big sister, before any of this bull----."

Jamie Lynn added: "I don't care if she wants to run away to a rainforest and have a zillion babies in the middle of nowhere, or if she wants to come back and dominate the world the way she has done so many times before, because I have nothing to gain or lose either way."

Spears signing autographs in 2013.
Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Jamie Lynn's public message of support for Spears came after days of criticism from Spears' fans, who questioned why the "Sweet Magnolias" actress hadn't publicly supported the #FreeBritney movement earlier.

Jamie Lynn also appeared to address this criticism in her June 28 Instagram stories, writing that she did not speak out about the conservatorship sooner because she wanted to give Spears the chance to "speak for herself" first.

July 3: Jamie Lynn says she's received death threats since speaking up about her sister

Jamie Lynn once again took to her Instagram stories in early July to reveal that she had received death threats after her June 28 comments on Spears' conservatorship and testimony

"I respect that everyone has the right to express themselves, but can we please stop with the death threats. Especially the death threats to children," Jamie Lynn wrote, seemingly referring to her two young daughters, Maddie, 13, and Ivey, 2. 

July 8: Jamie Lynn reposts a news story saying she's not on her sister's payroll

Jamie Lynn appeared to distance herself from Spears' conservatorship with social-media posts saying that she's "broke." 

Court documents filed by Spears' new attorney, Mathew Rosengart, on July 26 allege that Spears' father, Jamie, has been using his conservator status to live off of her estate and paying himself $16,000 a month for 12 years. Although she is a trustee of a portion of the pop star's estate, it is unclear if Jamie Lynn is paid any money in that role.

According to Cosmopolitan, the younger Spears sister shared a screenshot of a news story titled "Britney Spears' sister Jamie Lynn shares photos of her home life…after it's revealed she is the ONLY family member not on the singer's payroll" on her Instagram story. 

"Facts…now leave my broke ass alone," Jamie Lynn wrote alongside the image. 

Spears poses at the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills, California, April 12, 2018.
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

July 12: Jamie Lynn posts an Instagram story saying Spears sent her daughters toys

Jamie Lynn posted a photo of a box of stuffed toys on her Instagram story and wrote, "nothing sweeter than coming home to a box full of goodies for my girls from their auntie."

She also tagged Spears' official Instagram account in the post, implying that the present for her daughters came from the older Spears sister.

July 15: Jamie Lynn asks to 'end this bulls--t once and for all' a day after Spears was allowed to pick her own lawyer  

Judge Brenda Penny ruled on July 14 that Spears can finally choose her own legal counsel for the first time in her 13-year conservatorship.

That same day, former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart began representing Spears after Ingham, her previous court-appointed lawyer, filed to resign earlier this month

Spears' newly appointed lawyer Mathew Rosengart leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse following a hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. Spears was granted permission by a judge to hire a lawyer of her own choice.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Their mother, Lynne, marked Spears' July win in court with an Instagram post captioned, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Lynne had previously said in a court filing that Spears should be able to pick her own lawyers

A day later, Jamie Lynn wrote on her Instagram story: "Dear Lord, can we end this bulls#t once and for all. Amen."

July 16: Spears slams 'the people closest to you who never showed up for you'

In a since-deleted Instagram post, Spears called out "the people closest to you who never showed up for you." Though she didn't mention her mother or sister by name, her criticism came the day after Lynne and Jamie Lynn appeared to mark Spears' court win.

"How dare you make it public that NOW you CARE … did you put your hand out when I was drowning ???? Again … NO …," Spears wrote, without naming anyone in particular.

"If you're gonna post something …. Please stop with the righteous approach when you're so far from righteous it's not even funny," the singer continued.

Spears ended the social-media statement by saying that she sends love to those who might be in a similar situation to hers.

Insider reporter Alia Shoaib previously reported that the scathing Instagram post attracted a lot of attention, particularly from Spears fans who speculated that her note was possibly aimed at her mother and sister.

However, Jamie Lynn was also one of Spears' 1.6 million Instagram followers to like the July 16 Instagram post. 

July 17: Spears says she 'didn't like' Jamie Lynn dancing to 'remixes' of her songs in her first direct public criticism of her sister

Spears appeared to double down on criticizing her "so-called support system" in another Instagram post. 

In a lengthy caption paired with a post shared on July 17, Spears started out by hitting back at people "who choose to criticize my dancing videos" and wrote that she has no plans to perform as long as Jamie is the conservator of her estate. She also revealed in the caption that she has "begged" for years to put out new music without any success.

"I don't like that my sister showed up at an awards show and performed MY SONGS to remixes !!!!!" Spears wrote in the caption.

"My so-called support system hurt me deeply !!!!" she continued, adding that her "conservatorship killed my dreams."

In response to the Instagram post, fans of the pop star speculated on social media that Spears was possibly referencing the 2017 Radio Disney Music Awards where Jamie Lynn danced to remixed versions of a few of her older sister's songs. Spears looked "annoyed and embarrassed" while watching Jamie Lynn perform, the fans said online.

Although the post seemed to be critical of her, Jamie Lynn liked Spears' July 17 post on Instagram too. 

July 18: Spears appears to shade Jamie Lynn in yet another Instagram post

Spears once again appeared to shade her younger sister on July 18 after Jamie Lynn posted an Instagram photo with a caption that said, "May the peace of the Lord be with you, and your spirit✌🏻❤️."

Only a short while later, Spears appeared to take a dig at Jamie Lynn by sharing a video of herself dancing (to Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy") with the caption: "May the Lord wrap your mean ass up in joy today."

Minutes after Spears posted her possibly shady video, Jamie Lynn changed her caption to simply say, "✌🏻❤️," People reported. Spears also removed the line that might have been a dig at her younger sister the following day.

July 26: Jamie Lynn shares a post on Instagram appearing to deny reports that her sister bought a condo for her to use in Florida

On July 22, Fox News reported that Spears owned a $1 million Florida condominium frequently used by the "Zoey 101" start as a vacation home, citing tax documents obtained by the outlet.

While it's unclear exactly when Spears bought the swanky property, Fox reports that she purchased it through her Bridgemore Timber LLC, and the home is mentioned in court documents dating back to at least 2009. 

In a social-media post shared on Monday, Jamie Lynn appeared to deny spending time at the Florida condo reportedly owned by her sister.

"I don't own a condo and I can assure you that no one has ever bought me a place at the beach," Jamie Lynn wrote in the Instagram caption alongside photos of her, her husband, and her daughters vacationing at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

"Simple FACTS. Y'all need to stop reaching," she added.

Before and after screenshots showing how Jamie Lynn edited her caption to remove any mention of the Florida condo.
Jamie Lynn Spears/Instagram

The caption has since been edited to remove any mention of the condo.

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Sen. Grassley Introduces Elder Justice Act Reauthorization and Nursing Home Reform Bill

The Elder Justice Coalition today offered its support to the Emergency Support for Nursing Homes and Elder Justice Reform Act of 2020 as introduced today by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which would reauthorize the Elder Justice Act and implement important nursing home reforms, among other provisions.

“We view this as a critical step toward the inclusion of comprehensive elder justice legislation, including urgently needed nursing home reforms, in the next emergency funding package,” said Bob Blancato, National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition. “We recognize that the pandemic has had an especially harsh impact on older residents of nursing homes and that it has created new opportunities for older adults to be scammed. This should compel us to action.”

The bill as introduced has important features, including a number previously endorsed by the Coalition:

  • The reauthorization of key provisions of the Elder Justice Act, including funding for adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman programs, and elder abuse forensic centers, and the addition of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator to the federal Elder Justice Coordinating Council;
  • Provisions from the bipartisan Promoting Alzheimer's Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act which would ensure that the Department of Justice’s elder abuse training materials take into account individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias;
  • A review of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Nursing Home Compare site and the CMS nursing home Five-Star Quality Rating System to ensure that the information it contains is up-to-date and accurately reflects the quality of facilities; and
  • The creation of “strike teams” to assist nursing homes with performing medical examinations, conducting COVID-19 testing, and implementing of quarantine, isolation, or disinfection procedures.

 Blancato also noted, “We recognize that for any bill to pass, it must be bipartisan. Our Coalition and other advocates are working to achieve that in both the Senate and the House. Elder justice in Congress has always been a bipartisan issue. This is not the time for that to change. The need to protect older Americans from all forms of abuse and neglect is not an issue of ideology, but rather one of ideals.”

Blancato added, “Chairman Grassley has displayed important leadership in elder justice, especially during the pandemic. His April 17 letter to CMS resulted in their immediate decision to mandate nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to report all cases of COVID-19 to the federal government. The introduction of this bill is but another example of his leadership.”

Sen. Grassley was joined by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) in introducing the bill.

 

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