Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Pa. Supreme Court Advisory Council Hosts First Guardianship Justice Summit

By Pennsylvania Record Report

Hosted by the Office of Elder Justice in the Courts (OEJC) and Advisory Council on Elder Justice in the Courts, the first Pennsylvania Guardianship Justice Summit is being held on Sept. 20-22, 2023.

Featured speakers include Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Chief Justice Debra Todd, federal Administration for Community Living’s (ACL) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging Edwin L. Walker, Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Jason Kavulich, and Pennsylvania Senators Lisa Baker, Maria Collett and Art Haywood, along with several judges, attorneys and other elder justice experts.

“We are pleased to bring together an interdisciplinary group of speakers and stakeholders from across the Commonwealth to participate in the Summit,” said Senior Judge Paula Francisco Ott, chair of the Education Committee for the Summit.  “Each attendee was invited based on their professional involvement with guardianship and related topics as well as geographic diversity.”

Summit topics include:

  • Improving the fairness, effectiveness and assurance of due process in guardianship proceedings
  • Advancing improvements in monitoring guardians
  • Promoting alternatives to guardianship
  • Increasing the development of collaborations between state and local agencies and organizations that work on issues affecting older Pennsylvanians.
Attendees will work within regional collaboration groups and will continue to work together to address the needs and challenges their regions face after the Summit concludes.

Portions of the Summit are being livestreamed with additional recorded sessions available at the PA Courts website after the Summit.

The Summit is funded through a grant awarded to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts by ACL.

The ACL’s Elder Justice Innovation Grant program provides financial assistance to states working to assess and improve their handling of adult guardianship cases.

Pennsylvania is one of three states to receive funding through this three-year grant. The OEJC is overseeing the work of the grant, which runs from Sept. 1, 2022, through Aug. 31, 2025.

The Summit is one of several grant projects supporting three overarching goals:

(1) Assuring due process for the alleged incapacitated person(2) Improving guardianship monitoring capabilities to prevent abuse and exploitation(3) Promoting alternatives to guardianship.

A second guardianship summit is being planned for 2025.

This press release is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $2,458,957 ($1,145,290 for Year 1 + $1,313,667 for Year 2) with I00 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS or the U.S. Government.

Original source can be found here.

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Pa. Supreme Court Advisory Council Hosts First Guardianship Justice Summit

October 1, 2023 Disciplinary Actions

 The Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 12 attorneys, disbarring one, revoking the license of three, suspending seven, and publicly reprimanding one.

Derek Michael Aronoff, 4538 SW Darlington St., Port Saint Lucie, disciplinary revocation with leave to apply for readmission to The Florida Bar after five years, effective immediately following an August 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) The Florida Bar opened an investigation after receiving a grievance from Aronoff’s former client demonstrating that, after the effective date of his suspension from the practice of law in 2022, Aronoff continued communicating with the client, drafted pleadings, and gave the client legal advice regarding an upcoming hearing in her mortgage foreclosure case. As a result, Aronoff engaged in the unlicensed practice of law in violation of the order of the Supreme court of Florida suspending him in 2022. (Case No. SC23-0942)

Bryon R. Aven, 2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Bldg. D., Viera, suspended for two years, effective 30 days following a September 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2008) While employed as an assistant state attorney, Aven engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by eliciting and bolstering false testimony from several witnesses during the criminal trial, which resulted in the dismissal of the criminal charges. (Case No.SC23-0456)

Christopher Whittington Dudley, 598 Trelago Way, Apt. 303, Maitland, suspended pursuant to 3-7.2(f), the felony suspension rule, effective immediately following a September 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2021) Dudley entered a plea of nolo contendere to the charges of Attempted Burglary of an Occupied Dwelling, a third-degree felony, and Criminal Mischief (above $200 but below $1,000), a first-degree misdemeanor. The court withheld adjudication of guilt as to all counts and sentenced Dudley to two years of conditional probation as to the felony count and to credit for time served as to the misdemeanor count. (Case No. SC23-1306)

John Edward Eagen, P.O. Box 1545, Tallahassee, disciplinary revocation with leave to apply for readmission, effective 30 days following a September 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) Eagen had a disciplinary case pending before the court, which involved neglect of several client matters and multiple referrals from the First District court of Appeal. The court approved Eagen’s Petition for Disciplinary Revocation by Order dated September 21, 2023. (Case No. SC23-0691)

Mark Edwin Heimendinger, 1034 Long Branch Ln., Oviedo, suspended due to a felony conviction, effective 30 days following an August 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2016) On August 25, 2023, Heimendinger entered a plea of nolo contendere to Aggravated Assault (a third-degree felony), Carrying Concealed Firearm (a third-degree felony), Improper Exhibition of a Dangerous Weapon (a first degree misdemeanor) and Battery (a first-degree misdemeanor). The criminal court withheld adjudication on the two felony charges and adjudicated Heimendinger guilty on the two misdemeanor charges. The Supreme Court has ordered that a referee be appointed to recommend the appropriate sanction. (Case No. SC23-1224)

Tarica C. LaBossiere, 4126 Inverrary Blvd., Apt. 2418, Lauderhill, suspended for 91 days, effective immediately following an August 3 court order, as LaBossiere is no longer practicing law. (Admitted to practice: 2018) LaBossiere failed to comply with all terms and conditions set forth in the terms of her probation, which included a requirement to comply with her FLA, Inc., rehabilitation contract. LaBossiere violated this contract by failing to abstain from the consumption of alcohol and testing positive for mood altering drugs. (Case No. SC23-0313)

Andrew John Manie, P.O. Box 720236, Orlando, suspended for six months, effective immediately following a September 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2015) Manie failed to timely furnish a copy of the court’s June 9, 2022, suspension order to some of the courts before which he was counsel of record. Prior to his suspension, Manie also engaged in a course of conduct whereby he failed to appear for court hearings on behalf of several clients, resulting in the entry of default judgments against those clients, and necessitating Manie to take corrective action by filing motions to vacate judgment due to his excusable neglect. Finally, in connection with his representation of a client in a personal injury case, Manie deposited client funds related to a settlement into his operating account. (Case No. SC23-1277)

Patrick Michael Megaro, 2431 Aloma Ave., Suite 124, Winter Park, disciplinary revocation with leave to apply for readmission after five years, effective 30 days following a September 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) The Florida Bar commenced an investigation of Megaro due to two disciplinary sanctions imposed in other jurisdictions. Megaro received a five-year suspension as recommended by the Disciplinary Hearing Commission for the North Carolina State Bar for entering into an improper representation agreement with clients of a diminished capacity and engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice. In addition, Megaro was suspended by the United States Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit on July 7, 2021. (Case No. SC23-1119)

Rebecca L. Morgan, 3004 Flowertree Rd., Belle Isle, suspended for four months, effective 30 days following an August 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2008) Morgan engaged in a pattern of neglect while representing several clients in immigration matters. In one instance, she failed to timely appear at a hearing due to a family emergency, and the immigration judge entered an order for removal. After Morgan failed to get a response from the chief counsel’s office to get their position in order to have the matter reheard, Morgan failed to further address the client’s matter because of her severe illness. In another matter, a client repeatedly attempted to contact Morgan, and after receiving no communication, the client went to Morgan’s law office, which was abandoned. Morgan was unaware of the client’s matter or need for assistance, and she did not provide a refund in the matter. Additionally, Morgan engaged in a course of conduct in which she failed to update her address with the United States Department of Homeland Security resulting in letters for her clients being returned as undeliverable. She also failed to timely respond to the Bar’s multiple investigative inquiries. (Case No. SC23-0448)

Kevin Proulx, 406 Pursley Dr., DeLand, disbarred, effective immediately following an August 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Proulx served as court-appointed defense counsel in several criminal cases pending in Lake County wherein he failed to provide diligent representation, failed to maintain adequate communication with the clients, failed to obey court orders and ultimately abandoned his clients’ matters. Because Proulx was court appointed, new counsel was appointed to represent the clients and none of the clients were harmed by Proulx’s misconduct. Proulx also failed to respond timely to the Bar’s repeated efforts to communicate with him and failed to participate in the Bar disciplinary proceedings in a meaningful manner. (Case No. SC23-0389)

Wanda I. Rufin, 1529 SW 1st St., Miami, suspended for one year, effective 30 days following a September 7 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999) While representing the husband in a dissolution of marriage, Rufin made partial unauthorized distributions of the trust funds from the proceeds of the sale of the marital home. When the court ordered a final equitable distribution to the former wife, Rufin failed to advise the court about the remaining balance of the marital funds held in a second escrow account. Rufin has since disgorged the full amount to the former wife. (Case No. SC22-0821)

David George Simmons, Jr., 10380 SW Village Center Dr., Port Saint Lucie, public reprimand and ordered to complete Ethics School, effective immediately following a September 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2011) Simmons entered a notice of appearance to substitute in for a suspended lawyer believing that the suspension was short-term, when, in fact, it required proof of rehabilitation prior to reinstatement. Because Simmons assumed he would not be representing the client long-term, he failed to obtain specific details regarding the client’s case and had only a basic understanding of the issues. Simmons failed to appear for several hearings after being duly noticed by the court. The court ultimately sanctioned Simmons and ordered him to pay attorney’s fees to the opposing counsel. (Case No. SC23-1260)

The Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the more than 111,000 members of The Florida Bar. Key discipline case files that are public record are posted to attorneys’ individual online Florida Bar profiles. To view discipline documents, follow these steps. Information on the discipline system and how to file a complaint are available at www.floridabar.org/attorneydiscipline.

Court orders are not final until time expires to file a rehearing motion and, if filed, determined. The filing of such a motion does not alter the effective date of the discipline. Disbarred lawyers may not reapply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that includes a rigorous background check and retaking the Bar exam. Attorneys suspended for periods of 91 days and longer must undergo a rigorous process to regain their law licenses including proving rehabilitation. Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment.

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October 1, 2023 Disciplinary Actions

Texan gets 2-year prison term for financially exploiting elderly relative in Stillwater

By Patti Weaver

(Stillwater, Okla.) — A 40-year-old man, who is serving a five-year prison term in Texas for violating a protective order there, has been given two concurrent two-year prison terms for illegally obtaining by theft a total of $20,500 from personal and business checks from an elderly relative in rural Stillwater and depositing the funds into his personal bank account in a case investigated by Payne County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Secrest.

    Christopher James Brown of Wylie, Texas, was sentenced last week by Payne County Associate District Judge Michael Kulling, who approved a plea agreement with the prosecution that his Oklahoma prison terms will run concurrently with his Texas sentence. Brown pleaded guilty last week to two Payne County felony counts of exploitation of an elderly person in Stillwater in November of 2020.
    On his release from prison, Brown will be on eight years of probation in his Payne County case with conditions including no contact with the victim, provide a DNA sample, be employed and pay $600 in assessments along with court costs.
    According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Brown is in the process of being reviewed for parole from that state where he has served about two years. The maximum expiration date on his Texas sentence is March 25, 2026, court records show.

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Texan gets 2-year prison term for financially exploiting elderly relative in Stillwater

Monday, October 2, 2023

Judge ends conservatorship between Michael Oher and Tuohy family in 'Blind Side' fallout

Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – A Tennessee judge said Friday she is ending a conservatorship agreement between former NFL player Michael Oher and a Memphis couple who took him in when he was in high school. 

Shelby County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Gomes said she is terminating the agreement reached in 2004 that allowed Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy to control Oher’s finances. Oher signed the agreement when he was 18 and living with the couple as he was being recruited by colleges as a star high school football player.

Gomes said she was not dismissing the case. Oher has asked that the Tuohys provide a financial accounting of money that may have come to them as part of the agreement, claiming that they used his name, image and likeness to enrich themselves and lied to him that the agreement meant the Tuohys were adopting him. 

In Tennessee, a conservatorship removes power from a person to make decisions for themselves, and it is often used in the case of a medical condition or disability.

But Oher’s conservatorship was approved “despite the fact that he was over 18 years old and had no diagnosed physical or psychological disabilities,” his petition said.

Gomes said she was disturbed that such an agreement was ever reached. She said she had never seen in her 43-year career a conservatorship agreement reached with someone who was not disabled.

“I cannot believe it got done,” she said.

Offensive tackle Michael Oher poses with members of the Tuohy family after being selected by the Baltimore Ravens during the 2009 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York on April 25, 2009.  Howard Smith, USA TODAY Sports

Oher and Tuohys listened in by video conference call but did not speak. Lawyers for both parties had agreed that the agreement should end, but the case will continue to address Oher’s claims. Gomes said it should have ended long ago.

In August, Oher, 37, filed a petition in probate court accusing the Tuohys of lying to him by having him sign papers making them his conservators rather than his adoptive parents nearly two decades ago. Oher wanted the conservatorship to be terminated, a full accounting of the money earned off his name and story and to be paid what he is due, with interest.

He accused the couple of falsely representing themselves as his adoptive parents, saying he discovered in February the conservatorship agreed to in 2004 was not the arrangement he thought it was – and that it provided him no familial relationship to them. 

Oher claims the Tuohys have kept him in the dark about financial dealings related to his name, image and likeness during the 19-year life of the agreement. 

The Tuohys have called the claims they enriched themselves at his expense outlandish, hurtful and absurd and part of a “shakedown” by Oher. 

In a court filing, the affluent couple said they loved Oher like a son and provided him with food, shelter, clothing and cars while he lived with them, but denied saying they intended to legally adopt him.

The Tuohys’ filing said Oher referred to them as “mom and dad,” and they occasionally referred to Oher as a son. They acknowledged that websites show them referring to Oher as an adopted son, but the term was only used “in the colloquial sense and they have never intended that reference to be viewed with legal implication.”

The Tuohys said the conservatorship was the tool chosen to comply with NCAA rules that would have kept Oher from attending the University of Mississippi, where Sean Tuohy had been a standout basketball player.

“When it became clear that the Petitioner could not consider going to the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”) as a result of living with the Respondents, the NCAA made it clear that he could attend Ole Miss if he was part of the Tuohy family in some fashion,” the Tuohys’ Sept. 14 court filing said.

The Tuohys also said Oher lied about finding out that he was not adopted in February. They said Oher’s 2011 book “I Beat the Odds” indicates that he was fully aware that the Tuohys were appointed as conservators. 

Agents negotiated a small advance for the Tuohys from the production company for “The Blind Side,” based on a book written by Sean Tuohy’s friend, Michael Lewis, the couple’s lawyers have said. That included “a tiny percentage of net profits” divided equally among a group that included Oher, they said.

The attorneys said they estimated each of the Tuohys and Oher received $100,000 apiece, and the couple paid taxes on Oher’s portion for him. 

The Tuohys’ filing said they never signed any pro football contracts for Oher, and he was happy with their financial arrangements from “The Blind Side.”

Oher was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, where he won a Super Bowl. He played 110 games over eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career with the Carolina Panthers.

Full Article & Source:
Judge ends conservatorship between Michael Oher and Tuohy family in 'Blind Side' fallout

See Also:
Devastated Tuohys ready to end conservatorship for Michael Oher, lawyers say

"The Blind Side" lawsuit: Former NFL star Michael Oher sues

What is a conservatorship? The legal arrangement at the center of Michael Oher's case.

Michael Oher’s shocking conservatorship exposes court failures

Conservatorship Gone Wrong: Why Does it Seem to Happen So Often and How Can I Prevent It?

San Diego Mayor pushes for California conservatorship law to be changed

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria led a rally Thursday morning outside City Hall, urging the governor to sign Senate Bill 43, which would change the state's conservatorship law. 

Mayor Gloria said expanding the law will make it easier to get severely mentally ill and addicted people the help they need. 

"We have to be able to provide a level of care for these very vulnerable individuals," Gloria said. "Because when we don’t, we know what happens. They cycle through our emergency rooms, interact with our first responders. They go to jail. I think we can all agree jail, no matter where you stand on this issue, is not an appropriate for people suffering from mental health issues." 

 Nurses and firefighters also gathered with the mayor, showing their support for the bill.

San Diego Mayor pushes for California conservatorship law to be changed 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

AARP Indiana Helps Preserve Protections for Adults Under Guardianship

By Natalie Missakian

En espaƱol | We applaud Indiana lawmakers for listening to our call to safeguard funding for adult guardianship programs in the state’s recently approved two-year budget.

“During a budget session, it’s a constant battle over where the state’s funding should be directed,” said AARP Indiana Legislative Director Ambre Marr. “While guardianship may only impact a small number of Hoosiers, these programs are there for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens and it’s important that the funding was protected.”

AARP Indiana met with lawmakers during the session to stress the importance of protecting older adults who are unable to manage their own affairs and must rely on guardians to make decisions about their welfare.

Thanks in part to our advocacy, lawmakers agreed to preserve nearly $2 million in funding, saving a program that pairs volunteer advocates with seniors under court-appointed guardianship as well as a registry that tracks guardianship cases statewide, among other services.

AARP has long advocated for updated guardianship laws and safeguards to reduce the potential for abuse and conflicts of interest with these arrangements, and we’ve helped deliver reforms in states across the country. In Virginia and Florida, we helped pass laws to strengthen court oversight, and we helped pass a law in Alabama this year offering a less restrictive alternative.

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AARP Indiana Helps Preserve Protections for Adults Under Guardianship

ASC: Montgomery man pleads guilty to financially exploiting the elderly, securities fraud

 By WSFA 12 News Staff

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Securities Commission announced a guilty plea in a financial criminal case this week.

The commission reports that Nicholas Houston Allen, 35, of Montgomery, pleaded guilty to two counts of financial exploitation of an elderly person, one count of securities fraud and one count of theft of property. An Alabama Securities Commission spokesman said it was a blind plea, meaning the judge will set a sentencing date at a later time.

According to the commission, Allen falsely claimed he was going to flip houses and/or invest their money in his company, Professional Fix LLC. Instead, he used their money to pay for his personal living expenses.

“Allen prowled neighborhoods for elderly victims and came up with reasons to engage them in conversation. Once he gained the victim’s trust, he persuaded them to invest in his endeavors and stole their money,” said Alabama Securities Commission Director Amanda Senn said in a statement.

Senn said Allen used “deception, intimidation, or threat of force” to get unauthorized control over the victims’ personal property. Two victims in their 80s lost over $236,000, while a third victim lost over $1,700.

The Alabama Securities Commission cautions investors to thoroughly research any investment opportunity. Call the commission at 1-800-222-1253 and ask for the registration department to find out about anyone offering investment opportunities, investment advice for a fee and any products they offer. You may also report any suspected fraud, inappropriate securities business practices, or obtain consumer information.

Full Article & Source:
ASC: Montgomery man pleads guilty to financially exploiting the elderly, securities fraud

Elderly man swept away in floodwaters rescued by Good Samaritan

An elderly man was rescued from fast-moving Las Vegas floodwaters by a Good Samaritan

Elderly man swept away in floodwaters rescued by Good Samaritan

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Guardianship reform bills would put Office of State Guardian into place in Michigan

By: Heather Catallo

(WXYZ) — The 7 Investigators have been exposing problems in Michigan’s guardianship system for six years. Today new plans were announced to bring additional oversight to the probate court system that many advocates say can hurt families and cost people their life savings.

We first told you about the idea for the Office of State Guardian back in April. Now that bill has been officially introduced and more details are emerging about the oversight it will potentially bring to a system many families complain about.

Currently in Michigan, if you’re having problems with a court-appointed guardian there’s no agency with oversight where you can file a complaint. If the new law passes, that could change.

Since 2017, the 7 Investigators have been exposing abuses in Michigan’s guardianship system. In one brief court hearing, with very little evidence, you can be declared legally incapacitated, and all your rights can vanish.

In response to our years of reporting, several bills have been introduced in Lansing to bring reforms.

“This is a bi-partisan package. It is a clear example of how government can be an instrument of good,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) during testimony Wednesday.

“The more common sense guardrails that we put around the system, the more vulnerable or elderly folks we protect,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) while testifying in front of the committee Wednesday.

If passed, the package of five bills will do everything from requiring guardians to visit their wards more often, to making sure you have the right to an attorney if you’re being put under guardianship.

The newest change is a bill that would establish the Office of State Guardian.

“This Office of State Guardian would be responsible for receiving complaints and investigating them against guardians and conservators who are believed to be enacting financial or other abuses on their wards. The goal is that the OSG would then work with the Attorney General’s office on complaints that did involve improper criminal conduct,” said Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City).

Other changes proposed: certification and a way to compensate professional guardians for their work – but also consequences if they break the rules.

“It’s basic stuff, that says ‘okay we’re going to make sure you’re not a criminal before we turn over somebody else’s life into your hands.’ I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we have the same level of supervision for someone who takes over another human being’s life than we have for someone who deals potatoes in the state of Michigan. That’s a licensed profession in our state,” said Scott Teter, the Division Chief of the Financial Crimes Division at the Attorney General’s office and head of the AG’s Elder Abuse Task Force.

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force has worked for 4 years on the legislation. She testified Wednesday that during her state-wide listening tour, she heard dozens of horror stories about probate court guardianships.

“Guardians moving someone from their home, sticking them in a nursing home, cleaning out their house, and throwing away all of their belongings-- tossing them in a dumpster-- and then immediately putting the house up for sale with no appraisal,” said Nessel. “The solution to these 73,000 incidences of elder abuse, neglect, and economic exploitation every year, the response should not be doing nothing.”

“We have in the lobby a freedom shrine, and it shows the Declaration of Independence. And I re-read it [today]: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they’re endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. And there’s no qualifiers in there: ‘unless you get old, frail or your disabled,’” said Teter during the testimony.

The Michigan Guardianship Association still opposes the changes to the laws. There will be additional hearings on the bills in the coming weeks.

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Guardianship reform bills would put Office of State Guardian into place in Michigan