Friday, April 16, 2021

“I Care A Lot”: The Pitfall of Senior Guardianship

By Kasia Lipa

Have you ever watched a dark comedy thriller where a lesbian couple plays a game of cat-and-mouse with the Russian mafia? Me neither, that is until I watched “I Care A Lot”. 

The movie is set around Rosamund Pike’s character, the ruthless Marla Grayson, who along with her business and love partner Fran, created a business that involves taking advantage of elderly people, especially wealthy retirees, for profit. That’s why when Marla received a call from Sam Rice, the manager of the Berkshire Oaks Senior Living Facility, and was made aware of her unethical occupation that one of her clients died, she remarked, “I thought he’d last us at least another five years.” The lack of remorse was present when Marla threw away the headshot of her client, previously pinned in her wall gallery of her victims located in her office. 

The lost mini stream of her hefty income results in her pristine operation to kick off. It begins with a consultation with Dr. Amos, who picks one of her patients, Jennifer Peterson to become Marla’s new client. According to the physician, Jennifer was a “cherry”, an elder with a fat bank account and no records of the family, a prime candidate for exploitation that was to come soon.

In a montage, Marla convinced the judge that Jennifer was unable to take care of themselves because her physician falsely accused her patient of showing symptoms of the beginning stage of dementia. Soon enough, Marla was granted the consent and documents to be the legal guardian of Jennifer. Strutting with power and confidence in her yellow monochromatic suit, Marla whisks away the confused Jennifer to the Berkshire Oaks Senior Living facility, where she will stay helplessly as the shady lesbian couple liquidates her assets. 

Ideally, Marla and Fran would milk Jessica until her death, that is until it is discovered that their wealthy retiree has ties with the Russian mafia, led by Peter Dinklage’s character, Roman Lunyov. Without giving too much away, everyone encounters violent and humiliating blows over an elder woman, who wasn’t as sweet and innocent as she appeared before getting trapped in the senior living facility. 

The movie overall was engaging and kept me on the edge through the twists and turns that I didn’t see coming despite the ending is unsatisfactory. In fact, Marla justifies her profession and view of elder people as transactions as a way to become rich, “Well, to make it in this country, you need to be brave. And stupid and ruthless and focused. Because playing fair, being scared, that gets you nowhere. That gets you beat.” Hearing this made the movie more chilling because it explores the lives of people who live with low morale that will abuse the system (and people) to achieve a better lifestyle. It also opens the conversation of guardianship abuse particularly in elders, an age group that some of the younger generations blatantly disrespect or forget about. 

Director Jonathan Blakeson’s decision in casting Rosamund Pike as Marla helped the filmland its rightful spot as a psychological thriller; this may be in part because of Pike’s role in “Gone Girl” (2014), another thriller that was adapted from a novel of the same title. Pike’s ability to play yet again as a vicious and cunning character is something that I respect because not every actor can do so. 

However, the main criticism I have about this movie is the decision to soften Roman, the leader of the Russian mafia instead of the ruthless characteristics that a leader of a criminal organization should have. If we are being honest here, Marla qualifies as a crime lord more than the boss himself. The representation of the mafia in “I Care A Lot” as opposed to the traditional mafia movies makes the particular scenes with the criminal group a bit cringe. 

“I Care A Lot” is rooted in exploring the lives of people with low morals who would go to the dark side to achieve their “American Dream”. So if you were expecting this movie to be about a good-story female character with a heart of gold, this movie isn’t for you. However, for those interested, the movie is currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime in select regions.

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Miami-Dade Judge Accepts Discipline Stemming From Judicial Assistant's Complaint

The judge has agreed to a 60-day suspension without pay and a $30,000 fine, based on days he was absent without leave, after his assistant complained she and a bailiff were required to run personal tasks for their boss.

By Tony Pipitone 


Dixie Dent says she expected working for Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Martin Zilber was going to be a challenge, one she welcomed.

But within weeks of being hired as his judicial assistant, she told NBC 6 Investigators, she sensed the judge was acting inappropriately.

Over the next 18 months, she would later tell the state Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), she witnessed him not showing up for work, requiring her and a bailiff to do personal tasks and endure what she said was a rant from the judge after she informed him she was pregnant.

Having had previous miscarriages, she said she needed the job's health benefits and endured his behavior - even when he required her to wheel his heavy chair up several floors to his courtroom bench while she was pregnant, which Zilber admitted doing.

"I had to put up with it," she said in an exclusive interview, "but what I saw, (was) injustice to the constituents of Miami-Dade County."

In the end, the JQC found probable cause to support most of her allegations and Zilber last week entered into a stipulation where he admitted his behavior was “intemperate, inappropriate and damaged the public’s perception of the judiciary.”

He also agreed to the recommended discipline: a 60-day suspension without pay from his $161,000-a-year job and a $30,000 fine, calculated to cover the proceeds of 51 days he was absent from the courthouse without notifying court administration he was taking leave.

A call to the judge's chambers seeking his comment on the matter was not returned. But attorney Deborah Baker, who said she spoke to Zilber's lawyer after NBC 6 inquired of the judge, volunteered that she had "never seen him treat a woman any different than a man" and, as far as she could tell from years of practicing before him, there "wasn't a sexist bone in his body."

In recommending the discipline to the Florida Supreme Court, the JQC notes Zilber "immediately accepted responsibility (and) expressed remorse for his intemperate treatment and misuse of his court staff."

He admitted requiring his staff to do more than help run the courtroom, including at times doing his online shopping, registering his car, working on his scrap book and picking up his Art Basel tickets.

Dent said it did not take her long to realize "he wasn’t being honest with his time sheet. It was made very clear to me that the most important thing was to hold up the appearance that he was there, but in reality that wasn’t happening."

Not there on many Mondays and Fridays, she said, and not there for a week last August when he vacationed in Malibu without taking leave, the judge subsequently admitted, though he said he did do some work while in California.

"There’s a lot of good judges on the bench who don't behave this way, and it’s guys like this that are abusing their power, taking advantage of people like Dixie," said attorney Bruce Jacobs, who has his own long-running beef with the judge over contentious foreclosure litigation.

He is helping Dent challenge the deal Zilber reached with the JQC, which only recommends discipline to the state Supreme Court, which has final say.

"We’re asking that the Florida Supreme Court reject the JQC’s recommendation, which we think is a slap on the wrist, and we want him removed from the bench and disbarred," Jacobs said.

Dent said she is glad he is accepting responsibility, but one personal attack, she said, still hurts.

"The moment I told him I was pregnant, he said, 'Oh geez. This is such an inconvenience. This is going to ruin all my plans. This is the worst possible time for you to be pregnant,'" she recalled.

Soon after, Zilber was "requiring his pregnant JA to wheel his chair up several floors to the courtroom and then lift it onto the dais prior to hearings," the JQC found and Zilber admitted, later telling an investigator he made other arrangements "once the issue was brought to his attention."

"I simply could not do it because it was so heavy and I wasn’t going to risk the baby," Dent said.

After having her daughter and returning from leave, Dent said the final straw came in August when Zilber berated her over a Zoom session witnessed by her other children.

Her family, she said, told her, "'You know, we're going to figure it out. We’re going to figure it out together, but you’re going to resign because you should not be subjected to this and the kids should not continue seeing this.'"

She submitted her resignation the next day.

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A Real World Response to the Movie "I Care A Lot"


Members of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division Guardianship & Guardianship Alternatives Committee give a real world response to the movie I Care A Lot.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Bill extending adult guardians’ disposition authority signed into law

 Adult guardians will soon be part of the statutory scheme for making decisions about disposition of a deceased ward after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill extending their authority.

Under Senate Enrolled Act 276 — which Holcomb signed Thursday — adult guardians may now make decisions about a ward’s final disposition if no family members or powers of attorney are available to make those decisions.

The legislation was the brainchild of the WINGS Adult Guardianship State Task Force, which presented the concept last fall to the Indiana Probate Code Study Commission. Becky Pryor, a longtime guardian and guardianship advocate, said the need to give guardians this decision-making authority became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a pronounced effect on the elderly and those in nursing homes.

Pryor worked with Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, to write the bill, and the original language would have placed guardians above powers of attorney and family members on the statutory list of disposition decision-makers, founds in Chapters 23 and 29 of Indiana Code. However, Lanane agreed to amend the bill to move guardians lower on the list after sharp debate in the Senate.

The legislation had the support of the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the WINGS Task Force and the AARP.

SEA 276 will take effect July 1.

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How Do Conservatorships Work in Nashville

By Amy Willoughby Bryant
Many people have questioned whether a conservatorship can be established for a person without the person’s participation in the process or what to do when they suspect a loved one may be abused under an existing conservatorship. Fortunately, Nashville has an Office of Conservatorship Management to help protect individuals under conservatorship.

Understandably, some people may be confused by the terms conservatorship and guardianship, which can be used to describe authority over two different things. However, in the U.S., there is no uniform federally mandated definition for the two terms. States determine how they choose to use these terms, and who gets described as either a conservator or a guardian. In Tennessee, the terms used to describe a person who has been appointed by the Court to have authority for an adult person deemed to have a disability is called “conservator of the person,” “conservator of the property (or estate)” or “conservator of the person and property.” In Tennessee, the term “guardianship” is used to describe persons under the age of 18. Additionally, the law specifies who is eligible to serve as a conservator and who can file to establish one.

Currently, in order to establish a conservatorship, you must prove that an individual is disabled by a clear and convincing legal standard, which is usually accomplished through a sworn statement by a physician, psychologist, or senior psychological examiner. In other words, evidence must be presented to the Probate Court and verified by a medical professional.

The TN Court of Appeals case In re Conservatorship of Groves, lays the foundation for judges to use when determining an individual’s disability or incapacity. An individual with a “disability” for purposes of a conservatorship is one for whom autonomy has become either partially or totally impaired. In other words, the individual lacks the ability to absorb information, to understand its implications, to correctly perceive the environment, or to understand the relationship between his or her desires and actions. When a person’s autonomy becomes impaired, others step in to make choices on the person’s behalf, to promote the person’s best interests and to protect the person from harm. This process is called a “Conservatorship.”

With over 2,400 conservatorships, Davidson County has more conservatorships than any other county in Tennessee. Tennessee laws provide the framework for courts to determine how to provide oversight of conservatorship cases. This includes mandatory reporting requirements such as the Report of Physician and an annual status report. Other reporting requirements, determined on a case by case basis, may include the appointment of a guardian ad litem or attorney ad litem, an inventory, an annual accounting, and a bond.

The Office of Conservatorship Management (OCM) was created to provide additional oversight and protection for adult persons with a disability subject to a conservatorship. In addition to an assessment of health, safety, and welfare, the OCM also help to identify and refer conservators to resources available, based upon the needs and circumstances of each person. The OCM maintains a database of all conservators appointed by the Probate Courts of Davidson County for efficient management of the cases. The OCM also conducts a yearly financial review of each conservatorship of the property that require annual accountings. Upon completion of an investigation, the OCM may need to file a report to alert the Probate Court.

The OCM wants the citizens of Davidson County to know that conservators are expected to follow a code of ethics and we strive to preserve the dignity of people with disabilities. Please visit the OCM website for FAQ’s and a wealth of information on conservatorships:

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Demings announces commission review on Guardian program following audit

Greg Fox, Reporter

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced he'll schedule a full commission review of the Guardian program to try and resolve a dispute between county comptroller Phil Diamond Clerk of Courts, Tiffany Moore Russell.

Moore Russell oversees guardians, who manage the financial and medical affairs of the incapacitated.

Commissioner Mayra Uribe called for the discussion after reviewing the comptroller's recent audit.

It concluded the Clerk's Office was not adequately supervising the program.

According to the audit, it reviewed 3,300 cases, many of them mishandled, by former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle who will head to trial for felony abuse and neglect of one of her wards.

In just 14 cases involving Fierle and others, the audit uncovered unsupported expenses of $1.25 million for living facilities, medical expenses and other unexplained expenses.

"Who is going to improve it? Who is going to be accountable and who are we going to make answer to this and make a change," Uribe asked.

Commissioner Emily Bonilla sent her own memo expressing disappointment in the county's Commission on Aging, writing that on the "county government's guide to senior services, there are no resources available for those who have been victimized by guardianship programs."

She found the audit shocking.

"I was really surprised by the amount of work that was not being done by the Clerk's Office that should have been done," Bonilla said.

In a memo to the county, the clerk wrote that program "improvements were being implemented during the audit period" including "adding more deputy clerks to the guardianship team."

Even before Demings sets a time and a date for a discussion of how the Guardian program works, Uribe has an appointment next week with Moore Russell to get a first-hand look at how it operates.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Why One Woman Has Spent 5 Years in a San Diego County Jail With No Trial

The drawn-out case against Maria Moore underscores the complexity of prosecuting someone who’s severely mentally ill, pitting criminal justice, psychiatry and conservatorships against one another. Moore’s situation also speaks to a shortage of psychiatric beds in California.

by Jesse Marx

Inside Las Colinas Detention and Re-entry Facility / Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

Maria Moore has spent almost five years in a San Diego County jail without having been convicted of a crime.

More than a decade ago, the district attorney’s office charged the 81-year-old in the beating death of another elderly woman in South Bay. Moore is one of the longest-serving prisoners in San Diego County who’s yet to go on trial. And she might never.

Moore’s case attracted media attention at the time, with headlines describing her as the victim’s caretaker. That turned out to be untrue. A prosecutor later told the Superior Court that the victim, Charmian Antaramian, had met Moore a few months prior and allowed her to move in. Court records suggest that Moore had once scalded Antaramian with hot water, sold herself as the trustee of the victim’s estate and isolated her from friends.

After a concerned relative requested a welfare check, an SDPD officer crawled through a window in the house, located in the Palm City neighborhood, and found Antaramian’s body, the Star News reported. A prosecutor said police arrested Moore at a neighbor’s house while she was in the process of purchasing a Greyhound bus ticket. Moore later claimed to be a lay nun.

It was a sensational case. But its drawn-out history underscores the complexity of prosecuting someone who’s severely mentally ill, pitting criminal justice, psychiatry and conservatorships against one another. Moore’s situation also speaks to a shortage of psychiatric beds in California.

The criminal proceedings were immediately suspended so that the Superior Court could determine whether Moore was fit to stand trial. Judges waffled on this question for years, as attorneys dug up new information and medical professionals offered one opinion after another. Moore was removed from the courtroom for her outbursts on several occasions.

In 2011, a judge concluded that Moore was mentally incompetent, then changed his mind a few months later. By the following year, he was back to his original position. In 2014, a different judge came to a different conclusion and set a new arraignment date, allowing criminal proceedings to resume. Those efforts were short-lived, though.

The issue of mental competency was put to rest in 2015, when a third judge determined, at least for the time being, that Moore was unfit to participate in her criminal defense.

To keep the murder case alive, prosecutors had relied on the testimony of a psychiatrist who said Moore was “malingering with the objective of avoiding criminal prosecution.” The psychiatrist found it “extremely unlikely,” he said, that Moore has a delusional disorder because the onset is usually 40 years of age, but she had no recorded history of psychiatric problems until her arrest.

Public defenders, however, produced mental health and criminal records from New Mexico showing that Moore had been diagnosed much earlier in life as a paranoid schizophrenic. She’d also been evaluated in the late 1980s as a result of criminal proceedings at the time.

Following her arrest in 2010, Moore was mostly confined to a state psychiatric hospital in Patton, Calif., outside San Bernardino. But in 2016, after being declared unfit for trial once again, Moore was booked in jail.

For nearly the last five years, she’s lived at the Las Colinas Detention and Re-entry Facility in Santee, the primary point of intake for women prisoners in San Diego County, which is home to a psychiatric security unit.

The facility has a better reputation these days — the Washington Post Magazine called it “a gold standard for gender responsive-corrections” in 2019 — but it wasn’t always that way. The San Diego County Grand Jury visited Las Colinas in 2006 and expressed surprise at the appalling conditions — “the floor of at least one dorm was caving in,” the group wrote. A new version of the facility opened in 2014 under design principles intended to reduce “physical and psychological barriers and promote direct and constructive communication among staff and inmates,” according to one architectural firm.

Moore is not eligible for release. It’s still possible she could one day go on trial, but only under a limited set of circumstances.

After the murder case against her stalled, the county became legally responsible for Moore’s well-being. The court agreed to place her in the care of the public conservator under what’s known as an LPS conservatorship, a civil program for Californians who suffer from biological brain disorders. It’s meant to protect gravely disabled people from civil rights abuses while at the same time involuntarily committing them to treatment.

At the request of prosecutors, Moore was later placed into what’s known as a Murphy conservatorship, which is set aside for people facing an outstanding felony charge. It’s a different legal standard than, say, being found not guilty by reason of insanity and has the goal of restoring one’s mental competency.

The conservatorship undergoes regular reviews, which is why Moore appears in the sheriff’s inmate database for “mental comp” and not murder. If there is a change in her status, that could trigger a new round of criminal hearings. The idea, in other words, is to get her well enough so she can participate in her own defense.

“If the defendant becomes mentally competent after a Murphy conservatorship has been established, the conservator must certify that fact to the sheriff and the district attorney, the defendant’s attorney and the committing court,” wrote DA spokesperson Steve Walker in an email.

In the meantime, the Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Moore is waiting for an available bed at a state hospital but couldn’t immediately say for how long. “I’m sure COVID delayed the hospitals being able to receive new clients/inmates,” Lt. Amber Baggs, a department spokesperson, wrote in an email.

A state audit in 2020 took issue with how Californians with serious mental illnesses are cared for. It noted that people in conservatorships have limited treatment options because the wait time to get into a state hospital can take a year on average.

“California does have an extreme shortage of beds,” said Lisa Dailey, acting executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit based in Virginia, “and a lot of that is because something like 95 percent of beds are taken up with forensic patients, people who are facing charges or otherwise in the criminal justice system.”

Still, the amount of time Moore has spent in jail as opposed to a state hospital seems extreme, Dailey said. “I’ve never heard of a case lasting five years.”

There are a number of outstanding questions in Moore’s case, like whether her legal representatives have tried to get her into a state psychiatric hospital and for how long they’ve been pushing. It’s hard to tell from the outside, because the records from Moore’s mental health hearings are not publicly available. One of the San Diego County deputy public defenders who represented Moore and the Public Conservator’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Moore’s case may be an extreme one, but she’s not necessarily alone.

CalMatters recently found that 44,241 people languishing in a county jail across the state — three quarters of all inmates — haven’t been convicted of, or sentenced for, a crime. San Diego County was home to more than 2,300 such people, including, KPBS reported, 380 who’ve been in jail for more than a year and 20 who’ve been in jail for three years and counting.

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Woman accused of leaving vulnerable adult in hot vehicle near 44th Street and Thomas Road

Photo by: MCSO

By: Cydeni Carter

PHOENIX — A Valley caregiver is facing abuse charges for allegedly leaving a vulnerable adult in a hot vehicle in the parking lot of a shopping center near 44th Street and Thomas Road Saturday.

Officials say Yasmin Abdulle left the victim, who is diagnosed as a non-verbal autistic adult with severe cognitive disorder and a mental capacity of a 4-year-old child, in a van for about 40 minutes. 

According to court documents, Abdulle left the victim in a locked vehicle with all windows rolled up with the engine shut off before going into a Burlington Coat Factory.

At the time of the incident, outside temperatures were about 93 degrees and the inside of the van was calculated to be between 128 and 133 degrees. Officials say the vehicle was facing north in the direct sunlight and did not have tinted windows.

At around 12:28 p.m. officials were able to help the victim out of the van by smashing in the windows after a concerned citizen called the police. Officers say the victim was in the backseat of the vehicle with her seatbelt on and was unable to follow directions on how to open the doors herself.

The victim was "soaking wet with sweat," and also was shaking and warm to the touch. 

She was transported to a nearby hospital with severe dehydration.

After Abdulle did not return to the vehicle for a while, officers went inside the store to find her.

Abdulle told officers she was a caregiver and had been working for group homes for three to five years on and off. She also stated she left the victim in the van because she did not want to get out of the vehicle to go inside to shop and that the weather was "nice outside and it was not 100 degrees," according to court documents.

Abdulle is now facing charges of reckless vulnerable adult abuse for placing the victim in a situation likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

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20 long-term care workers arrested during rally demanding more on-the-job protections in Hartford

by: Teresa Pellicano

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Long-term care workers demanding more protection on the job stormed the State of Connecticut’s Office of the Policy & Management (OPM) building in Hartford Thursday afternoon.

They’re calling on the state to establish and fund the “Long-term Care Workers Bill of Rights”. They say too many workers in long-term care are living under the poverty line without affordable healthcare while also facing dangerous conditions every day.

“Do you know what’s in the budget for nursing home workers? Do you know what’s in the budget for home care workers? Do you know what’s in the budget for group home workers?Nothing. There’s nothing for you in the budget,” said Union President Rob Baril. “Long-term care workers should not have to work late into their 70s to pay their bills. Everyone deserves to have a pension so we can retire with dignity and respect. We’re just fighting for basic human rights.”

“How can we tell these workers at the Legislature that they are not a priority in the state budget. After all they’ve been through, how can we vote to pass a budget that does not make an investment in them?” said State Representative Manny Sanchez. “We forget that most of us have elderly and disabled loved ones who need care, and that one day we may also need these services to survive. Long-term care workers need livable wages and benefits. They work too hard, they are too important in our communities and they deserve no less. It is our responsibility to care for these workers the way they are willing to care for each and every one of us.”

The rally began with ralliers picketing outside the State OPM building at 450 Capitol Ave. Police were called when some of the ralliers walked into the building and refused to leave just before 5 p.m.

Police say the protest involved around 100 participants. About 20 individuals entered the building and were subsequently arrested. They are all charged with criminal trespass and were released on a $1,000 non-surety bond. They are scheduled to appear in court Monday, April 12.

Connecticut State Police said, “It should be noted that this demonstration was peaceful and there were no reports of any injuries of those arrested or the involved Troopers. There was no use of force by the Connecticut State Police. The Connecticut State Police support peaceful protest and will work to protect the safety of all those involved.”

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