Saturday, February 7, 2009

Request to Review Cases

The Supreme Court appears ready to reconsider a request to review hundreds of Luzerne County juvenile court cases in the wake of charges that two former judges accepted kickbacks from the owners of a private juvenile detention center.

The court, on Jan. 8, denied a petition by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center to look at more than 250 cases in which juvenile offenders were allegedly adjudicated and sent to detention centers without lawyers.

Later, the justices issued a one-line order vacating their previous denial of that petition, pending further action by the court.

Bob Schwartz, JLC's executive director: "We see this as a very positive sign that the court is going to take a fresh look at our application for relief."

Full Article and Source:
Juvenile Cases May Get New Look Following Kickback Charges Against Former Judges

See also:
Alleged Public Corruption

Probate Website Shut Down

Regular visitors to the Middlesex Probate & Family Court’s website were shocked to see the following announcement: Middlesex County Probate and Family Court website is no longer available due to lack of funds. If you wish to donate to continue this site or you wish to purchase this site, you can email us by clicking on the following link.

The Middlesex site is registered to Diane Bender, who used to work at the Plymouth Probate & Family Court. While there, she set up a site for the registry and ended up designing similar sites for courts in several other counties.

Each register pays for the site out of his own budget. When Middlesex Register of Probate John R. Buonomo resigned in the midst of an alleged theft scandal, he had already paid Bender through December. But she’s been unable to reach Buonomo’s recently sworn-in successor, Tara DeCristofaro, so she took the site down.

Bender says that if anyone – be it DeCristofaro, a bar association or individual attorneys – wants the site restored, she can have it back online within five minutes, as long as her $125 a month bill is paid.

Full Article and Source:
Middlesex Probate & Family Court website goes offline

See also:
Register of Probate Indictment

Bankrupt California Buys Ads

Facing a $42 billion deficit and a state debt that grows by $28,000 every minute, California has managed to find enough room in its budget to sponsor an elaborate statewide campaign to promote homosexual adoption.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has partnered with the California Department of Social Services and the Los Angeles County to promote a "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Family" campaign that invites homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals to adopt children.

According to a Campaign for Children and Families report, the state has sponsored two billboards promoting "gay" adoption in West Hollywood and Alameda County.

Proponents claim sexual orientation shouldn't be an issue because thousands of kids need loving homes. Robyn Harrod, spokeswoman for Southern California Adoption Agency: "They provide loving, stable and permanent homes for kids who need them."

Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, a California pro-family organization released a statement saying the state has no business sponsoring the campaign when it has decided to issue taxpayers IOUs in place of their annual returns. "At a time when the state doesn't have enough money to provide hard-working people with their tax refunds, it's a shame that state and county funds are being wasted on this propaganda."

Full Article and Source:
Bankrupt California buys ads for 'gay' adoption - Facing $42 billion deficit, state pushes homosexual guardianship

See also:

The Visionary

"And one day, all of this will belong to the lawyers you boys hire to haggle over my estate"

Tax Guru

Rondos Pleads Not Guilty

A lawyer has pleaded not guilty to charges of stealing more than $4 million he was supposed to manage for incapacitated children and elderly people.

Steven Rondos entered the plea after being returned for arraignment on grand larceny and other charges in Manhattan's state Supreme Court. Justice Daniel FitzGerald set bail at $2 million and told Rondos to return to court Feb. 19.

Prosecutor Judith Weinstock says the 43-year-old lawyer spent most of the money on a $1.4 million home in Ridgewood, N.J., where he lives with wife and law partner Camille Raia (RAY'-uh) and their three children.

Rondos faces 25 years in prison if convicted.

NY lawyer says not guilty to bilking kids, elderly

See also:

Friday, February 6, 2009

Conservator Kept Social Security Benefits

Police arrested a man who has been charged with keeping Social Security benefits he’d agreed to use to pay for the cost of his grandmother’s nursing home care.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Christopher Brazinskas was appointed the conservator for his grandmother by the Manchester Probate Court in January 2006. It states that he was responsible for managing her finances, including handling her monthly Social Security checks.

Under an agreement with the Department of Social Services, which pays most of his grandmother’s care, Brazinskas was required to remit a portion of the Social Security money to the nursing home.

Brazinskas didn’t make the required payments from Feb. 1, 2006, to March 1, 2007, totaling $7,535, according to the warrant.

Full Article and Source:
Police: Man Kept Grandma's Social Security

Billable Hour System

A New York Times front page included an article about legal fees: "Billable Hours Giving Ground at Law Firms." This article raised the question whether clients were being treated fairly when the measure of a legal fee is the attorney's time expended. An obvious concern is whether an attorney compensated solely on the basis of time expended has any incentive to work efficiently or, to resolve a matter when doing so cuts off revenue.

The Times reporter analyzed the pluses and minuses of the billable hour process. However, he totally missed one of the primary reasons law firms cling to the billable hour system - the leverage between the $/hour they pay an associate (anyone who does not have an ownership interest in the firm) and the $/hour the client is billed for the associates time.

When clients are billed by the hour, it is fairly easy for a big law firm to lever off an associates time. Let's assume an associate is paid $150,000/year which with benefits say is $200,000/year. Let's assume that associate is expected to bill 2,500 hours at $300/hour ($750,000 in revenue). The math is pretty clear: pay associate $80/hour and bill associate time at $300/hour. While the law firm has overhead expenses (figure 50% of revenue), the law firm makes (in example) about $70 per hour on billable associate time.

Full Article and Source:
Legal Fees: Missing the Point

Guardian Program Cut

For months, social welfare advocates have sounded alarms over impending state budget cuts that will scale back some services in New York City, particularly programs focused on prevention. In November, Albany cut $8.6 million in funding for substance abuse programs for ex-convicts. The Homelessness Prevention Program, which costs $5 million annually and helps people fend off eviction, has been dropped from the state budget.

Over all, the Paterson administration said it would cut $68 million in non-mandated preventive services by 2011 — a rounding error for a state facing a $15 billion deficit, but real to the staff and clients of programs like the Guardianship Project.

Told that the courts could no longer support it, the Guardianship Project’s directors asked for $1.8 million for the coming year from a different pot of state money. But when Gov. David A. Paterson presented his budget proposal in December, complete with $9 billion in spending cuts, it was left out.

Barring a last-minute reprieve, it will shut down in April, leaving more than 100 people who are served by the program to be transferred to other services, and ending what some advocates viewed as a promising model for revamping the state’s troubled guardianship program.

Full Article and Source:
Budget Cuts Imperil Guardian Program for Elderly and Disabled

Court Administrator Pleads Guilty

Luzerne County Court Administrator William T. Sharkey Sr., the highest-paid nonjudicial employee in the county court system, has agreed to plead guilty to pocketing more than $70,000 seized in illegal gambling cases over 10 years.

Mr. Sharkey is the third high-ranking court official snared in a wide-ranging, ongoing federal probe of the county court system. Former President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and his predecessor, Michael T. Cona-han, are expected to plead guilty to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks in connection with a detention center that housed county juveniles. They’ve agreed to serve 87 months in prison.

Mr. Sharkey, 57, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on one count of embezzlement.

Full Article and Source:
Luzerne worker to plead guilty to pocketing more than $70,000

More information:

Bitter Pill

Created to treat schizophrenia, Zyprexa wound up being used on misbehaving kids. How the pharmaceutical industry turned a flawed and dangerous drug into a $16 billion bonanza

"Eli Lilly insists that it has not marketed Zyprexa off-label and that it has accurately represented the drug's side effects. But some medical researchers who have studied the atypical antipsychotics say that, in the final tally, the drugs, which have already been linked to some deaths, may eventually be responsible for tens of thousands of cases of diabetes and other potentially fatal diseases. And despite their early promise for treating schizophrenia, the drugs have not even performed any better than the crude and imprecise earlier medications that preceded them. "We have been paying $16 billion a year instead of $2 billion a year for drugs that seem to be no better and might be worse," says Douglas Leslie, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina who contributed to an extensive federal study of the drugs."

Full Article and Source:
Bitter Pill - Rolling Stone Magazine

See also:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lutfi Files Suit

In a court affidavit filed after Britney Spears was hospitalized for psychiatric problems, her mother painted Sam Lutfi as a cruel Svengali who kept Spears a prisoner in her own home, lacing her food with drugs, letting paparazzi have the run of her property and torturing her with lies about her children.

A little more than a year after a court gave Spears' father control over her personal and business affairs, Lutfi fired back. In a lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court, Lutfi accused the singer's mother, Lynne, of libel and defamation; her father, Jamie, of battery; both parents of intentional infliction of emotional distress; and Spears herself of breaching a contract.

The specific grounds outlined in the 15-page suit, however, seemed beside Lutfi's main point -- that Spears' parents are the real bad guys.

The suit also contends that Spears' parents did not seek help for her earlier because they saw humiliating tabloid reports about her erratic behavior "as a means by which they could force their way back into Britney's life and regain control of her fortune under the guise of concern for Britney's well-being."

Full Article and Source:
Britney Spears' former manager sues pop star and parents

More information:
Britney's Former Manager Files Defamation Suit

See also:
Conservatorship is "Officially Made Permanent"

Guardian Felony Bill

A lawyer says the state should protect children by checking to make sure their prospective guardians have not committed a felony.

Attorney Robert Aldridge told the Associated Press that an increasing number of grandparents are gaining custody of their grandchildren because of drug problems across the state.

He said the Idaho court system should be required to look at the criminal history of a potential guardian and anyone living in or visiting the home.

The guardian felony bill he has proposed would also require guardians for those who are incapacitated or elderly to go through the same criminal history check.

Aldridge told Senate Judiciary Committee members that the bill would provide early warning of children or incapacitated adults who could be in potentially harmful situations. The committee passed the bill; it goes now to the full Senate.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyer wants ID courts to vet guardian backgrounds

Caregiver Acquitted

A Butler County jury acquitted a caregiver accused of abusing an elderly woman.

Abena Afrakomah of West Chester Twp. and a Ghana native, was on trial for allegedly pinching and scratching Josephine Crawford at her home.

Crawford, who died in November of illness, told her granddaughter and Middletown police that Afrakomah was "punishing" her for having sex with evil spirits.

The Butler County Common Pleas Court jury at the Government Services Center in Hamilton deliberated for more than four hours Wednesday, Jan. 28, in Hamilton, before returning the not guilty verdict.

The victim "couldn't tell the same story twice" about what happened to her, which caused reasonable doubt in the case.

Full Article and Source:
Caregiver acquitted in elder abuse case

More information:
Elder abuse case goes to jury

Trial begins for woman accused in 'evil spirits' case

Judge Will Release Records

A San Joaquin County Superior Court judge has ordered the unsealing of 15 search warrants in a case involving a teenager who told Tracy police that he was tortured and shackled for more than a year.

Judge Cinda Fox said she would release the documents once she removed the names of witnesses and the victim, and some information about the case.

Fox: "I'm going to find there are ongoing discussions "... supporting their sealing at this point."

The judge did not modify a gag order she put in place on the case. The order bars lawyers, parties involved, police and potential witnesses, from commenting to the media.

The judge postponed the continued arraignment of the four suspects accused of torturing the teenager.

Kelly Lau and her husband Michael Schumacher, Caren Ramirez, the boy's one-time legal guardian, and Anthony Waiters who lived next door to the Schumachers, all appeared in court shackled, wearing red jail jumpsuits.

Full Article and Source:
Judge orders warrants unsealed in Tracy teen torture case

More information:
Judge will release search warrants dealing with captive teen

Torture suspects have yet to enter a plea

See also:
Trust Fund for Tortured Teen

Fourth Suspect Arrested in Torture Case

Arrests in Torture Case

More Guardianships May Be Needed

State officials say more guardianships may be needed because of North Dakota’s aging population and the needs of disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aging Services Division Director Linda Wright said court-appointed guardians can help people live independently without fear of being exploited.

Teresa Larsen, executive director of the North Dakota Protection and Advocacy Project: "a guardian is appointed only when a court is convinced that all possible alternatives have been exhausted.”

Human Services officials said they have developed a new booklet and fact sheet to try to educate guardians about their roles. They said 54 guardianships have been established since August 2007.

The “Guardianship Handbook: Guide for Court Appointed Guardians in North Dakota” and the related one-page fact sheet are available online at Guardianship Handbook (pdf)

Resources offered on guardianships

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ADDMS and Fortuna Estate

A state assistant attorney general recently interviewed the new conservator of Frank Fortuna's estate, which will be paid $50,000 by the insurance company of the targeted company, ADDMS Guardianship Services.

According to court records, ADDMS had removed all of the furniture in Fortuna's home, tried to sell his home for about 70 percent of its value and lost $17,000 in a risky investment.

A state investigator's two January interviews of Marguerite Hanes, the new conservator of Fortuna's estate, followed an investigator's December visit to Macomb Probate Court in Mount Clemens to review wills and estates cases to which ADDMS was appointed as guardian and/or conservator.

According to State Court Administrator Carl Gromek, ADDMS was cited in an audit of Probate Court by The Whall Group as having "multiple problems in accounts for assets and income in cases it handled."

Full Article and Source:
State probes Warren estate case

See also:
State Probe of Guardianship Firm

Massive Overhaul

Gov. M. Jodi Rell will propose massive changes to the state's troubled probate system, asking the General Assembly to close down 81 of the 117 courts and raising the qualifications for judges.

Under the governor's plan, the courts would be located in each of the 36 state Senate districts, and the judges would have to live in those districts.

Accounting and payroll functions would be centralized, and all courts would be open 40 hours a week, according to sources with access to Rell's two-year spending plan that she'll later announce.

The moves could save the state $9 million a year as it confronts a deficit that could reach $10 billion by June 2011.

Full Article and Source:
Probate system faces massive overhaul

See also:
Judges Will Take Pay Cuts

Probate Losing 20K Daily

Accused Granddaughter

Michelle Skeels is accused of stealing more than $25,000 from her 84-year-old grandfather while she had power of attorney for him. He's said to have dementia and lives at an assisted living home.

Skeels said she used the money to fix up her trailer to bring her grandfather home. Her neighbor claims to have witnessed Skeels' grandfather directing Skeels to spend money on a renovation. But prosecutors say Skeels bought two cars with the money. They also say Skeels wrote herself an $8,000 check and has been late in paying some of her grandfather's bills.

Full Article and Source:
Local woman charged with stealing from grandfather

Guardian Versus Family

Saying he wants to preserve money for charity, a guardian for ailing real estate mogul Max M. Farash is proposing to sell Farash's Brighton estate and three other personal residences over the family's strident objections.

Their objections focus on the fact that the 95-year-old Farash's written will leaves his French Road property, vacation getaways at Keuka Lake and the Florida coast and his horse stables in Mendon to his only child, daughter Lynn A. Farash.

Lawyer Michael Wolford: "The property guardian's plan is simply an attempt to whittle away Lynn's inheritance."

The disagreement is significant because the Farash estate could eventually become the largest charitable foundation in the Rochester area's history.

The argument, now being played out before a state Supreme Court justice in Rochester, pits Farash's charitable intentions against his personal bequest to his child.

Full Article and Source:
Guardian, family clash over ailing mogul Max Farash's estate

See also:
Guardianship Cost $1 Million

CPS Drops Case

Child Protective Services notified a judge that it is removing the 17-year-old daughter of jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs from court supervision even though evidence shows her father encouraged her marriage to a 34-year-old sect member.

The teen’s removal leaves under court supervision only three of 439 children CPS removed last April from the sect’s ranch in Eldorado.

Patrick Crimmins, CPS spokesman: “We have nonsuited (dismissed) cases when we believe that parents or family members have taken steps to protect the children from future abuse or neglect. A nonsuit means that in our estimation court oversight is no longer needed to ensure a child’s safety.”

Full Article and Source:
CPS drops case involving FLDS leader’s teen daughter

See also:
CPS Seeks Permanent Conservatorship

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

State to Pay $2.9 Million

The state has agreed to pay $2.9 million to three children sexually abused by older kids in a Nassau County foster home.

The agreement follows an appellate decision lawyers called unprecedented that gave the children the right to sue the Florida Department of Children and Families for placing them in a home where danger lurked.

The settlement encompasses both state and federal claims filed against the department and its employees. Under its terms, the money will go into a trust fund to pay for ongoing therapeutic care and treatment for the children, molested nearly a decade ago.

Lawyers for the children said the settlement was bolstered by a December ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. It said the children could sue on grounds that DCF was “deliberately indifferent” to the potential danger they faced when they were placed in the state-licensed foster home.

Full Article and Source:
State agrees to pay $2.9 million in foster care abuse case

See also:
DCF Violated State Laws

Former Public Guardian

Ignorance of the law is typically not a defense, but that's what a former public official used as his defense in a hearing before the state ethics commission. News 3 Investigators have been digging deeper into allegations of misuse of public office. Jared Shafer served as Clark County Public Administrator for more than 20 years. His job was to handle estates when someone died and had no known relatives who could do so. At issue is whether former Public Administrator Jared Shafer misused his office to get a lucrative contract.
Full Article and Source:
Former Public Official Defends His Actions After Term

Seven years after writing a series of articles in the Las Vegas Tribune, about the abuses of former Clark County Public Administrator/Public Guardian, Jared Shafer; many individuals are asking for help to call attention, once again, to what they consider (as would any reasonable person) to be the continued abuse of certain citizens that have fallen into Shafer's hands as a "court appointed guardian."
Full Article and Source:
Jared Shafer - 'Criminal Extraordinaire'

Same-Sex Custody Battle

In a fierce custody battle between a Christian mother of a 6-year-old girl and the mother's former lesbian partner, a Vermont judge has denied the homosexual woman's requests for guardianship but is allowing her to have extended visits with the child.

As WND has reported, Lisa Miller left the homosexual lifestyle and became a Christian when her daughter, Isabella, was 17 months old. But Janet Jenkins, Lisa's same-sex partner when Lisa gave birth to Isabella, has been seeking full custody of the girl, claiming she was a parent even though she is not biologically related to Isabella and never sought to adopt her.

The case has been further tangled by the courts, as Jenkins and Miller were joined in civil union in Vermont, but Miller and her daughter now live in Virginia, where the laws forbid recognition of civil unions.

Judge William Sharp of the Shenandoah County Domestic Relations District Court in Virginia, ordered Miller to allow Jenkins a three-day unsupervised visit with Isabella. Miller was told that Isabella must visit the mother's former lesbian partner in Vermont, and if she refused, the law would remove the girl by force, if necessary.

Full Article and Source:
Judge denies lesbian custody of Christian girl

Mini Law School for Public

The Technical College of the Lowcountry is accepting applications for its Law School for Non-Lawyers program, a seven-week course that will explore a variety of legal subjects.

The three-hour, weekly classes will be conducted Feb. 10 to March 24 and are expected to cover a range of topics, including criminal law, bankruptcy, torts, real estate law and juvenile justice.

An attorney volunteered to teach a class in health care and elder law and another on arbitration and meditation.

The course is offered at several technical colleges across the state by the S.C. Bar Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the S.C. Bar Association.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Feb. 10 - March 24
Where: Technical College of the Lowcountry, Beaufort Campus, 921 Ribaut Road.
To register: 843-525-8205

Topics to be covered:
•Feb. 10 --Overview of state courts and alternative dispute resolution
•Feb. 17 -- Juvenile justice and child protection hearings
•Feb. 24 -- Family law and real estate/landlord-tenant law
•March 3 -- Wills, estates and probate; health care and elder law
•March 10 -- Employment law and S.C. workers' compensation law
•March 17 --Bankruptcy law, consumer law and debt collection
•March 24 -- Criminal law and torts

Full Article and Source:
Attorneys offer mini-law school for the public

Grandmother Dies in Shooting

According to investigators, two police officers went to a home to check on the welfare of a 7-year-old girl. Police say after talking with the girl's grandmother Kathleen Davies, she went into the kitchen and came out firing a handgun at police. Police returned fire in self-defense, hitting Davies three times.

Davies was transported to the hospital by ambulance where she was pronounced dead.

Police say they were contacted by the girl's biological father and asked to check in on his daughter. They say the grandmother did have legal guardianship of the little girl.

Grandmother Dies in Officer-Involved Shooting

Monday, February 2, 2009

"Easy" For Attorney or Guardian

Marilyn Jacob is living in an Alzheimer's facility in Seminole, Fla. Her brother, Robert Howard, died in late 2006. Though mentally handicapped, he had a maintenance job with the Department of Veterans Affairs and left Jacob and other heirs a nearly $1 million estate.

Nephew Eric Jacob: "I know that Robert was somewhat incapable of writing a will because he had been on disability for over 60 years and was mentally disabled. I knew it would be easy for an attorney or guardian to embezzle his estate."

Enter Richard McQuillan, a former Jackson attorney who was Howard's legal guardian for 25 years.

McQuillan also cried on Dec. 31 when he admitted to Jackson County Probate Judge Diane Rappleye during a court hearing that he plundered the estate of more than $900,000 in a few months in early 2007.

Criminal charges are brewing, but McQuillan likely will be freed before he is charged.

Full Article and Source:
Jackson native's $1 million estate plundered

See also:
Attorney Plundered $1Million Estate

Biggest Mistake

Obama: "Biggest Mistake" Was Vote to Help Terri Schiavo

Barack Obama said he regrets his 2005 vote allowing Congress to get involved in the case involving Terri Schiavo, the severely disabled woman from Florida who died of starvation and dehydration after the guardian had her feeding tube pulled by court order.

More information:
Obama tells debate audience he regrets Schiavo vote

Obama regrets intervening to save Terri Schiavo

See also:
Perrelli in the Justice Department

Legacy: The Killing Judge

How Many Others?

In Memoriam - Terri Schindler Schiavo

Budget Cuts: Home-Health-Care

State lawmakers will have to make some difficult decisions on budget cuts this year. One of the areas that could see spending reductions is home health care services for the elderly.

Currently 3,712 Hoosiers currently benefit from the CHOICE home health care program. Another 3,000 are on the waiting list.

A small number of groups representing their constituents held a news conference to lobby against the proposed $4 million cut in CHOICE funding in the proposed budget.

Full Article and Source:
Advocates warn of cuts to home health care program

Sheriff Hires Former Judge

Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson defended his decision to hire Michael J. Livingstone — the former probate judge who retired last year amidst misconduct charges — as a "coordinator of contract compliance."

The sheriff said: "I spoke with him about the ethical issues and he was very candid with me." He was satisfied with Mr. Livingstone's explanation that he unknowingly violated judicial administrative rules while he was a sitting judge at the Plymouth Probate and Family Court.

Sheriff Hodgson hired Mr. Livingstone in October to monitor contracts for the department's medical unit. In that position, which pays a $39,000 annual salary, Mr. Livingstone is responsible for managing the costs associated with providing inmates' medical care.

Full Article and Source:
Sheriff Hodgson defends hiring of former probate judge

Exceeding Authority

Rita Hunter, in the final weeks of her tenure as Jasper County public administrator, wrote checks from her wards’ accounts to send thousands of dollars in voluntary payments to state health-care agencies.

Probate court records show Hunter paid more than $60,000 from the accounts of five wards — with nearly $35,000 sent to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority from the estate of one ward, and more than $26,000 to the Missouri Medicaid program from the accounts of four other wards.

During the same period, nearly $21,000 was spent in pre-need burial plans for the five wards.

At year’s end, three of the five wards were handed over to the new public administrator with no money in their estates; one had $229 and another, $200.

Gretchen Long, attorney for Angie Casavecchia, the new Jasper County public administrator, said she has written to the states and will try to recover that money sent from wards as voluntary payments.

Long: “The money that was spent was not due and the payments are not authorized by statute or the court. She (Hunter) exceeded her authority.”

Full Article and Source:
Wards' estates shrank

See also:
Lawyer Wants Lawsuits Dismissed

Hunter Removed Client Files

Attorney Fees Challenged

Jasper County OPA

Probate Judge Cannot Hear Case

Class Action Filed

Former Ward Files Suit

Undrafted Medical Certificate

France is Released

Mother and Daughter File Suit

An Alleged Kidnapping

Sunday, February 1, 2009

In the Matter of Murray Feingold

Supreme Court of the County of Kings

State of New York


Re: In the Matter of Murray Feingold (109058/01)

To: Hon. Ellen Spodek

I am submitting this affidavit because I believe this case is a matter of public interest. This court has the power to remove an appointed guardian for cause, or to remove the guardianship entirely if upon reassessment of the person’s capacity warrants such removal, I respectfully request the court to consider the following:

Upon information and belief, Murray’s original involvement with this court began in 2001 and stemmed from the threat of being evicted from the rent controlled apartment in which he and his wife were residing.

Circumstances gave the appearance that Murray could not take care of his financial matters. Nowhere in his case file does it explain that for all the years prior to this eviction incident, Murray supported himself and his wife better than most people could. He had purposely withheld rent, because through information gleaned from media sources in reference to “rent strikes” by tenants, he believed this was the only effective means to force the landlord to make what Murray considered to be “necessary repairs”. According to Murray, the amount in back rent claimed by the landlord to be owed was erroneous and an investigation into the matter was never had. A guardian was appointed for both Murray and his wife, Marilyn.

Nevertheless, the person described in those court documents is not the Murray of today.

It is not apparent when first meeting or speaking with Murray that he is a very intelligent person because at times he is hard to understand. He speaks fast and joins his words together. For the first few months he would call me on the phone, it seemed he was yelling at me. It was when I met him in person that I discovered that he has a severe hearing problem and is in dire need of dental work, which I believe effect his speech patterns. People whose hearing is impaired do not hear themselves speaking. In addition, hard of hearing people have a habit of saying “yes” when you ask them a question, rather than admitting that they did not hear or understand what was asked. Murray does this.

What I found most troubling when I met Murray in person was that his most essential needs were not being met. He told me that he had been having dental work done but when the bill became five hundred dollars, the guardian would no longer pay it. He also said that he had ordered a hearing aid from Hearing Aid Xpress which the guardian cancelled. According to Murray, he had a hearing test done recently and he is almost totally deaf in his right ear and partially deaf in his left. It is hard to believe that his guardian would not immediately address the issues which are so negatively effecting the health and well-being of someone under their watch.

Murray wakes every weekday morning at 5:30 am to catch the subway from Brooklyn to his job in Manhattan. On the weekends, he drives. He has been a full time employee of the United States Postal Service, for over 40 years, in an area where they are strict on performance and efficiency. He is a highly valued employee, who continually receives “Certificates of Appreciation” accompanied by gifts of value. He also receives outstanding performance awards and Perfect Attendance awards which are given out when an employee has perfect attendance, meaning no call-ins, sick days or lateness for the whole year. These certificates also come with gifts of value. Murray has been given these awards throughout his career, most recently during the years when he has been under guardianship. Ms. Thomas, his supervisor, has told me that she likes Murray and spoke highly of his work ethic.

Murray takes care of his wife Marilyn, who he has been married to for over 30 years. Murray and Marilyn cook for each other, do their own laundry, wash dishes and do other chores. They exist without any outside help. After working all day, Murray goes out to collect cans and bottles to cash in and give what money he collects to Marilyn, since the guardian only gives her 80 dollars a month out of her income. According to family members, Marilyn has become much more introverted since the guardianships. To try to improve the situation, Murray was resourceful enough to enter into therapy with a marriage counsellor, which he paid for out of his own funds.

Murray owns and drives a car and loves to take vacations. They both enjoy travelling and within recent years they have travelled all over even as far as Nashville Tennessee because of their love of country music.

Murray not only works full time, by he also works overtime on weekends and holidays to help pay for these trips which he refers to as vacations. However, according to Murray, the guardian gives him an allowance of $325 every 2 weeks which he uses to pay some bills, but in addition requires Murray to provide them with fifteen hundred dollars each pay period. Murray is forced to work overtime in order to be able to do this since his base pay is less than the fifteen hundred. Murray’s base salary is approximately $50,000 a year. Although I saw an Order permitting the guardian access to Murray’s base pay, I could find no Order allowing the guardian access to his overtime money.

Copies of payments made by the guardian on behalf of Murray are impossible to decipher. Many of Murray's overdue bills to places like cable and cell phone companies, as well as one credit card bill, were in arrears. Some were accumulating interest almost equalling the minimum amounts being paid by the guardian. Both Murray and Marilyn’s expenses are combined. There was no indication of the amount of fees taken out by the guardianship company as compensation for their services.

For the forty years prior to having a guardian, Murray claims, he had no problems paying all his bills, including car payments.

The guardian recently sent a case worker to the Feingold apartment to take pictures because the apartment is cluttered. However, recently Oprah and Dr. Phil have brought the subject of hoarding to light to demonstrate how thousands of people live with this problem. Most of the videos show people who live under conditions much worse than the Feingolds yet none are under guardianship because of it.

In his book on clutter titled “Buried in Treasure, Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding”, the author, Dr. Randy O, Frost, the leading authority on the subject, helps the reader to understand the dynamics of this problem. Frost says that one of the most promising approaches to intervention appears to be cognitive behavioural therapy, which combines the systematic restructuring of thought processes with practical exercises aimed at reducing clutter. He also claims that cleaning the house and discarding a persons “possessions” makes matters worse and causes the person to acquire more stuff than they had previously.

I learned that both Murray and Marilyn’s role models, their parents, were hoarders. Murray’s father collected and saved magazines and newspapers. So does Murray. He feels that the papers containing important events are history and should be saved. When I explained that he could always go to the Internet and obtain copies of the data, he thought about and on his own, he understood that it was all right to stop saving the papers. He has started cleaning his apartment.

Rather than read the book by Mr. Frost, the guardian took matters into their own hands. Under false pretences, they took Murray and Marilyn “out for pizza” and then created a nightmare that neither Murray nor Marilyn will soon forget. The guardian hired a cleaning service who basically considered all the belonging trash, and treated them accordingly. In addition, while they were having lunch, their two dogs were taken away to the pound. When Murray and Marilyn returned home and found the dogs missing, they were devastated. Traumatized.

Marilyn and Murray drove to the court and then around to all the shelters and pounds to try to recover the pets they loved. Finally, they were given the heartbreaking news. The dogs had been destroyed. Marilyn still cries over it.

Studies are quoted again and again about the benefits of pets, especially dogs and cats, so much so that nursing homes welcome the animals. Senior housing complexes allow residents to own and keep dogs and cats of all shapes and sizes.

I ask that Murray be allowed to live his own life. Because guardianships take away a person’s civil rights, they should only be used as a last resort. I am not an attorney but I can not pin point the clear and convincing evidence as to why Murray is considered incapacitated at this time.

Murray will soon be of retirement age and wants to be free to make his own decisions and to do whatever he wants. He can set up an online account to pay for his rent. He has family who can help him. I will volunteer to help him eliminate his clutter, by following the suggestions in Mr. Frost’s book, so that he can maintain his apartment in safe, pleasant and orderly manner.

Written by a NASGA member

See also:
Elder Abuse or Slavery