Saturday, February 27, 2010

Judge Chops Lawyers' Fees by $1 Million

Executives tired of paying big legal bills can take solace in this: North Carolina Business Court Judge Albert Diaz recently cut attorneys’ fees in a class-action case by $1 million because he thought lawyers had charged too much per hour and spent too much time working on the case.

Judges typically don’t get involved in fee arrangements between clients and their attorneys. But class-action cases are an exception because most members of the class don’t have an opportunity to negotiate a fee arrangement with the attorney that ends up representing them.

For that reason, judges have the power to act as a guardian or fiduciary for the class, says Press Millen, a Womble Carlyle attorney who was not involved in the Wachovia case but has experience with such issues. Judge Diaz, in a Feb. 5 order, exercised that authority and reduced the plaintiff’s attorneys fees down to just $932,622.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Chops Lawyer Fees by $1M

No Raise for Probate Judge Tommy Crosslin

Colbert County commissioners passed a resolution opposing a bill that would have increased Probate Judge Tommy Crosslin's salary by more than $50,000 a year.

The decision is likely unnecessary because the bill in its current form is unconstitutional and will not be introduced, State Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, said.

"As far as I know right now, there wouldn't be any need in pursuing this issue," Denton said. "I'd be foolish to introduce a bill that would be unconstitutional."

[State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia] said any effort to increase Crosslin's pay should be based on the duties of his office and have the input of the county commission, which pays his salary and employee benefits, including retirement.

Full Article and Source:
Judge's $50,000 Raise Dead

Rothstein's Wife Still Controls Properties

Bankruptcy lawyers handling the financial fallout from Scott Rothstein's mega Ponzi scheme are taking issue with the way federal prosecutors are dealing with the convicted felon's multimillion-dollar properties.

Of particular concern: Rothstein's wife Kimberly is still managing some of the houses and is living rent-free in one of them, the attorneys wrote in court filings.

"It has recently come to the attention (of the lawyers) that the government has apparently delegated its duty to properly manage and safeguard certain of the property subject to forfeiture to Scott Rothstein's wife — Kimberly Rothstein," wrote Paul Singerman, one of the attorneys handling the case for the bankruptcy trustee.

"More specifically, the (lawyers) have learned that the government has permitted Kimberly Rothstein to live rent free in one of the forfeited properties and to continue to rent out other properties to tenants," Singerman wrote.

Full Article and Source:
Scott Rothstein's Wife Still in Control of Properties

See Also:
New Website Tracks Scott Rothstein Bankruptcy

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bill Moyers: Justice for Sale

How would you feel if you were in court and knew that the opposing lawyer had contributed money to the judge's campaign fund? This is not an improbable hypothetical question, but could be a commonplace occurrence in the 21 states where judges must raise money to campaign for their seats — often from people with business before the court.

Though many states have elected judges since their founding, in the past 30 years, judicial elections have morphed from low-key affairs to big money campaigns. From 1999-2008, judicial candidates raised $200.4 million, more than double the $85.4 million raised in the previous decade (1989-1998).

According to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, of all the fallout from the Citizens United decision, the most dangerous may be in judicial elections.

This week the JOURNAL revisits "Justice for Sale," a 1999 documentary about the impact of money on judicial elections in three states — Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana.

Full Article and Source:
Justice For Sale

See Also:
Watch Video

Read Transcript


When every word and action is scrutinized, we must find a place within ourselves, within our spirit, that is our spine and our own personal declaration of independence. It is here we determine our words and actions and, coupled with the truth, all things false will fall by the way. This place in our soul, in our conscience, is the constant reminder of who we are, what we stand for and what we believe. With this spine, one can stand strong against any foe, any false claim, any errant wind. And, by faith, you will endure.


See Also:
Danny Tate, Sandbagged!?

"Irreconcilable Differences"

An Upper Darby woman who admitted to bilking an elderly, partially blind Lower Merion woman for whom she worked as a home health aide apparently needs a new lawyer.

Aretha Wellington, who is awaiting sentencing on charges she stole more than $140,600 in cash and jewelry from the elderly woman, and her lawyers Gregory Noonan and John L. Walfish have developed "irreconcilable differences," according to papers filed Friday by the defense lawyers in Montgomery County Court.

Walfish and Noonan claimed Wellington has represented that she is unhappy with her present lawyers. The lawyers indicated they cannot continue to represent Wellington "under the present circumstances."

The lawyers have asked Judge William J. Furber Jr. for permission to withdraw from the case.

Furber has not yet scheduled a hearing on the matter.

Last May, Wellington, 33, pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft by unlawful taking and access device fraud, or credit card fraud, in connection with incidents that occurred between August and September of 2006.

Wellington, who remains in jail without bail pending sentencing, faces a possible maximum sentence of seven to 14 years in prison on the charges.

Full Article and Source:
Home Health Worker Who Bilked Elderly Client Needs New Lawyer

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Family Upset About Dad's Forced Move

The family of an elderly man who lived at an Oroville nursing home was told he needed to move out, his son and daughter said.

Gordon Stout, a 79-year-old retired teacher, had lived in the dementia unit of Olive Ridge Care Center for more than a year.

That was a manageable arrangement, said his son, Wayne Stout of Magalia, and daughter, Linda Powell of Paradise. They were able to take their mother, who is 83, to visit her husband three or four times a week in Oroville. But now that he has been moved to a nursing home in Novato, in the Bay Area, frequent visits are no longer possible.

The younger Stout said Olive Ridge staff told him and his sister the dementia unit was being closed to make room for patients who were discharged from acute-care hospitals and needed to convalesce.

Stout said it appeared perhaps 30 of the approximately 40 people who lived in the dementia unit had been moved out recently.

Stout said Olive Ridge staff found a spot for his father at a nursing home in Novato. They said it was the closest suitable facility that could take him.

Stout said he didn't have any say in his father's move because his dad is in a conservatorship through the Butte County Public Guardian.

Full Article and Source:
Family Upset After Resident From Oroville Nursing Home

Michael T. Conahan Claims Immunity

Former Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan claimed he has "judicial and legislative immunity" from the latest in a series of lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the Luzerne County kids-for-cash scandal.

Conahan, acting as his own attorney, asked to be dismissed from a lawsuit filed in December in which a former juvenile defendant claimed he was sentenced to six months at a private detention facility based solely on the number of birds perched on the ledge outside the courtroom.

Conahan, who served as the county's president judge from 2002 to 2006, said he was acting "legislatively" when he forced the closure of the county-owned detention center in 2003 and asked county commissioners to fund an exclusive agreement with the private facility.

Conahan and the former judge who allegedly issued the bird-brained sentence, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., have already been hit with civil-rights claims from hundreds of other juveniles and a 48-count racketeering indictment for allegedly pocketing $2.8 million in kickbacks from the backers of the private facilities.

Full Article and Source:
Conahan Claims Immunity in Latest Kids-For-Cash Suit

Arenac County Votes to Keep Public Guardian Office

The Arenac County Board of Commissioners voted Feb. 16 to keep the Public Guardian office open at this time.

“It will continue operating the way it has been,” Board Chairman Ray Daniels said.

“We have a new guardian that’s doing the work and doing a good job,” [Richard] Vollbach said.

The commissioners initially discussed discontinuing the position at the end of March, after former guardians Sherilyn Jones and Robert Romps were both charged with embezzlement in December 2009.

An investigation by the Michigan State Police that began June 2009 found more than $300,000 in funds were misappropriated from about 50 clients from 1999 to 2009.

The Michigan State Police arrested Romps and Jones, along with Jones’ mother, Sally Lebeau, on Dec. 8. Lebeau was charged with conspiring to embezzle over $200 but less than $1,000.

Full Article and Source:
Commissioners Vote to Keep Public Guardian Office

See Also:
Investigation of Public Guardian

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Drugged Into Silence - and Death

Psychotropic drugs were used to control residents who didn't need them at a Kern Valley Healthcare District center, complaint alleges. Three people died.

An an elder abuse case described by one investigator as the most outrageous he has ever seen, three former top managers at a Kern County nursing home have been arrested in the deaths of three residents who allegedly were given needless doses of psychotropic medications.

The state attorney general's office contended in a criminal complaint that more than 20 residents at a skilled nursing center run by the Kern Valley Healthcare District were drugged "for staff convenience." Many of them experienced side effects that included dramatic weight loss, slurred speech, tremors, loss of cognition and even psychosis, according to the complaint.

"These people maliciously violated the trust of their patients by holding them down and forcibly administering psychotropic medications if they dared to question their care," state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said.

All three have been charged with elder abuse. [Former nursing director Gwen] Hughes and [former chief pharmacist Debbi C.]Hayes, who are accused of administering shots by force and without consent, also face charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

Three Arrested in Nursing Home Deaths in Lake Isabella

See Also:
CANHR Report: Toxic Medicine

Task Force Calls for Overhaul of IL Nursing Facilities

A sweeping overhaul of the state's long-term care system is needed to address violence stemming from a "toxic" mix of frail elderly and younger mentally ill residents in Illinois nursing homes, a government task force said.

Gov. Pat Quinn's task force on nursing home safety released its final report with 37 recommendations, including increased staffing levels and higher fines, fees and taxes on facilities to pay for more government oversight and discourage violations -- requirements that the nursing home industry opposes.

Quinn said he'd evaluate the report and work with others to "make these reforms a reality." The recommendations "point the way to a system of long-term care that respects the needs and rights of all residents," Quinn said in a written statement.

The recommendations would add more teeth to laws governing the state's 1,200 nursing homes and expand other types of housing.

More than any other state, Illinois has relied on nursing homes to house younger adults with serious mental illnesses, an Associated Press analysis found. Elderly residents have been victimized by stronger, younger residents living next door -- or sometimes in the same room. A Chicago Tribune series of articles spurred Quinn to form the task force.

Full Article and Source:
Task Force Calls for Overhaul of State's Nursing Homes

$18.5 Million Zyprexa Settlement

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Tuesday announced an $18.5 million settlement of a lawsuit with Eli Lilly & Co. over off-label marketing of the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa.

Zyprexa was approved to treat schizophrenia and certain types off bipolar disorder in adults. McDaniel's lawsuit alleged that the company engaged in "illegal and fraudulent off-label marketing of Zyprexa," pushing its use to treat dementia, aggression, depression and sleep disorders among adults.

The suit also alleged the company promoted the drug for unapproved use in children.

"They didn't care what they were doing to taxpayers and to children," McDaniel said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Eli Lilly admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.

Full Article and Source:
Arkansas Attorney General Announces $18.5 Million Drug Settlement

Ohio Judge Retiring

After more than three decades on the bench, Judge Richard Evans has decided to hang up his robe.

"I used to think that 37 years was an inconceivably long time," Evans said.

But Evans was just a few years short of his predecessor in probate court, Judge C.M. Ross, who was with Coshocton County Probate and Juvenile Court for 37 years. Evans is the seventh common pleas judge to hold the office here since the position was created in 1917.

In 1980, he ran for common pleas general division judge and has held the seat ever since.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Evans Hanging Up His Robe

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The People's Rights

NASGA reprints here only one sentence from an email sent from Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman to activist Warence Mae Smith (posted in Bob Norman's blog, source listed below) about the courthouse the commission decided to build for $328 million against the will of its constituents, who voted it down by a 70-30 58-42 margin:

"... You may not realize that the courthouse is where people's rights are protected, whether it be an adoption, divorce, probate, guardianship, small claims court (the people's court) or other type of lawsuit. "
In direct response to only that one sentence, advocate Tom Fields also emailed Warence Mae Smith:

Dear Mae,

I followed a link from NASGA’s blog to the material posted at Although I've barely glanced at the material, I couldn't help but notice Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman's remark "You may not realize that the courthouse is where people's rights are protected."

My reply to that is that Ms. Lieberman apparently does not realize that the courthouse is where people's rights are violated. I know my own were, and I'd like to share with you the evidence from that experience, about which Joe Roubicek, a police detective who works for the Florida State attorney in Broward County, has unofficially written:

“The obvious contradictions abound and one would wonder what the judge was thinking. As for the lawmakers and what they can do about it … You've suggested putting specific safeguards in place for legislation ... it seems to me that in your case there is no way that your father should have been recognized as having capacity while in his deathbed. There should have been laws in place to prevent that and prevent any judge from doing what this one did.”

Do you want to expose what goes on inside our courthouses? Do you want to expose the negligence and frauds of Florida lawyers and judges? Do you want to confront these lawyers and judges with practical proposals for preventing their abuses? If so, would you be interested in material which I have shared with Joe and can provide you? If so, start by looking at the evidence which I describe and link online at and

Our legal system functions more like a brothel than a protector of people’s rights, and Ms. Lieberman sounds like a courthouse pimp.

Tom Fields

Full Lieberman Email and Source:
The Lieberman Letter

See Also:
NASGA Affiliate Tom Fields Addresses Ohio Elder Abuse Commission

Financial Abuse of the Elderly; A Detective's Case Files of Exploitation Crimes, by Joe Roubicek

WI Considering Updates to Durable Power of Attorney Laws

The state Legislature is considering updates to Wisconsin’s durable power of attorney laws which would provide more protection for principals, agents and third-party institutions.

Proposals in both the Senate (SB 529) and Assembly (AB 704) modernizes current law to give people, especially those that may be incapacitated, a better ability to have their power of attorney documents accepted by banks or other financial entities.

It also establishes a revised statutory form that clearly outlines the responsibilities and limits of an agent in an effort to curb abuses of power of attorney.

Committees in both the Senate (SB 529) and Assembly (AB 704) held public hearings last week on the bills which are based on the 2006 Uniform Power of Attorney Act.

Sen. Fred Risser is a co-sponsor of the bill and a spokesperson from his office said Wisconsin is following the trend of other states that have used the uniform act as a model for changing local statutes.

And attorneys in the trusts and estates and elder law areas say the updates are overdue.

Full Article and Source:
Legislature Looks to Make Power of Attorney More Durable

Monday, February 22, 2010

Denver Post Investigation: Probate Court Rife With Lapses

When retired librarian Jeanne Hamer needed help, the Denver probate court appointed a guardian who sold many of her belongings to himself and billed her hundreds of times for walking with her and reading poetry to her. And, as a protected person, she nearly starved to death.

A 50-year-old Denver man with early dementia and the AIDS virus engaged in unprotected sex while under a guardian's supervision. And after that, the Denver probate court heard nothing about him from his guardian for five years.

William Gostele and a female friend racked up $83,517 in expenses on behalf of his brother before the Denver probate court asked why a single, elderly man was paying for frequent plane flights and spending up to $1,300 a month for groceries.

Four years after a state audit found some Colorado guardians reported nothing about people they were appointed to protect, and that its courts inadequately reviewed reports that were filed, The Denver Post has learned that the state still cannot say how many of its most vulnerable residents are being protected in accordance with the law.

A review of Denver probate court records found that some clearly are not.

Despite a state law requiring each guardian of a ward's health and each conservator of a protected person's finances to file detailed yearly reports, many guardians reported nothing for five years.

• Expense reports showing a guardian kept ignoring a court order were not questioned for four years.

• The roster of wards currently protected by the courts includes people who have been dead for years.

• The state court system cannot tell how many guardians are informing judges about the people they're protecting because reporting methods vary from court to court.

• The probate system lacks standards and training for family members appointed to protect people no longer capable of making important decisions for themselves.

Full Article and Source:
Probate Court Rife With Lapses in Training, Oversight

Note: Cases 1-3 supplement this investigation and are posted below

Case One: Ward Untracked for Years

George damaged his brain by sniffing paint and petroleum fumes and drinking too much alcohol, court records show. At the age of 50, he was diagnosed as suffering from early dementia.

It wasn't his only affliction. He also was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The court appointed George's sister as his guardian in 2001, and she moved him to a nursing home.

Twice in 2003, reports to the court deemed him an inappropriate resident at the nursing home. The first noted that he "elopes from the facility and engages in substance abuse" and "has reported engaging in sexual encounters while eloping."

The second disclosed that three long-term care facilities had rejected him because of behaviors that "include sexually accosting other residents, stealing, eloping and allegedly having sexual encounters."

In November 2003, George's sister reported that he was still at the same nursing home, that he had stayed with her for two days at Thanksgiving and that "he goes to Central City, bingo and church" for social and spiritual activities.

Then she sent no more reports.

In February 2009, Caroline Cammack, a probate court employee, discovered that George's guardian was sending no information about an HIV-positive ward.

"In those five years, we never knew where George was or his condition," Cammack said. And when she asked why, she said another court employee responded, "We're not sure if this man is alive."

Full Article and Source:
Case One: "High HIV Transmission Risk" Went Untracked for Years

Case Two: Conservator's Expense Reports

As a Denver librarian, Jeanne Hamer was surrounded by friends. When a new library was built in 1982, nearly 200 of them gave her a surprise party there.

But in her retirement, Hamer grew more isolated from family and friends. Her only child, a daughter afflicted with a mental illness, died in 2000. After that, her closest relative was a cousin in Massachusetts.

She came to depend on an old friend and former library employee, Robert Shaklee. In 1990, she signed a form giving him power of attorney to make medical decisions. Nine years later he became her court-appointed conservator.

The turning point in her retirement came in 2001, when she wandered away from her south Denver home and was reported missing for three days.

After she was found, Shaklee took her to an assisted-living facility in Denver without explaining where she was going and placed her there, never to return home.

A court battle ensued, pitting Shaklee against Hamer's distant relatives, a close friend, a Denver lawyer and Hamer's ex-husband.

Four years passed before anyone at the court noticed that Shaklee had not sold Hamer's house. However, he had submitted detailed expense reports. For example:

In 2001, when Hamer was missing for three days, he had charged her $1,198 for his time, including $45 an hour to drive around looking for her and $104 a night to sleep at her house in case she showed up. After putting her in Sunrise, he had charged her $13 a day for three weeks to feed her cat.

Over the years, he paid himself hundreds of times for picking up her mail, visiting her, walking with her or reading to her. For more skilled services — taking her to a doctor or dentist, meeting with the Sunrise staff, discussing her with his lawyer, paying bills — he charged $45 an hour.

Nobody challenged any of these expenses until November 2006. That month, court employee Caroline Cammack noted the various house-related expenses for a ward in an assisted-living home — and labeled some conservator charges "ludicrous."

Full Article and Source:
Case Two: Conservator's Expense Reports for Woman in Assisted Living Raised Red Flags

Case Three: "Expenses"

Nine years ago, James Gostele needed help from the Denver probate court.

He had been diagnosed as suffering from dementia and was recovering from a month-long hospitalization that left him with an unpaid $197,000 bill.

A brother in Illinois was willing to assist him. The court approved William Gostele as the guardian of James' health and conservator of his assets.

In that role, Gostele successfully negotiated a reduction of the hospital bill and paid it by refinancing his brother's house. But probate records also show a pattern of late and missing reports that persisted for five years before anyone questioned how James' money was being spent.

And after the court discovered in 2006 that much of $83,517 in expenses had paid for Gostele's flights to Colorado and reimbursements to a woman he would marry, it neglected again to collect his expense reports.

Full Article and Source:
Case Three, As Guardian Expenses $60,491 in Three Years

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fox 5 Special: Elder Abuse

Caregivers can be hired to help care for the elderly, but authorities say some help themselves to their clients' life savings instead. Some of these caregivers commit the ultimate betrayal and some pay for their crimes with prison time.

"My aunt developed Alzheimer's, I needed extra help at home," said Eleanor Flanagan of her aunt Frances Lindsey.

Lindsey's family turned to caregiver Felicia Harvey in 2006, when their then 87-year old aunt needed around the clock care.

"People are hard to find you feel like you can trust like that," said Flanagan.

Nearly a year after Harvey took the job, the elderly woman's family made a devastating discovery. Thousands of dollars were missing from Lindsey's account.

"We were stunned when I first found the evidence on the bank statements. I thought the bank made a mistake. It honestly never crossed my mind that Felicia would do that. I just did not want to believe it," recalled Flanagan.

Flanagan said Harvey admitted to the family and Gwinnett County authorities, that she stole over $17,000 dollars from Lindsey over a seven week period in 2007.

Full Article and Source:
Fox 5 Special: Elderly Abuse

Woman to be Sentenced

A woman paid by her elderly former father-in-law to care for him exploited the man by obtaining credit cards using his identification, Volusia County sheriff's investigators said. By the time the fraud was discovered, Santillo had racked up credit card bills totaling $8,500, the report said.

Darlene Santillo, 50, pleaded no contest to charges of exploitation of the elderly and fraudulent use of personal identification Tuesday, said State Attorney's Office spokesman Chris Kelly. Santillo faces up to 10 years in prison and is in the Volusia County Branch Jail awaiting sentencing, Kelly said.

Full Article and Source:
Woman Awaits Sentencing for Elderly Exploitatiom