Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lawsuits - the Cost of Doing Business

"When you’re selling $1 billion a year or more of a drug, it’s very tempting for a company to just ignore the traffic ticket and keep speeding.”

A New York Times report reviews what has been accomplished by multiple civil and criminal lawsuits against Big Pharma companies that have relied almost entirely on fraud to market industry's worst pharmaceuticals--antipsychotic drugs--which have become industry's most profitable cash cow.

"The new generation of antipsychotics has also become the single biggest target of the False Claims Act, a federal law once largely aimed at fraud among military contractors. Every major company selling the drugs — Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — has either settled recent government cases for hundreds of millions of dollars or is currently under investigation for possible health care fraud."

"Two of the settlements, involving charges of illegal marketing, set records last year for the largest criminal fines ever imposed on corporations. One involved Eli Lilly’s antipsychotic, Zyprexa; the other involved a guilty plea for Pfizer’s marketing of a pain pill, Bextra. In the Bextra case, the government also charged Pfizer with illegally marketing another antipsychotic, Geodon; Pfizer settled that part of the claim for $301 million, without admitting any wrongdoing."

But these lawsuits are no deterrent to crime, as Jerome Avorn, MD, Harvard medical professor correctly observes : "When you’re selling $1 billion a year or more of a drug, it’s very tempting for a company to just ignore the traffic ticket and keep speeding.”

Full Article and Source:
Lawsuits, Just the Cost of Criminal Marketing of Antipsychotic Drugs

See Also:
Side Effects May Include Lawsuits

Florida: Medicare Scammer Gets 20 Years

Just days after his partners in crime were arrested on Medicare fraud charges, Ihosvany Marquez was recorded on an undercover tape saying he had no qualms about stealing from the federal program for the elderly and disabled.

"I don't care because it is the government," Marquez told a federal informant, pitching him on a plot to export a multmillion-dollar scam from Miami-Dade to Detroit.

"Medicare needs to have fraud because it's more money they get every year," he said in the May 27, 2009, recording, which was read Thursday by a prosecutor in Miami federal court.

Marquez, a former Miami Springs High pitching ace who almost played in the Major Leagues, was sentenced Thursday to 19 ½ years in prison for healthcare fraud. He schemed to bilk $48.8 million from Medicare by submitting false claims for purported HIV therapy.

Marquez's seven clinics in Miami-Dade and Orlando were paid $21.6 million, which he must repay the taxpayer-funded Medicare program.

Full Article and Source:
Convicted Miami Dade Medicare Scammer Imprisoned for Nearly 20 Years

Kansas: Lawyer Disbarred for Charging $3,500 an Hour

The Supreme Court of Kansas has disbarred a Kansas City attorney for charging $3,500 an hour to handle a soldier's case and for making offensive remarks to a judge and court staff.

Carlos Romious lost his license on Monday after the Kansas high court found that he charged the inflated fee while representing a soldier facing drug possession charges in a military court. The court also found that during a three-year period Romious shouted profanity at court clerks, got into a brawl with a court security officer and accused a judge of being a pedophile.

In adopting a recommendation from a disciplinary administrator, the court in a per curiam decision concluded that the pattern of misconduct warranted disbarment.

"In summary, the respondent's conduct resulted in two criminal convictions, a contempt adjudication that led to 120 days in jail, minor injuries to a U.S. deputy marshal, and an adverse impact on a military career," the court said.

Full Article and Source:
Kansas Attorney Disbarred Over High Fee, Disrespect to Judge and Court Staff

Friday, October 15, 2010

Editorial: Arizona Probate System in Desperate Need of Reform

Last year my daughter almost died. Dealt a severe blow by a massive aneurysm, the doctors did not think she would make it. All we could do was pray and wait.

In the midst of it all I was sued by people unrelated to us seeking to gain control of her life, and her trust.

My daughter happens to be Walt Disney's granddaughter.

What has transpired over the past year has been torture. I have not been able to speak to my daughter in private for nearly a year. Courts, bodyguards and self-serving individuals have sought at all costs to use the probate system to their advantage.

Just think about our case for a moment. Not all blood relatives are necessarily good people, of course. But throughout my life I have tried every day to be a good father to my children.

However, our probate system - that used to supposedly protect the vulnerable and their assets during the most trying of times - actually allowed in our case people completely unrelated to us and relatives with no close family ties to create chaos in our family.

That's just not right.

We are going to use what we have learned to put forth a very aggressive set of legislative reforms.

Some of the issues are:

1. The court should not allow a case to go forward without evidence. Hearsay is not evidence.

2. If a malicious petition is filed, the petitioners should have to pay all attorney fees. The attorneys should also be sanctioned.

3. When individuals have their directives, the court must uphold them.

Full Article and Source:
Arizona's Probate System in Desperate Need of Reform

TX: Budget Shortfall Forces Big Cuts for Disabled

Barbara Cullison waited eight years and eight months to get community-based care for her profoundly autistic daughter Audrey through a popular Medicaid waiver program designed to keep people with disabilities out of institutions. Now, Audrey and thousands of other Texans with disabilities fear losing their services because of budget cuts demanded of state agencies.

Advocates say the Department of Aging and Disability Services’ baseline budget request eliminates financing for more than 13,000 people — the majority of them waiting to receive so-called Medicaid waiver services in private homes, group homes or other community settings. Agency officials say an “unknown number” of people already receiving the services could lose them.

Lawmakers would have to approve another $317 million off of the agency's budget wish list — called "exceptional items" — to keep the services intact, a pipe dream when the state is facing an estimated $21 billion shortfall and has asked agencies to submit options for cutting their budgets another 10 percent.

“If this goes away, what are we going to do?” asked Cullison, whose daughter just came off of the waiting list for community services in September. “I need that safety net, need to know [that] when I can’t take care of her anymore, there’s a place for her that’s set, that’s paid for. After nine years, I thought I didn’t have to worry about this anymore.”

Agency officials acknowledge their hands are tied.

Full Article and Source:
Budget Shortfall Forces Big Cuts for Disabled

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grandchildren of Walt Disney, Father Battle for Control

Even the lives of American royalty are not immune from being upended in Probate Court.

Three cases in Maricopa County and California courts attest to the fact.

The court battles revolve around the fortune of one of the legends of American entertainment, Walt Disney. They trace back to secret land deals in Florida. A prominent East Valley developer. A controversial Arizona real-estate baron. And two Disney heirs, his grandchildren, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars.

The cases illustrate how even the most careful estate planning may not prevent vicious court fights from erupting when families feud. Relatives take sides, attorneys clash, and original estate terms may be altered.

The legal fees, they all say, are costing a fortune.

Full Article and Source:
AZ Maricopa County Probate Court - In the Valley, Heirs Embroiled in Disney Feud

Financial Advisor Charged With Bilking Elderly Out of Hundreds of Thousands

The state charged Carlene B. Veara of South Yarmouth with diverting money from elderly investors to a company she controlled.

Veara, a registered representative in the Hyannis branch of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, gained power of attorney for a 98-year old investor, a woman in failing health with no known blood relatives. She then transferred more than $177.000 from the woman’s accounts to a company called Cape Cod Caretakers, of which Veara was sole executive officer, according to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office.

Veara was also listed as beneficiary of the investor’s Morgan Stanley Smith Barney account valued at more than $600,000, and a joint owner of the investor’s bank account. None of these arrangements were disclosed to the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney as required by its policies and procedures.

“Examiners have also determined that Veara has entered various forms of fiduciary relationships with multiple clients, such as a trustee of a trust, an executrix of a will, or as health care proxy – all without disclosing that relationship and associated conflicts of interest to her employer,” the complaint states.

Full Article and Source:
State Charges Cape Woman With Bilking Elders for Hundreds of Thousands

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Once Again, Watch Out for Probate Court

The latest appalling story out of probate court begins with a frantic message to a state senator from a relative worried about her 84-year-old aunt.

"She has been forcibly removed from her home by the police, accompanied by her daughter who is acting as her temporary conservator, to the psychiatric ward,'' the woman wrote in an e-mail last week to state Sen. Edith Prague. "She is not insane and committed no crime but is being treated like the worst type of criminal.''

Sadly, this is no surprise in some of our lawless probate courts. I've been writing these tragic stories for more than four years. Two things have not changed: judges and lawyers who take advantage of the old and sick and probate court administrators who say these are only isolated and rare problems.

The daughter, who lives out of state, was estranged from her mother. At the daughter's behest, Probate Judge John W. Cooney made her conservator of her mother and allowed Dorothy Crouse to be snatched from her home and locked in a secure nursing facility in Wallingford.

For 10 days, nobody could find Crouse, who was medicated and blocked from all visitors.

Crouse suffers from mild dementia, but she lived alone and independently. She has a boyfriend, relatives she is close with and friends in the community. The law requires that even if a person is conserved - which means the court takes over your civil rights, your money and your freedom -the judge must make sure it is under the "least restrictive" conditions.

That means an estranged child can't step in and tell mom or dad what to do. That means a judge can't name somebody conservator when the conserved person already has a power of attorney and other legal documents dictating care.

"It makes my blood boil,'' Prague told me. "There are people my age ... who want to live independently and who want to be left alone. I am not going to sit down and let this happen.

"The conservator abuse is usually caused by money. Look at Miss Smoron down in Southington,'' Prague said about the infamous case where, at the behest of a rogue conservator, a judge changed the will of a dying woman to benefit a developer. "Who do these probate judges think they are? We've got to do something about it."

Indeed we do.

Full Article and Source:
Once Again, Watch Out for Probate Court

Britney Spears Hearing Scheduled for Oct. 14

Britney Spears' conservatorship order is to come to an end within three months.

the 28-year-old pop star is expected to reclaim control of her life after meeting with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Reva Goetz last week so he could assess her general wellbeing.

A source told "Britney has made tremendous progress in the past three to four months. She seems to be firmly in control again.

"Judge Goetz needed to meet with Britney and talk to her face-to-face, to see how she was doing. It's one thing to read medical reports about her, but the in-person meeting was very important.

"Britney's court-appointed attorney, Sam Imgham, was the only other person in the judge's chambers during the 35-minute meeting.

"Judge Goetz also met with Britney's father, Jamie separately, as well as with Britney's therapist."

The final decision will be made by Judge Goetz, and if he decides Spears no longer needs conservators she will be in charge of her affairs within 12 weeks.

The next conservatorship hearing is scheduled for October 14.

Full Article and Source:
Britney Spears Set to Take Back Control

See Also:
Britney Spears Remains Conserved

Lawsuit Not Connected to Banker's Disappearance

A lawsuit against missing banker David Widlak alleging he mismanaged an elderly Windsor woman's estate has no bearing on the police investigation into his disappearance, Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said.

"Any connection with someone who wanted to harm David based upon the lawsuit has not been brought to our attention, nor do we believe any reason for his disappearance is connected to it," Hackel said.

The suit against Widlak was filed in Macomb County Circuit Court last October on behalf of Elizabeth Mary Cerget, 69, who died in 2008. Her daughter and legal representative, Jennifer Rubli of Windsor, filed the suit.

The lawyer representing Cerget's estate also said today that he doesn't think the case has anything to do with Widlak's disappearance.

"If we win everything, he may be liable for $200,000," said Troy-based attorney Andrew Mayoras. "That's not enough to disappear over."

Because Widlak is missing, the lawsuit is up in the air, the attorney says. "I don't know what's going to end up happening at this point," Mayoras said.

Hackel said the department's detectives were aware of the suit, checked into and determined that it wasn't connected to Widlak's disappearance.

Full Article and Source:
Hackel: Lawsuit Against Missing Banker Not Related to His Disappearance

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If You Ask Me...

Guardian. Someone who protects.

Children need permission from a parent or guardian, to take part in field trips or other activities. Health care providers need the authorization of a parent or guardian in order to treat a patient who is a minor.

Those are situations that come to mind when we think of guardians. But there are guardians of adults, too. And sometimes there are children who are guardians of parents.

I don’t mean that minors can be guardians of parents, only that “adult children” can encounter situations in which their elderly or inform parents are in need of that kind of help. It’s a role reversal that is becoming more common than it used to be, what with life spans being greater.

“We need a guardianship bill!” was a mantra I heard at gatherings of the New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc., decades ago. When first I heard that statement I didn’t know what it was about. But soon someone explained it to me.

NYSARC included numerous people who were highly qualified to explain guardianship and other legal issues. The one who laid it out for me was Augustus M. Jacobs, a courtly gentleman indeed. His specific court was the New York State Supreme Court, First District (Manhattan). He was one of the founders, in 1949, of the first organization of its kind, the Association for the Help of Retarded Children. I have his AHRC lapel pin.

The guardianships NYSARC was talking about were those in which persons with mental retardation would reach the age of majority but would not be able to handle all the responsibilities that come with adulthood. Their parents wanted to be able to continue to protect and guide them—to act as their guardians.

Most such parents expected that they would predecease their offspring. Some conditions causing mental retardation also included other health challenges which tended to shorten life spans, but even so, parents realized there probably would come a time when they would not be around, or able, to carry out their guardianship functions.

Often standby guardians were named. For mentally retarded adults, usually a parent or parents were named guardian/s, and often a sibling was appointed standby guardian. There could be other standby or contingency arrangements made, too. A local chapter of NYSARC would be one possible choice. The reasoning was that such an entity would have a longer “lifetime” than an individual. Chapters and NYSARC itself had guardianship committees; I served on several.

Then there are the guardian arrangements in which adult children assume responsibility for parents. Most of us know some of those guardians and their parents.

This isn’t the same as being “attorney-in-fact” or having the responsibility of power of attorney. That role is one in which the grantor voluntarily and knowingly gives the POA that authority, so that the POA can act for the grantor as needed, or maybe regularly. Typical duties and powers would be handling money and other assets, paying bills, selling property and making living arrangements.

Ordinarily the grantor can revoke or change power of attorney arrangements at will. Also, the grantor is still free to make decisions too, to pay bills and sign checks and buy things.

Guardianship arrangements may not always be voluntary on the part of the person being “guarded.” Sometimes that individual is too impaired in mental function to participate in the decision. Courts grant those non-voluntary guardianship arrangements based on a showing that the individual is incompetent. The court must find the proposed guardian to be suitable. Usually the person petitioning the court to appoint a guardian for someone is also proposing to be that guardian; but sometimes the petition asks the court to appoint another person or entity.

Would you be surprised if I told you some guardians of adults are untrustworthy? Probably not. There have been high profile cases in the news, where the rich and famous were victimized, usually by those close to them, through abuse of guardianship prerogatives.

There’s an organization devoted to helping those victimized by guardianship abuse, and to seeking legislation and court rulings that will help prevent such abuse. National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse has a website you can Google for.

Some of NASGA’s activists were in McKean County recently to monitor court proceedings related to the guardianship of Rita Denmark, a Bradford widow her daughter alleges to have been virtually abducted to Florida and wrongfully placed under guardianship there and then placed in a secure care facility and her assets made off with.

Sad. Worrisome. The court may rule on some aspects of that case later this week.

If You Ask Correspondent Martha "Marti" Knight

See Also:
Help Bring Rita Denmark Home

New Shelter for Elderly Victims of Abuse

Hinds County law enforcement officials are close to opening an emergency shelter for seniors that they say will help protect elderly victims of abuse or neglect statewide.

"Seniors are the largest growing population worldwide, and Mississippi is no exception," Sheriff's Department project manager Ruth Marie Stogner said. So authorities are expecting to see more crimes targeting the elderly, especially those with physical or mental ailments.

Mississippians age 65 or older number more than 364,000 and make up 12.5 percent of the population, according to 2009 Census estimates. That's an increase of 6 percent in the last decade.

The state Attorney General's Office investigates cases of abuse, neglect, fraud and exploitation of vulnerable adults. Its investigators have opened 812 new cases this year, up from 591 last year.

The emergency shelter is a renovated house in southwest Jackson that will provide temporary living quarters and care for up to eight.

"We will be able to take them out of a bad situation and give them a safe home until we can locate their Medicaid or Social Security and can put them in a place where it is stable," Stogner said.

Full Article and Source:
Shelter for Elderly to Open in Hinds

Monday, October 11, 2010

NASGA Press Release - FL: October is "Guardianship Month"

Florida Governor Charlie Crist has declared October as “Guardianship Month.”

NASGA would point Governor Crist’s attention to the fact that the original intent of guardianship/conservatorship law - “guard,” “protect” and “conserve” - is no longer being complied with in a frightening and growing number of cases involving court-appointed fiduciaries. Wards' estates, instead of being conserved, are being plundered in the guise of fiduciary fee billings for "services," either not necessary or not necessarily legal in nature, or simply through blatant overbilling. More and more fiduciaries are engaging in “protecting” their wards into indigence!

Wards’ best interests aren’t being protected either. Many wards are forced into facilities against their wishes and the wishes of their family. Often, these wards are then isolated from family and friends, believing they have been abandoned, and end up dying prematurely, alone and afraid. They are often given unnecessary and dangerous psychotropic drugs which “straightjackets” them and hastens their death after their assets are gone!

Not all guardianship is unlawful or abusive, but when it is, families and lives are destroyed. When unethical fiduciaries have bled estates dry, their wards are thrust onto the Medicaid rolls for the rest of their lives. Every citizen is then affected through increased taxation. The fiduciaries move on to greener pastures while the taxpayers are left with the Medicaid tab for the rest of the lives of the wards, still under state control.

Families fighting for release of their loved ones are damaged financially and can be driven into bankruptcy themselves, while the “fiduciaries” take their fees from the ward’s estate with the blessings of a judge who fails to comply with law. The devastation can cross generations.

It’s no longer a secret: guardianship can and often does harm the very people the laws are supposed to be protecting: the wards, their extended families, and the unwary taxpayers.

Some examples:
*In Miami-Dade, Judge Maria M. Korvick appointed an attorney known to her to be on psychiatric disability, despite the statutory requirement that a fiduciary be sui juris; i.e., competent. The ward, Estela Torrent, went blind due to neglect during court-ordered confinement in a nursing facility, where she remained against her will, at the urgings of the guardian of the property - her very own son. He also convinced the judge, through a hearsay complaint, to compel his sister to pay for a guard in order to visit her mother in the nursing home. That same sister has now been appointed by that same judge as guardian of the person of their mother, and is her present caregiver, now that her estate has been bled out and she has been filed as an indigent. What’s wrong with this picture?

*In Volusia County, Judge McFerrin Smith is determined to retain control over Rita Denmark, a nonresident of the State of Florida. Rita Denmark has lived her entire life in Pennsylvania, yet Judge Smith has refused to let her go home for three long years!

*In Pinellas County, after her guardian’s refusal to take Retta Rickow to her doctor, she landed in the ER. The guardian then secretly moved Retta to a facility 21miles across county - away from her home, family, church and her doctors of over 20 years. Family contested and a hearing was set in Judge Patrick K. Caddell’s court for the purpose of moving Retta closer to her daughter and son in compliance with her wishes and wants. At that hearing, family was blindsided by the judge who, on his own and before any of the lawyers present had submitted their fee billings, assessed family to pay the guardian and attorneys over $8,000. Retta Rickow continues to be separated from her family, her estate plundered, and Florida law ignored.

*In Broward County, Judge Mel Grossman presided over the case of 95-year old Lucille Gittens, who was forced to leave the home she had lived in with her son and his family for thirty years and placed in a group facility against her wishes and the wishes of her family.

If Florida is to remain the “Sunshine State,” it must bring that sunlight into its courts and end the unlawful and abusive misuse of well-intentioned law for unjust enrichment purposes. A large percentage of the Florida elderly population is presently victimized, with the Baby Boomers coming up fast.

NASGA calls for Governor Crist and those running to replace him this election year, to stand up for the vulnerable elderly and disabled persons of Florida and work with NASGA toward reform.

See NASGA’s “An Open Letter to Congress and the White House,” available online at

Sunday, October 10, 2010

TN: Judicial Discipline Walks a Tight Line

How to make government transparent and efficient at the same time is an ongoing puzzle for those who believe, as we do, that the American system is the best in the world.

Good-government advocates struggle to establish procedures that are fair and effective and which at the same time let the people know what’s going on.

An example is the current inquiry by a legislative committee into the state’s system for discipline of judges.

That system relies on a 16-member Court of the Judiciary to review accusations of judicial misbehavior. In cases where the court finds some fault with a judge that is not severe enough to file formal charges, the usual result is a reprimand, but that action is not revealed to the public.

Some lawmakers think the people ought to be informed of these cases. “It gets back to confidence in the judiciary,” said one member of a Senate study committee, which began its work with a hearing on Monday.

The committee chairman said more disciplinary actions should be made public, or at least that the state law should be amended to more narrowly define what minor offenses may be handled privately.

But it’s not an open-and-shut matter. The presiding judge of the Court of the Judiciary said more public scrutiny would make it harder to reach agreement with accused judges on disciplinary actions. That could result in more trials, straining the state’s resources.

“A lot of times, these things are so minor that a single letter can fix it,” the judge said. He pointed out that Tennessee is one of 42 states that allow private reprimands for minor judicial offenses.

Ninety percent of the accusations reviewed by the Court of the Judiciary are dismissed, The Tennessean in Nashville reported.

Complaints of a judge’s misbehavior are like malpractice accusations against physicians. The very existence of an accusation, whether it has merit or not, can be damaging to a career.

Transparency in government is a worthy aim, but it must be pursued with care. The legislature should take a balanced view.

Judicial Discipline Walks a Tight Line

See Also:
Tennessee Lawmakers Consider Making Judicial Discipline Public

In a Family Fight, You Can Ease the Pain

Even with well-drafted trust documents, a carefully written power of attorney and prepared and competent trustees, disputes can still arise that land an adult's assets in Probate Court.

"Unfortunately, anyone can sue anyone by paying a small filing fee," said Joseph McCabe, a Phoenix estate-planning attorney.

If you get drawn into a fight over the care or money of a parent or other loved one, legal and financial experts say there are steps you can take to protect the relative, limit the costs and end the disputes. You might start with something as simple as a conversation.

• Stop, listen and compromise.

"It is all about communication," said Lisa Price, owner of a Yuma fiduciary service and past president of the Arizona Fiduciary Association. "Some people's initial reaction is to file a lawsuit instead of having a conversation."

Full Article and Source:
In a Family Fight, You Can Ease the Pain

Designate Someone To Make Decisions

Trusts usually come with powers of attorney.

These one- or two-page directives are potentially critical in determining what happens to you and your life's savings should you become incapacitated.

Legal experts recommend two types:

• Health-care power of attorney. This empowers an "agent" or "principal" to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can no longer take care of yourself. As an option, you also can designate a mental-health power of attorney, though health-care powers of attorney often mention both physical and mental incapacity.

• Financial power of attorney. This names someone to oversee your assets and finances. Often the person is also your successor trustee but could be someone else. The successor trustee takes precedence in managing the assets and cash in your trust. The person with financial power of attorney would control any assets not included in the trust.

Powers of attorney that are "durable" will stay in force as long as you're not capable of managing your own affairs. But unlike trusts, powers of attorney are limited. For one thing, they expire at your death, so they don't transfer assets or avoid probate at death.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court - Step 2: Designate Someone to Make Decisions

CT Woman Charged With Trust Fund Embezzlement

A Wisconsin woman accused of embezzling $125,800 from a trust fund left by her mother for the benefit of her stepfather was ordered held on $25,000 bond.

Michelle Angst, 49, of Mukwonago, Wis., was assigned as trustee of the fund's $202,591 several years ago. Angst's stepfather, Irving, lived in New Milford from April of 2006 through July of 2010, during which time police say she withdrew funds to enrich herself. An investigation revealed that money was used to pay for hotels, groceries, retail items, gas, and to pay Moots and Pellegrini, the legal firm Angst retained after police launched an investigation. Most of it was withdrawn as cash payments.

A complaint was lodged by Angst's husband David in a Sept. 30, 2009 letter to the New Milford Probate Court. David and Michelle Angst were in the middle of a divorce.

Full Article and Source:
Woman Charged With Trust Fund Embezzlement Held on $25,OOO