Friday, December 24, 2010

CBS: Guardianship Agency Cost Elderly Woman Dearly

You're supporting Marie Log with your tax dollars - even tough she had plenty of money on her own.

Then a court appointed guardians to look out for her best interests. But her relatives say the guardians had only one interest - enriching themselves.

As children of the Depression, Marie and Cliff Long lived frugally and invested wisely. Cliff died in 2003. Madelon and Jenette are Marie's sisters.

Jeanette said her sister had about $1.3 million saved up - enough to last the rest of Marie's life - or so the couple thought.

With Marie in declining health, there were no children. Her daughter died of cancer at age 16, and her son died in Vietnam.

To make decisions on her finances and care, the court appointed a guardian - an agency called "The Sun Valley Group."

First, as Guardian, Sun Valley's owners Peter and Heather Frenette hired themselves to provide Marie's personal care. That way they collected not only guardian fees, but up to $15,000 a month in companion care fees, too.

When a Sun Valley worker started a fire in Marie's kitchen, Marie was charged for four employees to "confer" about it. The rate? Up to $105 dollars per hour for each worker.

When another Sun Valley worker locked herself out of Marie's house: $85 dollars an hour for each employee who conferred about that.

Sun Valley found a dozen ways to charge Marie to get her own weekly petty cash. They charged to prepare the cash, to confer about it, to review the status, to draft a letter to the courier, to call the courier, to pay the courier - you get the idea.

To send Long and their worker to a Phoenix Suns basketball game, Sun Valley charged over $1,000 dollars for "research," phone calls, and a limo.

Sun Valley even charged Long $228 to "determine (the) effect (of the game) on (her) mood."

When her sisters complained, Sun Valley hired lawyers, and charged Marie for that, too. Attorneys got $409,000 of Marie's money in just four years.

And Sun Valley walked away with $430,000.

Jeanette says her sister's financial status today is "Zero. Everything's been taken from her."

CBS News wanted to talk to Sun Valley CEO Peter Frenette, so we visited his Phoenix office. He wasn't available.

In writing, Frenette said he can't discuss Marie because of litigation. He did say guardians often "parachute into family battlefields; this surrounding conflict can create extraordinary fees to be incurred."

The court official who appointed Sun Valley in 2005 and an Appeals Judge defended Sun Valley's performance. They said the limo, the grease fire, all the expenses were "reasonable, necessary and for Marie's benefit." The court even blamed Marie's sisters for complaining about it and running up costs.

Full Article and Source:
CBS News - Guardianship Agency Cost Elderly Woman Dearly

See Also:
Read the GAO Report- Guardianships: Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors

NASGA's "An Open Letter to Congress and the White House"

FL: Atty Pleads Guilty to Fraud

Joseph Sindaco, 63, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud involving the theft of clients' funds from his trust account, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Sindaco, who practiced law from 2006 through December 2009 in Fort Lauderdale, handled real estate closings for clients, mortgage lenders and estate transactions.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said he took $2.4 million of clients' funds. As part of the plea agreement, Sindaco agreed to repay the money to the clients. Sindaco was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court on April 29.

Lauderdale Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Fraud

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ABC15's Questions for Sun Valley Group Owner Peter Frenette

Area families have levied serious complaints against SVG and the company is currently under investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Organized Crime Unit.

We proposed questions about SVG's business, probate court and the upset families involved in our stories. As with the other three news reports, Frenette declined our request for an on-camera interview. Frenette did agree to give us written answers to our questions. The questions we prepared are below. However, instead of answering the specific questions, Frenette gave us a written statement.

Here are a few of ABC15's questions:

*What are your thoughts on how probate court, guardianship and conservatorship work in Maricopa County? What are the good qualities, what are the bad qualities?

*What are your thoughts of the taskforce formed by the state court to examine and change portions of probate court? Can changes be made? What would you like to see changed?

*One of our stories included conflicts of interest. How do you feel about SVG attorneys serving as pro-tem judges in probate court? Do you think this is a conflict of interest?

*Your wife and co-owner of SVG, Heather Frenette is also a contracted court investigator. She determines when people should be considered for guardianship and that is what your company does. Do you think that is a conflict of interest?

*What is your opinion about the criticism that probate court in incestuous? In the way, that it is usually all the same people working in a way that raises the costs for the ward.

*What are your thoughts about everyone -fiduciaries and attorneys- billing the one estate? Should that change?

*We have had many families contact us regarding your company. The complaints are similar. What do you say to the complaints that your company isolated their loved ones? Some were not allowed to see their families. Over medicated them? And sold off all their belongings leaving them penniless?

*One of the stories we did was on fees both by attorneys and by SVG. (Trips to the mall and stuffed animals in the Connie Carrier case more than $3,300; $500 cash for Clair DiPardo to see her mother Gloria Horrigan on Easter; a limo and basketball game for a 85 year old Marie Long-the billing minus the cost of tickets was more than $1,000. Families called these outrageous. Please comment.

*Dropping clients because they can no longer pay fees in considered unethical, especially in law. How do you feel about doing it?

*Many complaints are regarding the inner circle of probate court? Are some of your cases referrals?

Full Article and Source:
Questions for Sun Valley Group Owner Peter Frenette

Peter Frenette's Response

Ohio: Judges can be Social Media "Friends" but Should be Discreet

Judges in Ohio can be a social media "friend" to lawyers appearing in their courtrooms but should be careful not to violate ethics rules, the state's apex court has opined.

A Twitter page is displayed on a laptop computer in Los Angeles
According to the opinion issued by Ohio Supreme Court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, a judge "must maintain dignity in every comment, photograph and other information shared on the social network" and following the ethics guidelines for social networking "will require a judge's constant vigil."

The opinion lays down the precautions a judge should take while fraternizing with lawyers on the pages of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social media sites.

For instance, judges can't comment to anyone on social networking sites about cases they're handling and are prohibited from visiting the social media sites of any witnesses in a case or using those sites to gather information. Judges are also not allowed to "give legal advice to others on a social networking site."

Full Article and Source:
Ohio Judges can be Social Media Friends but Should be Discreet

Follow NASGA on Facebook

Follow NASGA on Twitter

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

KY: Preying on Seniors

Kentucky needs to create an independent panel to review deaths of elderly or vulnerable adults that may be slipping through the cracks, advocates argue.

They point to a case last year in which Richard Tardy, 61, died at a group home in Somerset, shortly after being moved more than 100 miles from his former home at the Bingham Center in Louisville.

While no one knows of any wrongdoing, those who knew Tardy, who was blind and profoundly disabled, questioned the state's decision to move him some months earlier, said Carol Mueller, president of the family association at Bingham, a state-run facility for disabled adults.

They were surprised he died so soon afterward and wondered if the move was a factor, Mueller said.

Tardy is the type of individual whose death should get an outside review, said April DuVal, executive director of the Council on Developmental Disabilities in Louisville. With no immediate family to care for him, he had a state guardian. Medicaid paid for his care at the small, private group home where he was placed by the state.

Full Article and Source:
Preying on Seniors: Outside Panel Sought to Review Deaths

See Other Articles in the Series:
Elder Abuse and Exploitation Day 1

Graphics: Incidents of Elder Abuse

Graphic: Relationship to Victims of Alleged Abusers

Seniors Increasingly Face Physical Abuse, Financial Crimes

Resources Limited to Investigate Crimes

Relatives Often Responsible for Physical Abuse, Neglect

Broader Domestic Violence Laws Urged

How to Recognize Abuse

How to Stay Safe

Help Lines

A Trust Betrayed - Elderly Victimized by Family, Friends

CrimeCollege Helps Seniors Identify Scams

Grant Power of Attorney With Care

Relatives Abuse, but Still Inherit

Preying on Seniors: Some Urge Training for Legal Guardians

Becoming a legal guardian — agreeing to manage someone's personal and financial affairs — is a big responsibility, say those who work in the field.

For that reason, they think there should be a level of basic training for the friends, relatives or others who agree to assist someone impaired by age or disability.

“In many states, when people are appointed as guardians they are required to get training,” said Becky Smith, director of fiduciary services for GuardiaCare, a private, nonprofit agency that provides guardianship and other services in the Louisville area.

But not in Kentucky.

Before appointing a state guardian, judges generally seek a friend or relative as the first choice — and that may mean appointing someone with good intentions but not necessarily familiar with all the duties, Smith said.

The training doesn't need to be extensive, she said, but ought to include basic information about a guardian's responsibilities, how to keep records and how to prepare an annual report that the guardian is supposed to file in court.

GuardiaCare has offered to provide the training on a voluntary basis to people appointed as guardians in Jefferson District Court.

Full Article and Source:
Preying on Seniors: Some Urge Training for Legal Guardians

See Also:
Tougher Rules are Sought for Personal Care

Registry Sought for Abusers of Adults

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mediators Try to Resolve Family Conflicts Over Aging Parents

The elderly man became increasingly alarmed as the battles among his five grown children grew acrimonious.

His two daughters, worried that he wasn't taking proper care of himself, wanted him to move to a retirement community. His three sons balked, insisting that he was managing fine in his own home. At a family meeting their father made this jarring announcement: I'm nearing the end of my life, and you are making me so unhappy that it might be easier if I killed myself and ended the fighting.

Unlike lawyers who are hired to advocate for one side, elder-care mediators function as impartial observers in a voluntary process designed to be less adversarial - and cheaper - than a court proceeding. Mediation is increasingly being recommended by lawyers and judges to families for whom a temporary stalemate or long-term estrangement has morphed into a full-blown crisis, often triggered by parental disability. Mediators say their job is not to dictate a solution, but to establish a framework for making decisions and to forge a consensus that is right for a particular family.

Full Article and Source:
Mediators Try to Help Families Resolve Conflicts Over Aging Parents

CT: Probate Stench

The developer who signed a deal so he could acquire the lucrative Smoron Farm has gone to court to get the land.

Carl Verderame, a Southington developer, signed a deal to buy the Smoron Farm from three local churches under a scheme engineered by John Nugent, who was supposed to be looking after the interests of the elderly and dying Josephine Smoron.

Smoron's will handed the farm to her longtime caretaker, Sam Manzo. He has no interest in selling the farm to Verderame, a well-connected Southington developer who does business as Central Connecticut Contracting.

Without telling Smoron and Manzo, Nugent changed Smoron's estate, leaving the old farm long I-84 near Queen Street to three local churches along with the contract to sell the farm to Verderame.

Verderame's contract to buy the land for $1.5 million was never approved by probate court, which is required by law.

The case is now before judges in Superior and Probate courts. The original probate judge in the case, Bryan Meccariello, withdrew from his re-election race after he was sanctioned by a judicial oversight panel. Nugent faces possible disbarment.

Probate Stench: Developer Suing Over Smoron Farm

See Also:
Smoron Farm Probate Mess Slowly Cleaning Up

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sara Harvey on "T.S. Radio"

Listen to internet radio with Marti Oakley on Blog Talk Radio
What happens when the state steps in and takes custody and control of an adult? Does the family have any rights? What if the custody was the result of shoddy medical treatment? This is one womans story about how poor medical care and her efforts to care for her critically ill husband resulted in the state taking possession of her husband. And what are they doing for him?

Heir Says Lawyers Pulled a Fast One

An heir of the founder of DHL Express claims his trust fund dwindled from $90 million to $12 million after his attorneys and trustee increased the attorneys' contingency fee to 56 percent without his approval. And he claims that the attorneys increased guardianship payments to his grandparents to "the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars" to keep them from protesting.

Junior Larry Hillbroom sued attorneys Barry Israel and Keith Waibel in U.S. District Court in the Northern Mariana Islands, Hagatna, Guam. Both lawyers were admitted to the California Bar; Israel lives in Santa Barbara and Waibel in Guam, according to the complaint.

Larry Hillblom, the co-founder and former owner of DHL Express, died in an airplane crash in May 1995, leaving behind four children and an estate worth about $550 million, according to the complaint.

Junior - whose name is listed as Hillbroom in the complaint, which refers to him throughout as Junior - was a pretermitted heir, living in poverty in the Republic of Palau at the time of his father's death.

He learned in mid-1995 that he was entitled to a portion of the estate. In the spring of 1997, Junior proved that Hillblom was his father through DNA testing, and was issued an heirship settlement entitling him to 15 percent of the estate.

Junior says he did not become aware that the defendants drained so much money from his trust until Nov. 10, 2006, when he met with an FBI agent in San Francisco. After that meeting, Junior says, he discovered for the first time that his "ultimate recovery after the attorneys deducted their inappropriate fees and unsubstantiated costs from his approximately $90 million settlement of the Hillblom probate case was only about $12 million."

Junior seeks special damages, forfeiture of attorney's fees, and restitution for legal malpractice and fraud. He is represented by Mark Hanson of Saipan.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyers Pulled a Fast One, DHL Heir Says

San Bernardino County Judge Rebuked

The state Commission on Judicial Performance says Judge John B. Gibson failed 'to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.'

A San Bernardino County judge who was disciplined a decade ago for making sexually suggestive comments and for other inappropriate conduct toward women was publicly admonished [12/14] for making crude gestures and improper remarks.

Among the incidents that led to his latest discipline, Superior Court Judge John B. Gibson displayed sarcasm and annoyance toward a female defense attorney during a hearing in May, according to the state's Commission on Judicial Performance.

Gibson later spoke to the attorney in his chambers, showing irritation with her as he criticized a male lawyer who had appeared on her behalf at a hearing earlier in the day, the commission said. Gibson told the woman that the male lawyer was incompetent and went on to describe him as standing in court picking his nose. As part of the criticism, Gibson said either that the attorney was scratching his genitals or scratching his buttocks, according to the commission's report.

Although his exact words were unclear, Gibson illustrated his remark with gestures, the commission said.

San Bernardino County Judge Rebuked for Crude Gestures, Improper Remarks

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Former Judge Lokuta Waits for Decision on Return to Bench

Ann H. Lokuta answers the telephone at her Dupont home with a gentle reminder for a caller who still addresses her as "Judge Lokuta."

"Call me Annie," the 56-year-old former jurist says in a calm, disarming voice her sharpest critics said they seldom, if ever, heard in her courtroom. "I'm no longer a judge."

The distinction, Lokuta hopes, is temporary.

Two years after her permanent removal from the bench, Lokuta remains confident the state Supreme Court will eventually overturn her sentence and return her to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas seat she had held since 1991.

Lokuta has prayed for a return to the bench since that dreary day at the state capitol in 2008 when the state Court of Judicial Discipline voted to bar her from judicial office and strip her of her pension.

Lokuta, following protocol even in the most excruciating of moments, stood frozen for more than a minute after the ruling, as the seven-member panel filed from the courtroom - the gilded, mural-lined chamber of the state Supreme Court.

If Lokuta's prayers are heard, if her hopes are realized, the ruling returning her to office will come from the same chamber, or a similar room in Philadelphia, where the high court will sit for a term in the late winter and early spring.

"I trust that if there's a sense of fairness, I will be restored to my former position," Lokuta says, remaining faithful to the legal process even after a Court of Judicial Discipline hearing last November that her attorneys described in court papers as a "sham proceeding" designed to keep her of the bench.

At the hearing, Lokuta and her attorneys argued the corruption that led to federal charges against three judges, a county commissioner and other officials had irreparably tainted her misconduct trial.

The discipline court narrowly rejected the argument, triggering Lokuta's latest in a series of appeals and petitions to the state Supreme Court.

"It might be a longer journey than I anticipated, but I'm just ready to hunker down and continue in my pursuit of this," Lokuta says.

Full Article and Source:
Former Judge Lokuta Waits for Decision on Return to Bench

Arrested Judge Remains on Bench Until Trial

A County associate juvenile judge who was charged with drunken driving will likely continue on the bench while awaiting trial.

Daniel Lee Block, 48, of Cedar Falls, was charged with first-offense operating while intoxicated in Hamilton County in connection with a November incident.

Thomas Bower, chief judge for the 1st Judicial District, which includes Black Hawk County, said nothing prohibits a judge from serving while he faces criminal charges or after a conviction as long as the offense isn't something that prohibits his license to practice law.

"In any situation where a judicial officer is accused of a criminal offense, the judicial officer will continue to work unless the Judicial Qualifications Commission suspends that person with pay pending an investigation," said Steve Davis, communications,

Full Article and Source:
Arrested Judge Remains on Bench Until Trial

Convicted Caregiver's Appeal Denied

A woman who pleaded guilty to defrauding an Alzheimer's patient of some $40,000 while serving as his caregiver has lost her appeal, which claimed she was given an excessive sentence.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the sentence given to Veronica Lynn Floyd for three counts of theft of property over $10,000 and one count of theft of property over $1,000.

Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell sentenced Floyd to a total effective sentence of 13 years, of which she was ordered to serve only nine months in the county jail with the remainder of the term on community corrections.

Floyd was a caregiver for Bobby Kirk, who was described in court documents as being disabled and in "some beginning stages of Alzheimer's." Since 2006, Floyd had been helping out Kirk with picking up groceries and various other things.

Kirk had several sources of income from which bills were supposed to be paid, but over the course of four years, some of the bills were not paid and Floyd used the money, which she had access to with power of attorney, to benefit herself.

Full Article and Source:
Convicted Caregiver's Appeal Denied