Saturday, February 12, 2011

Judge's Proposed Probate Reforms a Good Starting Point

Maricopa County Superior Court's top judge has proposed a series of probate reforms aimed at ensuring that old ladies worth a million bucks or more don't wind up on the taxpayer dole while attorneys and fiduciaries walk away with most of their money.

OK, that last part about the old ladies comes from me, but I'm quite sure it's what he means when he talks about getting costs under control and assigning actual judges to take over contested cases before they "blow up."

"Could the court do a better job of oversight? Yes, in a word," Superior Court Presiding Judge Norman Davis told me. "Are we proposing better oversight? Yes."

Do Davis' proposals go far enough? No.

But he seems to be warming to a pair of ideas that would give vulnerable people a greater voice and go a long way toward fixing what ails probate - assuming the Legislature buys in.

Meanwhile, an early test of the court's resolve to reassert judicial control over probate comes now. Sun Valley Group, the fiduciary that helped protect Marie Long right into the poorhouse, announced last week that it's going out of business on Feb. 28. Sun Valley is asking the court to turn over its cases to Entrust Fiduciary Services, a Yuma fiduciary that is moving to Phoenix.

The question is: Will the probate court hand over 80 cases to Sun Valley's handpicked successor? Or will Judge Rosa Mroz do what her boss, Davis, suggests in his proposal for reform and, in essence, allow fiduciaries to bid for the chance to serve the wards?

Davis won't discuss Marie's case or that of R.B. Sleeth, who was ordered to pay $265,000 to an attorney who helped put him in an Alzheimer's lockdown ward despite the fact that he didn't have Alzheimer's.

Full Article and Source:
Judge's Proposed Probate Reforms a Good Starting Point

Indiana SB 312: Judges Should Have Law Degree

The Indiana trial court system has several types of courts: circuit, superior, small claims and one probate court. In 2009, 1.5 million cases were filed in those courts, and all of the cases were heard by judges who are lawyers. Those judges are in good standing with disciplinary authorities and licensed to practice law in Indiana.

Indiana also has about 75 city and town courts. In 2009, 375,000 cases, including criminal misdemeanors and speeding tickets, were heard in these courts. Not all of the judges in those courts are lawyers. Some cities and towns do not require it.

SB 312 would require all judges in the state to be lawyers. Judges who are not lawyers would be allowed to complete their current term. Their replacements would have to be lawyers in good standing, admitted to practice law in Indiana.

The Indiana Judicial Conference (judges from across the state) and the Strategic Planning Committee of the Conference, strongly support SB 312. Indiana judges believe that non-lawyers serving as city and town court judges attempt to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.

Full Article and Source:
Judges Should Have Law Degree

Friday, February 11, 2011

Press Release: Sun Valley Group Closes One Door, Opens Another

Press Release
February 7, 2011
Contact: Kim Owens
(602) 689-9449
Sun Valley Group Closes One Door, Opens Another
New name, same address, and ownership

February 7, 2011-Phoenix, ARIZONA – After multiple news accounts detailing the alleged abuse and financial exploitation by Sun Valley Group (SVG), the owner’s Heather and Peter Frenette filed an emergency action with Judge Rosa Mroz requesting the company’s cases be turned over to Entrust Fiduciary Services of Yuma. The request was submitted late last week to Judge Mroz and the last attorney of record on each case. SVG will cease to operate at the end of this month. Sources disclosed the embattled company had lost its insurance coverage and was unable to secure a replacement. SVG is requesting all cases in their care be assigned to Entrust Fiduciary Services of Yuma.

The courtroom of Judge Mroz was filled with an overflow crowd of families and attorneys as case by case was brought forward. Each case was asked if they would be filing an opposition to the request of reassignment. Many attorneys related they were noticed of the hearing late Friday and were unable to make contact with family members to determine their desire. A majority of cases voiced opposition to the reassignment suggestion of SVG with objections raised to the number of new cases given to a single provider in such a short timeline, the concern of families to the media reports on SVG, and desire for family members to replace the paid, private fiduciary.

As SVG makes plans to close in the shadow of abuse allegations, Heather Frenette has already started a new business. Despite informing Judge Mroz the Frenette’s would be relinquishing their fiduciary license, the new business Desert Care Management, advertises services on the company’s website that “provides a superior level of Care Management services in Arizona to persons with cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, developmental disabilities and mental illness.”
# # #
Knaperek Consulting, LLC is a government affairs firm specializing in issue advocacy and campaign services.

Phone (602) 531-8938
Fax (623) 505-1383

Former Missouri Public Administrator Sentenced for Theft

A former southeast Missouri public administrator has been placed on probation for five years for stealing more than $35,000 from those under her care.

The Sikeston Standard Democrat reports that Nancy Pardon was also ordered to pay restitution at a hearing on Friday. She had earlier pleaded guilty to three theft-related charges.

Pardon was public administrator for New Madrid County before resigning in 2008. She was appointed guardian of the estate of Evelyn Barnes. The Missouri State Highway patrol says Pardon spent nearly all of Barnes' money — more than $35,000 — on herself.

Former Southeast Missouri Public Administrator Sentenced for Theft

See Also:
Former Public Administrator Charged With Felony Theft

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CBS: Guardian Firm Closes Business in Arizona

When Marie Long's sisters sat down for an exclusive interview with Sharyl Attkisson for our investigation on guardianship abuse in December, they were clearly frustrated.

They told Attkisson that a court-appointed guardian known as Sun Valley Group had presided over Marie's affairs for four years. In those four years, Marie's life-savings had been wiped out. A lot oher money went to lawyers. At least $400,000 went to Sun Valley Group - which was supposed to protect her money, not spend it away.

Now, following our story and a wave of controversy surrounding Marie Long's story and others like it, Sun Valley has announced in court that it will cease doing business as a fiduciary in Arizona at the end of this month.

Peter Frenette, the owner of Sun Valley declined to speak with us on camera last December.

The company has been embroiled in a spate of lawsuits involving other clients, and it has been waiting for its license as a fiduciary to be renewed for nearly a year.
The company's decision to close up its operations comes too late for Marie Long, however.

Her money is gone and she is now penniless, a ward of the state. Taxpayers pay for her ongoing care in a nursing home.

Source and Video:
Guardian Firm Closes Business in Arizona

See Also:
Guardianship Agency Costs Elderly Woman Dearly

Broker Sentenced to 30 Years and Nearly $1 mil Restitution

Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sentenced Helena resident and former securities broker Arthur Leroy Heffelfinger to 30 years with 10 years suspended and ordered him to pay nearly a million dollars in restitution.

Heffelfinger was sentenced 10 years for each of three counts, which included operating a ponzi scheme, exploitation of an older person, and theft.

"I am relieved we were able to bring justice to the victims involved in this case," said Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen, "Judge Seely's sentence sends a strong message to others that financial exploitation will not be tolerated. My number one goal is to protect consumers while maintaining trust with the businesses operating legitimately in Montana."

After an extensive investigation last year by the Commissioner's Office, Heffelfinger was charged with operating a Ponzi scheme for a period of at least 8 years, for Theft, and for Exploiting an Older Person. Heffelfinger, a former stockbroker for KMS Financial Services, diverted funds from at least twenty KMS clients from February 2001 through September 2009. He used approximately $739,724 for personal use, approximately $917,777 for the purpose of conducting the Ponzi scheme, and approximately $364,044 when exploiting the older person, for a collective total of $2,021,546.

Full Article and Source:
Helena Resident Sentenced for Financial Exploitation of an Older Person

Caregiver Charged with Stealing $610K From Elderly Woman

An in-home caregiver has been charged with stealing $610,000 from an 85-year-old woman and using the stolen money for such things as dog care, laser eye treatment, travel and concerts.

Norma Ruth Casini, 51, of Laguna Niguel, was hired through LivHome caregivers to provide 24-hour in-home care to the 85-year-old woman in her Laguna Woods home beginning in November 2006, according to a news release from the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

The woman she cared for has no family support and went to LivHOME to provide someone for her needs and basic care, prosecutors said. LivHOME caregivers are paid by the company and are not allowed to accept money directly from a client.
Deputy District Attorney Marc Labreche contends that over the span of 28 months, Casini stole more than $600,000 from the woman's bank account and used her credit cards for personal use. She allegedly also used the money to pay her rent, for orthodontic work, and for a "dog whisperer," according to prosecutors.

Full Article and Source:
Caregiver Charged With Stealing $610,000 From Woman, 85

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Peter Frenette: Closing is 'Not Something I Wanted to Do'

Sun Valley Group, which has been waiting nearly a year for the state to renew its license, petitioned the court Monday to transfer more than 80 cases to a new firm before it ceases operation on Feb. 28.

Owner Peter Frenette would not say why he made the decision to close after 15 years in business or speculate on whether the state's license delay was a factor.

"It's not something that I wanted to do," Frenette told The Arizona Republic. "The reasons for it are numerous."

Frenette said Sun Valley Group has improved the quality of life for more than 620 adults since opening in 1995.

The company has been a focus of an ongoing Republic investigation of Maricopa County Probate Court that found some fiduciaries and their lawyers charged fees that drained the life savings of clients. Judges charged with overseeing these cases rarely stepped in to limit or reduce fees, even when vulnerable adults ended up on state assistance programs.

Full Article and Source:
Major Fiduciary Firm is Going Out of Business

Opinions of How to Reform CA State Bar

The State Bar should be governed by a board of 17 — nine lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court and eight publicly appointed members. All should serve four-year terms. And the bar’s current “integrated” structure, combining regulatory and trade association functions, raises serious ethical issues and needs reform.

Or . . .

The State Bar should continue to be governed by a lawyer-dominated board with some public members. Candidates could be vetted to insure adequate qualifications, but the appointment power of political entities is unwelcome. The integrated status should be retained as the best structure to oversee public protection.

Or . . .

The bar should be independent of any state agency. To avoid the possibility of unintended consequences, no changes to the agency’s structure or mandate should be adopted until data is collected to determine whether the bar is fulfilling its various functions.

These suggestions and dozens of others are under consideration by a legislatively mandated task force appointed to recommend improvements to the bar’s public protection efforts. Two hearings last month and a survey of 20,000 bar members drew responses that ran the gamut and addressed issues ranging from what the board of governors should be called to whether the bar violates open meeting laws to the role of the Supreme Court.

Full Article and Source:
Panel Hears no Shortage of Opinions on How to Reform State Bar

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sun Valley Group to Cease Operations!

The ABC15 Investigators have spent the last year investigating complaints into Maricopa County Probate Court and a guardianship company called Sun Valley Group of Tempe.

Now, the company will ask the court to transfer all its clients to a new guardian, effectively ending its business as a court appointed guardian and/or conservator.

Sun Valley Group is a private company that is appointed by probate court to care for the health and financial well-being of incapacitated adults. Families accuse them of abuse and exploitation.

Sun Valley Group has filed an expedited petition in Maricopa County Probate Court to approve their resignation of conservator.

The Sun Valley Group states in its petition that it has decided to cease doing business as a fiduciary services company as of 5 p.m. on February 28, 2011.

According to Lisa Price of Entrust Fiduciary in Yuma, Sun Valley Group asked her and Dawn Walters of Entrust Guardian Services in Buckeye to take over the company's caseload.

According to records we reviewed, Heather Frenette just recently opened a private care management company called, Desert Care Management.

It has the same address as Sun Valley Group.

Peter Frenette has not returned our phone calls for comment.

Full Article and Source:
Company That was Focus of ABC15 Investigation Will Cease Doing Business

Montana to Consider Assisted Suicide

A terminally ill patient's right to die will be at the center of a legislative showdown on Wednesday.

Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear competing bills during an 8 a.m. hearing at the capitol.

State Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, has proposed a measure that would put into state law a Montana Supreme Court ruling that supporters say effectively legalized physician-assisted suicide.

The state high court ruled last year in Baxter vs. Montana that a physician who prescribes medications to end life would be protected from prosecution under the state's homicide statute.

Blewett said Senate Bill 167 would implement the court's ruling in state code and protect doctors and patients.

"It would provide immunity for doctors who offer terminally ill patients end-of-life decisions," Blewett said Friday. "It also creates a standard of care and sets forth guidelines for physicians to follow."

The bill, known as the Montana Death with Dignity Act, would require terminally ill patients wishing to receive a prescription for medication to end the patients' life to submit an oral and written request to the patients' attending physician. The request must be witnessed by at least two people who find that patients are competent and acting on their own free will, among other requirements.

Full Article and Source:
Legislature to Take Up End-of-Life Rights Battle This Week

West Virginia: H.B. 2885 Talking Points

The issue:

Since the beginning of the MR/DD Waiver program in WV, family members have been able to be the provider of Residential Habilitation services to their family member receiving MR/DD Waiver services. Agencies have typically not been able to hire other staff in most areas of the state to meet the need. This was not a problem when agencies contracted with family members to be the service provider. However, agencies have now determined that the Department of Labor regulations prohibit them from contracting for services and are in the process of making family members employees of the agency, rather than contractors.

The guardianship statute, as written, prohibits guardians/conservators being paid to provide services to the individual for whom they are the guardian/conservator.

· Approximately 4,482 people are currently served by the MR/DD Waiver program
· Of those, at least 1,375 families will be affected by the Guardianship issue because they are a guardian/conservator of the individual for whom they have been providing service
· Agencies have always had trouble hiring enough direct care staff to serve Waiver recipients, and do not have enough staff to fill the need that will exist if the language in the statute is not changed

H.B. 2885 would make two exceptions to this prohibition:

o When a family member seeks to be appointed guardian/conservator they could make written disclosure of the employment arrangement to the court and get the court’s approval; or
o If the family member has already been appointed
guardian/conservator of the Waiver recipient, the court would be made aware of the employment in writing.

Guardianship – H.B. 2885Talking Points

Monday, February 7, 2011

Attorney's Grievance Histories Now Public in Connecticut

Maybe that one blemish on an otherwise lengthy, impeccable career had gone unnoticed up to this point. But when the new year began, that all changed.

Now, lawyers in Connecticut may want to try even harder to be on their best behavior.

That's because the state Judicial Branch website now lists the juris histories of every lawyer admitted to the Connecticut bar. That history includes an attorney's disciplinary record, if there is one.

Before, the web site simply said whether a lawyer licensed in Connecticut was active, suspended or retired.

"The primary purpose is to serve the general public so they can see if a lawyer has been disciplined," said Michael P. Bowler, statewide bar counsel. "The public can call us and get this information anyway but now we're putting it in a more user-friendly format."

Full Article and Source:
Conn. Judicial Branch Website Now Lists Attorneys' Grievance Histories

Connecticut Judicial Branch Website

Judge Accused of Fraud Returns to Work

A judge accused of fraud is back at work.

Oklahoma County District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure, 43, was going to take an extended leave of absence. She returned to the courthouse Thursday morning instead.

“I'm doing what the citizens elected me to do, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to fight to clear my name and to work hard,” she said from her desk in her chambers.

She declined to discuss her defense, saying she was prohibited by canons that control judicial conduct.

The judge is accused in the fraud case of secretly giving away twins placed in her care. She is accused of giving the children to her bailiff's sister, Ravonda Latrice Edwards, of Oklahoma City.

The judge also is accused of misusing some of the state funds paid to her for the care of the boy and girl. Prosecutors allege she spent some of the money at nail salons, spas and casinos.

She was charged Jan. 21 with 30 counts of making a fraudulent claim against the state and two counts of perjury.

Full Article and Source:
Accused Oklahoma County Judge Back at Work

See Also:
Judge Accused of Fraud Goes on Paid Leave

Retired Probate Judge Helped Many in Need

Congratulations to Probate Judge Linda Salafia on her well-deserved retirement. I commend and am grateful to her for the professionalism and integrity she brought to the Norwich Probate Court.

In my dealings with her, both on a professional and personal basis, she always was understanding, compassionate, patient and helpful. Those traits permeated the court and were emulated by her staff.

Generally, when one seeks the help of probate it is at a difficult and emotional time. Also, most people do not have any experience in probate procedures and requirements, so one approaches the court with some trepidation. The Norwich Probate Court's staff always made one feel at ease. They did not act bureaucratic and officious. They never lauded their power and authority over people. They were patient, kind and willing to take the time to explain and guide people through the required procedures. They made difficult situations less painful for countless individuals and families.

Judge Salafia can begin retirement with a great deal of pride in knowing that she did her job well and that the people of Norwich appreciate and are grateful for all she and her staff did to make their lives less stressful and more tolerable.
Relax and enjoy your grandchildren, your honor.

Retired Probate Judge Helped Many in Need

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Son Fights to Bury Mother

Timothy Adkins wants nothing more than to lay his mother to rest. However, he cannot get to the body. He says he was betrayed by a long time family employee.

Adkins says after his father died in 2007, he relocated from Lynchburg to be care for his ailing mother. That's when he realized the employee had obtained power of attorney. He worked to get it revoked.

"The power of attorney was not even my mother," Adkins said. "It said Priscilla Adkins. My mother is Cilla, not Priscilla."

Cilla Adkins died last week after a long battle with kidney failure and dementia. When her only son was making funeral arrangements, he discovered she was removed from the hospital and taken to Mason Funeral Home on Good Hope Road in Southeast.

A spokesperson from Virginia Hospital Center told 9NEWS NOW a notarized will and proper release authorization were presented: "We followed the policy explicitly."

However, Adkins believes the will was falsified and is fighting to get custody of his mother's body. He lost his battle in court Thursday. Now, he is hoping to find a lawyer to continue his fight to get his mother back.

Full Article, Video, and Source:
Son Fights to Bury Mother

Florida Attorney Gets 4 Years for Bilking Trusts

A disbarred Venice attorney went to prison Wednesday in connection with $1.3 million missing from trust accounts, including nearly $1 million stolen from a Holocaust survivor.

Raymond Miller, 67, entered a plea of no contest to a charge he stole $941,256 from the trust of Beila Millet, who survived medical experiments in a Nazi concentration camp. As part of the plea agreement, Miller will spend four years in prison and then be on probation until he pays back the money.

Millet had left the money to Israeli hospitals, schools and veterans' groups when she died at age 93 in 2006. Miller disbursed about $122,000 within months, but more than 50 beneficiaries never received their money, which was now gone.

Miller was arrested in May along with his office manager, Kathryn Kelley, who then gave prosecutors information about the money in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Full Article and Source:
Venice Attorney Four Years for Bilking Trusts

See Also:
Disbarred Atty, Former Office Manager Arrested and Charged

Florida Medicaid Recipients Jailed in State's Nursing Homes

I’m mad about the way our elderly population—our parents, senior relatives, other loved ones and friends—are being shoved aside, tormented, victimized and abused. Why, you may ask, are we so angry about how our seniors are treated? Here’s just one example: The plight of defenseless seniors committed to nursing homes.

You’ve probably never heard of Charles Todd “Bud” Lee, although he was an award-winning photojournalist whose work has been published in Life magazine, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine and even Rolling Stone. Bud’s photo of a bleeding 12-year old boy in Newark, New Jersey, who’d been caught in the crossfire of a police shooting, graced the cover of Life in July, 1967.

Almost exactly 16 years later, however, Bud suffered a stroke that left him semi-paralyzed and landed him in a Florida nursing home.

It turns out that Florida law requires nursing home care for Medicaid recipients, rather than allowing them to live wherever they choose. Again: Medicaid recipients in Florida have to live in nursing homes—not in their own homes, for example, or in senior apartments, or even in assisted-living facilities.

Bud is still living in the Community Care Center in Plant City, Florida, an involuntary resident, and he’s really angry.

Full Editorial and Source:
Florida Medicaid Recipients Jailed in State's Nursing Homes