Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bank Let Pair Draw Son's Settlement

Since a 2010 World-Herald investigation revealed shortcomings in the court oversight of wards, authorities have scrutinized the guardians, lawyers, even judges who failed to protect the finances of people who can't protect themselves.

Now a lawsuit is targeting another cog in the preservation of a ward's assets: the bank.

An Omaha attorney has filed a lawsuit against First National Bank for allowing a couple to withdraw $48,000 — a settlement that was supposed to go to their son, a gunshot victim.

The problem: The account was stamped with the note “no withdrawals without court approval” — and the judge hadn't granted such permission.

The next problem: Neither the judge nor court staff noticed that the account was empty for more than a year.

Omaha attorney Thomas Harmon is trying to recover the money on two fronts in the case that began with the shooting of a 2-year-old boy.

First, Harmon has secured a judgment against the boy's parents, former Omaha residents Blia and Sy Vang.

Second, Harmon has taken aim at the bank that allowed the lump-sum withdrawal.

While much attention has been given to the court-appointed guardians who have stolen from the people they were appointed to protect, judges and lawyers say they are much more likely to find finagling among family members.

Harmon said parents in particular often feel they have a right to their child's money.

“You'll have people say ‘Why can't I take the money? My kid needs a car,' ” Harmon said. “Well, the answer is simple: ‘It's your child's money, not yours.'

“In these cases, that money may be for a surgery down the road or to replace the child's lost earning capacity. It isn't to supplement mom and dad's income.”

First National Bank spokesman Kevin Langin declined to respond to the lawsuit, saying the bank “does not comment on issues regarding customer accounts or on matters involved in litigation.”

Harmon, who has worked in probate court for more than 20 years, said such cases are rare but not unprecedented.

Ten years ago Harmon sued U.S. Bank after a father emptied more than $100,000 from his son's account without court authorization. The father later admitted he used the money to feed his cocaine addiction, Harmon said.

It's unclear what the Vangs did with the $48,000. The couple, whose last known address was in Coon Rapids, Minn., couldn't be reached for comment.

Full Article and Source:
Bank Let Pair Draw Son's Settlement

Rothstein Protected for Six Months

Lawyers seeking damages for the victims of admitted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein must wait until December to question him, a judge in Florida ruled.

Rothstein, sentenced to 50 years in prison for his crimes, is in protective custody and cooperating with prosecutors. U.S. District Judge James Cohn refused to shield him from questioning entirely in civil cases involving his fraud but granted a prosecution request for a delay, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

Until his empire came crashing down, Rothstein appeared to be one of South Florida's most successful lawyers. His firm, which employed 70 lawyers, had offices in Boca Raton, Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee as well as New York and Caracas and had major corporate clients.

When he pleaded guilty, Rothstein admitted the law firm was kept afloat through an investment business that he used to steal millions of dollars.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Protects Ponzi Schemer for 6 Months

Friday, July 8, 2011

Britney Spears Breach of Contract Countersuit May Go on Hold

Lawyers for a company that provides licensing opportunities for Britney Spears -- and which sued the singer and her father for alleged breach of contract -- want a judge to put the singer's countersuit against the firm on hold.

In court papers filed Friday, attorneys for Brand Sense Partners claim they cannot defend against the countersuit because they have been blocked by a probate court from taking the 29-year-old pop star's deposition on grounds she is incompetent to testify.

The Brand Sense lawyers also state in their court papers that they intend to challenge a sealed order by Judge Reva Goetz preventing Spears' testimony.

The judge is supervising a conservatorship order she placed over Spears in early 2008 when the singer began exhibiting bizarre behavior.

Since then, Spears has gone on concert tours, given media interviews and made numerous public appearances, according to the company's court papers.

"Brand Sense also intends to take measures to have all court records in the conservatorship proceedings unsealed," according to the company's court papers.

"Brand Sense has the right to know why Ms. Spears continues to be coddled in a conservatorship that has clearly outlived any legitimate purpose."

The company intends to get "immediate relief" from the probate court order, its papers state.

"The notion that Britney Spears is mentally or emotionally unfit to testify under oath is a sham," according to the Brand Sense court papers.

A hearing is scheduled Monday before Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, who is presiding over the Brand Sense complaint and Spears' countersuit.

Full Article and Source:
Britney Spears Breach of Contract Countersuit May Go on Hold

Company Suing Britney Spears Says Her Conservatorship is a Sham

Britney Spears is being sued by a licensing company for breach of contract and the company is demanding that a judge order Spears to be deposed.

Brad Sense is suing Spears and her father Jamie Spears for allegedly stopping payment of royalties from Spears’ successful Elizabeth Arden fragrance line.

"Brand Sense intends to seek immediate relief from the probate court's order. The notion that Britney Spears is mentally or emotionally unfit to testify under oath is a sham,” a court document on the matter states.

“Ms. Spears currently has the mental, emotional and physical capacity to endure the strain of a months-long international concert tour, make numerous public appearances, engage in interviews with the media, participate in numerous promotional campaigns for her various business enterprises, and maintain custody of her children," the document continues.

A hearing has been set for July 11th to see if Britney will be ordered to be deposed.

Full Article and Source:
Company Suing Britney Spears Says Her Conservatorship is a Sham

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Abuse and Corruption Rampant in Probate Court of Cook County, IL

The end of life has many challenges for the elderly. It can be a fast or a long goodbye and might involve a transition to assisted living, a nursing home, or a live-in caretaker.

Now is the time to guard against opportunists, who like vultures are circling to claim flesh, whether the person is alive or dead, even if a large sum of money isn’t involved. For elder abuse bi-passes color, race or creed and extends also to disabled children.

Although the presence of wealth often brings out the worst in human kind, preying on the elderly can amount to nothing more than gaining access to the individual’s monthly Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or Veterans Disability payments.

More far reaching abuse happens in situations where the appointed guardian is removed from his/her position by a court order and replaced by a court-appointed guardian (Guardian ad Litem). It now becomes the responsibility of the the court-appointed guardian to make judgments about medical care, property, living arrangements, lifestyle and potentially all personal and financial decisions.

But it doesn’t end here, the court appointed guardian, in collaboration with the lawyer, presiding judge and the nursing home, use the very judicial system they are part of to profit financially by functioning as partners in the management and control of all aspects of a vulnerable person’s life.

Cook County Probate Court Corruption Addressed
What I have described is common practice on the 18th Floor of Daley Center, home to Probate Court in Cook County. Thievery is taking place and savings are being milked in a massive transfer of wealth that is disappearing into the pockets of judges and lawyers instead of the legitimate heirs.

So wide spread is the corruption in the Chicago Probate Court System, that Bev and Ken Cooper created up a website to expose and remedy corruption in the Probate Court of Cook County.

Their Illinois website assists, educates and enlightens families of the dead, the dying, the disabled and the aged to better understand their rights in order to protect themselves from the excesses of the Cook County Probate Court. As the site depends on networking, it invites you or someone you know to send stories that tell of probate abuse. Names are kept confidential if there is fear of retaliation against a loved one. The site postings reveal up-to-date incidences of abuse in Cook County Probate Court.

Ken and Bev Cooper first became aware of abuse in the Chicago Probate Court system after a highly emotional and devastating experience with Beverly Cooper’s mother.

About Beverly Cooper, she is producer and host of North Shore “Live” Cooper’s Corner, a weekly cable Comcast TV program that is broadcast live every Wednesday night from a studio in Highland Park and then shown throughout Lake County. This is Bev Cooper’s 30th year as producer of the show.

Bev has quite a story to tell about the elder abuse of her own mother, Alice Gore, which has expanded to include 10 videotaped testimonies from individuals appearing on Bev’s North shore “Live” Cooper’s Corner program, all of whom experienced similar gross injustices as did Bev Cooper in dealing with her mother in Probate Court on the 18th Floor of the Daley Building.

Full Article and Source:
Abuse and Corruption Rampant in Probate Court of Cook County, IL

See Also:

Note: We will run more excerpts from this artilce soon! To be continued...

ABA Report Calls for Significant Changes to PA's Judicial Conduct System

Asked by the state court system to examine Pennsylvania's judicial conduct system, an American Bar Association committee has recommended significant changes that include no longer requiring complainants to sign their complaints.

In its report which shed light on some inner-workings of the board before offering 14 recommendations, the ABA's Standing Committee on Professional Discipline was clear that the 56-page document was intended to be "forward-looking," and the Luzerne County scandal that brought the judicial discipline system under scrutiny was not the main focus of its review.

"While the incidents in Luzerne County and the action or inaction of lawyers, judges, and entities in response to them provided important context for the team's study, that series of events was not the focus of the consultation team's or the Standing Committee's review," the ABA's committee said in the report. "Rather, the misconduct committed in Luzerne County illustrates the vulnerabilities of the system as currently structured."

The report also recommended some other key changes, such as doing away with the four-year statute of limitations, altering the way people are appointed to the Judicial Conduct Board and Court of Judicial Discipline, and informing complainants of the status of their complaints.

The ABA's report arrived about a week after advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts released its own recommendations and just over a year after the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, or ICJJ, released its report.

Full Article and Source:
ABA Report Calls for Significant Changes to Pa.'s Judicial Conduct System

Lokuta's Last Shot at Reinstatement

Attorneys for former Luzerne County Judge Ann Lokuta took their last chance to return her to the bench, filing a petitionurging the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule lowers courts -- including the state Supreme Court.

“This really is the last opportunity to get somebody to take a serious look at what happened in Judge Lokuta’s case,” attorney George Michak said.

Lokuta was removed from the bench Dec. 9, 2008, by the state Court of Judicial Discipline, ending a 17-year ca reer. That decision followed several weeks of testimony at a trial prosecuted by the state Judicial Conduct Board (JCB) in which Lokuta was portrayed as a courtroom bully.

Lokuta has fought the decision ever since, insisting she had been the victim of a campaign by former county judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, who orchestrated her ouster because she had reported their wrongdoings. Ciavarella was convicted on multiple counts of corruption in February. Conahan has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Michak said Tuesday’s filing, officially called a “petition for a writ of certiorari,” urges the nation’s highest court to review the case based on three issues:

• Judge Richard Sprague should have recused himself from Lokuta’s trial. An attorney, Sprague had represented attorney Robert Powell in various dealings, creating a conflict of interest. Powell was co-owner of two private juvenile detention centers at the heart of charges against Ciavarella and Conahan. Michak said a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling “laid out” the circumstances in which “due process requires the judge to recuse himself,” and that Sprague’s situation fits that ruling.

• Lokuta was denied due process because the JCB was allowed to amend its complaint after the trial began. Michak said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “once a proceeding like this starts you can’t amend the complaint because the respondent doesn’t have time to prepare a defense.” Michak also noted said that several state supreme courts - including Pennsylvania’s in the Lokuta case - have made rulings that contradict that 2009 decision, and that the U.S. Supreme Court should consider this case as a chance to clarify it’s prior stance.

• The JCB “withheld information from Judge Lokuta during discovery and the trial,” Michak said, “and admitted that certain materials, in particular the investigator’s notes of witness interviews, had been destroyed.” The JCB argued the information must remain confidential under the state Constitution. That conflicts directly with Lokuta’s rights under the U.S. Constitution, Michak said, and he is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve that conflict.

The JCB has 30 days to file a response, though no response is required, Michak said. The Supreme Court would then decide if it will consider the case. Both sides would then submit written and, ultimately, oral arguments.

Full Article and Source:
Lokuta's Reinstatement Bid Final Shot: U.S. High Court Filing

See Also:
Supreme Court Denies Lokuta a Second Hearing

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Press Release: Gary Harvey Appeal to be Heard in Supreme Court Appellate Division, 3rd Dept.


Date: July 4, 2011
Horseheads, New York

In what has been a nearly five year court battle between Mr. & Mrs. Gary Harvey of Horseheads and officials with Chemung County and the NY State Unified Court System, David has finally penetrated the armor of Goliath.

Gary Harvey, now sixty years old and a life-long resident of Chemung County and Horseheads NY has been at the center of a heated court proceeding since 2006 when he was involved in an unfortunate accident which left him neurologically and physically incapacitated. Gary ’s wife had sought legal guardianship of her incapacitated husband only to be rejected by the Chemung County Supreme Court who ultimately appointed the Chemung County Department of Social Services as Gary ’s legal guardian, “indefinitely”.

In May of 2011, Gary Harvey by “Wife/Next-Friend” filed a petition in the Appellate Division of the NY Supreme Court seeking writs of prohibition, mandamus and certiorari in an effort to enforce Gary rights in the ongoing court proceedings. Chemung County Justice Judith O’Shea who now presides over the case, and NY Mental Hygiene Legal Services Attorney Kevin Moshier both filed motions to dismiss Gary’s “Verified Petition”, Chemung County attorney Bryan Maggs representing Chemung County DSS guardian failed to file any objection whatsoever to Gary Harvey’s petition.

In a ruling handed down June 30, 2011, five Justices of the NY State Supreme Court Appellate Division in Albany denied the motions to dismiss and ordered that Justice O’Shea, Kevin Moshier and the Chemung County DSS guardian must file their responses, and answer for what is alleged to be an improper exercise of their legal authority, and do so on or before August 1, 2011.

Guardianship advocates from across the country, and brother of the late Terri Schiavo, Bobby Schindler, supporting Gary and his wife Sara call the June 30th ruling a major first step in ending the judicial fiasco that has ensnared this husband and wife for the past many years. “Finally, the public will get a glimpse of what these guardianship cases are not supposed to be’, states Sara Harvey, “finally light will be shed on the secrecy of these injustices, and finally, my husband will have ‘his’ day in court.”

For more information, visit:
Veterans in Peril

PPJ Gazette

SAVE Honors Key People in Fight Against Elder Abuse

Derek Meinecke loves his grandmas, Shirley Lichtenwald and Luella Meinecke.

“I’m very lucky to have them both with me,” Meinecke said. They remind him of the many victims of elder abuse he has worked to protect in his role as an Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor, where he spent the majority of his career in the special victims unit.

When the Oakland County SAVE Task Force decided to present their first ever Courage Awards to two individuals and two organizations that have taken action to prevent the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults, the choices of Meinecke and Margaret Vogan were obvious.

SAVE, which is an acronym for Serving Adults who are Vulnerable and/or Elderly, presented Meinecke as the individual Courage to Lead honoree, and Vogan as the individual Courage to Speak Out honoree, at their sixth annual elder abuse awareness event at the Oakland County Commissioners Auditorium on June 22.

Full Article and Source:
SAVE Honors Key People in Fight Against Elder Abuse

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jeffrey Schend Requests Out-of-County Judge

Jeffrey M. Schend, 44, made the request this week in Outagamie County Court. He is accused of six felony theft counts and one misdemeanor count of theft.

The suspected thefts have direct ties to the county's court system. Schend contracted with Outagamie County beginning in 2004. In his position as corporate guardian, he was appointed by county judges to handle the finances of those deemed incompetent to handle their own affairs.

Schend is scheduled to enter pleas to the charges on Aug. 1.

Full Article and Source:
Former Guardian Schend Seeks Out of County Judge

See Also:
Oversight Found Lacking for Guardians

Battle Over Right to Die

As our population ages and useful life far outstrips our life expectancy, we nonetheless are still encountering far larger numbers of people who are alive, but perhaps not really living. It is over the issue of what constitutes a viable life, and our “right” to end it that a battle is being waged right under our noses, even though few of us seem to be aware of its existence, much less its implications.

The battle is between forces who support the “right to die” or pro-euthanasia, or “death with dignity” concept, and those who believe the last thing in the world you want is a government panel deciding at what point your life no longer has value or meaning, and checking off a box on a standardized form that seals your death – even if you approve of it.

Seattle Attorney Margaret Dore appears to be the Commander-in-Chief of a command post that issues daily alerts to a vast network of people who fear what will become of the general populace if governments obtain the right to determine when we should die. Her missives come from across the globe and she regularly argues in editorial pieces that the picture painted by assisted suicide proponents is not exactly as it might appear.

Generally, proponents of assisted suicide point to the wishes of competent people who are suffering from progressive diseases that ultimately will rob them of all normal functions, but might prolong their agony and the burden on their loved ones for years or even decades. They maintain that faced with this bleak outlook a competent person should be able to make a decision to end their life at a point where they still retain some function and dignity, and have not become a physical and financial burden to their families.

Dore is aware of this argument but she also makes some compelling points in her writings on the issue. Take for instance the state of Montana where physician-assisted suicide is supposedly considered legal.

That may be the way it appears on the surface, but Dore points out that “Under current Montana law, assisting a suicide exposes the assister to civil and criminal liability. Doctors and others can be held civilly liable for: (1) causing another to commit suicide; or (2) failing to prevent a suicide in a custodial situation where the suicide is foreseeable. This latter situation would typically occur in a hospital or prison. Those who assist a suicide can also be prosecuted for homicide under Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-102(1).

Full Article and Source:
Battle Over Right to Die

Monday, July 4, 2011

Court Denies Guardian's Motion to Dismiss in the Gary Harvey Case

Gary Harvey, 60, is a Vietnam veteran and a Horseheads resident who suffers from a severe head injury. Mr. Harvey is under both the guardianship of Chemung County and under the total care of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira.

The Gary Harvey story has gotten much media attention, as Bobby Schindler, the brother of the late Terri Schaivo (who died in 2005 after being food by a hospital in Florida), has been campaigning in defense of Gary Harvey's wife, Sara.

Here's the latest: Sara Harvey filed a lawsuit to force Chemung County to prove they had not gone past the limits of their authority in the guardianship of Gary.

Chemung County filed a motion to dismiss the case, the State Court of Appeals has denied the motion to dismiss, so the case will be going forward.

Attempts to reach both Chemung County Government officials and officials at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira were unsuccessful.

Gary Harvey Update: Court Denies Dismissal

See Also:

IL: New Law Will Shield Consumers Against PoA Abuses

[July 1] a new law takes effect in Illinois that will provide critical protections for thousands of individuals, particularly older adults, who utilize a power of attorney and could fall victim to financial exploitation at the hands of individuals entrusted with making their financial decisions as a power of attorney. The law, Public Act 96-1195, was sponsored by State Representative Emily McAsey and passed unanimously in both houses of the General Assembly before being signed into law by Governor Quinn in July 2010.

"A power of attorney is a responsibility that should be taken very seriously - it is not a license to steal," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director. "Individuals who designate a power of attorney must be able to trust that their financial decisions are in good hands. AARP strongly supported this legislation and we are proud to see it enacted today."

In Illinois, financial exploitation, including abuse at the hands of a power of attorney, is the most commonly reported form of elder abuse, constituting nearly 60% of all elder abuse reports in the state. On a national level, it is estimated that elder financial abuse costs victims more than $2.9 billion each year.

"Considering the broad authority granted in a power of attorney and the economic impact of financial abuse, it is critical that there are adequate protections in place for both the principal and the agent," added Gallo.

The new law amends the Illinois Power of Attorney Act to provide greater protections for the individual granting the power of attorney, the agent receiving it, and the persons who are asked to rely on the agent's authority. Most importantly, the law creates liability for the agent in cases of abuse. If an agent violates the law, he/she will now be required to repay what was stolen (the original law did not mandate repayment). The new law also clarifies to the consumer the guidelines, duties and allowances of the power of attorney and provides clearer guidelines for the agent to act in good faith and in the best interest of the principal.

Full Article and Source:
Critical Consumer Protection Law Takes Effect in Illinois

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Huguette Clark's Will

Huguette Clark, the Montana copper mining heiress who died in New York last month at 104, has left most of her $400 million fortune to the arts - wealth from the Gilded Age that produced the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts.

According to her will, obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Clark gave to Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art a prized Claude Monet water-lily painting not seen by the public since 1925.

The Manhattan district attorney's office is looking into how Clark's affairs were managed while she spent the last two decades of her life in a hospital, a virtual recluse, people familiar with the probe have said. Before that, she lived in the largest residence on Fifth Avenue - 42 rooms.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the probe.

The daughter of one-time U.S. Sen. William A. Clark left instructions for the creation of a foundation "for the primary purpose of fostering and promoting the arts," according to the will prepared and signed in 2005, when she was 98.

About $300 million will go for the arts, including the 1907 Monet from his famed "Water Lilies" series, which is worth tens of millions of dollars, said attorney John Dadakis, of the firm Holland & Knight.

He filed the seven-page document Wednesday in New York's Surrogate Court on behalf of the co-executors of Clark's estate, her longtime attorney, Wallace Bock, and accountant Irving H. Kamsler.

Full Article and Source:
Montana Mining Heiress Leaves NY Fortune to Arts

Mandatory Regulation of Florida Paralegals Nixed

A proposal that would force nonlawyers to register with the Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) program before they could use the title "paralegal" has been rejected by the Florida Bar Board of Governors. At its May 27 meeting, the Board instead endorsed strengthening the FRP in an effort to attract more nonlawyers to become registered paralegals. Nonlawyers who work under a lawyer's supervision without registering will still be able to use the title paralegal.

"We received a lot of comments about this," said Greg Coleman, Chair of the Program Evaluation Committee which is charged with conducting mandatory reviews of the FRP program. "The vast majority of them, including most of the paralegals who corresponded with me, were not in favor of mandatory regulation."