Saturday, April 21, 2012

Nashville Woman's Plight Leads Senate to Amend Guardian Law

The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to amend the state guardianship law to require disclosure of any criminal record by individuals seeking to become conservators.

The bill was prompted by the case of Jewell Tinnon, 82, of Nashville, who was placed in a conservatorship after a request by two of her grandchildren. Her story was featured in Sunday’s Tennessean as part of an examination of conservatorships, which are intended to protect those no longer able to care for themselves.

While Tinnon was under court-ordered control, her house, car and all her possessions were sold off, with the proceeds going to pay legal and other fees. The judge overseeing the case, 7th Circuit Probate Court Judge David “Randy” Kennedy, eventually released her from the conservatorship after she obtained medical exams showing her competency. But with her assets gone, she is now living in government-subsidized public housing.

State Sen. Mae Beavers, a Mt. Juliet Republican and the Senate sponsor, said the bill also would give judges considering a conservatorship petition greater discretion on who was responsible to pay lawyers’ fees and other costs related to the case.

She said that under the current law, only the target or ward of the conservatorship can be charged the fees. The new provision would allow a judge to charge other parties, such as someone who filed a frivolous or unwarranted petition.

The House version of the bill filed by state Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat, is scheduled for a vote Monday.

Full Article and Source:
Nashville Woman's Plight Leads Senate to Amend Guardian Law

CA State Mental Hospitals Plagued by Peril

When Garth Webb was sent to Napa State Hospital, his parents were relieved.

The bellboy and amateur composer from Sebastopol had been in the throes of bipolar disorder when he was charged with threatening the lives of co-workers. His family encouraged him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, thinking that in a mental hospital he would get the treatment he needed.

Instead, Webb and his parents say, he was repeatedly brutalized. His main tormentor, a patient in the room next door, assaulted him several times, wrapping him in a headlock and sexually abusing him.

Soon after, the same man strangled a psychiatric worker on the hospital grounds.

"Since I've been here, that's what I've witnessed ... these random acts of violence," Webb, now 31, said in an interview from the hospital. "It was a rude awakening."

Webb's ordeal offers a window on the failings of a six-year effort to improve conditions in California's public mental hospitals at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Under pressure from higher-ups to place the fewest possible restrictions on patients, hospital staff members grew reluctant to take assertive action against violent or unruly ones, according to state records and interviews with hospital officials, employees, patients and their families.

Paperwork intended to document progress toward about 360 separate objectives left staff members with far less time for patients and less flexibility to craft suitable treatments.

"They have succeeded in putting in all these measures and employing people to count their forms," said Mel Hunter, former executive director of Atascadero, who left the hospital in 2007 because of his objections to the changes. "But in terms of reduction in cost, reduction in time served in treatment and reduction in violence, it's a failure."

The architect of the reforms was Nirbhay Singh, a Virginia-based consultant.

Singh came to the United States in 1987 from New Zealand, where he had served as psychology director at an institution for the mentally retarded. He became a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University and developed specialties in "person-centered" care — designed to build on a patient's strengths — and "positive behavior support."

Singh had scant experience treating psychiatric patients, let alone the sort of dangerous offenders who fill the state hospitals. He specialized in research on the developmentally disabled, particularly children, and published articles about Buddhist-inspired mindfulness and alternative treatments, such as using the herb kava as a calming agent.

Yet Singh had at least one qualification that appealed to California officials: He was well-acquainted with the Justice Department lawyers who were scrutinizing the state hospitals. They had hired him 21 times over the years, mostly to advise them on problems with care at centers for the developmentally disabled.

Full Article and Source:
California State Mental Hospitals Plagued by Peril

Tape Shows Developmentally Disabled Teen Being Shocked 31 Times

A jury in Dedham, Mass., saw video this week of an 18-year-old being tied down and shocked 31 times as he screamed in pain.

The footage was presented by lawyers of Andre McCollins, who is suing the Judge Rotenberg Center for developmentally disabled students, which treated him in part by attaching electrodes to his body and shocking him.

The incident recorded on video took place in 2002 after McCollins refused to take off his coat, according to MyFox Boston.

The station reports that lawyers for the center fought to keep the public from seeing the video, but a judge denied their request.

WARNING: The video below is not suitable for everyone.

Graphic video of teen being restrained, shocked played in court:

Full Article and Source:
Judge Rotenberg Center Trial: Tape Shows Teen Being Shocked 31 Times (GRAPHIC VIDEO)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Disbarred AZ Attorney Claims He's a Victim of Corruption

Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is speaking out for the first time about being disbarred.

Protesters clashed with supporters at Thomas' news conference.

A judge ruled to disbar him for pursuing politically motivated investigations with no probable cause.

A state bar panel found him in violation of more than two dozen rules of ethics.

He insists he's the victim of corruption.

"Arizona, after what happened yesterday, has become Mexico," said Thomas at the news conference. "The people of this community need to understand what happened yesterday when my law license was targeted."

Thomas said he was an honest prosecutor who was unjustly smeared and tarnished.

The sanctions against him and his two prosecutors are set to begin in a month, but they could be delayed if Thomas appeals to the state Supreme Court.

Disbarred Arizona Attorney Claims He's a Victim of Corruption

Florida Supreme Court to Judges: No Lobbying

Stung by public reaction to judges who lobbied state lawmakers into a $50 million courthouse many have dubbed a “Taj Mahal," the Florida Supreme Court has established new rules that would muzzle individual judges who try to have their way with the Legislature.

And some judges are not happy. The state’s circuit court judges have formally asked the state’s highest court to rescind the rules and at least engage in a public discussion of rules that would constrain their right to speak out in public. Judges at the Fifth District Court of Appeal also have filed a formal objection to a provision that would establish term limits on chief judges.

The rules, approved by a sharply divided court in February, would prevent individual judges from taking their budget requests and suggestions for changing the law directly to lawmakers without first getting approval from the Supreme Court and administrative committees who oversee the budget.

In addition, the state’s highest court has imposed an 8-year term limit on the service of all chief judges and requires them to be selected on the basis of their managerial, administrative and leadership skills.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Jorge Labarga, Ricky Polston and James Perry voted for all of the rules while Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Peggy Quince concurred with part of the decision but objected to term limits. Justice Fred Lewis dissented from the entire opinion.

“The majority in many ways takes the court system backward to recreate circumstances similar to those found by the citizens of Florida to be unworkable and abusive over 40 years ago," Lewis wrote.”

Full Article and Source:
Florida Supreme Court to Judges: No Lobbying

Former CCAAA Employee Sentenced for Stealing From Elderly Woman

A former employee of the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging accused of taking thousands of dollars from an elderly woman pleaded guilty Tuesday during plea and sentencing court in Clearfield County.

Jodie Lorraine Yarger, 45, Brisbin, pleaded guilty to five counts each of forgery and theft by unlawful taking. She was sentenced to 60 days to one year in jail and four years consecutive probation. A condition of the plea agreement was that she pay $10,000 of the restitution prior to sentencing. She owes and additional $2,536. She is prohibited from being employed as a social worker.

The charges stem from incidents that occurred between Jan. 2005 and Sept. 2010. During this time Yarger was employed by the CCAAA as Director of Long Term Care Services. She was hired in Dec. 1999.

Prior to sentencing Judge Fredric J. Ammerman stated that he had received a letter from the victim’s children which “paints a pretty pathetic picture”. Yarger was trusted and she stole the victim’s money. What made it worse, Ammerman noted was that she was working for the CCAAA at the time.

Full Article and Source:
Former CCAAA Employee Sentenced for Stealing From Elderly Woman

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Courts Look to Law to Prevent Fiduciary Theft

Chancery Courts in Harrison and Hinds County are following required safeguards to protect the assets of children and vulnerable adults because, they confirm, attorneys in their jurisdictions either stole or improperly spent millions of dollars entrusted to them.

In Gulfport, attorney Woodrow W. “Woody” Pringle III stole at least $2.4 million from accounts he managed for children and vulnerable adults, a forensic accounting shows. He spent some of the cash on a house in Windemere, Fla, where he lived with his third wife, and on travel expenses to and from Florida to Gulfport, according to the records.

Pringle committed suicide in December 2010 in a hotel room at the Orlando Ritz-Carlton, overdosing on alcohol and pain killers, after Harrison County Chancery Clerk John McAdams discovered the attorney had falsified bank records for a veteran’s guardianship account. A forensic accounting has since revealed the extent of his thievery from numerous accounts he oversaw.

In Jackson, attorney William J. Brown embezzled or misappropriated almost $1.7 million from a guardianship, a Chancery Court judge determined in March.

The two cases have one thing in common: Neither attorney was filing the annual accountings that state law requires for guardianships, conservatorships and estate accounts overseen by chancery court, court officials concede. Chancery clerks are responsible under state law for turning over a list each year of guardians and conservators who are delinquent in filing the accountings required by state law. Once judges have the list, they are supposed to demand the accountings and hold in contempt any account administrators who fail to produce them.

In the Pringle and Brown cases, attorneys also have noted, banks have in some cases failed to follow court orders that restrict spending of funds from the court-supervised accounts.

Full Article and Source:
Courts Look to Law to Prevent Another Pringle Incident

See Also:
Editorial - Trust Must Be Restored

Introducing the Administration for Community Living

"For too long, too many Americans have faced the impossible choice between moving to an institution or living at home without the long-term services and supports they need. The goal of the new Administration for Community Living will be to help people with disabilities and older Americans live productive, satisfying lives."
- Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

All Americans - including people with disabilities and seniors - should be able to live at home with the supports they need, participating in communities that value their contributions. To help meet these needs, HHS is creating a new organization, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) with the goal of increasing access to community supports and full participation, while focusing attention and resources on the unique needs of older Americans and people with disabilities.

The ACL will include the efforts and achievements of the Administration on Aging, the Office on Disability and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities in a single agency, with enhanced policy and program support for both cross-cutting initiatives and efforts focused on the unique needs of individual groups such as children with developmental disabilities, adults with physical disabilities, or seniors, including seniors with Alzheimer's.

Introducing the Administration for Community Living

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

TX: Ethics, Judicial Conduct Agencies Get Lawmaker's Scrutiny

State lawmakers on Tuesday blasted the secrecy of a state agency that polices misconduct by Texas judges and seemed receptive to a proposal for more public disclosure and enforcement of ethics laws that govern legislators and other public officials.

The Sunset Advisory Commission did not formally vote on the recommended changes for the state Commission on Judicial Conduct or the Texas Ethics Commission. But panelists made it clear during a daylong public hearing at the Capitol that they are leaning toward reforms.

The 12-member commission, made up of five senators, five House members and two public members, periodically measures the performance of state agencies to determine whether they should continue operating or be merged or closed.

Texas Ethics Commission staff recommended strengthening the agency's enforcement abilities, reducing penalties for minor paperwork mistakes and making more disclosure documents available to the public online.

Sunset commission chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, at several points seemed to support many of the proposed changes, which were endorsed by a parade of government-watchdog advocates and citizens.

If the panel eventually supports the staff recommendations, the ethics commission could end up with its first-ever enforcement division and greater power to subpoena records to investigate complaints.

"We feel it's in the public's interest to have an open situation where there's daylight all through the transactions we have," said Tom Ramsay, a retired lawmaker from East Texas who chairs the ethics commission.

Even so, changing ethics laws at the Capitol has been difficult in the past. The commission was created two decades ago after a legislative influence-peddling scandal. No matter how much support reforms might seem to have at a meeting, approval can be derailed after lawmakers ponder whether they really want to give an agency more power to bust them for violations.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, questioned whether the changes might be misperceived by the public.

"Some of us are concerned that the watchdog groups are ... going to holler that we're watering down the ethics rules," he said.

Full Article and Source:
Ethics, Judicial Conduct Agencies Get Lawmakers' Scrutiny

Watch the Sunset Advisory Commission Hearing

Oklahoma: SB1304

Catheryn Koss, executive director of the Senior Law Resource Center, discusses Oklahoma laws related to guardianship.

Q: How would Senate Bill 1304 affect Oklahoma laws related to guardianship and durable powers of attorney?

A: This bill would clarify the relationship between a guardian and a person who has durable power of attorney. If it passes, if a guardian is ever appointed, any durable power of attorney that may have been in effect earlier would be automatically terminated.

Full Article and Source:
Business Q&A with Catheryn Koss

Judicial Conduct Unbecoming

It does not take a law degree or special knowledge of judicial ethics to know that handing out courthouse jobs to favored friends and relatives is wrong.

But that did not stop Luis Gonzalez, the top judge in the appellate division that covers Manhattan and the Bronx, from treating openings in his part of the court system as personal patronage. A state agency that polices judges’ conduct issued a highly critical report about Justice Gonzalez, yet he remains a presiding justice.

Justice Gonzalez joined the appellate court in 2002 and became the presiding justice in 2009. He quickly reverted to a clubby hiring process, increasing his control and returning to the practice of advertising nonattorney jobs only within the courthouse. His predecessor, the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, stopped that practice.

According to the report by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, in 2010 when an early-retirement program produced a slew of vacancies, almost all of the 25 replacements hired “got their jobs through word of mouth, because they had acquaintances, friends, relatives or other contacts at the appellate division.”

Among those hired, six had direct links to Justice Gonzales or his staff, including his ex-wife, who was hired at a higher salary than most other paralegals, nephews of his executive assistants who did not meet the listed qualifications for the positions and his secretary’s brother. Justice Gonzalez signed the papers approving each hire.

But that did not stop Luis Gonzalez, the top judge in the appellate division that covers Manhattan and the Bronx, from treating openings in his part of the court system as personal patronage. A state agency that polices judges’ conduct issued a highly critical report about Justice Gonzalez, yet he remains a presiding justice.

Justice Gonzalez joined the appellate court in 2002 and became the presiding justice in 2009. He quickly reverted to a clubby hiring process, increasing his control and returning to the practice of advertising nonattorney jobs only within the courthouse. His predecessor, the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, stopped that practice.

According to the report by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, in 2010 when an early-retirement program produced a slew of vacancies, almost all of the 25 replacements hired “got their jobs through word of mouth, because they had acquaintances, friends, relatives or other contacts at the appellate division.”

Among those hired, six had direct links to Justice Gonzales or his staff, including his ex-wife, who was hired at a higher salary than most other paralegals, nephews of his executive assistants who did not meet the listed qualifications for the positions and his secretary’s brother. Justice Gonzalez signed the papers approving each hire.

The commission said, rightly, that a system in which most administrative jobs are posted only in nonpublic rooms of the courthouse invites nepotism and favoritism. It also cheats the public of the services of highly qualified candidates from outside the court system.

Judicial Conduct Unbecoming

See Also:
System, Not Judge, is Blamed for Nepotism in Court Hiring

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Judge Adds Safeguards After Franklin Case?

Ginger Franklin was in an Illinois rehabilitation facility nearly 300 miles from her Nashville home when in August 2008 a Davidson probate judge issued an emergency order taking away her rights to control her own life.

The order was issued by Judge David “Randy” Kennedy in response to a petition filed by Franklin’s aunt.

The aunt had been told by doctors that her niece’s injuries from falling down a flight of stairs were so serious she was likely to die or suffer permanent brain injuries, Franklin said.

It wasn’t until early September 2008 when she returned to Nashville, Franklin said, that she learned what had happened in her absence.

As soon as she stepped off the plane after her release from the Illinois facility, she said, she was met by a newly appointed conservator and taken to a group home.

When she asked why she wasn’t being taken to the Nashville condo she owned, “They told me you don’t have a home to go home to,” she said.

Court records show that Franklin lost her home and ended up on the hook for legal fees and other court-approved fees that ate up all but about $2,000 of her assets, including proceeds from the sale of her condo.

Franklin, 55, was released from the court-ordered conservatorship Dec. 2, 2010, when she presented evidence that she was competent and capable of managing her own affairs.

Upset at how her conservatorship was handled, she filed complaints with the Court of the Judiciary, the body tasked with investigating ethical complaints against judges, and with the Board of Professional Responsibility, which supervises ethical conduct of attorneys.

Just last week she received a letter from the Court of the Judiciary informing her that the investigation of her complaint had been completed.

The letter dated April 10 from Court of Judiciary attorney Patrick McHale stated that “appropriate action” had been taken, but it added that details of that action could not be released because of confidentiality provisions in state law.

Judge Kennedy said he also received a letter from the court informing him that the investigation has been closed. “I received no sanctions or disciplinary action, nor was any warranted,” he said.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Adds Safeguards After Case

Ginger Franklin Lost Her Home and Her Belongings Under a Conservatorship

Ginger Franklin lost her home and her belongings under a conservatorship

Ginger Franklin Lost Her Home Under a Conservatorship

Conservatorship Laws Vary State by State

The laws used to determine whether a person is mentally or physically incapacitated and needs to be placed in a court-ordered conservatorship vary from state to state.

In one state, a citizen who has developed, for example, Alzheimer’s disease can have his or her rights stripped away by a judge without being present or informed in advance, while in another state, the person would have the right not only to be present, but also to have a lawyer and demand a jury trial before being placed under the legal control of someone else.

The intent of the laws around conservatorship — when another person or entity is given the legal right to make decisions regarding one’s affairs — is to protect the vulnerable person and his or her assets.

The process is not uncommon, but a growing group of elderly advocates and attorneys has been alarmed over potential abuses in the system and has lobbied for model laws across the country that grant more rights to the individual and offer more protection.

Advocates hail ruling

A recent ruling by the state Supreme Court in Connecticut spelled out how important and serious a conservatorship can be.

The court found that placing a person in a conservatorship “is one of the most serious infringements on personal liberty and autonomy authorized by law.”

The ruling, being hailed by advocates for the elderly, concluded that attorneys appointed in conservatorship cases to represent a candidate for conservatorship are obliged to advocate for what that person wants and not to substitute their own judgment of what is best for the client.

Full Article and Source:
Conservatorship Laws Vary by State

See Also:
Reform of Unlawful and Abusive Guardianships and Conservatorships and Abuse by Courts and Fiduciaries

The Daniel Gross Decision: Standing Up for the Elderly and Infirm

Monday, April 16, 2012

Conservatorship is Meant to Protect, but in Tennessee, it Sometimes Destroys

Just two years ago, 80-year-old Jewell Tinnon was living comfortably in the Edgehill house she and her late husband had bought and paid for years earlier.

Tucked away in the home on a cul-de-sac off 13th Avenue South were a life’s worth of possessions, her prized Sunday church clothes and her diamond rings. Parked outside was her 1995 low-mileage Pontiac.

But all that was before a petition was filed, without her knowledge, in Davidson County Probate Court to protect and conserve her life, health and assets.

Today, Tinnon, now 82, lives in a one-bedroom public housing unit watching a television donated by a friend. There is little furniture. Her house, her car, her jewelry and all her possessions are gone, sold off at auction. A large chunk of the proceeds — $36,000 in fees and expenses — was used to pay the lawyers who handled the process.

Tinnon’s plight, a Tennessean review has shown, is not unique. For Tinnon and others, records show, conservatorship, a court process intended to protect those judged no longer able to care for themselves, has proved to be a path in the opposite direction.

Stripped of the right to make even the most basic decisions about their life, health or finances, some of those placed in conservatorship have watched their life’s savings — everything from their homes to their clothes — swallowed up by legal and other fees.

The situation has drawn the attention of national elderly and legal organizations fighting guardianship and conservatorship abuse and sparked an ongoing effort to change states’ laws to provide additional safeguards.

Some who claim their conservatorships were mishandled are fighting back.

After a woman who was trying to get out of a conservatorship complained about how her case was handled, the Nashville judge who handles such cases instituted new procedures in his courtroom.

And Tinnon? After obtaining additional medical exams to prove her mental capacity, she has filed a lawsuit seeking $1.6 million in damages from her former attorney and the organization that had all her possessions auctioned off.

Full Article and Source:
Conservatorship is Meant to Protect, but in Tennessee, it Sometimes Destroys

Woman Loses Everything After Being Placed in Conservatorship

Jewell Timmon, 82, has lost her house and all her possessions after being placed in conservatorship.
Woman Loses Everything After Conservatorship

Vermont Assisted Suicide Bill Dead

"For nearly two hours Thursday afternoon, the Vermont Senate focused on legislation that would allow people with fewer than six months to live to opt for a lethal dose of medication. From the start, it was clear the legislation wouldn't pass - and it didn't, failing on a procedural vote."

Full Article and Source:
Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Public Guardian Possibly to be Appointed Conservator of Heiress

Los Angeles County officials said Monday that they were opening an investigation into possible financial exploitation of a housebound Palos Verdes Estates heiress by her money manager.

The launch of a probe into the handling of Susan Strong Davis' affairs came in response to a Times article describing how the 87-year-old widow spent millions of dollars on a four-bedroom home in Beverly Hills despite suffering from what relatives said was dementia that left her unable to make even minor decisions.

Davis' longtime money manager, John E. Larkin, sold her property for the new home at a $300,000 profit and is overseeing construction. He was also instrumental in arranging her 2005 donation of $600,000 to a charity connected to the Kabbalah Centre, the controversial spiritual organization to which he belongs.

Richard Franco, the acting program manager of the county's Adult Protective Services, called the article "very troubling" and said elder abuse investigators would begin looking into Davis' situation "ASAP."

Separately, Davis' relatives, who do not live locally, said they had called a county elder abuse hotline and asked for an investigation. Nephew Thomas Dutton Jr. said he was told that someone would visit her home and evaluate her condition.

The county elder abuse investigators are social workers who refer cases to law enforcement if they find evidence for criminal prosecution. If they determine that Davis cannot care for herself, they can work with the county Office of Public Guardian to ask a court to appoint a conservator to make financial, medical and other decisions on her behalf.

Full Article and Source:
L.A. County Looks into Possible Financial Exploitation of Heiress

CT Lawyer Honored for His Pro Bono Work

A city attorney was honored for his pro-bono work representing the elderly, mentally handicapped and families in need in probate court cases.

Stephen Keogh, a partner in the law firm Keogh, Burkhart & Vetter, took home the first "Glenn R. Knierim Pro Bono Award" at the Probate Assembly's annual meeting in Hartford.

"It's really quite an honor," he said. "Every probate court judge can name at least 12 lawyers who can take home this award."

Probate Assembly President-Judge Daniel Caruso said the assembly created the award to honor the probate lawyers who go above and beyond their duties to accommodate their clients. The award is named after the longest-serving probate court administrator.

Full Article and Source:
Norwalk Lawyer Honored for His Pro Bono Work

FL Man Arrested; Suspected With History of Bilking Elderly

A man charged with exploiting the elderly is suspected in a swath of cases involving older victims who paid for work that was never done.

James David Gruner, 38, was arrested at a St. Johns County motel Wednesday and jailed following an investigation of four complaints of bilking victims in the past three months, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators said Gruner has a history of befriending elderly residents offering to do work for them and once payment is received, the suspect leaves without completing the work.

Gruner has been arrested in other parts of the state for contracting without a license and victimizing the elderly in the past dozen years, according to the Sheriff's Office. Twenty-one cases have been reported in Brevard, Flagler, Putnam, St. Lucie and St. Johns counties.

Full Article and Source:
St. John's Handyman Arrested; Suspected of History of Bilking Older Residents