Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sick Old Man Says He Was Conned for $1M, Wife Threatened

With help from an attorney, a health-care adviser conned a dying man out of $1 million and threatened to have his wife committed to a mental institution when she tried to recover the money, the couple claims in court.

 Jerry and Frances Berkowitz sued Princella Lewis, her company Prestigious Lifecare for Seniors fka PL Firm, and attorney Glenn Ricardo Miller, in Palm Beach County Court.

Jerry Berkowitz was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized in June 2012.

After leaving the hospital, Berkowitz was sent to a nursing home in Boynton Beach, according to the complaint.

Berkowitz claims that shortly after his transfer he was referred to PL Firm, a Fort Lauderdale-based senior healthcare consulting company, for a consultation about eligibility for Medicaid benefits.

The Berkowitzes claim that Princella Lewis agreed to provide them financial advice, and retained Miller, a North Miami Beach attorney, to prepare documents for them to sign.

After the Berkowitzes signed the documents, PL Firm persuaded Frances to give it a $55,000 cashier's check to establish a trust, and to move all the couple's money to a single bank account, according to the complaint.

"In addition to obtaining the $55,000 in Chase funds and making that amount payable to PL Firm, Mrs. Berkowitz was driven from bank to bank and directed by PL Firm to obtain cashier's checks from her various different banks and to deposit all of the funds in one single bank account that Mrs. Berkowitz held at (nonparty) SunTrust Bank ('SunTrust')," the complaint states."

It continues: "In total, Mrs. Berkowitz, under the close control and scrutiny of PL Firm, was directed to gather well over $1 million of funds belonging to her and/or her husband and, as a first step, consolidate this money in an account at SunTrust."

"On information and belief, defendants have abused and misused their positions of trust and influence over plaintiffs, taking advantage of Mr. Berkowitz's frail condition as he lingers in a nursing facility dying of cancer and taking advantage of Mrs. Berkowitz who is in the process of losing her husband," the complaint states.

"On information and belief, defendants have wrongfully and illegally threatened plaintiffs with having Mrs. Berkowitz committed to a mental facility if Mrs. Berkowitz does not relent in her request to have her assets returned to her, including the over $1 million wrongfully obtained from plaintiffs by defendants."

The couple wants the money returned and copies of the documents, and treble damages for civil theft, civil conspiracy, conversion, unfair trade, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and unjust enrichment.

Lewis and PL Firm then had Mrs. Berkowitz transfer more than $1 million to a trust it controlled, and refused to give the couple any copies of the documents they had signed, or an accounting, the Berkowitzes say in the complaint.

Full Article and Source:
Sick Old Man Says He Was Conned for $1M

Law Firm Discipline - In Through the Back Door

The California Rules of Professional Conduct, by their own terms, are “intended to regulate professional conduct of members of the State Bar through discipline.” (Cal. Rule Prof. Conduct 1-100(a)). Thus it has been ever since the very first set of Rules was approved by the California Supreme Court in 1928.
A lot has changed since 1928.

At the dawn of the State Bar era, most lawyers practiced as solo practitioners, or in small law firms.
The development of large law firms, not to mention the “mega-firms” consisting of thousands of lawyers, was not foreseen or provided for in the rules.
These organizations, with their large numbers of both attorneys and non-attorney staff, typically display diffused decision making that presents a challenge to a discipline process that presumes that a member is completely responsible for all aspects of a particular case, for all sins committed, whether by commission or omission.
The concept of professional discipline for law firms themselves has been around for several decades, but has never really caught fire. Some moves in that direction are reflected in the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, first promulgated in 1983.
Model Rule 5.1(a) requires individual partners to make "reasonable efforts" to ensure that their firm has measures in effect that give "reasonable assurance" that all lawyers in the firm conform to ethical rules.
Model Rule 5.3(a) imposes upon individual partners the obligation of making "reasonable efforts" to ensure that the firm has measures in place giving "reasonable assurance" that the conduct of non-lawyers affiliated with the firm is compatible with the partner's professional obligations.
These rules were adopted to encourage firms to create firm cultures and institute prophylactic policies and procedures -- an "ethical infrastructure" -- that would prevent misconduct before it occurred (O’Sullivan, "Professional Discipline for Law Firms?" A Response to Professor Schneyer’s Proposal, 16 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 1-90 [2002]).

Full Article and Source:
Law Firm Discipline:  In Through the Back Door

Friday, April 5, 2013

Terri Schiavo's Brother, Bobby Schindler, Working to Help Others

By now, eight years later, the details and debate over his sister's situation - her diagnosis, her prognosis, her wishes, her autopsy - are no longer that important to Bobby Schindler.
For him, one thought dominates. Terri Schiavo deserved to live.

Schindler now heads a growing foundation to help others in similar situations. Every year since her death, they've held a "Terri's Day" of remembrance.

This year, the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network has moved from Florida to the Philadelphia area, where both the Schindler and Schiavo families are from, and the event has grown.

At 5 p.m. Friday, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will celebrate a Mass dedicated to Terri Schiavo at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. Sarah Palin will speak afterward at a fund-raising dinner at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. A ticket is $150, and 350 have been sold; $25,000 gets you a visit with Palin, but no takers so far, Schindler said.

Terri Schiavo died March 31, 2005, after 15 years in what doctors termed a persistent vegetative state. Her case was marked by an excruciating public family battle that traversed the courts, prompted an unprecedented session of Congress, drew the attention of the Vatican, and inspired countless Americans to complete "living wills" spelling out what care they did - or did not - want in the event of severe injury or illness.

Her husband, Michael, said she would not have wanted to live this way. Her parents and siblings said she would have chosen life, no matter what.

It is a decision that daily is facing many families, although rarely in such a public arena. Mostly, it's in a hospital conference room with a box of tissues on the table.

Schindler, 48, a former math and science teacher in Florida, thinks many patients are being warehoused. Last year, the foundation established a Center for Disability in the Public Square - a data-gathering and information-sharing network. In his office, he has a sketch of a rehab facility he would like the foundation to build, although he concedes it is likely a long way off.

The foundation, begun in 2000, has seen its revenue grow steadily, from less than $20,000 in 2005 to nearly $700,000 in 2011.

That year, contributions were bolstered by a $100,000 prize from the Gerard Health Foundation, a pro-life philanthropy in Natick, Mass., that praised the Schiavo network for helping 1,000 families, and giving them "safe haven amidst the pressure of the so-called 'right to die' movement."

One of them is Sara Harvey, of Horseheads, N.Y., just north of the Pennsylvania line. She has been battling officials over her husband, Gary, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for nearly seven years, after falling down steps and suffering a traumatic brain injury.

A judge had named the county Gary Harvey's guardian in 2007, and in 2009, officials planned to remove his feeding tube. Sara Harvey contacted Schindler, who has petitioned the court to name him a legal guardian.

No decision has been made, but Sara Harvey credits Schindler with saving her husband's life so far.  "Bobby's like an angel over my husband."

Full Article and Source:
Terri Schiavo's Brother Working to Help Others

Judge Dismissed Charge Against Leading Right-to-Die Advocate

A judge has dismissed charges against the former leader of a US right-to-die group accused in the death of a Minnesota woman, ruling that the state law against advising suicide is unconstitutionally overbroad. The judge dismissed charges against Thomas Goodwin, former president of Final Exit Network. The group argued the law violates a person's right to freedom of speech.

Last year, four members of the group were charged in the 2007 death of Doreen Dunn, who killed herself in her home. Prosecutors said the defendants provided Dunn with information and support.

Dunn had suffered through a decade of intense, chronic pain after a medical procedure went wrong.

Final Exit Network is run by volunteers who believe that mentally competent adults have a basic human right to end their lives if they suffer from "fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain" and meet other criteria, according to the group's website. "We do not encourage anyone to end their life," the website says.

Goodwin was charged with aiding and abetting assistance of a suicide, a felony, and aiding and abetting in the interference with a death scene, a gross misdemeanor.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Dismisses Charge Against Leading Right-to-Die Advocate

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Judge Randy Kennedy Says He Will Step Up Review of Lawyer Fees

Citing concerns over the cost and expense of conservatorships, Davidson County Probate Judge David Randy Kennedy has instituted new review procedures for fee requests from attorneys and others involved in such cases.

Kennedy has informed attorneys appearing in his court on conservatorship cases that he will no longer approve fee requests on the same day they are submitted, as has been a longtime Friday morning tradition.

Instead, Kennedy said, unopposed fee requests will be held for at least three days “to allow the court a greater period of time to examine and scrutinize all such unopposed motions.”

According to an announcement issued this week, Kennedy’s counterparts in Memphis and Chattanooga have instituted similar new procedures.

Kennedy also disclosed that he is continuing his review of fee requests submitted by Davidson County Public Guardian Jeanan Mills Stuart.

In a letter to members of Metro Council, Kennedy said that he had completed a review of 30 of Stuart’s active case files and “have found no irregularities in those cases.”

“A complete report will be provided to you and to all parties of interest once the review has been finished,” Kennedy wrote.

Full Article and Source:
Probate Judge Says He Will Step Up Review of Lawyer Fees

See Also:
Judge Kennedy Replaces Davidson Public Guardian as Woman's Conservator

Judge Randy Kennedy Names Task Force on Compensation for Conservators and Guardians

Davidson County Judge Randy Kennedy has informed members of Metro Council that 14 local community leaders have agreed to serve on a Task Force on Compensation for Conservators and Guardians.

In announcing the formation of the Task Force, Judge Kennedy said, "I am extremely pleased that these individuals have offered to donate their time and knowledge to this important endeavor. They will assist the court in identifying measures that can be implemented to minimize costs without sacrificing the quality of service required for our most vulnerable citizens.

The Task Force consists of seven non-lawyer representatives who bring a wide array of experiences in dealing with elderly and disabled adults, special need children, and their families. The remaining seven members are practicing attorneys who have successfully handled both conservatorships and guardianships in numerous courts.

Task Force members include: Metro Councilman Walter Hunt, Attorney Rebecca Blair, Fifty Forward, Inc. Executive Director Janet Jernigan, Attorney Cynthia Gardner, State Public Guardian Jeanne Caudill, Attorney Colleen Maclean,' Assistant Commissioner Tennessee Department of Health Marthagem Whitlock, Attorney Chris Norris, Director for Michael Dunn Center Dr. Lara Collins, former Public Guardian for Davidson County Monica Edwards, Esq., Associate Executive Director of Fifty Forward, Inc. Adrienne Newman, Attorney Steve Tepley, District Public Conservator for Greater Nashville Regional Council on Aging Kim Hale, and Attorney Andra Hedrick.

Judge Kennedy anticipates the Task Force will meet monthly beginning no later than May, and expects that the group will continue until it can prepare a report and recommendations that will assist the court in promoting guidelines for fees and compensation in these unique cases.

Judge Kennedy Names Task Force on Compensation for Conservators and Guardians

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Family Protests Placing Elderly Woman in Assisted Living

“Justice! We want justice! Free our grandmother! We want to take care of her!”

About 16 protesters outside the Whitfield County Courthouse Monday afternoon shouted and held signs to call attention to what they said was an unfair decision that resulted in an elderly family member being moved against her will into an assisted living facility.

Pam Akins said her mother-in-law, who is an Alzheimer’s patient, and the mother-in-law’s husband had lived with her and her husband, Marty, since October in their Dalton home. The Akins said caregivers sat with the older couple during the day when family members weren’t at home to watch them. Then other family members decided the woman would be better off in a nursing home, Akins said.

According to Akins, Probate Judge Sheri Blevins granted rights to those family members who have since placed the woman in professional care. That decision is under appeal.

Robert McCurry, an attorney for those family members, Greg and Rhonda Epperson, said guardianship and the best interest of the woman — not necessarily where she would live — was considered when Blevins rendered a decision March 1 after several hours of testimony. “The court heard from numerous witnesses, including a licensed neurologist (who) determined it was in (the woman’s) best interest that my client be named the guardian,” McCurry said.

Blevins declined comment because of state laws that prohibit the release of information about guardianship cases. “On pending cases, and unfortunately in this particular case, those records are sealed, and I’m not allowed to give any information at all,” Blevins said. “Hopefully an order will be coming out soon.”

Full Article and Source:
Family Protests Placing Elderly Woman in Assisted Living

NJ: Appeals Court Overturns Verdict in Whistle-Blowing Case

A state appeals court has overturned a verdict against a Bridgewater nursing home accused of firing a nurse in retaliation for him reporting allegedly improper patient care to government agencies in January 2008.

Jurors in March 2012 agreed with the claim made by James Hitesman that his termination from Bridgeway Senior Healthcare violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, or CEPA, which is designed to protect employees in whistle-blower cases.
That CEPA claim was based in part on Hitesman’s contention that he was fired when, in keeping with a professional code of ethics for nurses, he reported the improper patient care, according to his attorney, Paul Castronovo.

But the appellate judges found that since the code of ethics only applies to nurses, it cannot be cited as part of a CEPA claim against Bridgeway. In addition, the appellate decision released Friday said Hitesman “ lacked an objectively reasonable belief that Bridgeway's conduct constituted improper quality of patient care or violated public policy.”

Full Article and Source:
Appeals Court Overturns Verdict in Whistle-Blowing Case Against a Bridgewater Nursing Home

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bobby Schindler Remembers His Sister, Terri Schiavo

For members of any family, an order of execution issued by a judge for a loved one is devastating news – it’s catastrophic to learn that someone you have known all your life is going to be killed by the state.
That’s what happened to my family when, on March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo died as a result of Florida probate judge George W. Greer’s ruling to sentence my sister to death.

Her crime? She was profoundly brain injured, could not speak or fend for herself and had a loving family that wanted, more than anything, to just bring her home and care for her until her natural death.

But death sentences, once issued, are difficult to overturn – even when the person marked for death has never committed a crime.

On Feb. 25, 1990, my beloved sister collapsed in her home and experienced a significant brain injury after going into cardiac arrest.

For several years she underwent rehabilitative therapy and was physically stable, needing no medical treatment other than to be fed and hydrated. We loved her as she was, understanding that she had joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of other Americans who are challenged by a severe neurological disability.

Just a short time after Terri’s collapse, however, we learned that Terri was no longer receiving therapy but was instead being warehoused bereft of the care that she needed. We spent years wrangling with her then-husband to restore her rehabilitation care and for her to be released to us.

We wanted to bring her home, where she was loved and would receive the therapy she so desperately needed.

It was not to be.

Instead, after Judge Greer’s decree that her feeding and hydration supply should be ended, we watched her starve and dehydrate to death.

We were there. We watched her die of thirst, surrounded by vigilant law enforcement officers tasked with ensuring that we didn’t try to comfort her by wetting her parched, cracked and bleeding lips.

It took almost two weeks – a slow death that would never be considered for even the vilest criminal.

Even the most heinous villains get a last meal and something to drink.

That was eight years ago. We remember it as if it was yesterday.

Full Article and Source:
Remembering My Sister, Terri Schiavo; Her Death was Just the Beginning

Former Alabama Judge Dan King Indicted on Theft Charge

Former Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff Circuit Court Judge Dan King has been charged with theft in Calhoun County.

King was indicted by a Calhoun County grand jury earlier this month on the theft of property first degree charge stemming from theft of money from a law firm.

The March 4 indictment states that King, sometime between April 1, 2011 and Feb. 25, 2013, knowingly obtained, "by deception", control over more than $2,500 that was the property of the law firm Stewart & Stewart P.C. The exact amount of money was unknown to the grand jury, according to the indictment.

No other details were available.

Full Article and Source:
Dan King, Former Bessemer Cut-Off Judge Indicted in Theft Charge in Calhoun County

Monday, April 1, 2013

Conservatorship Ward Wins Against Santa Clara County Public Guardian

Source: Elderly Woman Wins Case Over Public Guardian

ABC7's First Investigative Report:

We're told to protect our assets with things like living trusts and wills. But a case in Santa Clara County is raising questions about when our plans can be changed by someone else, possibly against our wishes.

In early February, 85-year-old Grace Alaimo was in a Santa Clara superior courtroom surrounded by people arguing over what she wants.
Family Member, County Face Off Over Woman's Best Interests

See Also:
Repost:  ABC7 Investigates the Santa Clara County Public Guardian

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Missouri Supreme Court Suspends Associate Circuit Judge Barbara Peebles for Six Months Without Pay

A St. Louis judge has been suspended without pay for six months, according to a ruling issued Friday by the Missouri Supreme Court.

The unpaid suspension of Associate Circuit Judge Barbara Peebles begins Monday. She has been suspended with pay since August, when the Missouri Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline voted 5-1 to recommend her removal. The sixth member favored a six-month suspension.

The one-page order, issued by Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman, said that the court found that Peebles “engaged in misconduct” but does not go into specifics.

The state commission had cited a series of reasons, including her abdication of duties to a clerk while on vacation in China and her destruction of a court document that complained about the clerk’s conduct.

She also was cited for starting court late, talking to a newspaper reporter about a pending case and a lack of credibility regarding the investigation.

Courthouse rumors in St. Louis had long speculated that the court would decline to follow the commission’s recommendation to remove Peebles, and that the high court would time its announcement for a day when the legislature was out of session to minimize any repercussions there.

Friday was Good Friday.

Full Article and Source:
Mo. Supreme Court Suspends St. Louis Judge for Six Months Without Pay

See Also:
Judge Barbara Peebles Response

Judicial Commission's Report on Judge Barbara Peebles

The Forgotten Ones: Compassion for the Elderly

Walk into any nursing home today, and you'll see them: The aging lonely. They are easily recognizable. Look for the sadness on their faces, the pain in their eyes. With a television on for company, these men and women sit alone in their rooms. Their shelves are bare, their bulletin boards void of pictures, cards, or any memento denoting love from the outside. Those sad eyes may even hold a twinge of bitterness, asking, "Why am I still here with no one to love me?"
~ by Karrie Osborn

What are we waiting for? The time to help is now. ♥