Saturday, December 5, 2015

Guardian May Not Deduct Fee From Medicaid Recipient's Income

A Florida appeals court rules that the guardian of a Medicaid recipient may not deduct a guardianship fee from the recipient's income because the fee is not medically necessary. Lutheran Services Florida, Inc. v. Department of Children and Families (Fl. Ct. App., 2nd Dist., No. 2D13-5840, Nov. 25, 2015).

Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) is the court-appointed guardian of nursing home resident Larry Peron. LSF's duties include reviewing Mr. Peron's medical treatment and giving consent for medical procedures. When Mr. Peron qualified for Medicaid, he paid the majority of his income to the nursing home as the patient responsibility amount.

LSF obtained a court order authorizing that a monthly $200 guardianship fee be deducted from Mr. Peron's income and petitioned the Department of Children and Families to deduct the guardianship fee from Mr. Peron's patient responsibility amount. The Department denied the petition, determining that the fee cannot be deducted from a Medicaid recipient's income because it is not "medically necessary" under state law.  A hearing officer upheld the determination, noting that state law defines medically necessary as services provided in accordance with generally accepted standards of medical practice and reviewed by a physician. LSF appealed.

The Florida Court of Appeals affirms, holding that the guardianship fee is not medically necessary. According to the court, state law allows only deductions from a Medicaid recipient's income for "medical or remedial care services rendered by a medical professional directly to the Medicaid recipient." The court acknowledges that this result leaves a gap "wherein a guardian of an incapacitated ward who provides the necessary consent for medically necessary treatment cannot be compensated for its services under the state's Medicaid program," and suggests that the legislature look into changing the law.

For the full text of this decision, go to:,%202015/2D13-5840.pdf
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Guardian May Not Deduct Fee From Medicaid Recipient's Income

Galvin: Banks need to help fight scams aimed at the elderly

BOSTON —Secretary of State William Galvin is urging banks and credit unions in Massachusetts to make sure their workers are trained to recognize signs of financial exploitation of the elderly.

In a letter sent to 190 banking institutions in Massachusetts in the past week, Galvin said those workers can be a first line of defense.

He pointed to the case of a senior citizen who was persuaded to obtain $60,000 in bank checks in response to telephone calls telling her the checks were needed to collect sweepstakes prize money.
Galvin said his office worked with the FBI to resolve that case.

He said seniors are often particularly vulnerable because they have nest eggs that can be targeted by scammers.

He also said seniors are sometimes too embarrassed to report thefts.

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Galvin: Banks need to help fight scams aimed at the elderly

APNewsBreak: Casey Kasem's Widow Sued for Wrongful Death

Three of the radio personality Casey Kasem's children and his brother sued his widow on Wednesday, claiming her actions led to his death in 2014.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court accuses Jean Kasem of elder abuse and inflicting emotional distress on Kasem's children from a previous marriage by restricting access to their father before his death.

"Casey's early death occurred as a direct and proximate result of Jean's neglect and physical abuse of Casey," the lawsuit states.

A call and email sent to Jean Kasem's attorney, H. Michael Soroy, was not immediately returned.

The longtime "American Top 40" host had a form of dementia and a severe bedsore when he died at age 82.

Kerri, Julie and Michael Kasem are joined in the lawsuit by their uncle, Mouner. The lawsuit seeks more than $250,000, although a jury would have to decide any damage award.

Prosecutors earlier this year declined to charge Jean Kasem with elder abuse, a decision that Kerri Kasem said Wednesday led to her family filing the civil case.

"We would rather see her in jail than receive one dime," Kerri Kasem said. "We don't care about the money. We care about justice."

The lawsuit follows years of legal wrangling between Jean Kasem and three of his adult children from a previous marriage. The groups fought over visitation access to Casey Kasem before his death in June 2014, with his daughter Kerri Kasem assuming control of his medical care.

A Los Angeles judge stripped Jean Kasem of decision-making authority over concerns about her decision to move Casey Kasem from a medical facility in Santa Monica, California, to a friend's home in Washington state.

Jean Kasem contended at the time she moved her husband to protect his privacy.  (Continue Reading)

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Friday, December 4, 2015

More staff means more oversight in guardianship system

A major lack of oversight in Clark County courts has torn families apart and victimized the vulnerable people it was supposed to protect.

That's what Darcy Spears found in her year-long Contact 13 Investigation of the guardianship system.

Now many changes are underway to fix the problems.

Clark County District Court is adding staff to better supervise guardianship cases in response to what they call a clear need for compliance oversight.  This after Contact 13 revealed double billing and questionable charges.  Even cases where people's entire life savings went missing and their homes were sold without court approval.

Today the court announced that they've hired a new Guardianship Compliance Administrator.  He will watch over the adult guardianship program, create a citizen complaint process and investigate cases for discrepancies and fraud. Click here to see the full job description.

The court is also taking action on a number of other problems directly related to our investigation, including more transparency and additional scrutiny of how private professional guardians handle an individual's money.  (Continue Reading)

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More staff means more oversight in guardianship system

Guardianship court fills new compliance officer job

Things continue to change inside the guardianship court of Clark County.

The court on Monday announced the hiring of South Dakota attorney Riley Wilson for a newly formed guardianship compliance officer position that was created "in response to a clear need for compliance oversight," according to a press release.

In the days after a series of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles in April, which highlighted the shortcomings and lack of oversight in the county's guardianship system that left thousands of elderly and incapacitated people vulnerable to financial exploitation, District Court Chief Judge David Barker requested additional funding from the county for the position.

Wilson's job will be to make sure guardians comply with proper guardianship procedures, such as ensuring that guardians' billings match actual costs and that guardians file annual financial statements, a rule that was rarely enforced in the past.

Wilson earned his law degree from the University of Idaho and a masters in law from the University of Denver, the release states.

Wilson specialized in several family law areas while practicing in South Dakota, including estate planning, trusts, guardianship and probate, the release said.

"Having someone with a strong depth of auditing and financial experience working on compliance along with the other measures taken by the court gets us on track to meet our goal of compliance with national best practices," Barker said.

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Guardianship court fills new compliance officer job

Lower numeracy could leave older individuals at greater risk of financial exploitation

Older people with lower levels of numeracy are more prone to financial exploitation, a study involving Plymouth University has suggested. 

This is because they are, in general, less likely to engage with numeric information and less able to extract meaningful and precise information resulting in errors.

Further, low numerate individuals are more susceptible to certain biases in their decision making including increased susceptibility to verbal versus numeric risk information, framing, and mood effects.

The study was led by Stacey Wood and Liu Pi-Ju, from Scripps College in California, and Dr Yaniv Hanoch, Associate Professor of Psychology at Plymouth University.

The authors state:

"With millions of older adults experiencing , it is vital to gain a better understanding of what protects them from it. Our data reveal that numeracy plays a key role, with high numeracy found to be a significant predictor of decreased risk after controlling for other demographic variables. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper to illustrate the protective role numeracy plays in tackling financial exploitation."

Previous research has indicated that around five per cent of in the United States experience financial exploitation each year.

For this study, people between the ages of 60 and 95, living within the community in California, were asked a series of questions to establish to what extent they may have been exploited financially within the previous 12 months.

They were also asked a series of anonymous questions relating to their education, marital status, physical and and their ability to live independently.

Less numerate participants reported risk of experiencing financial exploitation significantly more frequently, regardless of other risk factors, including dependency, physical and mental health, as well as overall cognition.

The authors add:

"This study was designed to focus on community-dwelling individuals who may or may not be at risk for current and future financial exploitation. In previous work with substantiated victims of exploitation, we have observed that by the time an intervention has occurred by social services, many have already suffered exploitation for years and been serial victims. At that point, only formal protections can be used to minimize risk, but by identifying potential victims at an earlier stage it may be possible to identify those individuals most likely to benefit from intervention."

More information: Stacey A. Wood et al. Importance of Numeracy as a Risk Factor for Elder Financial Exploitation in a Community Sample, The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences (2015). DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbv041
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Lower numeracy could leave older individuals at greater risk of financial exploitation

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Judge Leaves Redstone In Charge of His Affairs

Sumner Redstone remains in charge of his affairs after a judge decided no immediate action was needed in a case that questions his competency to make health care and financial decisions.

California Superior Court Judge Clifford Klein on Monday set a hearing for Jan. 27 at which he will consider a request by Redstone’s attorney to dismiss a suit brought by a former confident and caretaker that alleges that the 92-year-old chairman of Viacom and CBS is no longer able to take care of himself. The judge decided not to dismiss the case immediately, as Redstone’s lawyers requested.

The judge also decided to stay any discovery in the case until the hearing is held. He did not grant a request by Manuela Herzer to be put back as the person responsible for Redstone’s medical decisions when he is no longer able to make them, or order tests on Redstone.

"We are pleased the Court today expressly rejected Ms. Herzer's claims of urgency and granted our request to stay discovery pending next year's hearing on our motion to dismiss,” said Gabrielle Vidal of Loeb & Loeb, a lawyer for Redstone.

Herzer's attorney also saw good signs in the ruling.

"We’ve very pleased with the decision today by Los Angeles County Probate Judge Clifford Klein to deny the request to dismiss our petition and to set a further hearing on the matter in January," said Pierce O'Donnell, on of Herzer's lawyers. "Despite the vitriol that has been unleashed on Manuela Herzer, our case is going forward and she remains determined to fulfill her promise to serve as health care agent for Sumner Redstone, her close friend of 16 years. The fact is that Mr. Redstone is tragically incapacitated – and that’s why he hasn’t submitted a declaration to court and the attorneys claiming to represent him are fighting so hard to keep us away from him. When the court finally allows us take his videotaped deposition, we believe his lack of capacity will be painfully evident to the judge and to the world. "

Full Article & Source:
Judge Leaves Redstone In Charge of His Affairs

See Also:
Competency of Viacom Billionnaire Sumner Redstone Questioned in Court

Health Concerns Continue to Swirl About 92-Year-Old Viacom Executive Chairman, Who Holds Roughly 80% of the Voting Rights of His Company

Mental Competency Tests in the C-suite are More Common Than You Think

Justices disbar lawyer for $150K theft, other misconduct

An Indianapolis lawyer has been disbarred for stealing about $150,000 from his clients, “disclosing client confidences for purposes of both retaliation and amusement, threatening and intimidating his office staff (and) lying pervasively to all comers,” according to the Indiana Supreme Court.

David J. Steele had been under emergency interim suspension since Sept. 4, when he tendered an affidavit consenting to discipline for eight counts alleging violations of rules of professional conduct. In a court opinion issued Tuesday, justices adopted the allegations in the Disciplinary Commission’s complaint and concluded "without hesitation that (Steele) should be disbarred.”

Steele operated Steele Legal Group LLC, a family law practice with an office at Keystone at the Crossing. He had been licensed to practice since 2003 and had no prior disciplinary history.  

The court identified 16 rule violations from charging an unreasonable fee to lying to the commission. Aside from cheating clients, justices wrote Steele brandished a gun while he fired an office manager about whom he concocted wild stories concerning the staff member’s sexual orientation.

“The seriousness, scope, and sheer brazenness of (Steele)’s misconduct is outrageous," justices wrote. "He stole approximately $150,000 from his clients, threatened and intimidated his staff, disparaged and mocked virtually everyone around him, lied to all comers, and obstructed the commission’s investigation.  Perhaps most disturbingly, (Steele) repeatedly and fundamentally breached the duty of confidentiality that lies at the heart of the attorney-client relationship.”

The court found Steele misappropriated the client funds from his attorney trust account. He “redirected most of these unearned fees into his personal or operating account although he sometimes ‘peel(ed) off a few hundred dollars’ to give to his employees as a ‘spot bonus.’”

Steele also typically charged clients a deposit of $2,500 to $3,500 at the beginning of a representation, then “vigorously enforced” non-refundable fee provisions. He “instructed his office staff to inflate billable hours and rates by a variety of means,” justices wrote.

“Numerous clients requested refunds of unearned fees,” the opinion says, “which (Steele) was unable to provide because he had stolen virtually all the funds contained within his trust account.” In other cases, Steele refunded portions of client fees with advance payments collected from other clients.

Much of the evidence against Steele came from his office manager, referred to in the opinion as JD.

Steele “attempted to persuade JD and others to go along with these practices and frequently reminded JD that (Steele) had fired the prior office manager when that person had questioned” his unethical conduct.

Steele fired JD after just two and a half months, at which time JD reported his former boss to the Disciplinary Commission. Steele retaliated in threatening texts, including one in which he wrote, “No one will ever hire you if (I) get disbarred for something you told them. You think lawyers want someone in their office who tried to get their last boss disbarred?”

Justices wrote Steele also lied to the commission by telling them JD was fired for having sex with another man in the office and for using “the firm’s website to post disparaging comments about the gay community."

“Additionally, (Steele) brandished a handgun when he terminated JD’s employment, and … instructed an associate attorney who witnessed this incident to lie about this fact to the commission,” the order says.  

Steele also told his staff to “lie to all comers” about his whereabouts and other matters, justices wrote, including falsely telling opposing counsel he was in a hospital waiting room watching a loved one die of cancer or that his dog had just died.

“Respondent made false statements to the commission during its investigation that, by (Steele's) own description, were ‘virtually pathological in frequency and scope,’” justices wrote.

In other counts, Steele was found to have incentivized positive client reviews on his profile and punished people who posted negative reviews by disclosing confidential information. He is also accused of recording conversations of clients and potential clients for his amusement, sharing them with staff and relatives.

He “openly mocked these recorded individuals in his conversations with others and in a meeting with the commission,” the opinion says. 

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Justices disbar lawyer for $150K theft, other misconduct

Read the Signs

RICK NEASE illustration / Detroit Free Press
Are you visiting elderly parents or relatives this holiday season? It's a good time to look for signs of elder abuse, which can take subtle forms, such as financial abuse or neglect. 

A state Elder Law Task Force issued a November 2014 report with recommendations that aim to better protect older residents through Pennsylvania courts in cases involving abuse, neglect, guardianship, and conservatorship.

One task-force idea now reaching the courts is the "bench card," which lays out for judges the signs of possible elder abuse. The task force is distributing it to judges in family, criminal, civil (municipal and county), and Orphans' Courts, and to all district justices in fall/winter continuing- education classes.

We distributed the bench cards . . . at the State Trial Judges Conference in Hershey in July," says Karen Buck, executive director of the SeniorLAW Center in Center City, "and we got very good feedback. This ensures judges in all divisions have critical information to how elder abuse affects all areas of the law."

Superior Court Judge Paula Francisco Ott serves as liaison to the executive and legislative branches. In Pennsylvania, Ott says, Orphans' Court is often where elder abuse comes to light.

"We sometimes refer to Orphans' Court as the new Family Court. We see family disputes about who's going to handle the elderly parents' money, who's taking care of them. We're seeing the financial abuse comes a lot through misuse of power of attorney," Ott says.

"There's very little court oversight with power of attorney," she says. "So cases we see coming in for guardianship start with family or the Office of Aging. They often come in with a dispute about powers of attorney."

Sometimes, an older person has no family, siblings or children. In one real-life case, a neighbor became the de facto guardian, Ott said.

Anyone who suspects that an older person is being abused should contact the local county Office of Aging, she said: "The call is always confidential."

"Similar to child-abuse cases, they investigate. In the case I just mentioned, the elderly woman had a lawyer who had drawn up the power of attorney for the neighbor. To be careful, I appointed an independent person to be the guardian of her money and left the neighbor to make day-to-day medical and other decisions," Ott said.

Last year, an East Frankford woman was found starving, covered in filth, and suffering from maggot-infested sores. Prane Paciunas, 89, died Nov. 15, about a week after she was found in her living room, wrapped in a quilt on a bed covered with trash bags.

Jean Dombrowski, 48, who had stepped in as Paciunas' caregiver, has been charged with murder. Over a six-year period, authorities say, she moved in with the elderly woman and exercised her power of attorney, renting rooms in Paciunas' house and blocking access to investigators until police showed up.

Ott says Pennsylvania's court system is seeing a tremendous increase in elder-abuse cases. She presided over one that involved a married couple.

"He'd pull the chair out from under her, drive away from her with the car. At first, the family thought he was confused. But he was abusive and didn't like having to take care of her. The children brought in a request to protect her from abuse.

"Anecdotally, judges across the state are spending a lot more time doing guardianship cases than they were five years ago," Ott says, although she did not have specific figures.

The state's Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program educates professionals such as lawyers and financial planners on how to recognize when older clients are vulnerable to or victims of financial abuse, particularly those with mild cognitive impairment.

For information, call the Investor Education and Consumer Outreach Office, Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, at 1-800-722-2657, or visit and click on "Consumers," then "Community Outreach."

Full Article & Source:
Read the Signs

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Judge rules 'incapacitated' multiple sclerosis sufferer should be allowed to die

A judge has ruled that a 68-year-old woman ''locked into the end stage'' of multiple sclerosis should be allowed to die.

The woman's daughter had told how her mother was ''completely incapacitated'' and had asked Mr Justice Hayden to allow medics to stop providing ''clinically assisted nutrition and hydration''.

Mr Justice Hayden today granted the daughter's application.

He had analysed the case earlier this month at a public hearing in the Court of Protection - where issues relating to sick and vulnerable people are considered - in London.

The judge had analysed the views of the daughter, other relatives, medics involved in her treatment, carers, independent medical experts plus lawyers he had appointed to represent the woman.

No-one involved in the case was opposing the application made by the daughter.

Mr Justice Hayden said he wants the woman's family to know the decision was his.

"This decision is mine," he told lawyers when handing down his ruling in London. "It is made on the broadest survey of a wide canvas of opinion."

He added: "It is not on the evidence of any one individual."

He ruled the woman, a former hairdresser who is being cared for at a specialist unit in north-west England, cannot be identified.

The judge had said during the hearing that he could not "contemplate a more difficult decision''.

He said his decision was an "evolution in case law".

Lawyers who represented the woman's daughter described the ruling as a landmark.

Experts had told the judge how they thought the woman was in a "minimally conscious state".

They said she could "fix her vision" and "follow a moving object".

Mathieu Culverhouse, a specialist Court of Protection lawyer based at law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented the woman's daughter, said the decision was the first of its kind.

"This landmark decision is the first time that the Court of Protection has agreed to withdraw treatment from someone receiving life sustaining treatment while considered by medical experts to be in a 'minimally conscious state'," said Mr Culverhouse.

"However, all cases of this kind are decided on their own facts and judges will always examine all the evidence presented to them, including that presented by the patient's family affected, on an individual basis."

He said: "The situation is distressing for all of those involved but after hearing all the evidence from the family, carers and medical experts presented to the court, the judge has decided that withdrawing the life sustaining treatment is in the woman's best interests given her current quality of life.

"While this is clearly distressing for her daughter, she is relieved that the court has been able to review and examine the expert medical evidence available and hear detailed legal argument before making a decision which will now end her mother's suffering and indignity."

Lawyers said arrangements would be made for treatment to be withdrawn in line with national clinical guidelines.

The woman's daughter had told the court that continuing treatment would be against her mother's wishes.

"My mum's immaculate appearance, the importance she placed on maintaining her dignity and how she lived her life to its fullest is what formed her belief system; it's what she lived for," she said.

"All of that is gone now and very sadly my mum has suffered profound humiliation and indignity for so many years.

"I cannot emphasise enough how much the indignity of her current existence is the greatest contradiction to how she thrived on life and, had she been able to express this, then without a doubt she would."

Four years ago, another judge ruled that a brain-damaged, minimally conscious 52-year-old woman should not be allowed to die.

Mr Justice Baker's ruling was hailed as a landmark decision which clarified the law relating to the care of the severely disabled.

He had said there was dignity in the life of a disabled person who was ''well cared for and kept comfortable'' - and concluded that life-supporting treatment should not be withdrawn.

He concluded the 52-year-old had ''some positive experiences'' which could be ''extended''.

He ruled the woman, who lived in a care home in the north of England, could not be identified.

He had said an English court had never before been asked to consider whether life-supporting treatment should be withdrawn from a patient who was not in a persistent vegetative state but was minimally conscious.

His decision came nearly two decades after leading judges ruled that Liverpool football fan Tony Bland - left in a permanent vegetative state after being crushed at the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster - could be allowed to die.

Mr Justice Hayden had heard legal argument from lawyers representing the woman's daughter and lawyers representing two health organisations involved in her care.

The woman's interests were represented by the Office of the Official Solicitor, which provides legal help to mentally ill people.

Lawyers instructed by the Official Solicitor initially said the judge should conclude that there was a ''strong presumption in favour of the benefits of continuing life''.

But they altered their view after hearing evidence and said they had decided to support the application.

Full Article & Source:
Judge rules 'incapacitated' multiple sclerosis sufferer should be allowed to die

Feds indict prominent Oregon criminal defense lawyer Gary Bertoni on tax charges

By Bryan Denson

Prominent Oregon criminal defense lawyer Gary B. Bertoni was indicted in U.S. District Court Wednesday for allegedly failing to pay employment taxes.

"If convicted," Department of Justice lawyers wrote, "Bertoni faces a statutory maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, a maximum fine of $2.5 million and restitution to the IRS."

A grand jury in Portland handed up the 10-count indictment against Bertoni, accusing him of willfully failing to collect, truthfully account for, and pay taxes withheld from his employees.

In all, the government alleges, Bertoni failed to pay $184,791 in payroll taxes from 2009 to 2011.

Bertoni has retained noted Portland defense lawyer Ron Hoevet, who will join him at his arraignment on the charges early next month.

"I did some research," Hoevet said Wednesday evening. "In the last 15 years in the (U.S.) District of Oregon, there's only one other case where someone has been charged for willful failure to pay over his employment taxes. I think Gary's being targeted because he's a criminal defense lawyer and he's had a scrape with the (state) bar."

The government alleges that from January 2009 through at least July 2012, Bertoni caused his law firm to make thousands of dollars of expenditures for his own personal benefit as he failed to pay over to the IRS payroll taxes that he withheld from his employees.

"For example," the indictment alleges, "Bertoni caused (his) law firm to make payments to Bertoni's personal bank accounts totaling more than $300,000 during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 calendar years."
Wednesday's charges were not the first time Bertoni has found himself in hot water.

The Oregon State Bar suspended Bertoni's license for 150 days in 2012 for mismanaging his client's money.

Before that, in 2011, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Bertoni for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up his use of clients' money, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

The U.S. Department of Justice assigned lawyers with its Tax Division to handle the case. The likely reason for that is because it might appear to be a conflict of interest for prosecutors in the U.S.
Attorney's Office for Oregon to prosecute a lawyer who sometimes appears in federal court on behalf of criminal defendants.

Full Article & Source:
Feds indict prominent Oregon criminal defense lawyer Gary Bertoni on tax charges

Bossier City attorney faces disbarment if convicted of theft allegations

BOSSIER PARRISH — A Bossier City couple arrested two weeks ago for allegedly carrying out a scheme to steal thousands of dollars and manipulating the sale of two residential properties from a dying man are out on bail.

Michael Cox, an attorney, and his wife, Sharon, were arrested and posted bail on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, respectively, in a case that has left many wondering what will become of Cox’s attorney standing in light of the allegations.

“I can’t comment on whether the allegations are true,” N. Gregory Smith, professional ethics professor of law at Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center recently told The Louisiana Record. “But we have a rule of professional conduct on which lawyers can be disciplined for violation.”

The rule that Smith referred to is Rule 8.4 Misconduct of the American Bar Association, which states, in part: “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act especially one that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”

In May 2012, Michael Cox, acting as the attorney for one of his clients, allegedly made his wife, Sharon, the client's power of attorney, according to the Bossier Sheriff's Office. Michael then wrote a will listing his wife as the sole heir to all of the victim's belongings, disinheriting the victim's only child.

Detectives alleged that Sharon, acting as the power of attorney, emptied out the victim’s bank account of roughly $69,000, and didn't make payments on the victim's credit card bills and other bills, which eventually added up to thousands of dollars in bank fees, late fees and interest.

In addition, while the victim was hospitalized, Michael allegedly sold the victim's two homes to Sharon for $100 each.

Michael Cox admitted to a judge in a civil case filed on behalf of the victim's child in October that he notarized the documents despite never being a commissioned notary in Louisiana.

He has been charged with felony theft, money laundering, and filing and maintaining false public records.  Sharon Cox was charged with felony theft and money laundering.

Dane Ciolino, legal ethics expert and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans said it is likely Michael Cox will not be allowed to practice law if convicted of the charges.

“If those allegations are proved, then there is no doubt he [Michael Cox] will be permanently disbarred from the practice of law," Ciolino told The Louisiana Record.

Although Ciolino has come across other cases of lawyer misconduct, he found the allegations in this case surprising.

“I’ve heard of other egregious cases of lawyer misconduct, but this is as bad of a case of misconduct as one could imagine," he said. "If true, it’s a lawyer completely breaching the trust of his client and using legal skills to defraud an innocent client and child.”

Unfortunately, there is only so much a client can do to prevent becoming a victim of lawyer misconduct. Ciolino said although clients can do their due diligence and ask a lot of questions of their lawyers, a large portion of the attorney-client relationship is based on trust.

Full Article & Source:
Bossier City attorney faces disbarment if convicted of theft allegations

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

IRS rethinks rules for savings accounts to care for young people with disabilities

The tax-advantaged savings accounts that Congress approved late last year to cover costs of caring for young individuals with disabilities are a step closer to being available.

The Internal Revenue Service on Friday issued changes to the proposed rules for how states can offer and operate these 529 Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts.

Congress approved legislation last December that allowed states to offer these accounts for people who became disabled before the age of 26.

But it was up to the IRS to approve the details of how these accounts, similar to 529 college savings plans, will work.

The latest guidelines said states mostly would not have to collect taxpayer Social Security numbers from those who contribute to such an account. It also said those who apply for an account won't have to submit physician documentation showing a disability diagnosis, the IRS wrote in a notice Friday.

“These are important issues for an administrator,” said Andrea Feirstein, president of AKF Consulting.

Two states, Nebraska and Ohio, have begun soliciting possible service providers even though the IRS rules haven't been finalized. More than 40 states have initiated or approved legislation to facilitate the accounts, Ms. Feirstein said.

It will likely be the first or second quarter of 2016 before any state is making the accounts available, she said.

Under the law, individuals can contribute up to $14,000 — the current annual gift exclusion amount — in a given taxable year into an ABLE account.

Account holders could take distributions, provided they are for the beneficiary's disability expenses, and those amounts would not be include in gross income for tax purposes.

One of the biggest benefits of the ABLE account is that the money held there is exempt from the $2,000 limit on personal assets for individuals who wish to qualify for public benefits. Generally, a disabled person with more than that amount is ineligible for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Full Article & Source:
IRS rethinks rules for savings accounts to care for young people with disabilities

Town Demolishes Veteran's House While He Has Surgery

When a U.S. Navy veteran traveled from Long Island to Florida for a knee replacement, his house was the last thing on his mind. But now his memory of it is all he can think about.

Philip Williams' home was demolished in the spring by town officials while he spent about six months recuperating from surgical complications in Fort Lauderdale. Back in New York, officials in the Town of Hempstead deemed his modest two-story home unfit for habitation and knocked it down.

The 69-year-old has now waged a legal battle against the suburban New York town. He wants reimbursement — for the house and all the belongings inside.

"I'm angry and I'm upset. It's just wrong on so many levels," he said "My mortgage was up to date, my property taxes were up to date ... everything was current and fine."

Williams went to Florida in December 2014 for the procedure, so a friend could help with his recovery. But he developed infections that forced further surgery and heart complications, leaving him hospitalized until doctors deemed him medically able to return home in August.

When Williams pulled up to what should have been a two-story cream-colored cottage with a red door in West Hempstead, there was just an empty lot.

"My first thought was there was a fire or something," Williams said.

But there was no fire. According to town officials, neighbors had been complaining the house was in disrepair and a blight on the community. Hempstead officials, responding to those complaints, sent inspectors and determined the house was a "dilapidated dwelling" unfit for habitation. So they knocked it down.

"The house was in terrible condition for a long time," next door neighbor Keylin Escobar said. "Nobody really lived in the house; the house was abandoned. Everyone who came over to visit, people always say, 'What's going on with this house?'"

Kathleen Keicher, who has lived across the street from Williams for 12 years, said notices tacked to the front door of the home began piling up and the house had holes in the side and appeared unkempt.

"I feel terrible. When we knew a house was coming down, it was sad," she said. "We thought the house was coming down, someone would buy the land, a new house would come up, a new family would move in. ... We don't want anyone to lose their home."

Williams says he was never contacted and believes town officials thought his house was a so-called "zombie home" — a dwelling abandoned after foreclosure proceedings begin, but one not yet seized by the bank — and rushed to demolish it.

"The town basically took everything from me," said Williams, who is now staying with a friend in Florida and has only two suitcases of belongings. "The town does not have a right to take all of my property, all of my possessions."

Williams had lived in the house since he was 6 months old. He said many of the items in the home had been in his family since he was a newborn or had sentimental value, like his late wife's engagement ring, photos of his six children growing up and a model train set he had since he was a child. He lost all of his clothing, a bicycle he'd just purchased, dishes, silverware and other housewares.

Town officials say they tried to contact Williams and provided The Associated Press copies of letters they said they mailed to the home and to banks. They also held a public hearing before going forward with the demolition. But Williams contends he never received any of the notices and said he couldn't figure out why the letters were mailed to four separate banks where he never had accounts.

"I have no idea who those banks are," Williams said. "But they never contacted me in any way, shape or form."

And that's why his attorney believes that town's actions were illegal.

"Under the law, it should not happen," his attorney, Bradley Siegel said. "It's un-American. It just doesn't seem believable."

Williams has filed a notice of claim, the first step in a lawsuit against the town, and also is fighting for public records he believes may show what happened. Williams says town officials wouldn't tell him the name of the demolition company or the date the house was torn down.

The town said in a statement that it "followed all proper procedure with regard to property owner notification." But town officials refused to answer any other questions, citing pending litigation.

Williams has contacted police and the Nassau County district attorney's office and has asked for a criminal inquiry. A spokesman for the district attorney's office said the matter is under review.

"You see people who went through a tornado or a flood and they say they lost everything, but that's not preventable," Williams said. "This was preventable. The town took my house."

Full Article & Source:
Town Demolishes Veteran's House While He Has Surgery

Monday, November 30, 2015

Florida court says Guardian duties not ‘medically necessary’

Court says Guardian duties not ‘medically necessary’

The News Service of Florida

Though expressing concern about the situation, an appeals court Wednesday sided with the Florida Department of Children and Families in a Medicaid dispute about whether a guardian can receive payments for tending to the affairs of an incapacitated man in a nursing home.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected arguments from Lutheran Services Florida Inc., which sought a $200 monthly fee from the income of its ward, Larry Peron, who receives nursing-home care through the Medicaid program.

Under the program, a portion of Peron's Social Security income goes to the nursing home, with Medicaid paying the balance of the costs for his care.

Lutheran Services Florida has served as a guardian for Peron since 2003, with duties such as reviewing his medical information and consulting with medical providers, according to Wednesday's ruling.

But the Department of Children and Families turned down a request from Lutheran Services Florida to deduct the monthly fee from Peron's income, finding that such a fee is not considered a "medically necessary" expense under Medicaid laws.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with the department's interpretation, though it also said the situation "leaves a gap" in which guardians cannot be paid for services.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source: 
Florida court says Guardian duties not ‘medically necessary’

Hazel Green couple in dispute over land with probate judge

WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL
HAZEL GREEN, AL (WAFF) - The old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors, but that’s not the case for a Hazel Green couple.

They say they picked the perfect piece of land to retire on, but recently discovered a piece of it is alreadyoccupied.

The 13 acres of dirt under the Ross' feet symbolizes years of hard work.

"For 15 years I did without just to have this ma'am. I took every penny I had to clean it off and make sure I had a good place," said property owner Joel Ross.

Eventually, this all will become a home and a farm out in Hazel Green to live out the rest of their days.

After owning it for 15 years, they just saved up enough to clear the lot.

"When we finally got to the back we said look here, there's a fence there," said Linda Ross.

The Ross' claim the neighbor's fence is cutting out more than 3,000 square feet of their property, and they say they have the land surveys to prove it.

"I wanted to make sure I wasn't running over on someone's property so I went and I had a survey done. I got two surveys, once when I bought the land and once when I started cleaning the land off," said Ross.

Their neighbor just happens to be Probate Judge Tommy Ragland, who they say at one point agreed to move the fence, but later changed his mind.

The Ross' claim he went even further.

"He said to Joel, good luck getting a lawyer you won't find one, and I hope you have a pocket full of money," added Linda Ross.

Ross even spelled out the heated exchange in a letter to Ragland, who replied through his attorneys who never made mention of it and warned any attempt to remove his fence would result in punitive damages.

We reached out to Ragland for comment, but before hanging up the phone, he said he would not comment since the couple has threatened litigation.

According to Attorney Greg Reeves, that's exactly where this situation may end up.

"It's highly emotionally charged, very upsetting and at the end of the day if they can't agree on this is where the line is should be, then their recourse is to file suit and let a judge sort it out," said Reeves.

For anyone who finds themselves in a similar property dispute, here are some factors a judge would consider.

First, who put the fence there and how long has it been there?

In the state of Alabama, under certain circumstances after 10 years a trespasser can gain legal ownership of a piece of land under a term known as "adverse possession."

According to the Ross', they have the deed and have been paying taxes on the disputed piece of land longer than 10 years and longer than Ragland has owned his property.

"I've seen it go both ways, sometimes the wire fence becomes the boundary line and sometimes what the deed says becomes the boundary line. Those things can go either way," said Reeves.

Reeves believes it will come down to how much time and money it will take to resolve this and it could be a lot.

The offer to Ragland to share his side of the story continues and should he decide to comment or if there is any additional movement in this story, we will update you further.

Full Article & Source:
Hazel Green couple in dispute over land with probate judge

Cops: Caretaker stole from 90-year-old victim


ALABASTER – A 51-year-old Vinemont woman is facing several felony charges after police said she used a 90-year-old victim’s credit card to make unauthorized purchases for herself last summer.

Clara Owens
The Alabaster Police Department arrested Clara Nanette Owens, who lists an address on Cullman County 1078 in Vinemont, on Nov. 17 and charged her with one felony count of financial exploitation of an elderly person and four counts of fraudulent use of a debit or credit card.

According to Alabaster Police Department Lt. Grant Humphries, the charges came after the department began investigating several fraudulent credit card charges made at stores in the city between June 3-23.

After looking into the charges, APD investigators determined Owens allegedly was using a 90-year-old man’s credit card to make personal purchases without authorization. Owens was the victim’s caregiver, Humphries said.

“Basically, the financial exploitation of an elderly person charge applies to any victims who are 60 or older,” Humphries said.

Financial exploitation of an elderly person and fraudulent use of a credit or debit card are Class C felonies, according to Alabama law. Class C felonies carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison per charge upon conviction.

Owens is scheduled to appear in Shelby County District Court at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 10 for a preliminary hearing, according to court records.

Full Article & Source:
Cops: Caretaker stole from 90-year-old victim

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Housekeeper charged with exploiting elderly employer, held without bond

Alexis Ragan Evans

A Rome woman was picked up Monday on a warrant accusing her of taking checks on the account of a person she had been hired to do housekeeping for.

According to Floyd County Jail reports:

Alexis Ragan Evans, 33, of 100 Azalea St., is charged with felony exploitation of the elderly.

The warrant for her arrest states that she cashed a number of unauthorized checks over a three-week period this fall, causing the victim’s account to be overdrawn. It does not detail how much money was involved.

Evans was being held in jail without bond Monday night.

Full Article & Source: 
Housekeeper charged with exploiting elderly employer, held without bond

LPL to Pay Treble Damages to Elderly Client

Marilyn Green & daughter Melissa
A FINRA arbitration panel recently awarded an 82-year-old Florida resident and her daughter treble damages, ruling LPL Financial and its broker failed to adequately explain the tax consequences on an investment.

In an award filed last week, an arbitrator awarded Marilyn Green and her daughter, Melissa, $52,062, well over the $9,000 in damages the two sought from LPL Financial. The arbitrator found the firm and the broker involved failed to provide suitable investment recommendations. The arbitrator also noted that because the case involved Marilyn Green, 82 and suffering from advanced dementia and depression, it qualified for treble damages for exploitation of an elderly individual under Florida law.

LPL said in a statement Monday that it was aware of the award and "respectfully disagrees" with the findings of the arbitration panel.

"We believe the advisor, who remains registered with LPL, acted in good faith to serve the best interests of his client in this matter," the firm said. "While we disagree with the award, we are sensitive to the very important issue of suitability for elderly investors, and we are complying fully with the decision."

The case stems from LPL advisor Samuel Izaguirre’s recommendation to Melissa, who serves as power of attorney for her mother, that she withdraw the proceeds from a maturing certificate of deposit. Melissa met the advisor through her bank, BankUnited, which contracted with Izaguirre and LPL to provide investment advice and brokerage services to its customers.

But according to the complaint, Izaguirre failed to explain to Melissa that the funds were held in her mother’s individual retirement account and withdrawing the proceeds would result in her mother having to pay $9,000 in taxes.

Acting on the recommendation she received from Izaguirre, Melissa cashed out the CD, worth about $30,000, in August 2014. According to the complaint, Melissa had never owned an investment before and had no idea, until she visited her local H&R Block office months later to prepare her mother’s tax filings, of the tax implications.

The $9,000 tax bill was equal to more than half of Melissa’s annual income and three months of care for Marilyn, according to the complaint. Once she was told of the taxes, Melissa contacted Izaguirre, who allegedly responded: “I can’t force people to invest” and provided no additional assistance.

“This particular broker gave short shrift for what was a nominal account for him and in a nutshell, didn’t explain implications and didn’t follow up with [the client] to fix the problem,” said Green’s attorney, Jon A. Jacobson of West Palm Beach-based Jacobson Law.

LPL argued in its answer to the complaint that the case was “meritless,” contending the CD held by Marilyn Green was not an investment and, even if it were, Izaguirre and LPL had nothing to do with the purchase or maintenance of it.

“This meritless claim is little more than an attempt by the claimants to have LPL pay their tax bill because they failed to act in a timely manner. … A tax bill that has no connection to an LPL account, where the funds relating to the transaction were never deposited or custodied by LPL,” the firm wrote.

The arbitration panel found that the Greens adequately proved they had an actual and implicit business relationship and position of trust with Izaguirre and LPL and that was breached when Izaguirre failed to fully inform them of the adverse tax consequences of closing the IRA CD and transferring the funds to a personal checking account.

Additionally, the arbitrator denied Izaguirre's request to have the incident expunged from his record. In addition to the case filed by the Greens, Izaguirre has a disclosure event related to a 2010 customer dispute involving an alleged misrepresentation of a mutual fund investment that was settled.

Jacobson said Tuesday that the award of damages, treble damages and attorney’s fees was more than he expected, adding the case must have struck a note with the arbitrator. “The client, Melissa, didn’t know anything; she was so over her head,” he added.

“There’s a concentrated effort in the industry, arbitrators, firms, FINRA and state regulators to become better educated and more sensitive about age issues,” Jacobson said.

Full Article & Source:
LPL to Pay Treble Damages to Elderly Client