Saturday, April 28, 2018

3 Reasons Why You Want to Mediate Guardianship Disputes

Lee Drizin
When the natural parents of a minor are deceased or become otherwise incapable of caring for their child, the issue of legal guardianship comes into play. Guardianship pertains to a type of legal arrangement which places the minor or ward in the care and custody of an individual of good moral standing and who has the best interest of the child in mind.

In some cases, even individuals who are not minors can be placed under legal guardianship, especially if they’re incapacitated, mentally ill, or otherwise unable to make legal decisions on their own.

While there is the option to take a guardianship dispute to court, most legal experts will advise you to undergo mediation instead. These processes are much less adversarial and may bring disputes to a close without the need for time consuming and expensive court battles.

Top Reasons Why You Want to Mediate Guardianship Disputes
  1. Reduced Costs – To settle the issue of legal guardianship in court, an individual must hire an attorney in order to properly and efficiently present all of his evidence and arguments throughout the proceedings. Of course, individuals do have the option to represent their own side. However, without the sufficient legal knowledge and background, it’s very likely to misrepresent yourself. What’s more, if the opposing party has a professional legal expert on their side, your lack of experience may very well be taken advantage of.
Aside from the cost of the attorneys, there are several different fees that need to be paid off before you can start your court case. Filing fees, service fees, witness fees, and in the event that you might want to file for an appeal, appeal fees are also necessary payments that need to be made. Choosing to undergo mediation can be much easier on the pockets of both parties. For the most part, only mediation fees need to be paid, and the legal professional or attorney hired for the case is a neutral party who simply takes on the role of a mediator to bring all evidence and arguments to light.
  1. Faster Dispute Settlement – Court cases can take months or even years before a decision can be made. That’s because there are several different legal mechanisms that individuals can employ in order to reconsider the judgement of the courts.
For instance, if a party decides that they are unhappy with the outcomes of the first trial, they can appeal for a higher court to re-evaluate their case in the form of an appeal. The courts of appeal, as expected, are very busy especially because majority of those who lose a legal battle will often try to exercise any avenue in order to have the decision overturned in their favor.

Depending on your locality, there can be up to four levels of courts that you can approach to file an appeal. So in the instance that the decision is overturned during the first appeal in your favor, the opposing party has the option to seek another appeal through the higher court. This can be exercised until you reach the highest court allowed for your case.

For this reason, guardianship battles can take a lengthy period of time, especially when both parties continue to seek appeals when a decision is made to benefit the opposing party. Also, because there are several hundreds of cases lined up to be re-appealed, you may have to wait several months or years before the next proceedings. In addition, you should have an experienced mediation professional to make the process as faster as possible.

Mediation on the other hand, can take as little as two weeks to reach a decision. This is because they’re far less adversarial, allowing the parties to discuss their points of view in a more conducive environment. What’s more, any information divulged in a mediation can’t be used as evidence in court, so participants feel less threatened when volunteering their thoughts, opinions, and arguments.
  1. Sets a Positive Tone – Court cases are often seen as a weapon against parties that have opinions or ideas that oppose your own. So individuals who choose to settle disputes in court rarely ever leave in good terms.
 It is assumed that when two individuals compete for the guardianship of a ward, they are relatives, friends, or acquaintances. As such, taking the legal dispute to court can seriously damage these relationships, and may even have a toll on the emotional and mental well-being of the ward.

By taking your guardianship dispute through mediation, you set the tone for your relationship with all parties going forward. Because the process can be far less antagonistic, the true objective of the dispute is brought to light – and that is the best interest of the ward or the child. This makes it easier for participants to come to a compromise, even if it sacrifices their own intentions, as the child becomes the central focus of the process.

Although taking a guardianship dispute to court might be the first route on your mind, alternatives like mediation can be much less costly, time consuming, and damaging. Understanding how all parties can benefit from these arrangements can drastically affect the outcomes of your dispute, and may even result to positive conclusions that benefit everyone involved.

Full Article & Source:
3 Reasons Why You Want to Mediate Guardianship Disputes

Some Concerned With Deficient Guardianship Programs Hope Volunteers Can Fill The Void

Wilma Simmons, a retired nurse from Indianapolis, is a volunteer guardian for two people. In addition to her regular guardianship duties, she meets with Kenneth every week to play his favorite game – spades. (Photo by Drew Daudelin)
When an adult loses the ability to make important legal and medical decisions, courts can appoint a guardian to help manage their life. But in many places around the country, there aren’t enough. And for someone in need, not having a guardian can increase the risk of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.

Among the estimated 1.3 million adult guardianship cases across the country, guardians are family members, friends, social workers, and even for-profit businesses.

Wilma Simmons falls into another category – she's a volunteer.

Simmons is a retired nurse from Indianapolis. She takes a weekly trip to a nursing home to check on two people. One of them is Kenneth Simmons (no relation), who suffered a brain injury at an early age and later became partially paralyzed.

He rarely speaks, and spends much of his time sitting in a recliner by the window.

When she pulls a deck of cards out of her purse, he lights up. His favorite game is spades. With the TV blaring nearby, they play on a table by his bed.

Simmons is, in a practical sense, his guardian. She accompanies him to the doctor, keeps track of his medications, and she is his main advocate to the nursing home every day of the week.

“You don’t want other people making the decisions. If there’s a room move, if there’s a bed change, if there’s a wheelchair change,” Simmons says.

She’s one of a few dozen volunteers at a small nonprofit called the Center for At-Risk Elders. The group is the legal guardian for about 150 people. Its staff recruits, trains and manages volunteers to take care of people who have no one else, or the money to afford a professional.

A volunteer guardian costs clients on Medicaid – which account for the majority of those who need one – $35 a month from their social security income.

Tom Gryzbek says the idea started at St. Margaret Mercy hospital in Lake County, Indiana, where he was president about 15 years ago.

“I was finding more and more instances where people were in the hospital, had no one to be able to consent for their placement in a nursing home,” Gryzbek says.

Most states fund a system that offers public guardians to people in need, but Indiana doesn’t. So a lot of the people Gryzbek saw ended up with private guardians, who are paid for the service.

Lake County Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider says there are private guardians who do good work. But she says with few alternatives on the market, exploitation was increasingly common.

“We had one woman in particular, who was a registered nurse, who took over 300 guardianships and then fell off the radar. We didn’t know what happened to her, what happened to her wards," Schneider says. "And that was a problem.”

So Gryzbek and Schneider teamed up, assembled a statewide task force, and a pilot program launched in their county using volunteers to fill gaps in the market. It was considered enough of a success that state lawmakers passed a law allowing other counties to start their own.

The result is called VASIA – Volunteer Advocates for Seniors or Incapacitated Adults. VASIA works to get grants from the Indiana Supreme Court, which helps fund new county-based volunteer guardian programs. There are now about 18 around the state.

But the state grants are small, especially for groups that serve a large urban area. The Center for At-Risk Elders, for example, says state grants account for just 14 percent of their funding. The rest comes from area hospitals.

The program can only spread to a new county if there’s significant local buy-in to the idea.

“And that seems to be where we have issues," Schneider says. "I think we’re gonna have to look to some non-profits, and other agencies locally, to come up with the money.”

Catherine Seal, an attorney in Colorado who’s worked for years on guardianship issues, says the need for more guardians is a "huge problem" across the country.

Seal says many states, even those that fund public guardian programs, don’t support guardianship enough.

“I don’t think the urgency is recognized," Seal says. "We not only don’t have the fiduciaries in place, we don’t have a system in place that’s gonna work.”

Fueling that urgency is what Seal calls an underappreciated fact, that the country is getting older. Baby boomers started turning 65 in 2011. Researchers at Pew Research Center estimate that by 2050, one-in-five Americans will be over that age – that’s higher than the current share in Florida.

Some critics of Indiana’s volunteer program say the job is too complex, and grants too much power, to give to unpaid strangers. While there is some training, mandatory nationwide standards on guardianship don’t exist, and some argue it’s risky to use volunteers in such an unregulated system.

Supporters of the volunteer model, like Tom Gryzbek, say volunteers are especially committed to caring for their clients. Like visiting someone once a week to play their favorite card game, he says small, human touches make a big difference.

“Sometimes they’re the only person at the bedside when the patient dies, holding the patient’s hand. I know on many occasions they’re the only person that is present in a funeral home for the wake service, or the burial at the gravesite," Gryzbek says. "If it wasn’t for them, no one would be there.”

The statistic at the start of this story – 1.3 million guardianship cases – is a rough estimate from researchers. And that’s part of the problem. For decades, court record-keeping on guardianship cases has been dismal in many states.

That's slowly changing in Indiana, thanks to a registry pushed by the same people who started the volunteer program, which has been adopted by about half the counties in the state. But nationally, no one seems to know how big the need for guardians is, just that it’s growing every day.

Full Article & Source:
Some Concerned With Deficient Guardianship Programs Hope Volunteers Can Fill The Void

Glen Campbell’s Estate Worth $410,000, Report Says

The estate of country music and pop legend Glen Campbell, previously reported to be worth tens of millions of dollars, is actually worth an estimated $410,000, according to a new report.

Nashville's Tennessean newspaper reports that Stanley B. Schneider, who worked for the singer and guitarist first as his accountant and then as his manager, has filed a four-page document in Davidson Probate Court in Nashville that places the estimated value of Campbell's estate at $410,221, a far cry from initial press reports after the singer's death that listed assets closer to $50 million.

Probate Judge David "Randy" Kennedy appointed Schneider as administrator ad litem of Campbell's estate in February. His inventory of Campbell's assets includes two bank accounts containing a combined total of $959. The largest single asset listed is a 50 percent stake in the AZPB Limited Partnership, valued $296,164. He also lists a 50 percent interest in the AZ Baseball Broadcast Holdings at $3,464. That appears related to Campbell's previously reported ownership interest in the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Glen Campbell Music Inc. is valued at $25,110 in the filing, and Glen Campbell Enterprises is listed at $84,524. Campbell was the sole owner of both of those companies.

Schneider is also in charge of tracking ongoing royalties paid to the estate, and he listed $42,448 in royalty payments between Aug. 8 and April 20, with $76,000 in royalties still owed to the estate. Checks totaling $1,776 were awaiting deposit at the time of his filing, and a payment of $14,246 is expected as a settlement on an insurance claim stemming from water damage to a California property Campbell owned.

Schneider listed debts of $118,200, including an estimated $107,000 in state and federal income taxes and $71,000 in legal fees. His estimate of Campbell's assets does not include future income from royalties, saying, "Appraisal needed."

Campbell died on Aug. 8, 2017, after battling Alzheimer's since 2011. His estate is the subject of a legal battle; Campbell's 13-page will excludes his daughter Kelli and sons William Travis and Wesley Kane from benefitting from his estate. They are his children from his marriage to his second wife, Billie Jean Nunley, which ended in divorce in 1976. Campbell was married a total of  four times and had eight children.

The singer's widow, Kim Campbell, has filed a claim asking for more than half a million dollars in reimbursement from the late singer's estate to cover his medical costs. Campbell's will names her as executor, while she and his five other children are listed as beneficiaries.

Full Article & Source:
Glen Campbell’s Estate Worth $410,000, Report Says

Friday, April 27, 2018

Facing scarcity of guardians, bill seeks to bolster ranks

BROCKTON – When someone is too sick or disabled to care for themselves and there’s no family around to step up to the plate, an individual may find themselves placed into court-ordered guardianship.

But a nonprofit group that seeks to expand the availability of public guardians, the Guardian Community Trust, says the state is facing a crisis of scarcity, with anywhere from 2,800 to 3,800 people who need guardians each year unable to access one.

It’s a situation that left one Brockton woman hospitalized for months until a guardian could be found and she could be safely discharged, said Heather Connors, the trust’s research director.

“They don’t have family, friends, or money to pay for (a guardian,)” said Connors. But, she said, a new bill working its way through the state Legislature aims to change that.

The bill, Connors said, would create a public-private partnership between various state agencies that deal with people who might find themselves in a guardianship situation and private companies that offer the service. The law would create a system where the private companies could be overseen by the state agencies, creating a pipeline to ensure guardians are properly trained and vetted and have the support they need.

“We believe people deserve to have a guardian that allows them to get services they need, informed consent on medical issues, to protect them from financial issues, and to make safe and appropriate housing choices,” Connors said. “Without a guardian, people who lack the capacity to make these choices are incredibly vulnerable.”

Teresa Kourtz, the director of protective services at Old Colony Elder Services in Brockton, where the trust recently put on an educational presentation, said the bill would go a long way in bolstering the ranks of well-trained, appropriate guardians.

Often times, Kourtz said the organization will receive complaints about potential abuse of elders – usually financial, sexual or neglectful in nature – where the current guardian themselves are the perpetrator of the abuse.

“We’re often looking for available state guardianship slots, but those get taken very quickly. Sometimes we’ll go back to a pool of lawyers or social workers we’ve used in the past who can be the substitute decision maker, but if they’ve taken on a lot of cases, they might be overwhelmed, or they aren’t being paid enough for the amount of work that goes into it. It’s a struggle.”

Most guardians are family or friends of the person placed in guardianship, or public guardians appointed through the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Mental Health or another state agency. But people who don’t qualify for either of those avenues could fall through the cracks, Connors said. The bill, she said, is designed to fix that.

Guardianship is a last resort for the most vulnerable, Connors noted, but it can be crucial in protecting an individual’s rights and interests. With more training and oversight in place, Connors said the guardianship system could be improved to ensure its being carried out properly. Currently, she said, the only requirements to be a guardian are that the person is over 18 and has not been convicted of a felony.

When abuse by a guardian occurs, it’s often accidental – a result of that lack of training, Connors said. “If a guardian hasn’t been trained, that’s why they’re making mistakes, but we hope to create an Office of the Public Guardian that can take complaints and investigate.”

The presentation at Old Colony Elder Services was part of an ongoing statewide educational tour to Councils on Aging and other organizations or agencies that provide services to senior citizens or the disabled.

“It’s meant to educate the frontline caregivers about tools and resources for caring for people who need guardianship,” she said. “Many have come across guardianship, but they don’t know how it works so we’re trying to educate them a bit more about what the process is.”

Full Article & Source:
Facing scarcity of guardians, bill seeks to bolster ranks

Town Court Judge Charged With Stealing $4M From Trusts Agrees to Resign

Richard Sherwood
An Albany County town justice who is facing grand larceny charges for participating in a scheme to steal $4 million from a trust fund that he oversaw has agreed to resign from the bench. 

Town of Guilderland Justice Richard Sherwood, a former Guilderland town attorney who was elected to the bench in 2013, is charged with two counts of grand larceny, one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and two counts of first-degree criminal possession of stolen property.

Sherwood, 58, and Thomas Lagan, an attorney and a longtime associate of Sherwood’s, provided estate planning for the estate of Warren Bruggeman, a top General Electric executive and noted Capital District philanthropist who died in 2009, according to court papers.

In the years following Bruggeman’s death, Sherwood and Lagan handled the distribution of Bruggeman’s estate for his widow, Pauline Bruggeman; and her two sisters, Anne Urban and Julia Rentz, who were to be taken care of with sub-trusts. 

According to a news release from the New York Attorney General’s Office, the attorneys diverted $2 million from one of the sub-trusts into an irrevocable trust established in Urban’s name for which the two men were named as trustees.  
In February, Sherwood admitted to an investigator with the New York Attorney General’s Office that the irrevocable trust established in Urban’s name was intended as a mechanism to steal estate funds, and that he and Lagan conspired to deceive an Ohio attorney assisting Rentz into wiring another $2 million into the irrevocable trust.

That same month, the Court of Appeals suspended Sherwood, an attorney with Mazzotta, Sherwood & Vagianelis who served on the bench part time, with pay. His resignation is effective March 5.

In a news release, Robert Tembeckjian, administrator and counsel for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, said public confidence in the courts is “undermined” when a judge is arrested.

While the felony charges against Mr. Sherwood have not been adjudicated and he is entitled to the presumption of innocence, by resigning he spared the judiciary and the courts from the spectacle of a judge as criminal defendant,” Tembeckjian said. 

William Dreyer of Dreyer Boyajian appeared for Sherwood in both the commission proceedings and Sherwood’s pending criminal matter. He declined to comment.

Full Article & Source:
Town Court Judge Charged With Stealing $4M From Trusts Agrees to Resign

AG, DOJ to work together to fight elder abuse in West Virginia

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office will collaborate with the federal government’s Elder Justice Initiative to fight elder abuse in West Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Justice initiative will incorporate Morrisey’s newly formed elder abuse litigation and prevention unit into its own list of elder abuse resources. That will enable EJI to refer any calls received from West Virginians to the state Attorney General’s Office.

“Our state cannot tolerate elder abuse, neglect and exploitation,” Morrisey said. “Protecting senior citizens demands cooperation between all levels of government. I’m thrilled to work with the Justice Department as our unit can serve as a clearinghouse to root out abuse in West Virginia.”

The April 24 announcement came as part of Money Smart Week, during which the the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office is emphasizing the importance of identifying and reporting elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The unit in the AG's office includes a team of civil prosecutors to hold accountable anyone who exploits, abuses or neglects West Virginia’s senior citizens.

Litigation brought by the unit will focus upon enforcing a wide variety of consumer protection laws, for which seniors are often targeted victims. Potential violations could occur at home, the automotive repair garage, hospital, nursing home, memory care facility or any number of other settings.

Assistant attorneys general, both assigned to consumer protection and to represent other state agencies, will work with the office’s clients and county prosecutors to refer matters as appropriate, including instances of criminal conduct, guardianship and conservatorship, as well as acts involving nursing homes and hospitals.

The prevention component involves collaborations with a wide variety of state and community partners across West Virginia. Those partnerships provide office representatives a chance to answer questions, give presentations and distribute vital information to educate seniors as to various risks and how to protect themselves.

Seniors in need of the unit’s expertise are asked to contact the AG's senior services and elder abuse hotline at 304-558-1155 or The hotline is open for senior citizens and their loved ones. Those preferring traditional mail can reach the office at P.O. Box 1789, Charleston, WV 25326.

The unit’s scam alert database is also key in raising awareness of potential scams. Senior citizens and their loved ones can subscribe to the email alerts at

Full Article & Source:
AG, DOJ to work together to fight elder abuse in West Virginia

Thursday, April 26, 2018

State panel slaps Bexar judge who called man “Mr. Maggot”

Judge Kelly Cross
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued sanctions against Bexar County Probate Judge Kelly Cross for, among other acts, calling a disabled man with infected wounds “Mr Maggot” or “Maggot Man,” comparing a disabled child’s IQ to that of a ball point pen, and demeaning other mentally disadvantaged wards of the state.

The commission handed Cross a “public admonition” and instructed her to obtain one hour of instruction from a mentor, focusing on judicial demeanor and courtroom decorum.

Cross, a first-term Republican, won her March primary race with 64 percent of the vote, but faces attorney Oscar Kazen, a Democrat, in the November general election. In 2016, Cross fired Kazen as an associate probate court judge and replaced him with her staff attorney, Art Rossi, a fellow Republican.

“None of this comes as any surprise,” Kazen said Friday after reading the decision. “I honestly think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. She has violated campaign laws … sued the county and insulted intellectually disadvantaged litigants and their families. It is an enormous embarrassment.”

Kazen, who had presided over the county’s mental health docket for nine years, said he once saw Cross angrily address an attorney in the hallway outside her courtroom and later went to speak to the judge privately about her behavior.

“She just brushed me off,” Kazen said. “She does … (verbal outbursts) almost out of joy. It takes some time for every judge to mature on the bench and understand this gift of power over people’s lives that has been given to you. She does not understand this.”

The commission’s five-page ruling says it received an anonymous complaint on Aug. 12, 2016, alleging that Cross referred to a proposed ward (“John Doe”) as “Mr. Maggot” or “Maggot Man” during a proceeding in his guardianship case. Three witnesses provided written statements confirming that account.

Judge Cross told the commission she had no specific recollection of those statements but did not doubt their veracity. She defended her off-handed remarks as just a way to distinguish litigants among thousands that come before a judge.

“Attorneys and other people talk to me about cases every day,” she testified. “They use the proper name, but I can’t remember 4,000 names …To differentiate one case from another, I might ask, ‘Is this the maggot guy? Is this the rat lady case?’…The surnames don’t stick.”

Cross told commission investigators she only used such language in front of attorneys and other “professionals appearing in her court,” and not in front of the person being discussed, but Kazen and other attorneys familiar with her courtroom behavior say this isn’t true. Probate court primarily handles wills, guardianships, eminent domain, mental health and estates.

The commission received another complaint, on Feb. 6, 2018, from San Antonio attorney Kathleen “K.T.” Whitehead providing affidavits from a number of her clients alleging a pattern of insulting or dismissive behavior by Cross.

Victoria and Eric Martinez, whose adult daughter was the subject of a guardianship proceeding, said Cross flippantly referred to their daughter’s low IQ. Her response: “I wasn’t speaking to them. I have no idea what they did or didn’t hear. The conversation was not for them.”

Another litigant, Lysa Curry, said Cross was “rude and curt” to her and Curry’s attorney and that Cross “lacked compassion for my family and other families in this process.” Cross said Curry’s attorney did not come to court prepared and that she not responsible for how attorneys interpret the mood of their clients.

Jennifer and Jo Trevino, serving as guardians of their adult daughter, told the commission Judge Cross yelled at their attorney, upsetting the couple and their daughter to the point that she had to be calmed down. Cross denied she acted inappropriately.

“Judge Cross maintained throughout her appearance,” wrote the commission’s Judge Douglas S. Lang, “that she is the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Ms. Whitehead and the Judge’s political opponents to ruin her reputation and her chances for re-election….and reiterated her deep commitment to the disabled community…and vehemently denied she would every knowingly disrespect or demean an incapacitated person appearing before her in court.”

On Friday, Cross said in a written statement that she appreciated the commission’s “measured response to what I believe are politically motivated allegations against me…. At times, my zealous commitment may have exceeded my skills at diplomacy…”

Last year, a survey of 419 attorneys practicing in Bexar County, asked to evaluate the county’s 51 judges, ranked Cross last in all six categories - punctuality, hard work, following the law, temperament, impartiality and overall performance.

Full Article & Source:
State panel slaps Bexar judge who called man “Mr. Maggot”

SF supervisors decline to support Sen. Wiener’s conservatorship bill

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s conservatorship bill failed to gain support at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
San Francisco’s supervisors sparred Tuesday over a bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener that tackles one of the most pressing issues among voters: conservatorship programs to get mentally ill and drug-addicted homeless people off the street.

Wiener’s bill, SB1045, would give counties more control over those programs. Under state law, counties can hospitalize people for 72 hours only if they pose a danger to themselves or others. The supervisors defeated a resolution to support it, after the five progressives said they weren’t ready to take a position.

“I’ve heard from people who say the bill loosens the standard for conservatorship,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, one of the five “no” votes. The resolution sponsored by Supervisor London Breed needed eight votes to pass because it was brought to the board without a committee hearing.

Breed praised Wiener’s approach, saying the current law, written in the 1960s, is archaic and frustrating. Moreover, it doesn’t allow cities to compel treatment for people using psychoactive substances other than alcohol, she said.

She said that nearly half of all psychiatric emergency room visits in San Francisco involve methamphetamine use, not alcohol.

“We cannot watch people languish like this,” Breed said. “Under current law we can’t adequately intervene.”

Breed is in the last sprint of a tight race for mayor against Supervisor Jane Kim, who was forced to take a stance on the contentious conservatorship issue when Breed brought the resolution before the board. She was among the dissenting votes.

Yee and Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin said the resolution should be subject to a committee hearing, which would allow experts to testify.

Also on Tuesday, the board voted 10-1 against allowing the owners of the six-unit building at 670 Page St. to convert it into condominiums.

One owner, Peter Owens, drew ire from housing activists two years ago when he evicted an elderly woman, Iris Canada, from her apartment in the building. She died last year at age 100.

Owens had accused Canada of living elsewhere with family members while thwarting his conversion effort. But that argument fell flat in City Hall.

Full Article & Source:
SF supervisors decline to support Sen. Wiener’s conservatorship bill

Quincy woman pleads not guilty in financial exploitation case

QUINCY -- A Quincy woman has pleaded not guilty to one count of financial exploitation of an elderly person Wednesday in Adams County Circuit Court. 

Court records show Laura E. Dodd's case was placed on the June jury trial docket. 

Charging documents allege that Dodd, 36, accessed between $300 and $5,000 from an elderly man's checking account between Feb. 20 and March 20. Dodd was the man's caregiver, police said. 

Dodd is being held in the Adams County Jail on $12,900 bond.

Full Article & Source:
Quincy woman pleads not guilty in financial exploitation case

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Woman sentenced for leaving elderly mother in a chair for a year

Linda Farr, of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire
A woman who left her elderly mother sitting in a chair for up to 12 months before her death has been handed a suspended jail term.

Linda Farr was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, after admitting gross negligence manslaughter of Doreen Shufflebotham, officials at Stafford crown court said.

Shufflebotham, 86, died on 6 September 2016 after becoming increasingly unwell. She had a femur fracture, which had become infected, and developed a pulmonary embolism, sepsis, deep-vein thrombosis and acute bacterial meningitis, Staffordshire police said.

“Medical experts estimated that Doreen had not moved from the chair that she was sitting in for approximately eight-12 months,” the force said.

Three days after her mother’s death, Farr, 68, of Stoke-on-Trent, was arrested and later charged.

DI Dan Ison said: “It is very upsetting to hear the extent of negligence in this case. Doreen’s injuries were incredibly severe and she must have experienced terrible pain in her last few months as she became increasingly ill.

“This was a very traumatic experience for our investigating officers and I would like to praise their professionalism in the face of horrific injuries and conditions.

“I hope this raises awareness to others that appropriate medical advice should always be sought, especially if an elderly person is involved.”

Full Article & Source:
Woman sentenced for leaving elderly mother in a chair for a year

San Jacinto County judge indicted, suspended

Judge John Lovett Jr.
SAN JACINTO COUNTY, Texas - A county judge is accused of burglary, forgery and tampering with a governmental record, investigators said Monday.

Judge John Lovett Jr., 51, has been suspended without pay due to the charges he faces, according to his Order of Suspension, which was issued Sunday.

The burglary and tampering counts are considered felonies. The forgery charge is a misdemeanor. The allegations were filed in an indictment stemming from an incident at the County Courthouse on July 7, 2017, according to a news release from the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office.

Lovett is accused of entering the county clerk’s office and then falsifying a certification or a signature stamp of the county clerk on a meeting notice. The county clerk didn’t authorize this, the indictment said.

The Attorney General’s Office presented its case Monday to a grand jury, and then Lovett was booked in jail. He has since posted bond.

Full Article & Source:
San Jacinto County judge indicted, suspended

End of Life Options Act stalls in Legislature

Roger Kligler, a retired physician from Falmouth and a volunteer with the national organization Compassion & Choices, speaks on the subject of medical aid in dying to about 60 people gathered at the Northampton Friends Meetinghouse on Monday, October 16, 2017. Kligler was introduced by John Berkowitz, right, coordinator of the Pioneer Valley Death with Dignity Action Group, one of the sponsors of the talk. Gazette File  Photo
Despite the Massachusetts Medical Society dropping its opposition to the bill, the state’s End of Life Options Act failed to make it to a vote before the legislative session ended.

While supporters of the bill are disheartened by the action, those opposed to the act say the bill got what it deserved.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health referred the bill for further study late last month. The bill was the fifth such bill filed by its chief House sponsor, Rep. Louis Kafka, D-Stoughton. Supporters of the bill call these “death with dignity” laws, while opponents call them “physician-assisted suicide.”

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said he was disappointed to learn the bill was to be studied further, ending its path for this legislative session.

“I’ve sponsored this bill for a number of years and I felt that this session it perhaps had a better chance than ever, largely because the Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents physicians, changed its position,” Kulik said. “I felt that it was a positive step for this bill and its prospects, but the committee decided to send it to a study once again.”

In the latest bill, introduced Jan. 18, 2017, patients looking to qualify for medically assisted death would need to have less than six months to live, make the request orally and in writing, have two physicians sign it, and have a mental health professional ensure the patient is making the decision in sound mind. After a 15-day waiting period, the patient would be given the drugs to take if they choose.

The act did not require health care providers to participate and allowed them to opt out without facing punishment.

The Massachusetts Medical Society announced in December that it had rescinded its opposition to “the act of a physician writing a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to be used by an adult with a terminal illness at such time as the patient sees fit.”

At the same time, the society adopted a position of “neutral engagement, which allows the organization to serve as a medical and scientific resource as part of legislative efforts that will support shared decision-making between terminally ill patients and their trusted physicians.”

Kulik and state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, were sponsors of the bill. Both are stepping down this year, but said they are hopeful the bill will pass in the future.

“When one looks at an organization that is as powerful and well respected as the Massachusetts Medical Society having taken a position absolutely opposed last session and now in support this session, I think there is definitely the possibility of things changing in a subsequent session,” Scibak said.

John B. Kelly, director of Second Thoughts, a grassroots group in Boston, said the bill “got what it deserved.”

“The committee listened to everyone with a stake in this and that especially includes disability rights advocates, because we brought forward objections that are really unanswerable,” Kelly said. “The bill does not just apply to people who are terminally ill but to people who are mistakenly judged to be terminal.

“People talk a lot about choice, but it’s no choice if you are not terminal. It’s no choice if your insurance company is denying you treatment, and people think they have the power in their hands but insurance companies decide who and what treatment they will cover.”

Florence resident Chris Palames, who is executive director of Independent Living Resources, called the bill’s failure to make it out of committee “terrific.” Opposing the act, Palames said there were unintended consequences many were unaware of and that the first thing that needed to be dealt with was “our broken health care system as a whole.”

“Once people have an assurance that they can live with dignity, then you can start making those decisions in a way that really addresses the concerns of all the communities that would be affected by that kind of legislation,” he said. “I and lots of my good friends and colleagues in the world of disability advocacy are very pleased.”

John Berkowitz, director of Pioneer Valley Death With Dignity, said he was dismayed and disappointed by the bill’s failure.

“We are going to go back and try and build a stronger and more vocal groundswell of support throughout the state, so that when this bill is re-introduced in January of the next session there will be a different outcome, and next year the bill will pass the joint health care committee, and hopefully will be passed by the whole Legislature,” Berkowitz said.

Voters turned down a “death with dignity” ballot initiative in 2012 by a margin of 51 to 49 percent. Northampton’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution last fall calling on the Legislature to pass the act. Amherst Town Meeting passed a similar measure in November by a supermajority.

Full Article & Source:
End of Life Options Act stalls in Legislature

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tonight on Marti Oakley's T. S. Radio: Hospice Survivors and Victims With Carly Walden

5:00 pm PST … 6:00 pm MST …
7:00 pm CST …8:00 pm  EST ...

Tonight's guest is: Susan Moxley ….“Signed, Sad, angry, determined to expose” my father was murdered.

Susan will be us to tell about the last days of her fathers life. We are having Susan Moxley on the show this evening to tell the world what her father went through in the last days of his life. These atrocities are going to continue to be exposed until change comes and the murders stop! We cannot sit back and be quiet about this any longer. This is the biggest fraud and a very dangerous situation facing our senior citizens, disabled, and mentally ill.

Stealth euthanasia is alive and well! While various states consider euthanasia bills, and “right to die” bills, the truth is, every state is allowing the euthanizing of elderly, handicapped and mentally ill people at the hands of Hospice and medical kidnappings by hospitals and doctors that result in the withholding of nutrition, hydration and necessary medical treatments to create the conditions necessary to declare “futility of care”. Once that declaration is made, palliative care (terminal sedation) begins. It ends with the “kill” shot which ends the life of the victim. .

Please join our efforts to stop this culture of death we live in. It’s A stealth culture happening right in front of you and your families.

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later

Half of Texas' Adult Guardianship Cases Violate Reporting Rules, Official Testifies

David Slayton testifies in front of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
A top Texas court official has testified that 43 percent of the state's adult guardianship cases in a 27-county sample didn't comply with the minimum paperwork-reporting requirements.

David Slayton, administrative director of Texas' Office of Court Administration, also told the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging that guardians in some of the 27,000 reviewed cases played fast and loose with the money of people under their care.

"The project regularly found unauthorized withdrawals from accounts; unauthorized gifts to family members and friends; unsubstantiated and unauthorized expenses; and the lack of backup data to substantiate the accountings," Slayton said during an April 18 hearing on elder abuse.

Texas' guardianship program provides court-appointed caretakers for adults who, due to age or mental incapacity, can no longer look after themselves. The filing requirements are intended to show that guardians aren't ripping off or neglecting individuals in their care.

Slayton's testimony come less than a year after Gov. Greg Abbott used his line-item veto power to cancel a statewide program that would scrutinize guardianship cases for fraud or abuse. That move shaved an estimated $5 million (that's with an "m") off the $217 billion state budget (that's with a "b"), according to the governor's office.

At the time, Abbott said other recent improvements to the state's guardianship system should be allowed to work before he would authorize hiring more staff to conduct the reviews.

"The creation of a new state bureaucracy should be a last resort," he said in a written statement.

The data in Slayton's testimony came from a pilot project of the Office of Court Administration, which also found that 3,100 of the people under guardianship in its sample had died without courts knowing.

Attempts to contact both Slayton and the governor before press time were unsuccessful.

The findings are disturbing, but not necessarily surprising to Thomas Coleman, legal director for the Spectrum Institute, a California-based group that advocates for disabled people.

"The governor obviously doesn't care very much about  or people with disabilities or he wouldn't have vetoed that program," Coleman said. "God knows how many bad things are going on in the other counties because we don't yet know whether or not this is a representative sample."

Coleman added that the Texas guardianship system is "as bad or worse than any in the United States."

Earlier this month, Coleman's Spectrum Institute filed a class action complaint with the Texas Supreme Court arguing that the state's adult guardianship system violates parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

As of August 2017, 50,500 adults were under guardianship in Texas, up 5,200 from the previous year. Since 2012, the population of seniors in the state has increased 19 percent to 3.4 million.

The estates of people under guardianship in Texas have a combined value of $4-5 billion, Slayton testified.

Full Article & Source:
Half of Texas' Adult Guardianship Cases Violate Reporting Rules, Official Testifies

2 indicted on elder abuse

FLORENCE — Two Lauderdale County residents have been indicted on separate incidents of elder abuse.

Sgt. Matt Horton of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office said Mary Faust, 64, 464 Lauderdale 144, Killen, and Roy G. Pigg Jr., 54, 120 Dale Ave., Killen, were indicted.

Pigg is charged with second-degree elder abuse and financial exploitation of the elderly, while Faust is charged with third-degree elder abuse.

Horton said Pigg is accused of "intentionally" abusing a 62-year-old man and taking his checks while the man was in the hospital.

Pigg is scheduled to be arraigned April 30 by Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Will Powell.

Horton said Faust is accused of leaving a 71-year-old man she was sitting with inside a hot car without any water.

She has pleaded not guilty, and has been placed on Lauderdale Circuit Judge Ben Grave’s August criminal court docket.

Full Article & Source:
2 indicted on elder abuse

Roanoke man will defend himself in retrial for exploitation of the elderly

LACON — A former Roanoke man who got a new trial after being convicted last year of trying to extort $10,000 from an 87-year-old Wenona man has decided to defend himself at his new trial in the fall.

Michael Devore, who now lives in Altamont, told Circuit Judge Stephen Kouri last week that he had reached that conclusion after the private attorney he had hired to replace a public defender withdrew from his case.

“I’ve decided to go pro se,” Devore said during a brief hearing in Marshall County Circuit Court.

Devore, 27, is now scheduled to face a jury in September on a charge of attempted financial exploitation of the elderly. The Class 3 felony is punishable by penalties ranging from probation to five years in prison.

Devore was found guilty last July in a bench trial before Judge Thomas Keith. But Keith reversed the conviction in November after Devore claimed that longtime public defender Patrick Murphy had not given him a chance to testify on his own behalf.

″(Murphy) said he didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to testify because it would (expletive) the judge off,” Devore told Keith, adding that he thought that was his “only chance” to beat the charge. “I thought it was important for me to be heard.”

As a matter of strategy, Murphy said, he often advises defendants not to testify, and then requires those who insist on doing so anyway to sign a statement to that effect. He said he “presumed” he had informed Devore of his right to testify even against advice, but that had not been documented.

The case involved a complicated set of circumstances in which Devore had replaced his mother as a caregiver of Charles Goodwin’s disabled wife. In December 2015, Devore threatened to report the older man for elder abuse and illegal tax activities unless he gave him $10,000, and he also said he had once threatened to kill a man while in prison, according to Goodwin’s trial testimony.

“So he said, ‘You’re going to give me $10,000 today or else,’” Goodwin testified. “I felt threatened.”

Devore’s new trial had initially been set for Feb. 27. But Maureen Williams, the attorney who had represented him in getting a new trial, withdrew at that time, and Kouri gave him until last week to find a new lawyer.

The judge warned him of the risks of representing himself.

“You understand that you’re going to be at a disadvantage, because the other side will be represented by an attorney with considerable experience,” Kouri said in reference to State’s Attorney Paul Bauer.

Devore had waived his right to a jury trial earlier in the proceedings, but Kouri said he would be entitled to “start over” and have one if he chose.

“I would like a jury trial if possible,” Devore said.

Full Article & Source:
Roanoke man will defend himself in retrial for exploitation of the elderly

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tonight on Marti Oakley's T. S. Radio: Abolishing Probate: Florida Legislative Claims Bill

5:00 pm PST … 6:00 pm MST … 7:00 pm CST … 8:00 pm EST

Our guests tonight are Peggy Dupree and Betty Gosnell. At issue is the Florida Legislative Claims bill, located HERE!

From the Bill:


*Payment to the guardian of the claimant, including a reversion to the source of payment upon the death of the claimant. (This language should be used if the claimant is a minor or is incompetent. It is intended to protect payments to claimants who are otherwise unable to protect their own interests).

“... payable to {guardian of claimant} as legal guardian of {claimant}, to be placed in the guardianship account of {claimant}, to compensate him/her for injuries and damages sustained as a result of the negligence of {respondent}.

Upon the death of {claimant}, any balance of the ${amount} remaining in the guardianship account shall revert to the {payor}. It is the intent of the Legislature that no funds exceeding {$ amount} appropriated herein subsequently be spent, or any obligation thereof incurred by the guardian, without prior order of the circuit court."

Gosh ....I wonder how that will work out? Tune in tonight as we talk about the ambiguity of this bill. Who actually benefits from this?

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later

Editorial: He had to fight NM system to save his stepmother

Fourteen months, numerous trips from California to Las Cruces, more than $50,000 in travel expenses and legal fees – and a man’s unwavering love for his stepmother, who had been in his life since he was 14 years old.

That’s what it took for Larry Davis and his wife, Marcia, to pry Larry’s stepmother, Kise Davis, from a commercial guardianship/conservatorship. Unbeknownst to her family, a handyman the 85-year-old woman befriended in Las Cruces had an emergency petition filed to have her placed under court protection.

The petition filed by the handyman’s lawyer failed to mention that Kise had a stepson – describing him only as her former power of attorney. Larry Davis had no notice of the petition that state District Judge James T. Martin of Las Cruces granted without a hearing. Davis’ first inkling was a telephone call in December 2016 from a neighbor of Kise’s in La Mesa telling him “I think you should know, they came and picked up Kise and said they’re taking her to an institution.”

Davis, who had visited his stepmother that June and been assured by state Adult Protective Services she was OK to continue living in the home she had shared with Larry’s father before his death, reacted quickly.

He talked to the handyman, Larry Franco, who said he had been worried about Kise and would withdraw his petition.

Too late. The commercial guardianship train had started rolling down the track. As provided by law, Kise now had a court-appointed guardian ad litem and a court-appointed guardian/conservator – both being paid from her assets.

She had been placed in a facility with people whose dementia was much worse than hers and the guardian ad litem opposed transferring her to California or putting her closest relative in charge of her care.

The judge initially agreed that Kise would be better served with a commercial guardian – even though he acknowledged Kise and Davis had a relationship.

Davis fought on. He had four different lawyers and made more than a half dozen trips to Las Cruces – including one when he arrived and was told the judge had been called away and the hearing re-scheduled.

He and his wife continued to see Kise – under restrictions from the guardian about what they could talk about and when they could see her.

Reforms passed by the 2018 Legislature, and others being drafted by a Supreme Court rules committee, will address some of the system’s ills. But they won’t necessarily stop what happened to Kise and Larry Davis.

But judges have the power to make – and the rules committee should consider a requirement that – attorneys who file petitions for guardianships or conservatorship submit an affidavit they have done due diligence and there are no family members who should be notified. Without that, the transparency reforms enacted this year mean nothing in a case like this.

And the Legislature, which backed off this year adopting the new Uniform Probate Code developed nationally, should revisit it – especially a provision that says judges should use the “least restrictive” means possible to protect the incapacitated person. In this case, that could have been a temporary living arrangement for Kise while the case was sorted out – rather than a full-blown corporate guardianship apparatus that has its own vested financial interest.

At the end of the day, it would appear the case of Kise and Larry Davis has a happy ending. “You saved my life,” Kise told her stepson, honoring him with a faux-Olympic medal after hearing the news on Feb. 26 that Larry would be her guardian/conservator.

But few people would have the assets and determination to fight the system the way Larry did – even if they had the same love for the family member. Once the family is shut out, the task is simply too daunting for too many.

There have been too many unhappy endings in cases like this. It’s up to our Legislature and the judiciary to continue working on reforms that prevent the nightmare scenario faced by Kise and Larry Davis.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

Full Article & Source:
Editorial: He had to fight NM system to save his stepmother

Watch this judge brutally berate a woman in a wheelchair. The woman died. The judge has quit.

A Broward County circuit judge delivered a blistering, arm-waving, face-palming, tongue-lashing to a frail, out-of-breath woman — pushed into court in a wheelchair — who was facing misdemeanor charges following a family feud.

Three days later, the defendant died.

Judge Merrillee Ehrlich has resigned, although it is unclear when that resignation was provided and when it becomes effective.

News of the death of Sandra Faye Twiggs, 59, surfaced Friday.

The courtroom rant last Sunday was so over the top that Broward's elected public defender, Howard Finkelstein, demanded that Judge Merrilee Ehrlich be banned from the criminal courthouse.

"It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment," said Finkelstein's chief assistant, Gordon Weekes. "All that was required was a bit of patience, and a bit of respect to allow this lady to speak, to gather herself and to breathe."

Instead, Twiggs died, "and never had the opportunity to have her dignity restored," Weekes said.

Twiggs suffered from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also called COPD. She ended up under arrest after squabbling with her 19-year-old daughter.

“My mom is gone and there is nothing I can do about it,” said Michelle Ballard, the daughter. “I’m now a teenager who will have to bury her mother.”

Said Carolyn Porter, a family friend of Twiggs: “She came home so devastated she couldn't catch her breath.”

Porter told the Miami Herald that once Twiggs was released from jail and taken back home, she was starving, dizzy and borderline breathless. She had trouble getting her medications in the jail, Porter said.

Anna Twiggs, the woman's sister, found her dead in her bed Wednesday morning, the day after she was released, Porter added.

Sandra Faye Twiggs had never been in trouble before when the Lauderhill Police Department charged her on April 13 with scratching her daughter during a domestic dispute that began with a disagreement over a fan. Two days later, Twiggs was wheeled into Ehrlich's courtroom. She was coughing and gasping for breath.

Twiggs suffered from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

In a video of the April 15 encounter, Ehrlich appears to the left in a split screen, and Twiggs is shown seated in a wheelchair, barely visible above a lectern at the North Broward satellite courthouse. Ehrlich asks Twiggs whether she and her daughter, the alleged victim, live in the same house.

Twiggs tries to answer the question, which requires more than a "yes" or "no" because the 19-year-old doesn't live with Twiggs full-time. Mid-sentence, Ehrlich snaps at her: "Excuse me! Don't say anything beyond what I am asking you!" Clearly exasperated, Ehrlich asks Twiggs' lawyer, who is in a different location during the video hookup, to make Twiggs stop talking.

As Twiggs coughs and holds her head, Ehrlich speaks to deputies, who are off-screen: "Can someone there give her water as a kindness?" But the judge's anger continues to boil over. Twiggs tries to tell the judge that she needs medical treatment for her pulmonary problems.

The judge erupts: "Ma'am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatments!"

Again, Ehrlich prevails upon Twiggs' lawyer to teach her better courtroom manners. "Will you say something in the microphone so that she can hear you and you can give her instructions about propriety in the court?" the judge says. "I'm not going to spend all day with her interrupting me," Ehrlich says.

"You've already said too much!" the judge yells later, as Twiggs tries to answer another question.

After disposing of Twiggs' case, Ehrlich's next defendant is a 30-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman charged with misdemeanor domestic battery. A police report says the woman allegedly pushed and slapped a man and then pulled his t-shirt, causing it "to stretch out and slightly tear."

The woman is worried about who will care for her 9-month-old baby while she is in jail. She begins to sob and shake. "Don't talk! You have an attorney here talking for you!" Ehrlich shouts. "Ma'am, be quiet or be removed! Be quiet!

In a letter to Broward's chief judge, Jack Tuter, Finkelstein wrote that Ehrlich "demonstrated aggressive and tyrannical behavior and revealed her lack of emotional fitness to sit on the bench," during the back-to-back hearings. He called the judge's behavior "shocking, and an embarrassment to Broward County."

The Herald was unable to reach the judge Friday evening.

Said Porter, the family friend: “Yes people go to jail but they don’t have to be treated like animals because they're in jail. ... That courtroom, that jail cell was the last life she lived — that's the way she lived the last days of her life.”
re here:

Full Article & Source:
Watch this judge brutally berate a woman in a wheelchair. The woman died. The judge has quit.

Ohio woman indicted for forgery, theft from elderly man

LONDON, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that a London, Ohio, woman is now facing felony charges following an investigation conducted as part of his Elder Justice Initiative.

Ashley Muncie, 33, was indicted by a Madison County grand jury on charges of forgery and theft, both felonies of the fourth degree.

Muncie is accused of forging more than $6,000 in checks belonging to an elderly West Jefferson man between November 2012 and April 2013. The victim suffered from dementia.

"The victim in this case trusted the defendant, but our investigation found that the trust was built on nothing but deception," said Attorney General DeWine. "The suspect allegedly helped herself to his checking account, and these charges are the first step in holding her accountable for these crimes."

The case is being prosecuted by attorneys with Attorney General DeWine's Special Prosecutions Section. Special agents with the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigated the case as part of Attorney General DeWine's Elder Justice Initiative.

Attorney General DeWine launched the Elder Justice Initiative in 2014 to increase the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse cases and improve victims' access to services in Ohio. Anyone who suspects incidents of elder abuse or financial exploitation should contact their local authorities or the Ohio Attorney General's Elder Justice Initiative at 1-800-282-0515.

Warning signs of elder abuse include:

• Changes in an older adult’s physical appearance, such as weight loss or unexplained bruising or bleeding
• Changes in an older adult’s personality or mood
• Changes in an older adult’s finances or money management
• A dominating, threatening caregiver or new “best friend”
• Exclusion from other family members or friends
• Changes in an older adult’s home environment

Full Article & Source:
Ohio woman indicted for forgery, theft from elderly man

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Editorial: Guardianship panels have much to do to fix system

Even as two committees appointed by the state Supreme Court begin the detailed work of coming up with plans to implement reforms to New Mexico’s troubled guardianship system, there are constant reminders that much remains to be done – even after the Legislature approved significant improvements in this year’s session.

No example of the problems is more glaring than the missing annual reports described by Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild in a Journal story published March 25.

Her story began with a simple question: “What’s become of Elizabeth Hamel?”

Hamel had been found to be a person in need of protection by Judge James T. Martin of Las Cruces, who assigned a private company as her guardian/conservator in 2010.

But nothing in online court docket sheets – what have been the only public window into this highly secretive system – indicated that required annual reports had ever been filed in Elizabeth’s case. There was no indication as to whether she was dead or alive.

And her case is hardly unique. A check by the Journal found dozens of cases with missing reports in southern New Mexico.

The owner of the commercial guardianship company appointed by Martin, Advocate Services of Las Cruces, acknowledged that the company “did get behind,” but said we are “catching up.”

Eight years is a lot of catching up to do.

These reports, which a court-appointed rules committee will hopefully beef up to at least include bank statements of people under guardianships, are a lifeline to the judge from protected people – especially those with no living family members or whose families have been shut out by corporate guardians for having the audacity to complain about profligate spending or poor treatment of their loved ones.

Martin is a member of the steering committee, which includes judges and legislators, that is tasked with coming up with ways to implement the reforms approved by the 2018 Legislature. He clearly has first-hand knowledge of a significant problem – namely no system in place to make sure annual reports reach the judge in a case.

One of the legislation’s most important reforms was to add much-needed transparency to the system. The sponsor of the reform legislation, Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, is also a member of the steering committee, as is Rep. Damon Ely, D-Corrales.

Meanwhile a separate court rules committee will have the opportunity to do by rule some of the things the statute didn’t cover – but that were recommended by a Supreme Court-appointed task force last year, ably chaired by retired District Judge Wendy York.

The task force of lawyers, judges, industry professionals and family members recommended a number of changes including requiring mediation in contested cases, requiring national certification of professional guardians and conservators and addressing the current practice in which the petitioner’s attorney can “stack the deck” in favor of a guardianship by recommending to the judge who should serve as guardian, guardian ad litem, court visitor and health care expert.

This is an industry that has been rife with conflicts that work to benefit the for-profit professionals and to relegate the families of people in guardianships to second-class status – if that. In some cases, concerns of what professionals described as “emotional” family members can lead to their being virtually cut off from visiting, or allowed to do so only under strict supervision of the guardian.

Executives of one guardianship company are charged in federal court with stealing millions of dollars from clients to fund extravagant lifestyles. This all happened under the noses of the judges who made the appointments and were supposed to be looking after the protected persons – primarily through annual reports.

So millions of dollars have been siphoned off undetected under the current reporting mechanism. Enough said.

Meanwhile, the rules committee has come under legitimate criticism for being dominated by insiders and lacking any significant voice representing families. In other words, critics say it is mostly lawyers writing rules for themselves.

But this committee is subject to Supreme Court supervision, and the court should require it to post the schedule of its meetings and allow outside input – since it isn’t built in. And it should take a hard look at recommendations. The guardianship system has tremendous impact on some of our most vulnerable people and their families. Real progress has been made, but there is much more to do for it to positively affect those individuals and their loved ones. It is the responsibility of these committees to make that happen – not to take the heat off the industry or make life easy for the judiciary.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

Full Article & Source:
Editorial: Guardianship panels have much to do to fix system

Lackawanna County Salary Board votes to fund guardianship administrator position

SCRANTON — The Lackawanna County Salary Board on Wednesday voted to fund a new position to perform state Supreme Court-mandated work, an issue that sparked contentious debate at a prior salary board meeting late last year.

Register of Wills Fran Kovaleski — who also serves as clerk of the Orphans’ Court, a division of the county court system — appeared before the board on Dec. 20 seeking a budget amendment to create a full-time guardianship administrator position at an annual salary of $42,000 plus benefits. Tensions rose at that meeting when county officials told Kovaleski the salary board can only vote to fund positions, not create them.

Nonetheless, Kovaleski and the county continued to discuss the issue. On Feb. 1, she raised some fees in both the Register of Wills and Orphans’ Court offices to cover the cost of the position, hoping the salary board would ultimately fund it.

That’s what the board did Wednesday by voting to fund the position at an annual salary of $42,000, with only Commissioner Laureen Cummings voting no. Cummings, who sits on the salary board with fellow commissioners Patrick O’Malley and Jerry Notarianni and county Controller Gary DiBileo, said she doesn’t feel the position is necessary.

The administrator will work for the Orphans’ Court and serve as a coordinator between the courts and court-appointed guardians of senior citizens, informing current guardians of new reporting practices, updating the county’s data on active guardianships and migrating that data into a new computer-based Guardian Tracking System. They would also alert the courts of any potential improprieties in guardianship reports to help protect seniors from fraud, among other responsibilities.

Much of that work is being mandated by the state Supreme Court through the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts and is too much for current staff to manage given their existing workload, Kovaleski said earlier this year.

Full Article & Source:
Lackawanna County Salary Board votes to fund guardianship administrator position