Monday, April 12, 2021

Police seek home health aide’s arrest in murder of 75-year-old in Rocky Hill

By Jessika Harkay and Christine Dempsey

The state police are asking for the public’s help in finding a home health aide suspected in the beating death of a 75-year-old Rocky Hill man this week.

Melissa Feliciano, 31, is wanted for arrest on charges of felony murder, murder, first-degree robbery and sixth-degree larceny in the death of Robert Iacobucci.

Her mugshot, from June 2020, is the most recent picture police have of Feliciano, they said.

Melissa Feliciano is wanted on murder charges in the beating death of Robert Iacobucci, 75, of Rocky Hill, state police say.
Melissa Feliciano is wanted on murder charges in the beating death of Robert Iacobucci, 75, of Rocky Hill, state police say. (Provided by the Connecticut State Police)
Feliciano is described as 5-foot-2, 85 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. Police said they don’t know if she has any weapons.

State police said Feliciano has moved around a lot, with various addresses on file, but is known to frequent the Hartford and Manchester area.

Feliciano, a native to Delaware, may have left the state, police added. “It’s always a concern,” they said Thursday afternoon.

The 31-year-old has two pending cases in community court in Hartford, according to online court records. She was arrested in Rocky Hill on Dec. 28, 2019, and charged with second-degree criminal trespass. A second-degree failure to appear charge was added to the case Feb. 4, 2020.

In the second case, Feliciano was charged by West Hartford police with interfering with an officer on Nov. 11, 2020. She’s due back in court on May 27 in both cases.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of Feliciano is asked to call Det. Christopher Scott at the Troop H barracks in Hartford at 860-534-1000.

Melissa Feliciano is a murder suspect in the beating death of 75-year-old Robert Iacobucci of Rocky Hill, state police say.

Feliciano is one of three people who police believe were involved in the homicide earlier this week. Franklyn Cruz, 42, and Madeline Dickey, 35, were arrested after a witness alerted police to what had happened in Iacobucci’s house on Pondside Lane, state police said.

Iacobucci was found dead on the second floor of his home Monday, with his hands tied and injuries to his face and head, state police said.

A police report released Tuesday recounted the series of events that led to Iacobucci’s murder, including interviews from the witness and Dickey and Cruz themselves.

Cruz and Dickey told police that Feliciano was Iacobucci’s home health aide, but they haven’t been able to verify that information yet, state police said.

Dickey also told police that the attack began when Feliciano complained about how she was treated poorly by Iacobbuci and convinced her and Cruz to “scare him” into giving them money. The trio went to Rocky Hill around 1 a.m. Monday, and Cruz and Feliciano tied up and beat the 75-year-old, while Dickey waited in the garage and played with his dog, she said.

Following the attack, the couple said they dropped off Feliciano in Hartford. She hasn’t been seen since.

Later Monday morning, Cruz and Dickey returned to Iacobucci’s home to check on him, Dickey said. They discovered the attack had left the man dead. The couple decided to steal Iacobucci’s German shepherd, one of his cars and other items, instead of calling 911, the police report said.
They then met up with an acquaintance and Cruz told him about a plan to move the body, to make “it appear [Iacobucci] voluntarily left with a prostitute, then move themselves into his residence, essentially taking it over,” the police report said.
 The acquaintance called Rocky Hill police to conduct a wellness check, and officers found that one of Iacobucci’s two vehicles was stolen and his phone was answered by a woman who said her name was “Melissa,” but she couldn’t explain why she had Iacobucci’s phone, police began to investigate further.

Police interviewed the acquaintance Monday, and he added that he recently met with the couple again that day and that they were planning to go home, change clothing, change the license plate on the stolen vehicle then dispose of Iacobucci’s body, the police report said.

Police arrested Dickey and Cruz outside their New Britain residence. Inside the home, they also found Iacobucci’s dog, who is safe, healthy and with Iacobucci’s family members, Brian Foley, a spokesman for the state police, said Thursday afternoon.

Cruz’s bail was set at $2 million and his next court date is scheduled for April 28. Dickey’s was set at $1 million; she is due in court April 27.

Full Article & Source:

Embattled Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Carr accused of more inappropriate behavior in new disciplinary complaint

 By Cory Shaffer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A state disciplinary attorney issued a 118-page complaint against a Cleveland Municipal Court judge who, in spring 2020, ignored a directive to stop holding hearings because of the pandemic.

The new complaint filed Friday against Judge Pinkey Carr says she routinely flouted court rules and antagonized defendants, lawyers and court staff from the bench. It accuses the former city and county prosecutor of making inappropriate jokes about fictional strip clubs and says she issued arrest warrants for people who did not show up to court hearings that she scheduled without telling them.

Carr ran afoul of rules that require judges to conduct themselves fair and impartially, uphold the public’s confidence in the judiciary and maintain proper courtroom decorum.

The sweeping complaint comes as Carr is already facing disciplinary proceedings for violating an administrative order limiting court hearings due to the coronavirus. She also made false statements to a TV station and another judge denying that she issued warrants for people who did not show up for hearings after the court announced it was postponing them.

Other findings in the complaint say Carr:

  • Negotiated plea deals with defendants without a prosecutor or defense attorney present
  • Cracked jokes at the expense of defendants
  • Waived court costs and fines without asking whether they could afford to pay them and filing fictitious paperwork with the court
  • Presided over court hearings in workout clothes and no robe, prompting one defendant to ask court staff if a judge planned to attend the hearing

Assistant disciplinary counsel Michell Hall wrote that Carr’s conduct violated multiple rules of professional conduct. Hall requested that the Board of Professional Conduct and the Ohio Supreme Court sanction Carr.

Carr has until April 15 to file a response to the amended complaint.

A request for comment from Carr sent to court spokesman Ed “Flash” Ferenc was not immediately returned Friday evening.

Friday’s complaint says Carr conducted several improper hearings with defendants charged with low-level misdemeanor charges who appeared without an attorney. She quizzed them about the facts of their cases, the complaint says.

Many of the cases involved people charged with alcohol-related offenses. She mocked one man charged with violating open-container laws for drinking cheap beer and joked in the courtroom about how long it would take him to pay a $25 fine.

She also prevented defendants from leaving her courtroom so she could continue to joke about them with her staff, the complaint says. One man was accused of violating a protection order for texting a woman that a man she was with was a “f--k boy.” After he left, Carr joked with her bailiff about asking him what that term meant. She then directed someone from the court to get the man from the hallway and bring him back so she could ask him. When he returned, she asked him what it meant, then told him not to bother answering and told him to leave again. She then laughed with her staff and continued talking about the case while the next defendant waited for their hearing, the complaint said.

Carr also made jokes from the bench about P-Valley, the name of a Starz TV show about a strip-club in Mississipi, the complaint said. She joked about taking a court bailiff there and then asked about a female attorney who appeared in her courtroom who she referred to as “cute.”

The complaint also said that Carr once yelled at an assistant public defender when he told a man charged in connection with a shootout that he didn’t have to answer when Carr asked what the word “firefight” meant. Carr chastised the attorney and said she could ask any question she wanted to.

The attorney asked Carr to wear her mask if she was going to yell. The next day when the same attorney was in her courtroom, Carr wore her mask below her chin and asked her bailiff to use a tape measure to count the number of feet the attorney was away, then continuously mocked the attorney for his concern over the coronavirus.

She routinely berates defendants who call her “ma’am” by referring to them as “little boy” and “little girl.” One elderly defendant repeatedly answered Carr’s questions with “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.” As the woman walked out of the courtroom, Carr muttered loud enough for people in the courtroom to hear about how she wanted to punch the woman in the face.

The complaint also criticizes Carr for abusing the capias process in cases where she ordered people to pay fines without going through the clerk of court’s office. She regularly orders defendants to pay fines by a specific date, then schedules a hearing on their ability to pay a few days later if they fail to meet the deadline. If the defendants don’t show up to the hearing, she issues an arrest warrant that also includes an order barring them from qualifying for programs that allow them to pay their fines through community service, guaranteeing their arrest, the complaint said. In at least one case, Carr never told the defendant that she set the hearing, the complaint said.

When he didn’t show up, she issued the warrant, and he spent a total of five days in jail because he didn’t pay a fine for a misdemeanor traffic case, the complaint said.

Friday’s complaint is in addition to disciplinary counsel Joseph Caligiuri’s complaint recommending Carr be disciplined for violating six rules of judicial and professional conduct. Among other things, those rules require judges to promote public confidence in the judiciary and bar attorneys from engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” reported last March that Carr held court hearings in violation of the order that Administrative Judge Michelle Earley issued order postponing all court hearings for defendants who were not already in jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The March 13 order was posted on the court’s website and distributed to media outlets, who reported that the court hearings had been closed. reported on March 17 that Carr had held hearings that did not follow Earley’s order on the previous two days and issued capiases -- or arrest warrants -- for people who did not show up.

Carr, who did not return requests for comment from at the time, granted an interview to WJW Channel 8 reporter Peggy Gallek and said while on the bench in her courtroom that’s report was false and that she worried it would make people think they had to come to court or else she would issue arrest warrants for them.

After the interview concluded, courtroom video obtained by showed Carr went on to issue arrest warrants for 17 people who did not show up to her courtroom and issuing bonds for their eventual arrest. The video also showed Carr mocked an assistant public defender who had asked if he could tell his clients they didn’t need to come to court the next day in keeping with Earley’s order. Carr rejected his requested, and after the lawyer left the room, Carr turned to a member of her staff and referred to him as “little idiot.” later reported on the videos, and Carr, who again did not return’s requests for comments, told WJW Channel 8 that she did not know that when she marked a defendant’s failure to appear that a warrant would be issued for that person’s arrest.

Caligiuri’s complaint also included a text message exchange between Carr and Earley later that day. Carr again called’s reporting “reckless” and “inaccurate.” Earley asked Carr if she issued arrest warrants, and Carr responded that her journal entries clearly stated “no warrant to issue,” according to the complaint.

Full Article & Source:
Embattled Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Carr accused of more inappropriate behavior in new disciplinary complaint 

Woman Who Loves Horses Gets The Sweetest Surprise In Her Final Days

By Stephen Messenger

When Rita Meredith was younger, she had earned the distinction of being the first woman to serve as a mounted police officer in the United Kingdom. But clearly, working alongside horses was something far more than just a job.

And decades later, her love for those animals never faded. And it showed.

Posted by Emily Sykes on Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Meredith, who later moved to Australia, passed away earlier this month at a New South Wales hospice facility. But her final days were among her most joyous, thanks to a very special surprise visit she received.

"Her main wish before she passed was to smell/see a horse for one more time," Sykes wrote.

Meredith's final wish was fulfilled.

Posted by Emily Sykes on Monday, March 8, 2021

Learning of Meredith's desire to be in the company of horses one last time, members of the NSW mounted police decided to drop by the hospice facility for a meet and greet.

"They travelled all the way to Newcastle today to see Rita and make her wish come true," Sykes wrote. "Police officers Graham and Nicole were accompanied by the very handsome Hollywood and Don, and they sure made Rita’s day."

Posted by Emily Sykes on Monday, March 8, 2021

According to Sykes, Meredith gave the horses apples and plenty of pets. It was a chance for her to reconnect with animals she'd long held dear.

Posted by Emily Sykes on Monday, March 8, 2021

"There were plenty of tears shed and beautiful memories made," Sykes wrote.

Posted by Emily Sykes on Monday, March 8, 2021

Meredith reportedly passed away two days after that special surprise. The legacy of her lifetime of love for horses, however, lives on in the hearts of all who knew her. And to see her final with fulfilled is something Meredith's family won't soon forget.

"I cannot thank the NSW police for making this happen," Sykes wrote. "You have made this lovely lady's wish come true, and did it with such professionalism, respect and grace. On behalf of Rita’s family and friends, THANK YOU!"

Full Article & Source:

Sunday, April 11, 2021

New Mexico legalizes assisted suicide

Oleksandr Lysenko/Shutterstock

New Mexico’s governor on Thursday signed a bill legalizing assisted suicide in the state.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” named for a late state district court judge who died of cancer in 2018, and who became an advocate for assisted-suicide in her final years.

The bill allows licensed physicians, osteopathic physicians, nurses, and physician assistants to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for terminally-ill patients who are deemed capable of self-administering the dose.

New Mexico is now the eighth state to have legalized physician-assisted suicide, along with California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia has also legalized the practice.

The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the bill, which was passed by the House in February and by the Senate in March, largely along a party-line vote.

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe stated on March 3 that the legislation was “the worst in the nation.”

“God’s law calls us all to recognize and protect the life and dignity of each and every human being, especially the most vulnerable. This includes unborn children and those at the end of life,” he stated. “We are promised that God’s law will ultimately bring peace and new life, especially to those who are suffering.”

The bill requires two licensed health care providers, one of them a doctor, to determine a patient’s terminal illness. Patients in hospice do not require a second confirmation.

If the patient has a history of a mental health disorder or intellectual disability – or if the providers believe they have a disorder – they must be referred for a mental health assessment before a prescription is filled.

For the request for a lethal dose of medication, two witnesses must be present, and only one may be a relative of the patient. The bill requires a 48-hour waiting period between the prescription being written and it being filed.

Some amendments in the bill were struck before it passed the state Senate. Amendments allowing for insurance collection and waiving liability for health care providers were removed, AP reported.

The bill still contains a state residency requirement, which a 2019 version of the legislation did not include. Some critics warned that the previous bill would have enabled “suicide tourism” where patients would travel from out-of-state to receive a lethal prescription. That bill also allowed for lethal prescriptions to be issued remotely through telemedicine.

The 2021 bill does include a conscience exemption for health care providers who refuse to provide a lethal prescription, but it requires them to inform the patient and refer them to another provider who will provide the prescription.

Full Article & Source:

LA judge disciplined a third time for bad behavior on bench


LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles County judge with a history of bad behavior has been disciplined for being irritable with defense lawyers and telling an acquitted man that “there’s no question in my mind that you’re guilty.”

Judge Patrick Connolly was publicly admonished for displaying improper demeanor toward two criminal defense lawyers and for an inappropriate remark after a jury verdict, the Commission on Judicial Performance said Friday.

It was the third time Connolly has been disciplined since he became a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in 2009. He was admonished in 2016 for abusing his authority by conducting a hearing to determine if a defense lawyer should face contempt charges. He was privately admonished in 2010 for using profanity with lawyers. 

Connolly, a former gang prosecutor who presides in the Compton courthouse, told a man acquitted in a shooting case in 2018 that he was lucky.

“Let me tell you, you’ve been given a gift from God,” Connolly told Eugene Germany. “Because there’s no question in my mind that you’re guilty of this crime.”

Germany and a co-defendant had been charged with opening fire at a fleeing vehicle after the driver had stabbed one of their friends.

Connolly appeared to chastise Germany, for not accepting a plea deal that would have sent him and a co-defendant, Dalisha Monique Jordan, to prison for six years if they both agreed to plead guilty.

Jordan wanted to accept the plea offer, but it was relinquished when Germany rejected it.

“I’ll tell you, chivalry is not dead,” Connolly told Germany. “If you’d taken the deal, Ms. Jordan would have had that six-year deal. She’s going to get a lot more time than that. So, you know, take that into consideration.”

Jordan was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

In another instance last year, Connolly was irritable with defense lawyers who had requested to appear at an arraignment by telephone because they feared they had been exposed to COVID-19. Connolly had agreed to the telephone hearing but then appeared to hold it against the lawyers and their clients.

The attorneys for brothers Jorge and Felipe Ramirez, who were charged with assaulting a police officer, asked that their clients be released without bail because of concerns they could be susceptible to coronavirus in jail.

Defense lawyer Martin Lijtmaer said he had letters attesting to his client’s health and the judge repeatedly snapped: “How am I going to see that letter, if you’re not in my courtroom?”

Lijtmaer tried to respond, saying, “Your honor, respectfully, the reason I didn’t ... ” before being cut off.

“Respectfully?” Connolly said. “You have not come to the courtroom.”

Connolly refused to release either man without bail.

Lijtmaer said his client and brother had to post “ridiculously high bail” that has nearly bankrupted their family. He said the cases both ended without prison time and the charges will ultimately be dismissed.

Connolly acknowledged he “spoke too sharply” to the lawyers and asked the commission to consider “the highly unusual circumstances” that the hearing was just a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-home order.

The commission said Connolly did not acknowledge his misconduct or show contrition.

Connolly did not immediately return a message seeking comment left with his courtroom clerk.

Full Article & Source: 

Many long-term care staffers refused the vaccine. Now they have more infections than residents.

By Cindy Krischer Goodman, Kate Santich and Adelaide Chen

Nurse Eva Diaz administers the Pfizer vaccine to Pam Peters a nurse practitioner at John Knox Village, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, in Pompano Beach, Fla. Many long term care workers have declined the COVID vaccine. (Marta Lavandier/AP)

At Florida’s long-term care facilities, more workers are now infected with COVID-19 than elderly residents, a dramatic shift from earlier in the pandemic.

Despite state and federal attempts to offer vaccinations at all nursing homes and assisted-living centers in the state, 62% of staffers have declined — posing the single biggest threat to the more than 25,000 elderly people in those facilities who are also unvaccinated.

“These are the folks from the beginning that were bringing it in,” said Mary Daniel of Jacksonville, a caregiver and advocate for families of residents. “It’s frustrating. Staff members are choosing not to get the vaccine and it’s the residents who are getting punished because their families are getting locked out again.”

As of April 9, 344 of Florida’s long-term care workers tested positive for COVID, compared to 276 residents. The good news is overall cases are down — only a tenth of what they were in January, according to state data.

But while infections in residents continue to decline, cases among workers have plateaued, or in some instances, begun to tick upward in recent days. These are mostly low-paid workers who are in close contact with elderly residents.

Nursing homes are mandated to test their workers regularly for COVID-19 but assisted living facilities are not. So it’s possible not all cases are reported. Most homes continue to require masks and check the temperatures of staff daily to spot symptomatic workers with COVID before they expose others.

But mandating vaccination is highly controversial.

“Some workers are totally against it,” said Pascal Bergeron, chairman of North Lake Assisted Living in Hollywood and CEO of ALF BOSS, an assisting living resource agency. “They are scared to death of it, and forcing it on them would probably cause some to quit.”

The low vaccination rate is worrisome in workers who care for the group most vulnerable to COVID-19, particularly when some residents did not get vaccinated either. The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that 82% of residents are vaccinated.

Kristen Knapp, communications director for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said a combination of factors exists for why some of these vulnerable residents still aren’t fully vaccinated: Some are new admissions, others declined as a personal choice or their family declined for them. And some have underlying conditions that put them at risk.

But the effort to inoculate both residents and staff isn’t over, Knapp said. (Click to continue reading)

Full Article & Source:

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Governor Authorizes Measure Strengthening Guardian Oversight To Protect Vulnerable Adults In New Mexico

Submitted by Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday signed into law extensive guardianship reform legislation, creating much-needed oversight of legal guardians and conservators that control medical, financial, residential and other major life decisions of more than 6,000 New Mexicans who are aging or living with disabilities.

Inadequate oversight of guardianship and conservatorship cases have left many of the most at-risk adults in this state susceptible to abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews and co-sponsored by Rep. Joanne Ferrary, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Sen. Linda Lopez and Sen. Katy Duhigg, House Bill 234 establishes a court visitor pilot project, a partnership between the courts and the Developmental Disabilities Council’s Office of Guardianship to provide eyes and ears on the ground for judges to monitor guardianship cases.

The goal of the pilot project is to build a program that will allow judges to assign volunteer court visitors to meet with and submit a report about every person under guardianship in New Mexico at least once a year.

The bill also establishes the Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders program, or WINGS, based on a national model that studies and implements best practices in guardianship and alternatives to guardianship.

“This legislation will help ensure that our guardianship system provides adults with the least restrictive alternatives to managing and living their lives,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “We must commit to the ongoing work of reforming and evolving beyond guardianship. Through the WINGS program, we will bring to New Mexico the most innovative ideas from around the country on how to best protect the rights of people who are subject to guardianship and ensure that they and their families have a voice.”

House Bill 234 requires the Office of Guardianship, Administrative Office of the Courts and Office of the State Auditor to oversee and monitor guardians and conservators in meaningful ways. Specifically, the bill requires the Office of Guardianship to conduct annual comprehensive reviews of state-funded guardianship services, as well as welfare visits of protected persons receiving those services.

Additionally, the bill requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to establish a guardianship annual report review division and authorizes the Office of the State Auditor to review annual conservator’s reports, access financial records in conservatorship cases, and conduct full audits, if necessary.

“For too long, the guardianship system in New Mexico has been paternalistic, overly restrictive, and unexamined,” said Executive Director Alice Liu McCoy of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Council. “HB 234 will hold everyone in the guardianship system accountable – which include not only guardians and conservators, but legal professionals, state agencies, and the courts. Most importantly, it requires everyone in the guardianship system to continually seek the least restrictive options to meet the protected person’s needs.”

The bill requires the Office of Guardianship to publish an annual report about publicly funded guardianship services in New Mexico, which will increase transparency and support evidence-based policy recommendations to improve the guardianship system. The bill also requires the head of the Office of Guardianship to be an attorney licensed in New Mexico.

The number of guardianship cases is expected to increase significantly, as pandemic complications arise and the state’s population ages rapidly. The Office of Guardianship’s wait lists have dramatically increased in the past year.

Full Article & Source:

Wyoming Supreme Court disbar former tribal court judge sentenced for drug trafficking on Wind River Reservation

By Brendan LaChance 

(File photo, Trevor T. Trujillo; Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Supreme Court has disbarred attorney Terri V. Smith of Arapaho, Wyoming, the Wyoming State Bar said on Wednesday.

“The order of disbarment stemmed from a 2019 felony drug arrest which ended with Smith pleading guilty to two felonies and being sentenced to six months in prison, to be followed by six months of home confinement, to be followed by three years of supervised release,” the Wyoming State Bar said. “Smith stipulated to the disbarment, which was presented to the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR).”

“In approving the BPR’s recommendation for an order of disbarment, the Wyoming Supreme Court ordered Smith to pay an administrative fee in the amount of $750.00 and costs of $50.00 to the Wyoming State Bar.”

T order of disbarment is available online.

Smith, 35, was sentenced by Federal District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson on Oct. 6, 2020 for “conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and distribution of cocaine,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming.

“She received six months of imprisonment, to be followed by thirty-six months of supervised release, and ordered to pay community restitution in the amount of $500.00 and a $200.00 special assessment,” the release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming states.

She was sentenced to six months imprisonment to be followed by 36 months of supervised release. She was formerly a Wind River Indian Reservation Chief Tribal Court judge.

Smith’s sister, Jerri Lee Smith, 35, was sentenced for “conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.”

“She received fifty-one months of imprisonment, to be followed by forty-eight months of supervised release, and ordered to pay community restitution in the amount of $400.00 and a $300.00 special assessment,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said.

The investigation into suspected drug activity and trafficking in Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation began in 2018 “after several traffic stops by the Wyoming Highway Patrol led to the discovery of quantities of methamphetamine, oxycodone, and cocaine,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming.

Agents with the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation participated in the investigation.

“A variety of investigative resources were used to determine that Jerri Smith and Terri Smith had been obtaining oxycodone in Utah and were selling them in Fremont County and on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said. “Additionally the investigation uncovered that Jerri Smith was also obtaining methamphetamine and cocaine in Utah then distributing and selling it in Wyoming.  At the time of the investigation, Terri Smith was the Chief Tribal Judge on the Wind River Indian Reservation. She later resigned from her position.”

When the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming announced the sentencings in Oct. 2020, FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said: “Today’s sentencing of Tribal Judge Terri Smith and her sister is a step forward in identifying public officials and private citizens who commit federal crimes and victimize the community members of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Public officials who engage in violations of federal law, to include drug trafficking, erodes the public’s confidence in government. Investigating these individuals is one of the FBI’s top criminal priorities. The FBI Denver Division would like to extend its appreciation to the Rocky Mountain Safe Trails Task Force, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Wyoming for their invaluable assistance in this investigation.”

Full Article & Source:

ALERT: Connecticut considers bill to legalize doctor-assisted suicide

Adult residents who are deemed mentally competent and have been diagnosed by their attending physician with a terminal illness ‘may request aid in dying by making two oral requests and one written request to such patient's attending physician.’

By Calvin Freiburger

CONTACT YOUR CT LEGISLATORS: Oppose legalized euthanasia and HB 6425!nbsp;Click to contact your Legislators, now.

HARTFORD, April 8, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Medically-assisted suicide could become legal in Connecticut if the state legislature approves a Democrat-backed bill that would allow adults suffering from a terminal illness to take lethal medication to end their lives.

House Bill 6425 says that adult residents who are deemed mentally competent and have been diagnosed by their attending physician with a terminal illness “may request aid in dying by making two oral requests and one written request to such patient’s attending physician.” The two oral requests must be made at least fifteen days apart, and the written request must be made in the presence of at least two witnesses attesting to the patient’s soundness of mind and that he or she is acting voluntarily. The request may be rescinded at any time.

Notably, the bill says that the “person signing the qualified patient’s death certificate shall list the underlying terminal illness as the cause of death,” rather than the lethal drug.

If signed into law, it would take effect starting in October 2021, but many are speaking out in hopes of preventing that from happening. Hartford area disability-rights advocate Lisa Blumberg said it “defies imagination that Connecticut is contemplating legalizing assisted suicide when COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 500,000 nationwide,” and that enacting the bill “would increase the shredding of the social fabric” by offering death as a solution to depression.

Calling HB 6424 “nothing more than a license to kill,” the Connecticut Freedom Alliance submitted written testimony warning that the bill “allows only the patient’s health care providers to make the determination as to the patient’s mental competency to take his or her life, without any input from the ones who know the patient best — close family members”; and noting that “where assisted suicide (the more accurate title for this legislation) has been legalized, unimaginable horrors have ensued.”

“The Netherlands allows children as young as 12 to end their lives through euthanasia, and in 2017 alone, 6,585 people legally died this way in the country,” the group continued. “In 2014, Belgium became the first country to remove any age restriction on assisted suicide, so that children of all ages may now elect to end their own lives. And just two years after Canada legalized assisted suicide for adults, doctors at the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto are now calling for legislation that would allow children to end their lives without parental knowledge or consent.”

LifeSiteNews is currently running a Voter Voice campaign in hopes of making the public’s opposition to HB 6424 clear to Connecticut lawmakers. Readers can click on this link to easily send their elected representatives a pre-written message or write their own.

Full Article & Source:

Friday, April 9, 2021

Guardianship: It’s an Emergency and I Care a Lot…About Your Assets

by Stephanie Henrick

I recently watched the 2020 Netflix film “I Care a Lot”, the story of a professional court-appointed guardian (played by actress Rosamund Pike) who bilks the assets of dozens of elderly wards. As a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney, I regularly represent family members, alleged incapacitated individuals (AIPs), and guardians. And nothing makes my blood boil more than discovering someone has taken advantage of an elderly or disabled individual via guardianship.

Pike’s character, Marla Grayson along with the help of a crooked doctor, has elderly individuals declared incapacitated, that is, unable to take care of themselves. Grayson is appointed as legal guardian and subsequently drains her wards’ assets for her own personal gain. Unfortunately, the exploitation of the vulnerable occurs more than we care to admit.

Does Guardianship Fraud Happen a Lot?

Well, it doesn’t quite happen according to the film. Director/writer J Blakeson took liberties with the legal requirements, but this isn’t a courtroom drama. Plus, Blakeson needed to make room for the sub-plot of the retired Russian Mafioso (played by my favorite Game of Thrones actor, Peter Dinklage). I’ll leave it at that before I give away any spoilers.

So then how is one appointed a legal guardian In Pennsylvania?

A petition must be filed for adjudication of incapacity and for the appointment of a guardian. Under Pennsylvania law, the petitioner “may be any person interested in the alleged incapacitated person’s (“AIP”) welfare”. This is a fairly broad definition and may include family, neighbors, area agency on aging, healthcare provider or other professional with a relationship to the AIP.

Here, Grayson’s relationship to Dianne Wiest’s AIP character, Jennifer Peterson, is unclear. Marla doesn’t appear to be representing anyone (agency or otherwise) interested in Jennifer’s welfare. As an aside, I would challenge standing, but where is the entertainment value in that?

In a real life situation, the petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence to a Judge that the AIP is incapacitated to become a guardian. There need to be specific findings of cognitive incapacity that has impaired the person’s ability to understand information, to make reasoned decisions, to effectively manage their financial resources or assure their own physical health and safety.

In the movie, Grayson submits a report by the crooked doctor (Dr. Amos, played by Alicia Witt) to prove incapacity. While this is permissible under Pennsylvania law, the “clear and convincing” part is skipped over in the film. The judge states the court would “let it slide” because it was an emergency hearing without questioning why the matter was an emergency. In PA, an emergency hearing is proper where it is apparent that the AIP is at imminent risk of irreparable harm, including severe financial exploitation, medical risk or risk of homelessness.

In Pennsylvania, Grayson would also be required to show that there is no less restrictive alternative to the guardianship. For instance, does the AIP have a Power of Attorney? If not, is she able to execute a Power of Attorney? Does she have support in the community?

Certainly, Ms. Peterson would argue she has the support of the Russian mafia to handle her affairs, and she appears quite capable of executing a Power of Attorney. In reality, a guardianships is a last resort because it deprives a person of his/her legal rights and restricts their rights to autonomy and self-determination.

In Pennsylvania, there are two types of guardians:

  • a guardian of the person is responsible for making personal, residential and medical decisions for the AIP.
  • a guardian of the estate is responsible for financial decisions, managing income and property.

So how does a person get deemed incapacitated and appointed a guardian against his or her wishes, without even being present in court? Fiction aside, in an emergency hearing, the 20-day notice period is typically waived, but required for the plenary hearing. The AIP has a right to counsel and if they can’t afford one, counsel will be appointed by the court. In an emergency hearing, there usually isn’t time to appoint counsel until the plenary hearing. The AIP is also required to attend the hearing unless there is a sworn statement by a physician that the AIP’s physical or mental health would be harmed by attending.

In this movie, all of this plays perfectly to Pike’s game. While we don’t get to the plenary hearing in the movie, one can assume that Pike’s character would manipulate a loophole in the law, and have the crooked doctor friend testify that the AIP would be mentally harmed, legally excusing her from participating at the hearing.

One would hope that this Judge would follow suit with Montgomery County Pennsylvania’s Orphans’ Court, and appoint a well-vetted experienced Orphans’ Court attorney to represent the AIP. That is the only way to ensure that their voice will be heard by the Judge.

How can you avoid guardianship scams like the ones in “I Care A Lot”?

Have a current complete well-drafted estate plan, with financial and healthcare Powers of Attorney. Choose your agent under Power of Attorney wisely. Make sure it is someone you trust implicitly and then name a backup agent, just in case. While I can’t promise that you won’t end up in a guardianship proceeding if you have a POA (your agent could go rogue, fail to act, or die and there is no backup named), the chances are extremely low if you have the proper documents in place.

You can find “I Care a Lot” on Netflix now.

Full Article & Source:

Orleans magistrate commissioner disciplined by Supreme Court for forging client’s signature

by Nicholas Chrastil

Orleans Magistrate Commissioner Albert Thibodeaux was formally disciplined by the Louisiana Supreme Court following an investigation into allegations that, while working in private practice, he forged a legal client’s signature on a court pleading, notarized it, and filed it into the court record, according to a ruling handed down on Wednesday. 

Thibodeaux — who admitted that he violated legal ethics rules, according to the Wednesday ruling — was given a six-month suspension from practicing law, but that suspension was deferred “in its entirety” unless Thibodeaux engages in any further misconduct during that period. One of the justices, Jefferson D. Hughes III, thought the deferred suspension was not a harsh enough measure, and in a dissent said that he would have imposed a period of actual suspension.

It is unclear whether or how the disciplinary action will affect Thibodeaux’s role as commissioner in Orleans Parish Magistrate Court, where once a week he presides over first appearances and makes bail determinations for criminal defendants, among other duties. Commissioners are allowed to continue to practice civil law while presiding, but are barred from practicing criminal law. 

Reached on Wednesday, Thibodeaux said he was unable to discuss the court’s decision, and directed inquiries to his attorney, Harry Rosenberg. 

Rosenberg was not immediately able to be reached. Rob Kazik, the judicial administrator, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The ruling says that following an investigation into the allegations, Thibodeaux and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel — which serves as the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board — filed a “joint petition for consent discipline” in which Thibodeaux admitted he violated two Rules of Professional Conduct.

One of the rules states that “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client” which “requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” The other makes it misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

Thibodeaux is one of four magistrate commissioners, and was appointed by the 12 criminal court judges and the magistrate judge in 2014. 

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Florida long-term care residents can enjoy family visits, complete with hugs

Federal and state restrictions loosened this month to allow more normal visitation after more than a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns  

On July 17, 2020, Margaret Choinacki, 87, who has no other family members left because her husband and daughter have died, blows kisses to her friend Frances Reaves during a drive-by visit at Miami Jewish Health in Miami. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
By Bailey LeFever

The state Agency for Health Care Administration announced on Tuesday that it was removing restrictions on residents of long-term care who want to visit with their loved ones.

The move came more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic forced nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to close their doors to the outside world. The state restrictions were put in place in March 2020, with the goal of keeping the disease out of care centers, and were loosened later in the year to allow socially distant visits from loved ones.

For many residents and their families, this news means everything, said Louise Merrick, administrator of Gulf Shore Care Center, a nursing home in Pinellas Park. Residents had been making the best of the pandemic-induced lockdown with window visits, phone calls and FaceTime.

“None of that is the same as holding the hand of your loved one,” Merrick said.

Limiting visitation has helped keep residents safe, but isolation has left its toll on residents and their families, the state health care agency said in the release. “Moving forward, all long-term care facilities should strive to help alleviate the burden caused by separation of residents from their loved ones.”

Nursing homes must adhere to revised federal visitation guidelines and “core principles of infection prevention,” according to the release. Other long-term care centers must follow state and federal recommendations and “industry best practices for visitation, infection prevention and the screening and triage of everyone entering a facility for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”

This week’s changes follow guidance issued March 10 by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that nursing homes should permit “responsible indoor visitation at all times for all residents,” the Tampa Bay Times previously reported. The move comes after millions of coronavirus vaccines have been administered to residents and staff of these facilities.

The federal guidance still limits visitation for the following nursing home residents: those who are unvaccinated and live in a county with a coronavirus positivity rate greater than 10 percent or in a home where less than 70 percent of residents are fully vaccinated; those who are infected with COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status; and those who are in quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

The guidance also states that “compassionate care” visits for those whose health has declined should always be allowed, regardless of vaccination status.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration cited a 90 percent decline in coronavirus cases among residents and staff in the past 60 days. In addition, “current COVID-19 long-term care cases represent less than 1 percent of residents and staff,” according to the release.

Coronavirus cases have dropped in Florida’s long-term care centers since a peak in January, with 358 resident cases out of 138,806 residents as of March 23, down from 3,651 cases on Jan. 17, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Florida’s long-term care centers have been waiting to welcome residents’ families and friends back into facilities, said Kristen Knapp, spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, an industry group representing nursing homes.

Rolling back visitation restrictions is a large step toward normalcy for facilities, said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, which advocates for long-term care residents.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

'Caleb's Law' hopes to make it easier for parents to obtain guardianship of their child

by SBG San Antonio Staff Reports

Family hopes that Caleb's Law will make it easier for parents to obtain guardianship of their child. (Courtesy: The Thompson Family)


Caleb's Law House bill 1675 passed the House on Wednesday and will now be heading to the Senate.


SAN ANTONIO - When a child turns 18, they are considered an adult in the eyes of the State of Texas and can make their own legal decisions. 

But what's the process like for families when children can't make those life-changing decisions?

We talk to a family that's trying to make it easier for parents to obtain guardianship of their adult children with profound disabilities.

From his birth we knew right away he had issues," said D'Anne Thompson, Caleb's mom. "And it was a journey finding a diagnosis which is Lennox-Gastaut."

David and D'Anne Thompson have been on a long journey with their son Caleb. He was born with a seizure disorder that took doctors five and a half years to definitively diagnose.

Days before Caleb turned 18, he was admitted to the hospital.

"Essentially, they shut him down for almost 96 hours," said David.

Caleb turned 18 when he was intubated and ventilated and that's when David and D'Ann's parental rights expired.

Having to prove my parental fitness in a hospital room, or that I am his parent was a little frustrating to me," said D'Anne.

The Thompson's knew they would need to secure a guardianship for their son. They had been going through the lengthy process of nearly six months when Caleb turned 18.

"So the process is file an application, the court does an investigation, that investigation includes medical and financial records," said David.

Ten months and more than $5,000 later, the state granted the Thompson's guardianship, but the fight isn't over.

Caleb will turn 21 this summer and his parents say he's doing great, but they want to change the system to help make it easier on parents.

The Thompson's say the process needs to be changed, and with the help of State Rep. Steve Allison, they are pushing for House Bill 1675 or Caleb's Law, to pass the state legislature.

Right now, in order for parents to obtain guardianship of their child, they must consent to an investigation, an attorney ad litum is appointed to be the child's advocate and parents must undergo an investigation every year.

Caleb's Law would take away some of those steps, like the attorney ad litum step, something the Thompson's say isn't needed.

It would also change the state intervention time period from once every year to not more than once every five years as long as no allegations of child abuse, neglect or exploitation are made.

"We think this bill makes sense for future generations of parents who want to secure their guardianship of their child , their profoundly disabled child, without the intrusive, extensive and costly process," said David.

The Thompson's hope this bill will make it easier for other parents across the state to be able to continue to care for their children.

"I think most parents are good," said David. "Most parents do the best they can. And I know parents have limited energy, they have limited resources, and they're precious and we need to use them on the children instead of on this process."

Caleb's Law is scheduled to be debated on the house floor today.

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Nine Judges and Lawyers Disciplined on April List

By Mary Flood

Disciplinary Actions — April 2021 State Bar lists (verbatim from the State Bar of Texas) General questions regarding attorney discipline should be directed to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, toll-free (877) 953-5535 or (512) 453-5535. The Board of Disciplinary Appeals may be reached at (512) 475-1578. Information and copies of actual orders are available at The State Commission on Judicial Conduct may be contacted toll-free, (877) 228-5750 or (512) 463-5533. Please note that persons disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Conduct are not necessarily licensed attorneys.

Houston area

On February 10, 2021, Henri M. Cosey [#00783883], 66, of Sugar Land, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective March 1, 2021, with the first six months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 5 Grievance Committee found that in representing the complainant in a business financial transaction, Cosey neglected the legal matter entrusted to him. Cosey failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Upon receiving funds or other property, Cosey failed to promptly notify the client and failed to promptly render a full accounting regarding such property. Cosey violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), and 1.14(b). He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and $1,500 in attorneys’ fees.

On January 29, 2021, Syria Sinoski [#24079344], 43, of Houston, accepted a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that in representing a client, Sinoski neglected a legal matter entrusted to her and frequently failed to carry out completely the obligations that she owed to the client. Sinoski violated Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 1.01(b)(1) and 1.01(b)(2). She was ordered to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Rest of the state

To read the entire public sanctions, go to
On January 21, 2021, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand and order of additional education to Thomas G. Jones, justice of the peace, Precinct 1, Place 1, Dallas, Dallas County. Jones has filed an appeal of his sanction to a special court of review.

On February 23, 2021, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued an order of suspension without pay to Tomas “Tommy” Ramirez III, justice of the peace, Precinct 4, Devine, Medina County.

On January 22, 2021, Sarah Hoffman [#24075146], 37, of Dallas, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first year actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that on November 21, 2017, Hoffman was hired to prepare a will. Hoffman was paid $1,200 for the legal representation. During the representation, Hoffman neglected the legal matter and failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the case. Upon termination of representation, Hoffman failed to refund unearned fees. Hoffman also failed to timely submit a response to the grievance. Hoffman violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). Hoffman was ordered to pay $1,200 in restitution and $1,300 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
On January 22, 2021, Sarah Hoffman [#24075146], 37, of Dallas, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first six months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that on September 6, 2018, Hoffman was hired to represent a client in a probate matter. Hoffman was paid $1,700 for the legal representation. During the representation, Hoffman neglected the legal matter, failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the case, and failed to explain the probate matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation. Upon termination of representation, Hoffman failed to refund unearned fees. Hoffman also failed to timely submit a response to the grievance. Hoffman violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution and $1,500 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
On January 22, 2021, Sarah Hoffman [#24075146], 37, of Dallas, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first 18 months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that in representing two clients in separate probate matters, beginning January 30, 2017, and October 31, 2018, respectively, Hoffman neglected the clients’ legal matters, failed to keep the clients reasonably informed about the status of their cases, and failed to provide a client with a refund of unearned fees. Hoffman also failed to timely submit a response to the grievance. Hoffman violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and $2,100 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

On January 15, 2021, Joe Luis Luna [#12688900], 62, of Crystal City, accepted a six-month fully probated suspension effective January 15, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee found that Luna neglected a client’s matters, failed to keep clients reasonably informed, failed to have a written statement in a contingent fee arrangement, represented clients when the representation reasonably appeared to be or became adversely limited by his duties to third persons or by his own interests, failed to make statements or disclaimers required under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct in the same language as the original solicitation communication, and engaged in conduct involving a serious crime. Luna violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.04(d), 1.06(b)(2), 7.02(d), and 8.04(a)(2). He agreed to pay $1,750 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On January 15, 2021, Joe Luis Luna [#12688900], 62, of Crystal City, accepted a three-month fully probated suspension effective January 15, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee found that Luna represented clients when the representation reasonably appeared to be or became adversely limited by his duties to third persons or by his own interests and engaged in conduct involving a serious crime. Luna violated Rules 1.06(b)(2) and 8.04(a)(2). He agreed to pay $1,250 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On January 29, 2021, David Saenz [#17514700], 70, of McAllen, agreed to a 24-month fully probated suspension effective February 1, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee found that Saenz failed to communicate with a client and permitted the conduct of a non-lawyer to violate disciplinary rules. Saenz violated Rules 1.03(a) and 5.03(b)(1). He was ordered to pay $1,500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On January 28, 2021, Daniel Robert Thering [#24042023], 44, of Austin, agreed to a 40-month partially probated suspension effective January 15, 2023, with the first 20 months actively served and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 9 Grievance Committee found that in March 2018, Thering substituted into a lawsuit involving a real estate dispute as attorney of record for the complainant. On January 14, 2019, the trial court awarded the complainant damages and attorneys’ fees to be paid from the earnest money being held by the title company relative to the underlying real estate transaction. In February 2019, the title company wired the earnest money to Thering’s non-IOLTA account to satisfy the judgment. In April 2019, when the complainant inquired about the funds, Thering indicated that he could not deliver the funds to the complainant. Thering failed to safeguard the funds, failed to promptly notify the complainant upon Thering’s receipt of the funds, and failed to promptly deliver the funds to the complainant. Upon conclusion of the contingent fee matter, Thering failed to provide the complainant a written statement reflecting the remittance of settlement funds to the complainant and the method of the determination. Further, Thering failed to communicate with the complainant and Thering failed to respond to the grievance. Thering violated Rules 1.03(a), 1.04(d), 1.14(a), 1.14(b), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On January 15, 2021, Daniel Robert Thering [#24042023], 44, of Austin, agreed to a 48-month active suspension effective March 15, 2021. The District 9 Grievance Committee found that the complainants hired Thering on March 3, 2016, for representation in a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor for injuries that the complainants sustained during a medical procedure on January 30, 2016. On March 19, 2016, Thering filed a plaintiff’s original petition and on March 20, 2016, Thering requested issuance of citation for service on the doctor. Thereafter, Thering neglected the legal matter and failed to have the doctor served with the lawsuit. Further, Thering accepted employment in a legal matter that he should have known was beyond his competence because Thering failed to obtain the necessary medical records and expert reports to prosecute a medical malpractice claim. The complainants made numerous requests for a status of the case, but Thering failed to communicate with them and failed to keep them reasonably informed as to the status of the matter. Further, even though Thering was provided notice of the complainants’ grievance, Thering failed to respond to the grievance. Thering violated Rules 1.01(a), 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On January 7, 2021, Devin Michelle AuClair [#24069065], 34, of Fort Worth, agreed to a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 7 Grievance Committee found that in 2018, AuClair was representing the complainant in criminal matters. The complainant had a court-ordered bond condition of “Do not possess or consume any alcoholic beverage.” During her representation of the complainant, AuClair and the complainant drank alcoholic beverages together on multiple occasions. The complainant had a court-ordered bond condition of “No contact with [victims] in any manner, including third party contact.” During her representation of the complainant, AuClair socialized with the complainant and the victims together on multiple occasions, during which drinking alcoholic beverages by the adults was involved. AuClair assisted the complainant in engaging in conduct that she knew was fraudulent. AuClair engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. AuClair violated Rules 1.02(c) and 8.04(a)(3). She was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On February 24, 2021, Stephen Dale Howen [#10117800], 60, of Waco, accepted a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 8 Grievance Committee found that on August 15, 2018, the complainant paid Howen a $500 fee to file a long-term care claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of the complainant’s in-laws. During his representation of the complainant’s in-laws, Howen neglected the matter by failing to file a long-term care claim and failing to keep the complainant informed of the matter, despite the complainant’s requests. Howen also failed to file a response to the complainant’s complaint. Howen violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), and 8.04(a)(8) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Article X, Section 9, State Bar Rules. He was ordered to pay $500 in restitution.

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DHEC: All SC nursing homes required to provide visitation with few limitations

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Visitations at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are getting closer to being back to normal for families across South Carolina.

On Friday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced updated visitation guidelines for facilities in order to better align with new federal guidance that was released last week.

Beginning Friday, all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in South Carolina are required to offer outdoor and/or indoor visitation with few exceptions.

“Residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as their families and friends, benefit emotionally, mentally, and physically from being able to see their loved ones,” said Nick Davidson, Senior Deputy for Public Health. “While visitation limitations were necessary for protecting the health of residents during the pandemic, current recommendations are now to allow for visitation with disease prevention protocols in place.”

While facilities are now required to allow visitation at all times and for all residents, there are circumstances involving a high risk of COVID-19 transmission where facilities could limit indoor visitation for specific residents, as outlined below.

  • Unvaccinated residents: if the facility’s COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated
  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue Transmission-Based Precautions
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine
  • A new case of COVID-19 is identified, a facility must suspend indoor visitation pending the results of a round of facility-wide testing

Prior to these updated guidelines, there were 177 facilities in South Carolina reporting they were not allowing visitation based on previous visitation guidelines.

The new guidelines also allow for physical touch. They read:

Facilities shall allow fully vaccinated residents the option to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor if they both wear well-fitting face masks, perform hand hygiene before and after, and the visitor is physically distanced (maintaining at least 6 feet between people) from all other residents and facility staff. Visitors shall physically distance from other residents and staff in the facility. Visitors unable to adhere to the core principles shall not be permitted to visit or shall be asked to leave.

DHEC Senior Deputy for Public Health Nick Davidson said the department will follow up on complaints of facilities not following the new rules.

“We do have inspectors, those inspectors will as necessary, visit to ensure compliance,” he said.

He said the focus will likely be geared toward facilities where residents or families express concern.

Compassionate care visits will continue to be required under the rules.

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