Saturday, March 20, 2021

Bill streamlines guardianship law for disabled kids who turn 18

By Rudy Koski

Caleb Thompson turned 18 while he was in a hospital room. What his birthday picture doesn't show is how becoming an adult also changed things for his parents, D'anne and David Thompson.

"In a 2-day process from a time he leaves the hospital, we are no longer presumed to, we are not legally capable to make his decisions, and we are presumed not to be fit to make his decisions," said David Thompson.

At that moment the Thompsons lost the ability to do what they had been doing for nearly two decades. They could only get it back by going to court. "We were assumed unfit as parents until this court decided all of a sudden we were fit," said D'anne Thompson.

Caleb was born with a neurological condition that causes seizures. It also limited his physical and mental development.

"I had a harder time accepting it than D'anne did, I wanted to think it was he that needed fixing when in fact it was I who needed fixing," said David.

Over the past 20 years, the Thompsons have had setbacks and small victories. One big moment happened when Caleb was able to walk for the first time in 2 years.

"This was 2007, he was the only patient at Texas Children's Hospital, in their memory with that syndrome, that had ever regained the ability to walk under his own power," said David.

Caleb is now about to turn 21 and the Thompsons are able to continue to care for him after obtaining guardianship. But getting that status was a difficult and expensive judicial process.

"So we started this process when he was 17, and it took almost a year, it took $5,300, it took a lot of time I don’t know how many hours me meeting with people, going to court, just so we could keep doing what we were doing, that just seems crazy to me," said D’anne.

The fight has now moved to the state capitol to cut the red tape. "And it was an outrage to me, as a mother. Mad mama, that’s what I told Steve Allison," said D’anne.

Allison is the San Antonio lawmaker who is helping the Thompsons take on the system. "You know what, every once and a while we can find something where we can apply some common sense and really do some good for a family and protect a relationship and this is it," said Rep. Allison (R-San Antonio).

HB 1675 streamlines the process for parents who want to retain guardianship after their children become adults. A key part is an exemption from a full-court hearing. The bypass is only for parents with no complaints of abuse, neglect, or criminal history.

"It requires a letter from a treating physician or a psychologist, certified by HHS so there's plenty of protection built-in," said Allison.

HB 1675 is pending in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.  

"We know how the legislative process works, people may have suggestions to make it better, but we think for a bill that is introduced we think it makes a lot of sense, and I think hopefully we can convince people that it makes sense," said David Thompson.

HB 1675 is slated for a committee vote next week that will determine if it will move on to the House floor for debate.

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The 89-year-old dancing in the streets of New York City after vaccination

Robert Holzman is an 89-year-old New Yorker who loves dancing. He received his Covid vaccine as soon as he was able, so he could get back out and dancing.


Former caretaker convicted of abuse arrested following deadly stabbing in Scranton

by: Cody Butler

SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A woman on house arrest for her role in an abuse scandal at a local care home has been arrested in what appears to be a domestic incident that left one man dead.

Police were called to Delaware Street Wednesday night for a reported stabbing. The victim, 31-year-old George Shencavitz, was admitted to the hospital for multiple stab wounds. He later died from the wounds at GCMC.

Lackawanna County Coroner Timothy Rowland says an autopsy confirmed the cause of death was multiple penetrating wounds and the manner of death is homicide.

Eileen Dougherty was named as the suspect and taken into custody on charges of aggravated assault. Those charges will be upgraded to first degree murder.

According to court paperwork, Shencavitz threatened to call house arrest on Dougherty to report violations which would land her back in prison.

Police say during questioning, Dougherty told them she went downstairs and grabbed a butcher’s knife and stabbed Shencavitz twice in the abdomen. Shencavitz reportedly ran to the bathroom to call 911 and while on the phone, Dougherty stabbed him again.

“I was upstairs, my daughter was downstairs, so was my wife,” Robert Shaffern, who lives next to the home where the incident occurred said. “We heard a man screaming. I could not make out what he was saying but my daughter downstairs said that he was talking about being stabbed.”

Shaffern’s wife is a nurse and ran two doors down in an attempt to help.

“By the time she was out of the house the screaming had stopped,” Shaffern said. “The guy had disappeared.”

Police found Shencavitz a block and a half away on Penn Avenue. Police remained on the scene through Thursday to gather evidence.

“I saw tons of cops which is unusual, I’ve never seen that before. So, I was looking out my window, thought nothing of it, heard nothing, so just minded my business,” Matthew Leathers said.

Dougherty was found guilty of abusing care-dependent residents of The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania in early 2020. She was sentenced to between eight to 23 months behind bars, with eight years probation after time served back in November. However, she was recently resentenced to 8 to 23 months on restricted probation with the first 6 months on house arrest.

“They’re quiet, never seen anything happening over there. So yeah, it is surprising,” Leathers said.

Dougherty was arraigned on her aggravated assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapons charges Thursday morning. First degree murder will be added when she is arraigned on that charge Friday morning.

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Friday, March 19, 2021

Britney Spears’ attorney plans to file petition requesting to make singer’s temporary conservator permanent

Jodi Montgomery took over after singer's father Jamie stepped down from his role in 2019

By Julius Young

Britney Spears' father, right, has been her legal conservator for years. (Getty Images)

Britney Spears
' lawyer plans to file a petition to make the singer's current "care manager" and temporary conservator, Jodi Montgomery, a permanent one, the singer's court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, said during a brief court hearing Wednesday. 

Spears' father Jamie stepped down from his role as the star's personal conservator in 2019 due to health issues and a professional conservator ‒ Montgomery ‒ temporarily replaced him.

The petition, which will be addressed during an April 27 hearing, will request to have Montgomery appointed to the permanent conservator of Spears' person.

It remained unclear if the role would also fulfill the needs of her estate. Currently, both Jamie and Bessemer Trust oversee Spears' estate while Montgomery currently acts as Spears' "care manager."

Meanwhile, Wednesday's accounting hearing was set to see the pop superstar’s co-conservators of her estate ‒ Jamie and new party Bessemer Trust ‒ detail Spears’ finances to the court. 

However, the hearing was postponed to an April date as the parties work to determine an accurate list of assets and holdings, and where finances were spent. 

David Glass, a certified family law attorney and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology ‒ who is not involved in the matter ‒ told Fox News that "continuances are pretty standard in accounting hearings" as "both sides are still trying to get the assets and counts worked out." 

Glass also weighed in on Wednesday’s developments surrounding the petition, which he said, could be the first real step to dissolving the collective conservatorship altogether.

"One thing interesting was that Samuel Ingham, the court-appointed counsel for Britney, announced he will be filing a petition to have Jodi Montgomery appointed as the conservator of the person," Glass told Fox News minutes after the hearing concluded. "Right now, the conservators of the estate and the financial matters are Jamie and this Bessemer Trust. And so now he's asking for this Jodi Montgomery to become the permanent conservator of the person."

Glass called the potential move a "big step up" for Montgomery, who had stepped into the primary role of conservator in 2019 on a temporary basis.

"That's the person who is just making personal decisions for medical treatment and whether she needs bodyguards. Does she need to see a therapist? All sorts of everything except money issues for a concerned person," Glass explained. 

A lot of the hubbub around this has been, 'How come [Britney] hasn't asked to have the conservator removed?' This might be the first step towards that, at least moving to a personal conservator who she thinks will be more friendly to her, more favorable to her."

Furthermore, according to Glass, the move to essentially promote Montgomery appears to be the most sensible action considering the fact she's currently Spears’ care manager, a position that is one step below the conservator.

"The care person collects information on the conservative’s health and their medical records and what their doctors say and then summarizes that information and gives it to the conservatory. So in that sense, it's a step up for Ms. Montgomery."

Jamie will have an opportunity to object to the petition to appoint Montgomery as the primary conservator as well, Glass maintained.

"Jamie will be required to file any opposition he might have as to why he thinks he should not be removed as the conservator of the person [Britney] and then the court can decide what it needs to do if it needs more information," Glass said.

"At that point, the court can set an evidentiary trial where people testify or if the court feels it has enough information, it can actually rule at that point," he continued. "It's rare that a probate court will rule just based on the papers. They almost always go to some sort of evidentiary objection, evidentiary hearing."

The continuance of the case Wednesday was requested by Vivian Thoreen, the acting attorney for Jamie. Although she did not provide a reason for the request, both parties agreed to recess until April 27.

Jamie has been the target of the #FreeBritney movement since renewed attention was placed on the singer following the release of the documentary "Framing Britney Spears." Currently, the conservatorship gives Jamie control of the star’s estate. However, Spears recently began taking legal steps to reclaim agency over her life.

Reps and attorneys for Spears did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.

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Britney Spears’ Attorney To Nominate Permanent Conservator Of Person

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The court-appointed attorney for Britney Spears said Wednesday he will bring a petition to have his client’s care manager named the permanent conservator of the singer’s person next month.

Samuel Ingham III told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny during a brief hearing that he will nominate Jodi Montgomery to serve in the new role. She has been the temporary conservator of Spears’ person since 2019.

Spears has been under conservatorship since 2008, when she began exhibiting bizarre behavior, including shaving her head.

The 39-year-old entertainer’s father, Jamie Spears, and the Bessemer Trust Co. are the co-conservators of the Spears estate and share management of her business affairs. Ingham has said his client would be happier without her father involved.

“It’s no small secret my client doesn’t want her father as the co-conservator,” Ingham said previously.

An attorney for Lynne Spears, the entertainer’s mother, told the court that his client does not object to Bessemer Trust Co. serving as co-conservator of her daughter’s estate. Ingham raised the issue after saying he was uncertain whether Lynne Spears had any problems with Bessemer’s participation.

The parties will return to court on April 27 for a hearing on accounting issues.

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Hugging, longer visits allowed at Indiana long-term care facilities

by: Corinne Moore

INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) — Indiana long-term care facilities will now be required to allow up to two-hour visits for all residents, at all times with a few exceptions, Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box announced on Wednesday. This announcement comes after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced new guidelines.

Indoor visits should be allowed at all time for all residents, except for circumstances that would be considered a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, the CSM said. These high risk scenarios include:

  • A resident is unvaccinated if the nursing home’s COVID-19 county positivity rate is >10% and <70% of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated.
  • A resident has a 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.

“These visits can occur in single occupancy rooms but are still discouraged in double occupancy rooms,” Dr. Box said. “Physical touch such as hugging is permitted for residents who are fully vaccinated, provided that the residents wear a well-fitted mask and preform hand hygiene before and after physical contact.”

Dr. Box added that facilities must allow up to two hours for visits unless unique circumstances make that impossible. These circumstances need to be discussed with the state’s regulatory division in advance.

Outdoor visits should be held whenever possible, the CMS website said. Facilities are encouraged to create accessible and safe outdoor spaces for visitation. However, Dr. Box said that “outdoor visitation will no longer be automatically suspended in the event of an outbreak.”

The CMS recently announced new guidelines for visitations in long-term care facilities. The guidelines that should be adhered to at all times include:

  • Face covering or masks (covering mouth and nose)
  • Hand hygiene (use of alcohol-based hand rub is preferred
  • Social distancing at least six feet between persons
  • Cleaning and disinfecting high-frequency touched surfaces in the facility often, and designated visitation areas after each visit

“These changes represent a vast improvement to the quality of life for our most vulnerable Hoosiers,” Dr. Box said. “And we know that many families will be extremely happy to reconnect with their loved ones.”

More recommendations and directions for facilities will be released in the near future.

To read the full guidelines recommended by CMS, click here.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Bill giving guardians authority over final dispositions gets House support after Senate debate


A bill to extend the duties of guardians when an incapacitated adult dies was much better received in an Indiana House committee Tuesday than when the bill was introduced in the Senate.

Senate Bill 276 received unanimous support from the House Judiciary Committee during a Tuesday hearing, passing with a 9-0 vote. In contrast, the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly advanced the bill on a 6-5 vote.

The difference likely comes from the substantial amendments to the bill, authored by Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

Indiana law currently provides that most of an adult guardian’s duties terminate at the time a ward dies. The version of the bill introduced in the House on Tuesday would extend guardians’ duties to allow them to make decisions about a ward’s final disposition if no family members or powers of attorney are available to make those decisions.

However, the bill as introduced in the Senate would have given guardians decision-making priority over powers of attorney and family members of an incapacitated adult, including surviving spouses. That priority arrangement caused consternation on both sides of the aisle, with Senate lawmakers saying it was inappropriate for a non-family guardian to take precedent over a ward’s relatives.

What’s more, Sen Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said the bill constituted a “fundamental” change to guardianship law in that guardianships are generally presumed to terminate at the time of a ward’s death.

Practicing guardians, however, said those concerns were misplaced.

In most situations where a court determines a guardian is needed, there are no family members or others who could care for the incapacitated adult or serve as power of attorney, supporters of the bill argued. And usually, guardians will have worked with their wards before death to make decisions about the dispositions of their bodies, anatomical gifts and other such considerations.

Lanane ultimately agreed to amend his bill to move guardians lower on the statutory priority list, found in Chapters 23 and 29 of the Indiana Code.

Taking the amended bill – which passed the full Senate 46-3 – to the House Judiciary Committee, Lanane had the support of the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the WINGS Adult Guardianship State Task Force and the AARP. Also, Anne Poindexter, a practicing guardian and lawyer with Altman, Poindexter and Wyatt LLC in Carmel, testified in favor of the bill during Tuesday’s House committee hearing.

“In my mind, it is nonsensical for the guardians who have been intimately involved in day-to-day matters, legal matters, daily decision-making, financial matters, health care matters, tending to clients that they have been dealing with based on a court appointment, for their powers to suddenly end” when a ward dies, Poindexter said.

“It also does not make practical sense,” Poindexter continued. “If you think about it, they (guardians) have been appointed either because no one else was available, or … because maybe they have family members but there has been a judicial determination that it is not appropriate for the family members to serve in that role because they cannot cooperate or for other reasons.”

SB 276 will now advance to the full House, where it could face additional amendments and a final vote.

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Know the Law: Mentally Declining Father Refuses Assistance

Written by: Lexi S. Cote

Published in the Union Leader (3/14/2021)

Q:  My father’s mental faculties are declining, and he is making bad decisions and having difficulty caring for himself.  What are my options if he is refuses help?

A:  If your father can’t manage his affairs and has not signed or refuses to sign a power of attorney, guardianship may be the only option.  An appointed guardian would have the duty and legal authority to take care of your father and/or his property.  Conversely, your father would lose certain important rights, such as making healthcare or financial decisions.

Guardianship is appropriate only where the party over whom guardianship is sought (referred to as the proposed ward) is incapacitated.  “Incapacity” is determined based on whether the proposed ward can sufficiently manage his or her affairs — not on a medical diagnosis, though this may be important evidence.  The Court will presume that the proposed ward has capacity, and the petitioning party will need to prove otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt (the same heavy burden the State must meet in criminal cases).  Specifically, the petitioner must prove that the proposed ward has suffered (or is likely to suffer) substantial harm due to an inability to provide for his or her personal needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, or safety.  For example, a person may be incapacitated where he or she is easily confused or disoriented, and has been financially exploited. 

There are three types of guardianships.  The first, guardianship “of the person,” tasks the guardian with managing the ward’s personal affairs.  The second, guardianship “of the estate,” requires that the guardian manages the ward’s finances and property.  The third, “plenary” or “total” guardianship, requires management of the ward’s personal affairs, finances, and property.  The most appropriate form of guardianship will vary, depending upon the facts of a given case.  For example, a person may be able to care for his or her personal needs, but not manage his or her finances.  In that circumstance, a guardianship of the estate may be most appropriate.

Guardianship proceedings should not be initiated lightly.  Often, the proposed ward finds the action threatening and reacts badly, or there is damage to the ward’s relationship with the petitioner.  The ward may make reactive decisions, such as disinheriting the petitioner.  Taking action could also push the proposed ward towards an exploiter, resulting in further harm.  Ultimately, each case is different and careful thought should be given to whether guardianship is in the proposed ward’s best interest.  Before seeking guardianship, you should carefully review relevant statutes.  It may also be prudent to consult an attorney for further guidance.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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Son charged in death of elderly Chester SC man whose body was found in closet

By Andrew Dys

The son of a 75-year-old Chester County man stole money to buy drugs while failing to care for his father, then hid his father’s dead body in a closet for weeks, officials said.

William Russell Shirley, 34, was arrested late Tuesday night by Chester County Sheriff’s Office deputies, records show. He is charged with willful and knowing neglect of a vulnerable adult resulting in death, and exploitation of a vulnerable adult, said Chester County Sheriff Max Dorsey.

Clyde Harris Shirley, the father of William, was found dead Sunday in his rural home on Boyd Road in Blackstock, south of Chester, Dorsey said. Chester County deputies, state police agents from the State Law Enforcement Division, and the Chester County Coroner’s Office investigated.

Clyde Shirley had been in poor health, said Chester County Coroner Terry Tinker and Chester County deputies.

Body hidden in a closet

The police investigation showed Clyde Shirley had been dead since Feb. 25 but the body was hidden in the closet by his son, Dorsey said. William Shirley was his father’s caregiver, but stole money from his father to support drug use, Dorsey said.

William Dorsey failed to seek medical care or provide other needs for his father, which led to the father’s debilitation and death, according to arrest warrants obtained by The Herald. William Shirley gave others misinformation about his father’s whereabouts since late February, warrants state.

“This case is an example of what drugs can do to people and families,” Dorsey said. “The victim in this case depended on someone else for his care and well-being, and that care was not given to him.”

William Shirley remains in the Chester County jail, records show.

The abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult charge leading to death carries a potential penalty of 30 years in prison, South Carolina law states. The exploitation of a vulnerable adult charge also is a felony that carries up to five years in prison for a conviction under South Carolina law.

Elder abuse and neglect a national and local problem

As many as one in 10 vulnerable adults are targets of abuse or neglect, according to statistics from the FBI and National Institute of Justice.

In the Chester case, William Shirley refused to allow another caregiver to see his father and assess his father’s condition, according to the arrest warrants.

In York County in 2020, sheriff’s deputies found the bodies of two elderly women in a home near Clover who had been wrapped in plastic for years after their deaths. The family member alleged to have stolen money from the victims in that case later committed suicide as police were investigating, officials said.

In December in Fort Mill, officials found the body of a 96-year-old man who had been dead for months.

Officials with law enforcement advise anyone who has an elderly neighbor or relative who has not been seen or heard from to seek out that person or call police to have a welfare check done.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Guardianship experts say put wishes in writing

Scott Cohn joins ‘The News with Shepard Smith’ to report how one man’s guardianship went wrong.

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NASGA profile: Lupe Olvera

Oversight board disbars former Livingston County Judge Theresa Brennan

by Ken Palmer

Former Livingston County District Judge Theresa Brennan was disbarred this week, more than a year after pleading guilty to a perjury charge stemming from a lengthy ethics investigation.

Brennan consented to the disciplinary action by the state Attorney Discipline Board, acknowledging the felony conviction.

Former Livingston County
Judge Theresa Brennan
Brennan was removed from the bench in June 2019 after the state Supreme Court found she committed eight instances of misconduct.

The state Attorney Grievance Commission said she failed to disclose her close personal relationships with a former Michigan State Police detective and a local attorney who were involved in cases in her court.

Investigators also said Brennan tampered with evidence in her own divorce case by trying to remove data from a cell phone and then lied about it. They also said she delayed recusing herself from the case so she could dispose of evidence.

Brennan was charged with perjury, misconduct in office and tampering with evidence after a separate, criminal investigation

Her law license was automatically suspended when she pleaded guilty to perjury on Dec. 3, 2019. The other two charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal.

The former judge was sentenced to 18 months' probation, including six months in jail, and 200 hours of community service. She served almost all of her jail sentence before being released in June 2020.

A focus of the ethics investigation was Brennan's close relationship with a state police detective who led the investigation into the murders of Richard and Brenda Kowalski.

Brennan presided over a jury trial for Richard's brother, Jerome Kowalski, who was convicted in connection with the murders in 2013. 

Those convictions were overturned in light of the ethics allegations and criminal charges against Brennan. Jerome Kowalski is awaiting a new trial.

The order of disbarment is effective March 18. 

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Cantonment Woman Charged With Exploitation Of Elderly Man

A Cantonment woman is charged with taking half ownership of a piece of property belonging to a vulnerable elderly man and spending $9,000 of his money.
Sharon Marie Hazzard, 52, was charged with felony exploitation of the elderly.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, the victim was at a high risk of exploitation due to a sixth grade education and a diminished understanding of finances.

“He has no understanding of his income or how his funds were being managed. He is observed to be easily manipulated and agreeable to persons of trust,” the DCF report states.

In April 2016, Hazard convinced the victim to “sign some papers,” according to an Escambia County Sheriff’s Office report, that was actually a quitclaim deed giving her half ownership of the property with rights of survivorship. It was discovered when a property tax late notice was received.

The property is described as an “old, poorly maintained single wide trailer” in Cantonment. The trailer was damaged by Hurricane Sally and until August 2020 did not have a functioning air conditioner. the report notes.

In addition, Hazard had herself added to a Regions Bank account owned by the victim, according to ECSO. Over the course of about nine months, she used about $9,000 from the account to make multiple purchases and ATM withdrawals that did not benefit the elderly victim, the report continues.

When DCF first interviewed the victim, they found that there was very little food in the trailer and that family members stated the man had not received medical care in several years.

Hazard was “unresponsive and did not cooperate’ with the ECSO or DCF’s investigation, the arrest report states. She was released from the Escambia County Jail on a $2,500 bond.

The relationship between Hazzard and the victim is not contained in a redacted arrest report.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Conservatorships should be a last resort

By Zoe Brennan-Krohn

Imagine that someone else could make every single decision about your life for you. Maybe that person is a parent, maybe they’re a stranger, maybe they’re someone you don’t like very much, and they can decide what you eat, who you see and spend time with, where you live, what medications you take, what job you do, and how you spend your money. This is the reality of being in a conservatorship or guardianship for untold thousands of people in the United States.

Sometimes people seek conservatorships in an effort to protect a loved one with a disability. However, conservatorships carry real risks and can cause real harm. Because of this, conservatorships should be as a last resort, imposed sparingly, lifted promptly, and overseen diligently.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality in the United States today. Too often, conservatorships are granted as a “first resort” when a person with disabilities reaches adulthood or encounters difficulties, or experiences age-related disabilities. Instead of so many conservatorships, we should have systems in place for people with disabilities — like people without disabilities — to live their lives with support and without losing their rights.

Conservatorships are a systemic disability rights issue because of the ease with which disabled people can be stripped of their rights under conservatorships, and the extraordinary difficulties they face getting those rights back.

In a conservatorship or guardianship, a judge takes away the civil liberties from one person and gives someone else the power to make these choices instead. It is the court weighing into the person’s life and saying you, as a person with a disability, are no longer free to make decisions about yourself and livelihood — such as where you live and how you support yourself — and we are putting someone else in charge of making those decisions.

There are many less intrusive, less dangerous ways for people to access the support they need without being placed under a conservatorship. Conservatorships should be the last resort, when all other support options have been tried. Sadly, this is too rarely the case.

Recently, there has been increased public attention around conservatorships because of Britney Spears’ case. We don’t know the details of Britney Spears’ conservatorship, which has been in place since 2008, but while Spears’ conservatorship has gotten attention because of her fame, her conservatorship appears, in many ways, very typical of the experiences of untold people across the country.

We see people nationwide who get into conservatorships and cannot get out of them. Spears is just one of the estimated 1.5 million people with disabilities nationwide who have lost their rights to make choices about their money, their medical choices, whether they can access the internet, among other day-to-day life choices, and who have almost no chance of getting those rights back.

People end up under conservatorships or guardianships based on a wide range of disabilities, including psychiatric disabilities, developmental or intellectual disabilities, age-related disabilities like dementia, and other types of disabilities. But there are many less invasive, more protective systems for people with disabilities to get support in their lives without giving up their rights or putting their fate in the hands of strangers. These alternatives to conservatorship include powers of attorney, advanced medical directives, releases to share medical and educational information, and supported decision-making.

All of these alternatives allow people with disabilities to get support in directing their own lives, just like people without disabilities do. We all ask friends for advice, we research issues, we talk through pros and cons. People with disabilities should have the same opportunity to use these systems, with assistance and support, and without a sacrifice of their civil rights and liberties.

The ease with which people get trapped in conservatorships is particularly troubling because of the risks and harms of conservatorships. People under conservatorships are at risk of financial, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and exploitation. And even when there isn’t abuse, conservatorships limit a person’s ability to advocate for themselves, to learn from their decisions and mistakes, and to grow and develop. There is a harm in being told that your opinions, your likes and dislikes, don’t matter. It actually makes it harder to protect yourself from abuse or neglect. So in any conservatorship, we would want to know that the real risks (and benefits) of both conservatorship and its alternatives have been seriously weighed.

All people with disabilities have a right to lead self-directed lives and retain their civil rights, and to access support, education and guidance in doing so. We must fight against the unnecessary and dangerous removal of disabled people’s civil rights, and ensure conservatorships are imposed only as a last resort.

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Britney Spears' Dad 'Would Love Nothing More' Than for Conservatorship to End, Lawyer Says

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for iHeartMedia
Britney Spears performs at the 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2016 on Dec. 2, 2016 in Los Angeles.
By Heran Mamo

Britney Spears' father Jamie Spears has publicly declared his wish to see his daughter's court-ordered conservatorship over the last 12 years come to an end.

His attorney Vivian Lee Thoreen, who recently appeared in the Framing Britney Spears documentary, shared Jamie's statement with CNN on Friday. The New York Times documentary has caused renewed interest in the ongoing conservatorship that has controlled the pop superstar's life and career for more than a decade and subsequently sparked the #FreeBritney movement.

"[Jamie] would love nothing more than to see Britney not need a conservatorship," Thoreen told CNN. "Whether or not there is an end to the conservatorship really depends on Britney. If she wants to end her conservatorship, she can file a petition to end it."

She continued: "Jamie is not suggesting that he is the perfect dad or that he would receive any 'Father of the Year' award. Like any parent, he doesn't always see eye-to-eye on what Britney may want. But Jamie believes every single decision he has made has been in her best interest."

Britney's court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham III reminded Judge Brenda Perry during a Feb. 11 hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court that his client didn't want her father as her conservator. Jamie serves as the co-conservator of Britney's $60 million estate with Bessemer Trust Company, the bank the 39-year-old singer originally requested to oversee her finances instead of her father. Ingham also told the judge that he wanted to make sure Bessemer had equal decision-making powers to Jamie or else "the appointment of Bessemer Trust would be rendered meaningless," according to court papers he filed.

"Jamie never contested or objected to Bessemer being appointed as his co-conservator. And at the last hearing, it was reported that Jamie was trying to get more power than his co-conservator, and that is completely inaccurate," Thoreen added. "What we were arguing is that Jamie and his co-conservator should have equal power; that was always consistent."

Penny declined to suspend Jamie from his central role in the conservatorship in a Nov. 10-dated hearing, after Ingham said Britney fears her father and will pause her musical career as long as he remains in charge of it.

Even though Jamie told CNN in December that he hadn't spoken to his daughter in months, Thoreen told the publication last week that the entire Spears family quarantined together in their Louisiana home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. CNN obtained videos of the family from the two weeks they spent together, which revealed the pop superstar riding bikes and playing in the yard alongside her father, mother Lynne Spears, younger sister Jamie Lynn Spears, and her nieces.

Jamie was first appointed by the court to oversee Britney's estate and person in 2008 after she suffered serious mental health issues that were publicly exacerbated by media and the paparazzi, as seen in Framing Britney Spears.

Samantha Stark, the documentary's director and producer, told Billboard that she originally requested Thoreen to appear in the documentary for her expertise in conservatorships before she began working with Jamie. "We wanted somebody who believed in the system to tell us why. And we knew she had worked on the case for three months in 2008, when Britney was getting her temporary conservatorship," Stark said. "We were surprised that soon after that interview, she rejoined Jamie’s legal team. And we asked her several times if she'd wanted to update us because now she knows different information, but she declined."

Billboard has reached out to Britney's reps for comment.

The next court hearing in Spears' conservatorship case is set for March 17.

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WV caretaker charged with credit card fraud

Courtesy: Boone County Sheriff’s Facebook

by: Bailey Brautigan 

BOONE COUNTY, WV (WOWK)—On Saturday, Boon County Deputies arrested 41-year-old Carrie Graley Dolin of Madison on charges of illegally using credit cards which belonged to a family she was helping to care for.

According to police, the victim was physically incapacitated because of advanced cancer, and the defendant allegedly charged around $7,000 worth of personal items in less than a month.

She was charged with eight counts of Fraudulent Use of an Access Device (also known as credit card fraud) and one count of Financial Exploitation of an Incapacitated Adult. More charges are thought to be forthcoming as this is still an ongoing case.

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Monday, March 15, 2021

Maggots, Rape and Yet Five Stars: How U.S. Ratings of Nursing Homes Mislead the Public

Nursing homes have manipulated the influential star system in ways that have masked deep problems — and left them unprepared for Covid-19.

Credit...Jessica Ebelhar for The New York Times

By Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff
Twelve years ago, the U.S. government introduced a powerful new tool to help people make a wrenching decision: which nursing home to choose for loved ones at their most vulnerable. Using a simple star rating — one being the worst, five the best — the system promised to distill reams of information and transform an emotional process into one based on objective, government-blessed metrics.

The star system quickly became ubiquitous, a popular way for consumers to educate themselves and for nursing homes to attract new customers. During the coronavirus pandemic, with many locked-down homes unavailable for prospective residents or their families to see firsthand, the ratings seemed indispensable.

But a New York Times investigation, based on the most comprehensive analysis of the data that powers the ratings program, found that it is broken.

Despite years of warnings, the system provided a badly distorted picture of the quality of care at the nation’s nursing homes. Many relied on sleight-of-hand maneuvers to improve their ratings and hide shortcomings that contributed to the damage when the pandemic struck.

More than 130,000 nursing-home residents have died of Covid-19, and The Times’s analysis found that people at five-star facilities were roughly as likely to die of the disease as those at one-star homes.

The ratings program, run by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, relies on a mix of self-reported data from more than 15,000 nursing homes and on-site examinations by state health inspectors. Nursing homes receive scores based on how they fare in those inspections; how much time nurses spend with residents; and the quality of care that residents receive. Those three grades are then combined into an overarching star rating for each nursing home.

To evaluate the ratings’ reliability, The Times built a database to analyze millions of payroll records to determine how much hands-on care nursing homes provide residents, combed through 373,000 reports by state inspectors and examined financial statements submitted to the government by more than 10,000 nursing homes.

The Times obtained access to portions of the ratings data that aren’t publicly available from academics who had research agreements with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or C.M.S.  (Click to Continue Reading)

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Girl With Down Syndrome Asked Him to the School Dance; Now They’re Planning the Wedding

(Courtesy of Jake Pratt)

By Jenni Julander

Last year, a 21-year-old man with Down syndrome attracted media attention for “defying the odds,” graduating from college and landing a job at UPS. Now, he and his girlfriend, who also has Down syndrome, are serving as a source of inspiration for special needs communities.

Jake Pratt, now 22, and Grace Davies, 19, met at their Alabama high school. Their first date was a Sadie Hawkins dance in January 2017, after Grace asked Jake out.

“Our first date was a group date with some other friends,” Jake told The Epoch Times. “We went to dinner and to the school dance. Grace made a poster and brought me donuts to ask me to the dance.”

They had a good time. “I asked her to be my girlfriend not long after that,” he adds.

The Facebook group Positive About Down Syndrome shared a photo of Grace’s poster, which reads, “Roses are red, donuts are tasty. Do me a favor and go with me to Sadie!”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jake Pratt)

The organization, which aims to support parents of children with Down syndrome, also shared the couple’s inspirational story.

“[Four] years later, their love is still going strong,” they wrote on Jan. 15. “Jake graduated from the Clemson Life program last spring and is now working and saving for their future. … Grace is still currently attending her college life skills program.”

They added that the young couple are busy dreaming and planning for their next steps. Jake is saving for an engagement ring. Grace is happily planning their eventual wedding.

“Jake and Grace have the same dreams as any young couple: to eventually get married and live independently,” the organization shared. “For now, they are making the most of their time together during Grace’s breaks from college and talking on FaceTime daily when she’s away.”

The group’s post went viral with over 14,000 likes and 3,200 shares.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jake Pratt)

Social media users had glowing words for the young couple, and many found their story inspirational.

“Oh [how] sweet is this,” wrote one mother of a young girl with Down syndrome. “I am excited to see how our Cora will grow. These two are great role models!”

“So this is where my child will be in the future,” said another parent. “Would love to hear what all the parents did for them to have such a successful life.”

In fact, when Jake was born, his parents decided to treat him just like any other child. According to a viral tweet posted by Jake’s sister, Amy, it’s a mentality that gave Jake the confidence to pursue his dreams.

Nor do their dreams stop with graduating college, building careers, and getting married.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jake Pratt)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jake Pratt)

Jake told The Epoch Times that he hopes to teach Grace to drive one day so she can pursue her dream job of working in a fashion-related industry. The couple want to get an apartment together after Grace graduates, and they hope to buy a home together one day, too.

For now, Jake’s job at the local golf course is fairing well. While his other position at UPS, which made headlines earlier, is over for the season, Jake has applied for a permanent post and is hoping to hear back soon.

The couple hope their story will strengthen the idea that anyone can achieve the life they want if they believe in themselves and are willing to work hard.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jake Pratt)

“If you love each other, you can overcome anything,” Jake said.

For any young couples working to build a future together, he added, “Make sure you are making time for each other and always make each other feel important.”

Meanwhile, the world is cheering them on.

“They are a shining example of the fact that individuals with Down syndrome are just like anyone else and can live full and productive lives,” Positive About Down Syndrome wrote on social media.

Followers of the group concurred. “I hope we get more updates on their future,” one commenter said.

“This brought a huge smile to my face in a much gloomier time,” said another. “Congrats and may your future be as bright as both your beautiful faces!”

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Suspect accused of stealing $63,000 from 88-year-old Sarasota man with Publisher’s Clearing House scam

Courtesy: Sarasota County Sheriff's Office

- Deputies arrested Donte Johnson, 25, of Plantation, after they say he scammed an 88-year-old Sarasota man out of $63,000.

According to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the victim believed he was paying taxes for Publisher’s Clearing House winnings in advance and deposited $63,000 into two separate bank accounts. His family contacted law enforcement in October 2020.

With the help of surveillance video, detectives investigating the case identified Johnson as the suspect using the victim’s identity to withdraw money. 

While executing a search warrant on Johnson’s home with help from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Plantation Police Department, detectives discovered more than $17,000 in cash, a stolen firearm and several electronic devices. 

Johnson was arrested and faces charges of criminal use of personal identification and bank fraud. The Broward County Sheriff's Office also charged him with grand theft of a firearm. 

Detectives believe Johnson stole more than $300,000 from 17 victims across the country. Additional charges are pending.

"It is with credit to our Special Victim’s Unit that this criminal is behind bars," said Sarasota Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman. "These detectives work hard to protect our most vulnerable populations, but it is on all of us to look out for our elderly and one another. The message here is to take caution for both yourself and the ones you love. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

According to the Publishers Clearing House website, no payment, fee, tax, or any amount is ever required to claim or receive a prize in a PCH giveaway.

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Federal judge to rule on daughter's racketeering, trafficking suit against Houston judge

By David Yates

HOUSTON - A federal judge is set to rule on whether to dismiss a physician’s lawsuit against a Harris County probate judge who allegedly turned a blind eye to the estate trafficking and elder abuse of her 91-year-old mother who was under a court-appointed guardianship when she died, a press release states.

Owens-Collins v. The Honorable Judge Michael Newman is currently pending before U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes and Magistrate Peter Bray in the Southern District of Texas in Houston.

Dr. Sheila Owens Collins, a pediatrician, sued Harris County Probate Judge Michael Newman last year alleging he violated her mother Mrs. Hattie Owens’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Although Judge Newman employs the defense of judicial immunity in an attempt to absolve himself of the estate trafficking and racketeering that occurred under his purview, gross negligence is at play," Owens Collins wrote in her March 11 response in opposition to Judge Newman’s Motion to Dismiss. "Section 1201.003 of the Texas Estates Code specifically states that a judge is liable on a Judge's bond to those damaged if damage or loss results to a guardianship or ward because of the gross neglect of the judge.” 

As previously reported in the Southeast Texas Record, Judge Newman disputed the allegations of estate trafficking and racketeering while invoking the doctrine of judicial immunity. But Owens Collins alleges in her reply opposing dismissal that when the defendant judge repeatedly funneled money out of Mrs. Hattie Owens’ estate and into the pockets of probate court insiders and the coffers of the Court, he committed gross negligence in handling the guardianship and assets of Mrs. Hattie Owens.

“Judge Newman’s gross neglect and breach of duty of care resulted in the unnecessary depletion of the estate of Hattie Owens by $93,000.00,” Owens Collins stated.

After graduating from Prairieview A&M University, Mrs. Hattie Owens and her husband Emiel Owens amassed a modest fortune that included two student housing properties in Prairie View, Texas, a 5,000 square foot home in Houston's medical center worth half a million dollars, two Mercedes Benz vehicles, and a Porsche, according to a press release.

“The temporary guardian, Dana Drexler, requested fees of $53,468.00,” said Owens-Collins in her pleading. “An expert witness noted that Drexler billed either $350 or $100 per hour for a minimum of 15 minutes regardless of the actual time required for a task. The expert witness testified to each and every page of the 36 pages of records and identified charges that were not reasonable or necessary.”

Mrs. Hattie Owens became a ward of the state under guardianship after her granddaughter, Aisha Ross, allegedly made a false report with Adult Protective Services against Owens Collins who was her mother's power of attorney at the time.

“The volume of guardianship proceedings in Harris County not only supports specialized probate courts, but it also supports counsel with practices that derive significant funds from court appointments in various roles in guardianship proceedings,” Owens Collins stated. “This case illustrates the failure of judicial supervision to ensure that counsel fulfill their statutory duties, including diligently investigating and seeking to carry out a client’s desire to avoid guardianship.”

The physician plaintiff isn’t the only American disputing a high-profile court-appointed guardianship. Popstar Britney Spears’ conservatorship was the subject of a New York Times documentary expose, which lead GOP Congressmen Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida to request a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee to review and examine the plight of those trapped unjustly in conservatorships, which are also known as guardianships.

“If the conservatorship process can rip the agency from a woman who was in the prime of her life and one of the most powerful pop stars in the world, imagine what it can do to people who are less powerful and have less of a voice,” Congressman Gaetz said in a statement online.

Once appointed by a Judge, a guardian of an adult or senior citizen, such as Britney Spears or Mrs. Hattie Owens, is empowered to liquidate their assets, sedate the individual with physician-prescribed psychotropic medication, to deny choice of food, marital status, health insurance, medical care and even ban visits with friends and family members.

“Mrs. Hattie Owens was forced into hospice,” Owens Collins states. “Her early death was preventable. Dr. Owens Collins blames the court, the judge, the guardian, and the guardian's attorney who conspired and colluded in actions that caused the loss of life for Mrs. Hattie Owens and the loss of a mother for Dr. Sheila Owens-Collins.”

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State Bar casts doubts on Girardi’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, suggests charges are coming

State Bar lawyers say they are poised to file disciplinary charges against Tom Girardi, shown here with his estranged wife, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erika Jayne.

 Harriet Ryan, Matt Hamilton

The State Bar of California cast doubt Friday on troubled lawyer Tom Girardi’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting it was a possible case of malingering and likely igniting a battle over his mental competency.

Lawyers for the bar raised the questions in a Superior Court filing that also revealed the agency is preparing to move against Girardi’s license. The bar regulates attorneys in California.

Bar investigations and disciplinary proceedings are normally confidential, but the agency disclosed “imminent” charges against Girardi in an attempt to stave off conservatorship proceedings that would impede its ability to prosecute him.

Girardi’s younger brother is seeking appointment as his permanent legal guardian, with a hearing set for Monday, and has offered as evidence the opinion of a Long Beach psychiatrist who examined the lawyer last month and diagnosed him with “Alzheimer’s disease with late onset.” The psychiatrist said Girardi has short-term memory loss, delusions and “severely disorganized thinking.”

An attorney for Girardi’s temporary conservator, Nicholas Van Brunt, said, “No comment to make, except that we will be responding to the filing.” The Long Beach psychiatrist, Nathan Lavid, did not return messages seeking comment.

James J. Chang, a bar attorney, questioned the legitimacy of the conservatorship proceedings as coming “under highly unusual circumstances” and “only after [Girardi] became enmeshed in mounting legal troubles and as he is facing imminent State Bar discipline.”

He wrote that facts “belie allegations that Girardi is now incapable of caring for himself,” noting that the lawyer had speaking engagements until late November. The bar’s top prosecutor, interim chief trial counsel Melanie Lawrence, listed two appearances Girardi made last fall, including a Nov. 21 event for the Consumer Attorneys of California.

“Mr. Girardi moderated a 1.5-hour long continuing legal education panel discussion ... regarding how to conduct a jury trial and engaged conversantly with the four other attorney panelists,” Lawrence wrote.

The bar lawyers urged the judge overseeing the conservatorship case, Daniel Juarez, to order an independent examination of Girardi by a neuropsychologist.

Girardi’s firm, Girardi Keese, imploded in December after evidence emerged that he had misappropriated millions of dollars in client settlement money. A federal judge referred him for criminal investigation, and creditors subsequently forced him into bankruptcy.

The turn of events stunned the legal community, where Girardi was among the nation’s most renowned and well-connected civil lawyers. Many outside the law knew him as the real-life attorney from the film “Erin Brockovich” and from his appearances on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” alongside his wife, pop singer Erika Jayne.

A Times investigation found that Girardi maintained a spotless record with the bar for decades despite more than 100 suits against him and his firm, including numerous claims of legal malpractice and misappropriation of funds. Girardi cultivated close relationships with bar officials, the newspaper found.

The bar on March 5 notified Girardi that it planned disciplinary action against him. In its filing Friday, the bar said the charges against Girardi alleged that “he has willfully misappropriated client funds and refused to obey a court order.”

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