© Courtesy of Archangel Films LA (NV)
The #FreeBritney (Spears) movement raised the flag of the dubious issue of conservatorships on Capitol Hill and has the attention of minority members Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of the House Judiciary Committee.
Over the past few decades, conservatorships have been exposed as institutions rife with fraud, theft and abuse, all under the aegis of probate courts. Recently the stench of this legally sanctioned enterprise has reached the levels of a massive fish kill. In one instance, a court appointed conservator in Nevada was arrested with the bounty from dozens of pilfered estates, and nearly 30 urns of deceased conservatees housed in a public storage unit. Every day, unsuspecting citizens are taken against their will and denied their basic civil rights
But, what of Nichelle Nichols? The now 88-year-old African American actress and former NASA recruiter, best known as Lt. Uhura from the original “Star Trek” TV show, has become the unwitting pawn in a bitter battle between her estranged son, Kyle Johnson, who has been appointed conservator; and her former talent manager, Gilbert Bell, accused of enriching himself with Nichols’s public appearance fees.
Embroiled in this legal quagmire is Angelique Fawcette, a film industry CEO, producer and actress, who hired Nichols for her recent feature film “Unbelievable!!!!!” The two became close friends, with Nichols referring to Fawcette as “like a daughter” to her. Fawcette was granted legal standing by the court, a status she hoped would benefit Nichols, who suffers from early to mid-stage dementia.
I spoke with Fawcette at length and she stated, “Neither the son nor her former manager has Nichelle’s best interest at heart. Her son was absent from her life for six years. He missed Nichelle’s birthdays, Mother’s Days, Thanksgivings and Christmases. It was heart-breaking to watch.”
Fawcette has even less respect for the former manager and stated further, “Gil was the gatekeeper, fiercely controlling Nichelle’s financial affairs and her person. He allegedly used her money to upgrade the home he lived in on Nichelle’s property, and bought new cars while Nichelle’s house sat in decay. He even contemplated marrying Nichelle, so that her son would be denied his inheritance.”
This revelation forced Johnson to act. He filed with the California District Court to have a conservator appointed to handle Nichols’s health and finances. Judge Barbara Johnson installed a conservator who was immediately exposed for unethical behavior when her attorney was caught on an audio tape trying to bribe Nichols’s caretaker to leave the property using Nichols’s money.
The court appointed a second conservator and professional fiduciary, B.J. Hawkins, tasked to help Nichols’s son with his mother’s conservatorship. In a later deposition requested by Fawcette, Hawkins stated that Kyle Johnson made “inappropriate personal demands for his mother’s money,” that he wanted Hawkins to work for him against his mother’s best interests and that the son was verbally harsh on multiple occasions, even threatening Hawkins and her female assistant. She stated that, in her professional opinion, Kyle Johnson was not “fit” to be his mother’s conservator given his anger management issues. Barbara Johnson completely ignored this admonition and installed Kyle Johnson as his mother’s conservator, after Fawcette had agreed to rescind her objection to the son’s petition for conservatorship and entered a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with Kyle Johnson, according to court records.
In May 2019, a CBS-TV affiliate in Atlanta released a shocking abuse tape provided to them by Gilbert Bell. On the recording, an unsupervised Nichols wanders over to the former manager’s home and expresses dismay about Kyle Johnson being installed as conservator against her wishes. She becomes agitated about not being able to go to court and never having seen the judge. A few minutes later Kyle Johnson returns from a short, absent-minded errand and tries to force Nichols to leave with him, triggering several blood-curdling screams from the “Star Trek” icon. Terrified, she shouts at her son “get your hands off of me!”
Fawcette was contacted by news outlets for her reaction. Kyle Johnson’s attorney, Jeffrey Marvan, used the opportunity to falsely claim Fawcette violated their NDA. “I wouldn’t breach the agreement,” maintains Fawcette. “But there’s no document on Earth that will stop me from talking when a crime has been committed.”
Barbara Johnson sided with Kyle Johnson’s attorney and refused to allow further visitations from Fawcette until an evidentiary hearing into the matter of the son’s competency as conservator could be heard. Weeks turned into months as the court delayed the hearing. Marvan proposed allowing Kyle to remove Nichols from her California estate and relocate his mother to rural New Mexico. This motion was granted without the evidentiary hearing, and against the videotaped wishes of Nichols. After not following process, Barbara Johnson also retired from the court. The next judge, Ana Maria Luna, punted the entire matter to the state of New Mexico without further investigation. New Mexico is where Nichols lives today, ripped from the home she loved, surrounded by strangers, and with a conservator son who resides over 30 miles away.
Congress can play a role to rectify this outrageous “legal” practice. Gaetz and Jordan have the flag. What will our representatives in Congress, regardless of party, do next?