Saturday, May 15, 2021

Colin Farrell Files for Conservatorship of Teenage Son With Angelman Syndrome

by Lindsay Weinberg
Colin Farrell has filed for conservatorship of his 17-year-old son, James Farrell, who has been diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome.

According to the court petition obtained by E! News, Colin and model Kim Bordenave, who is James' mother, are requesting to be co-conservators of his person in a limited conservatorship. The legal arrangement allows the conservators to manage the personal needs, including medical decisions, of someone who is unable to care for themselves.

The petition, dated Monday, May 10, explains that James has Angelman Syndrome, described in the document as "a genetic disorder which causes developmental delays and disabilities and affects the nervous system." 

The Batman actor's legal team notes that James "is nonverbal and has issues with his fine motor skills, making him unable to properly care for his own physical health and well-being and requiring him to need assistance in preparing food, eating, bathing, and clothing himself."

Therefore, Colin and Kim are seeking the power to decide where James lives, access confidential records, withhold or grant marriage, withhold or grant medical consent, make decisions about his education and control his social or sexual relationships.

Though the petition notes that James lacks the capacity to express his preference over who he would want to serve as his conservators, his parents "are sure" that if he "could voice his opinion over who he would want" for the role, he would choose his mom and dad.

The court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 27, per the citation obtained by E! News.

Colin Ferrell, Kim Bordenave
Colin Ferrell, Kim Bordenave
However, the teen's longtime doctor, Liliana Sloninsky, submitted a note that said it will be "difficult" for James to attend a court hearing, because features of his condition include "delayed development, intellectual disability, severe impairment  and problem[s] with movement and balance." She wrote, "James is non-verbal, gets very anxious and losses [sic] his focus easily."

Colin has spoken about his son before, including recently at the 2020 Global Summit and Mini-Gala for the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (FAST). The Irish star shared what it meant to him to see James take his first steps two weeks before his 4th birthday.

"I'll never forget them," he began. "A child taking their first steps is always such a profound experience. Parents are disgusted if they miss it... Tears can flow, and it's such a huge kind of profound moment in the development of a child's life and in the relationship between a child and the child's parents." 

Colin Ferrell
Colin Ferrell

Colin continued, "So when you're told your child might not walk and then your child does walk, two weeks short of his 4th birthday, the absence magnified the presence, when the presence arrived. And in the same way, the absence of certain abilities for our children… magnifies the need for us to all come together." 

He went on to describe why he's grateful to be involved with the FAST community, which he called a "beautiful place" to be a part of. "There is no us and them in our community. It's just us," he reflected.

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Frisco Attorney Sentenced for Defrauding Client

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Texas
Thursday, May 13, 2021

Frisco Attorney Sentenced for Defrauding Client

TEXARKARNA, Texas - A Frisco lawyer has been sentenced to federal prison in connection with a wire fraud scheme in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei today.

David A. Krueger, 52, pleaded guilty on Jan. 5, 2021, to federal wire fraud violations and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison today by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Schroeder, III.  He was also ordered to pay $350,000 in victim restitution.

“As an attorney in Texas, this defendant took an oath to act honestly and with integrity. He then violated that oath by scamming his client out of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.  “The Eastern District of Texas will continue to hold accountable those who exploit positions of trust to defraud others.”

According to information presented in court, from February 2014 to September 2015, Krueger, an attorney licensed to practice in the state of Texas, devised a scheme to defraud current and former clients of his law practice by soliciting them to invest in and fund his outside business ventures.  Krueger represented to his clients that they would be receive guaranteed annual returns at rates of approximately ten percent of their investments.  To facilitate the scheme, Krueger persuaded a client to transfer $400,000 the client received from a legal settlement to Krueger himself for the purpose of funding a misting fan business.  Krueger used those investment funds not only for this misting fan business, but also other unrelated business ventures, as well as for his own personal benefit.  Krueger was not licensed to sell securities.  Krueger was indicted on federal charges on August 21, 2019.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations – Texarkana Resident Agency and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Coan and Jonathan Hornok.


Pair accused in armed break-in of Palm Springs senior’s home must stand trial

A parolee and a woman, who allegedly broke into a Palm Springs residence where she once worked as an aide, assaulted the 78-year-old resident and forcibly restrained the homeowner and her caretaker prior to ransacking the home for valuables, must stand trial on several felony charges, a judge ruled Thursday.

Indio residents Juan Antonio Beltran, 25, and Itati Maribi Ceja, 24, were arrested in November 2018 at the scene of the alleged break-in.

Following a preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins ruled that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence for both defendants to proceed to trial on burglary, robbery, kidnapping and elder abuse charges.

Beltran also faces a felony charge of witness intimidation, and sentence-enhancing allegation that the offense was committed with a firearm.

The prosecution on its own motion opted not to pursue a charge of false imprisonment of a hostage against both defendants, and a charge of criminal threats against Beltran.

Hawkins kept Beltran’s bail at $1 million and Ceja’s at $100,000. Both defendants remain in custody, with a post-preliminary hearing arraignment scheduled for May 27.

Officers were sent about 1:45 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2018, to the 2200 block of South Sunshine Circle following a 911 call from the location, according to the Palm Springs Police Department.

Randall Bailey testified Thursday that he was working as a caretaker at Carolyn Auburn’s house that night. He said they were dozing off in the family room when a man busted in the home, and forced him into another room and tied him up.

Bailey testified that the man, later identified as Beltran, had “what appeared to be a gun.” He said Beltran took his wallet and asked him “where’s the gold?”

Police allege Auburn, who has dementia, was tied up, gagged and assaulted during this time, although Bailey testified he was in the other room and did not witness it.

Officer Johnathan Mosley testified that a nurse later said Auburn suffered facial swelling and bruising, and lost two teeth. She was also vomiting blood, Mosley said.

No gun was recovered, although police reported finding ammunition in Ceja’s car near the location, Officer Mario Kasal testified.

Bailey was employed by Home Instead, a Palm Desert-based senior care agency, at the time of the break-in.

Palm Springs police Officer Barron Lane testified that Ceja was also employed by the same senior care agency before she was fired the day before the break-in. She worked for Auburn for two weeks before she was removed from the account at Auburn’s request due to performance issues, he said.

Bailey testified that he was eventually able to free himself and call 911. Police responded in force, surrounding the house, and the defendants were arrested after allegedly attempting to flee out the back door.

They would later claim in interviews with police that they were chased to the location, where they were let inside by Bailey, although Ceja allegedly later changed her story and admitted the robbery was her idea. “All of it was me,” Kasal said Ceja told him.

Beltran has prior felony convictions including burglary and evading arrest.

Despite Ceja having no prior felony convictions in Riverside County, she is currently also facing a murder charge. She is one of three defendants charged in the shooting death of Jason Diaz, who was found on the sidewalk in front of a home in Indio on June 24, 2020. She has pleaded not guilty in that case.

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Friday, May 14, 2021

How siblings can manage family caregiving together

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Family disputes over elderly parents are more common when multiple children are interested and involved in caregiving. Siblings may be wondering how to protect the money of elderly parents from a financially dependent brother or sister. Relationship tensions may escalate if an adult child living with parents becomes overbearing or controlling. One sibling may be taking on the load and not receiving help. How do you juggle these responsibilities and tensions? 

Aging expert Anthony Cirillo says there are potentially two kinds of situations that can develop. They are assistance with care and the potential abuse of loved ones by a sibling.  When it comes to asking for assistance with care, Cirillo says be direct with requests for help.  It's also a good idea to sit down and create a list of realistic tasks or objectives that your sibling can help with. Cirillo says keep everyone in the loop and if you're being ignored, seek other sources of help.

When it comes to family caregiving, Cirillo offers these warnings for potential signs of trouble.  If one child takes over the caregiving role and leaves other family members in the dark, perhaps even limiting access to the elderly loved one, that's a red flag. Also be concerned if your sibling is acting as a gatekeeper and prevents you from reaching your parents, and you have reason to believe there may be abuse or exploitation involved. There are some telltale signs.  Cirillo says to look for unexplained signs of injury; reports of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication; signs of being restrained, such as carpet-burn-looking marks on wrists; unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration; unsafe living conditions.

There is also the potential for financial abuse. Cirillo says try to make financial decisions and establish a budget in advance. Ask your parents how much money they’ve saved and if they’ve taken out a long-term care insurance policy. End-of-life conflicts can be avoided by writing a living will that specifies end-of-life wishes. Ask that they pre-designate a power of attorney, or durable power of attorney, to carry out these requests.

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Dallas County prosecutor who withheld evidence disbarred after two 2 men cleared of murder

Richard “Rick” E. Jackson is just the fourth lawyer in the country to lose a law license after egregious misconduct that led to a wrongful conviction.

By Krista M. Torralva

This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. with comments from Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot.

A former Dallas County prosecutor quietly surrendered his law license last month after the State Bar of Texas said he withheld evidence that led to the wrongful convictions of two men in the slaying of a South Dallas pastor.

The State Bar concluded that Richard E. “Rick” Jackson failed to inform Dennis Allen and Stanley Mozee’s defense attorneys about evidence that could have cleared them at their 2000 capital murder trials. As a result, the courts say, Allen and Mozee wrongfully spent 14 years in prison for the murder of Rev. Jesse Borns Jr.

“This case is not about someone disbarred for making a mistake or a prosecutor who accidentally or even sloppily failed to turn over favorable evidence,” said Nina Morrison, a lawyer with the Innocence Project in New York, who worked to clear Allen and Mozee.

“This is someone who repeatedly and intentionally hid favorable evidence from two defendants who were on trial for their lives.”

Texas judges found Jackson withheld several pieces of evidence that could have helped Allen and Mozee. The men were freed from prison in 2014 and declared actually innocent in 2019 after DNA testing helped clear them.  (Click to continue reading)

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Bond reduced in elderly exploitation case

by Sandy Hodson

With the prosecutor's support for treatment over possible punishment, an Augusta man who is accused of taking his elderly father's money was granted a bond reduction Tuesday.

Ryan Nair, 42, was arrested last August after an investigation began when months passed without payment for the care of an 84-year-old dementia resident of a Weed Street personal care home. According to an earlier report in The Augusta Chronicle, when an officer tracked down Nair at a local hotel, Nair said he spent all the money supporting his drug habit.

Nair has pleaded not guilty to three counts of exploitation or intimidation of an elderly or disabled adult.

Tuesday in Richmond County Superior Court, Nair's defense attorney, Kelly Williamson, asked Judge J. Wade Padgett to reduce Nair's $100,000 bond set in September. Because the district attorney has asked about resolving the case with drug treatment, Williamson said her office has been working to find a program for Nair.

Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Alls consented to a bond reduction as long as Nair is kept away from his father's money and is in a treatment program.

Padgett reduced bond to $5,000 for each charge. Nair must pay in advance for the startup cost of electronic monitoring and the daily expense of probation supervision. A drug treatment program is required, Padgett ruled. Nair is not to have any contact with his father or possess alcohol or illegal drugs.

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Aunt challenges appointment of doctor nephew as estate executor of family matron who died under guardianship

By David Yates

HOUSTON - The adult grandson of a deceased 90-year-old Texas woman was appointed as independent executor of her estate following a lawsuit filed against the recused Harris County Probate Judge who had disqualified his mother from serving in the position, a press release states.

Judge Jason Cox, a Democrat, appointed Dr. Roy Lester Collins independent executor of the estate of Mrs. Hattie Owens after a hearing in which Dr. Collins’ cousin Aisha Ross, aunt Angelia Owens Sapp and uncle Mel Owens challenged his suitability, according to a press release. 

“No bond or other security is required and that upon the taking and filing of the oath required by law, Letters of Testamentary shall issue to Dr. Roy Lester Collins, the IV, and that no other action be had in this court other than the return of an inventory appraisement and list of claims as required by law and notice pursuant to Texas state's code chapter 308,” wrote Judge Cox in his order. 

Dr. Collins is a Yale graduate and psychiatrist-in-training at Stanford University in California. His aunt Owens Sapp filed a motion for reconsideration of his appointment and/or to vacate the judgment for a new trial. A hearing is set for May 20.

Dr. Collins’ mother, Sheila Owens Collins, who is also a physician, sued Judge Michael Newman last year in U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Houston after he declared her unsuitable to serve as the first-named executor allegedly due to family discord.

In Boyles v Gresham in re the Estate of Grober, it was reportedly determined that family rancor is not enough to disqualify a potential executor, the press release states.

Owens Collins complained in her federal lawsuit that Judge Newman, a Democrat, disqualified her so that $93,000 could be channeled out of the estate to the detriment of the beneficiaries. Judge Cox took over the state probate case after Judge Newman recused himself.

At the Zoom hearing, Owens Collins’ attorney Marie Rodriguez objected to allegations that her client had stolen thousands of dollars from Mrs. Hattie Owens’ bank account to pay for Dr. Collins’ ivy league education instead of maintaining the deceased matriarch’s home.

“If Mr. Reiner continues to pull select issues, a $20,000-check, a $50,000-check and use those as some kind of an insinuation that there was wrongdoing, then we've got to be able to rebut that, Judge...and it's in evidence already and it clearly rebuts that evidence even though there was never a ruling on it,” Rodgriguez told the Court.

Houston Attorney Scott Reiner represents Dr. Collins’ aunt Owens Sapp, who along with her daughter Aisha Ross and brother Mel Owens, had contested the appointment of Owens Collins as executor of Mrs. Hattie Owens’ estate. 

According to a transcript of the hearing obtained by the Southeast Texas Record, when questioned about his mother stealing money from Mrs. Hattie Owens to pay for medical school, Dr. Collins said that Owens Collins had paid the majority of his tuition, college, and graduate school.

“But once I got to med school, that's when I took over and started paying my own tuition,” Dr. Collins told the Court.

As previously reported, 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 after they had both graduated from Prairieview A&M University. 

The patriarch, Mr. Emiel Owens, who is also deceased, served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army with the 777th Field Artillery Battalion in Europe during World War 2. 

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

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Orlando lawyer and mother left her kids at home to run an SUV into their father’s house

Francine Bogumil

by David J. Neal

Disbarment has been recommended for an Orlando lawyer who rammed her Land Rover into her ex-husband’s house, told his girlfriend, “I will kill you, b----!” and spat on police officers.

Court documents say 40-year-old Francine Bogumil later texted her ex-husband, “S---- bout to get ugly.”

All this violated several laws, court orders as well as the standards for behavior by a member of the Florida Bar, of which Bogumil has been a member since 2006.

As for the criminal matters, Bogumil pleaded no contest and was found guilty of one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; one count of assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of domestic violence battery, two counts of violating a domestic violence restraining order, and two counts of criminal mischief. She is doing 51 weeks in the Orange County Jail, which will be followed by a year of community control and two years of modified probation.

The state Supreme Court suspended Bogumil and ordered a referee to make a discipline recommendation. The referee, 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Daryl Jay Isenhower, posted his report last week in which he recommended “immediate disbarment.”

Domestic demolition, domestic violence

Bogumil didn’t get hit with any child neglect charges, though she left her 5-year-old and 11-year-old children at home alone for her middle-of-the-night automotive assault on her ex-husband’s home. Perhaps proximity prevented prosecution — her ex-husband and his girlfriend lived only a half-mile from Francine Bogumil’s home.

They already had restraining orders against Francine Bogumil as the clock turned to the wee hours of April 30, 2020. Around 3:30 a.m., Francine Bogumil smashed her Land Rover into the back of a rented white GMC Yukon in her ex-husband’s driveway. That sent the GMC SUV into the garage door, “bending it inward about 2 to 3 feet.”

Bogumil’s ex-husband came out of the house to see his ex-wife hurling objects at his girlfriend’s BMW sedan, shattering the windows. He told Orange County sheriff’s deputies after calling 911, he went outside to get between his girlfriend and former wife. He admitted responding to Bogumil’s two slaps to his face with a slap to her face.

Just before police arrived, the girlfriend said Francine Bogumil yelled at her, “I will kill you, b----!”

Her interaction with the arriving Orange County deputies seemed no less belligerent. After a deputy told her to stop shouting at him while he was talking to her ex-husband, Bogumil said, “No. F--- you!” and spat at him, according to the report.

Just not following orders

Francine Bogumil posted bond on May 3, 2020, and walked out of jail with the standard no-contact orders in place. And she violated them by May 9, 2020.

Court document say not only did she contact her ex-husband, but she left a social media messages for his girlfriend, including one that said, “next is your mom and pops. I’d back the f--- off if I were u. Just saying. You’ve been warned to stay away from my kids.”

A motion from prosecutors to have Francine Bogumil’s bond revoked wasn’t ruled on by Judge Julie O’Kane later in May 2020, who instead ordered Francine Bogumil to an inpatient treatment program.

Court documents include a November flier Francine Bogumil made and threatened to post at the local Starbucks, Publix and anywhere she could. The flier included a picture of the two kids, a picture of their father without referring to him as such and saying their mother hadn’t seen them since May 4.

The ensuing text messages say, “And each and every day as my heart bleeds without my kids, your life will become uglier and uglier because this is YOUR want war, you’ve got WAR…I chose peace…you didn’t oblige. You can blame yourself because I’m JUST getting started with the ways I can ruin u…I WILL f--- up your world up unless you surrender. I’m not backing down this time. S---- bout to get ugly.”

Bogumil was rearrested on Nov. 25.

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2 accused of stealing home, stimulus check from elderly woman before placing her in nursing facility

by: Darcie Loreno
ALLIANCE, Ohio (WJW) — Two people face charges after investigators say they stole a home and thousands of dollars from an elderly woman in Stark County.

According to court records, Karen Laborde, 42, and Peter Laborde III, 47, of Alliance, face charges of theft from a person in a protected class in the case.

Karen Laborde, Peter Laborde (Photo Credit: Alliance Police)
The two are accused of deceiving the victim into signing over a quitclaim deed to her home and then placing her into a nursing home.

Her social security, stimulus check and other assets were also taken.

Court documents state over $47,500 worth of property or cash were stolen from the woman.

A preliminary hearing has been set for May 19, according to court records.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Caring for ill husband, woman reveals exhausting reality of unpaid caregivers

By Kate Washington and A. Pawlowski

Kate Washington never expected to become her husband’s caregiver when they were both in their 40s. He was suddenly diagnosed with a rare T-cell lymphoma, requiring a stem cell transplant and other treatment that left him permanently disabled. Washington documents her struggle to care for a critically-ill spouse in her book, “Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America.” She recalled the crisis in an interview with TODAY.

Kate Washington became the primary caregiver for her husband, Brad, after his diagnosis with a rare T-cell lymphoma in 2015. When she took an online quiz about caregiver burnout, it declared "You're already toast!"
Kate Washington became the primary caregiver for her husband, Brad, after his diagnosis with a rare T-cell lymphoma in 2015. When she took an online quiz about caregiver burnout, it declared "You're already toast!"Courtesy Kate Washington

I got married at 26 and we were both healthy. You just don't think about severe illness coming down the line when you make the vows. But caregiving, in some ways, is coming for us all. People are living longer and living through more severe illnesses.

During the crisis, on my drive from the hospital to home, I would sometimes think, “God, I could just get out of here” because the relentless pressure of every single day and the very painful sight of Brad being so sick added up to a wish for escape. In reality, I didn't want to actually leave my children and abandon everything. But it was a tempting fantasy.

When Brad came home, the biggest shock to me was being expected to do all this medical work with very little training. There's home care that has to be done and there isn’t insurance support for having somebody provide that, so it falls on family members. It’s a cost-saving measure for the health care system.

Hospital discharge instructions can be really complicated and entail a lot of hands-on care that most people don’t envision. The average person, when they think about a loved one becoming ill, is not thinking about personally administering IV medications through a port. You think, “Oh, a nurse will do that.” But you come home and there's no nurse to do that, so you become the nurse.

The training was handled by outside services that came in, so we also suddenly lost contact with the care providers who we knew really well. I was being trained by somebody unfamiliar and it felt very disorienting.

Washington's once-healthy husband came home from the hospital visually impaired, immune-suppressed and so debilitated that "he couldn't be left alone even for a minute," she writes in her book.
Washington's once-healthy husband came home from the hospital visually impaired, immune-suppressed and so debilitated that "he couldn't be left alone even for a minute," she writes in her book.Courtesy Kate Washington

At one point at his worst, Brad’s chances of making it were only about 10%. The fear of loss was so strong and the ongoing strain of being his caregiver was so high that I walled off my feelings. He was so changed from the husband that I knew. I had to stick to what I promised and do my duty because in some ways I couldn't bear to feel all the feelings that would come up if I let them. So at times, I became a little bit robotic out of a feeling of self-protection.

I felt constant pressure to be sunny and upbeat. There's a strong culture of positivity around cancer in particular — “You've got to stay positive for him.” I found that pressure hard to take. I wanted to retain control over my emotions and how I was feeling. It was tough to feel positive when he was as sick as he was.

I found the “You got this” — some of the more glib kind of illness messaging — a little challenging. The saying I disliked the most is “Everything happens for a reason.” Because this did not happen for a reason. This is just terrible luck, at least according to my worldview, and it can be really hard and feel almost blaming to hear “this happened for a reason.” And it's like, well, what's the reason? What did we do to deserve this?

I definitely heard quite a few alternative medicine suggestions — including that Brad should try turmeric or essential oils. I was able to understand they're well-intentioned. People don't understand the severity of things. They've heard about something that might help, so share that almost in panic or a desire to help.

I went on antidepressants when Brad was in the hospital. Drinking alcohol was definitely something I've talked to mental health and health care professionals about and cut back. I'm certainly not drinking as much as I was when he was very ill, but it was something that I started to look at and think, I should probably rein this in before it does become a problem.

Washington was emotionally and physically exhausted by the experience of becoming her husband's caregiver, plus taking on complete care for the couple's children, their home and every detail of their lives.
Washington was emotionally and physically exhausted by the experience of becoming her husband's caregiver, plus taking on complete care for the couple's children, their home and every detail of their lives.Courtesy Evalani Washington

If people want to help a caregiver, I really appreciated a text that just said, “I'm just thinking of you. No need to answer if you're overwhelmed.” Offering to bring a meal is definitely a classic. When you're running to Target, texting “Can I pick something up for you?” can be really helpful.

My husband is doing quite a bit better now — he is disabled and has ongoing chronic illness that requires treatment fairly often, but he's in remission from the cancer — and so my role as a caregiver has kind of receded. It's a little bit more of partnership. My burnout has eased considerably.

It is so hard to imagine, until you've gone through it, how overwhelming really severe illness can be. We can try to convey what caregiving or experiencing that kind of family crisis is like, but I don't think it really hits home until it comes to pass.

We need supports to make that sustainable for the family members who support people through those crises. We can do this better for the caregivers of the future who are going to number in the ever growing millions.

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

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Elder Abuse Bills Pass Assembly

Madison – Today the State Assembly passed legislation to address concerns for our elderly population. “I am pleased to have supported each of these bills today, said Wittke (Wind Point); caring for our most vulnerable population is a priority to me”.

Elder abuse is a growing concern. Reporting of physical, emotional, and financial abuses are on the rise. Assembly Bills 44, 45, and 46 will strengthen existing law and empower frontline financial workers to take necessary steps to protect vulnerable and disabled individuals. From my own experience, a loved one was duped into paying significant monies to “save a grandson who was traveling abroad”.  If these protections had been in place, a financial institution could have stepped in to halt a questionable transfer of funds and my loved one would have avoided the significant loss of retirement income.

The bills, which were drafted following the work of Attorney General Schimel’s Task Force on Elder Abuse, now move to the State Senate for a vote.

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MacCarley to Appear in BBC Select Documentary “The Battle for Britney” on May 11, 2021

Source: Lisa MacCarley, Attorney at Law

LOS ANGELES, May 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Probate and Conservatorship Attorney Lisa MacCarley, a fervent supporter of the #FreeBritney movement, announced she will be featured in the upcoming BBC Select documentary “The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” which will air on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. In the 60-minute documentary by BAFTA award-winning journalist Mobeen Azhar, Ms. MacCarley answers questions about the troubling manner in which Ms. Spears’ conservatorship was first established.

Lisa MacCarley has been an active proponent of reforming the Conservatorship and Guardianship courts. In early 2020, she founded the non-profit “Bettys’ Hope” to bring attention to deficiencies in our nation’s conservatorship and guardianship courts. When fully effectuated, Bettys’ Hope will provide a system of training and supervising attorneys representing persons facing and in conservatorship, similar to the Public Defender’s office for criminal defendants but staffed by attorneys who have expertise in representing adults alleged to be incapacitated.

“The inspiration for Bettys’ Hope came from my involvement with two families, both with loved ones named ‘Betty,’” states Ms. MacCarley. “Each family experienced needless trauma, exploitation and abuse due to the present, court-appointed lawyer system. Currently, court-appointed lawyers do not receive any meaningful training or supervision and yet the local Probate Courts have come to rely, almost exclusively, upon ‘reports’ and recommendations by these lawyers. The system is clearly broken, as evidenced by movies such as Netflix’s ‘I Care A Lot,’ and the chilling episode of ‘Dirty Money’ featuring Guardians, but no one is looking at the lack of training, supervision and accountability of the “lawyers” who are selected by the bench officers for these important roles.”

In addition to the BBC documentary, Attorney MacCarley was also recently interviewed for the podcast “Toxic: The Britney Spears Story,” which will air on Stitcher, a subsidiary of NPR, this summer. In their podcast “Britney’s Gram,” journalists Tess Barker and Barbara Gray discuss Britney’s controversial conservatorship and uncover disturbing truths about our legal system.

“In ‘Toxic: The Britney Spears Story,’” says Ms. MacCarley, “I talk about policies and practices used in the Los Angeles County probate courts which are inconsistent with the Rule of Law as set forth by California State legislators. These practices and policies, such as having a court-appointed lawyer render an opinion about their own client’s capacity to hire counsel, absolutely result in injustice.

“As a probate and conservatorship attorney for over 25 years, I have seen injustices result from the failure to abide by the law. Failure to abide by the law, coupled with a staggering lack of empathy and understanding, often results in financial and psychological harm. I am hoping to bring attention to the fact that our nation’s conservatorship and guardianship courts must be more strenuously trained and supervised. Our elders and other persons facing conservatorship deserve much better representation than what is presently be offered.”

The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” will air on May 11, 2021 on BBC Select, which can be accessed through Apple TV or Amazon Prime Video.

For more information on Bettys’ Hope, go to: or you can read more on Facebook at: BettysHope.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Reframing Britney: Press and Public Waking Up to Guardianship Harms

By Miranda Spencer

What a difference two years make.

Back in spring 2019, the tabloids were training their gaze on the mental health of pop star Britney Spears—who’d recently reemerged from rehab after canceling her latest Vegas show — and the rise of a #FreeBritney fan movement rallying for her release from a decade-long California “probate conservatorship.” Called a guardianship in other states, the arrangement gives a court-approved third-party control over the affairs of an incapacitated, typically elderly, person. In Britney’s case, the conservator is her father, Jamie, and he’s controlled almost every detail of her finances, healthcare, and personal life since her “breakdown” in 2008.

The unusual spectacle of constraining a highly functioning young adult stirred the press to weigh in on the issue, with many articles commenting on whether there was reason for Spears to remain under the conservatorship. As Mad in America found in its examination of media coverage of her mental health published since the conservatorship’s inception, these articles reflected conventional attitudes about “mental illness” that are stigmatizing and encourage legislation that promotes forced treatment. They also reflected the opinions of everyone but Britney herself (save the postings on her often-cryptic Instagram account).

According to this narrative, Britney — despite over a decade of apparent stability and success — needs to be in the conservatorship for her own good, allegedly because she is too “crazy” and too vulnerable to exploitation to manage her own life. Any arguments to the contrary were viewed as conspiracy theories from well-meaning but ignorant fans.

But now things are changing in both Spears’ world and media coverage of her case. These shifts have brought overdue attention to the larger issue of the rights of people labeled mentally ill or disabled — and led to calls for reform.

Back in the Spotlight

Since last fall, Spears, now 39, seems to be pursuing a path toward autonomy. Via her court-appointed attorney, Sam Ingham, she has requested that court documents related to her case be unsealed (to make them more accessible to the public) and told a judge that she is “afraid of her father” and “will not perform again if [he] is in charge of her career.” US Weekly, which had earlier portrayed her as unstable and in need of TLC, titled an article on her legal motion “Britney Spears Is Tired of Being Treated Like a Child” and described her as “fighting for her freedom.”

A few months later, Spears requested that her father step down from managing her finances and be replaced by a professional fiduciary, Bessemer Trust. It didn’t happen; Bessemer and Jamie Spears now share that task, but the shift prompted NBC News’s online THINK column to run an opinion piece that addressed the larger issue of guardianship abuse. In the piece, titled “Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Can Be Both Totally Legal and Quite Bad for Her. Many Are,” journalist Chandra Bozelko argued that “there are emotional costs of a long-term conservatorship, especially to an otherwise capable person, and that damage rarely appears in court evaluations or public records.” Bozelko, who was under guardianship for a decade, wrote that “to strip a person of her agency can’t help but be abusive, even when fiduciaries are doing their jobs.”

But that was the last we heard on the subject until the first week of February 2021, coinciding with the 13th anniversary of Spears’ conservatorship. That week, the documentary Framing Britney Spears was released on the FX channel. Produced by a team from The New York Times (which had previously reported fairly uncritically about her situation), the film opens with footage of #FreeBritney activists. A few minutes in, New York Times Senior Editor Liz Day asks the film’s million-dollar question: “Is this in her best interest, what she wants?”

The film blends archival photos and footage with new interviews with longtime associates, including her close friend and former assistant, Felicia Culotta. It also features #FreeBritney activists, reporters and press photographers who have covered her, and legal experts close to the case. It tells of Britney’s rapid rise as a teenaged pop star, the emotional and practical impact of the news media’s relentless pursuit, and the often hostile and salacious treatment of her before her famous breakdown.

In so doing, Framing Britney places behaviors often cited as evidence of Spears’ mental illness in context. Shaving her head and whacking a photographer’s car with an umbrella are shown as the very human reactions of an overwhelmed, post-partum woman under relentless public scrutiny and beset by private struggles including a custody battle. As Jude Ellison S. Doyle writes in the politics and culture magazine GEN, “How could anyone not experience trauma after this sort of treatment?” Doyle adds, “Britney Spears isn’t a formerly happy pop star who ‘lost control,’ she’s a woman who never had control in the first place.” Indeed, except for reporting on Britney’s stints in psych facilities,  the film doesn’t dwell on the claim that she suffers from a chronic, debilitating condition, as has so often been stated in the press.

The documentary also explores the uncomfortable realities of living under a conservatorship, including a clip from an MTV documentary in which Britney complains about how stifling it is to be constantly restrained and monitored. “When I tell them how I feel, they’re really not listening,” she says. “They’re hearing what they want to hear. It’s bad, and I’m sad.” The film also points out irregularities in how she was placed under the conservatorship in the first place and wonders if she’ll ever get out.

In one scene, Adam Streisand, a lawyer she wanted to hire to fight the conservatorship in 2008, explains that the judge ruled Britney incompetent to do so, citing a medical report that the judge refused to let him see. “I felt that based on my interactions that she was capable of retaining and directing me and the judge should have allowed that,” Streisand says.

In another scene, attorney Vivian Lee Thoreen admits, “It’s the conservatee who has the burden to say, ‘I don’t need this conservatorship anymore, and here’s why,’” later adding, “I have not seen a conservatee who has successfully terminated a conservatorship.”

The film also outlines the financial incentives and possible conflicts of interest Britney’s conservators might have for keeping her in the arrangement. It notes that her father got a percentage of her high-grossing Las Vegas acts and that her estate is required to pay for her own and her conservators’ attorneys — concerns once portrayed as fan-generated conspiracy theories.

Despite that Spears did not participate in the film (producers claimed they labored unsuccessfully to reach her), Framing Britney is notable for its empathic perspective. It encourages viewers to put themselves in Spears’ shoes as they watch her rise, fall, and comeback, as well as her ongoing containment. This is a departure from what we saw in earlier coverage, which tended to favor her father’s and handlers’ positions. Britney’s family, attorney, and inner circle declined to be interviewed for the film, though some of them appeared in archival footage.

A Strong Reaction

Perhaps because her pain is so relatable, the film quickly ignited widespread alarm. Social media were aflame with renewed calls to #FreeBritney, supportive commentary from lawyers, tweets sharing excerpts from court documents, and demands that media figures apologize to Spears. The American Civil Liberties Union, which had offered to represent her last summer, reiterated its support in a Tweet:

In tandem, mainstream news and cultural commentators discussed the misogyny portrayed in the film: how Hollywood has exploited and perpetuated dangerous narratives about young stars, how our culture has failed to listen to and center women in their own stories, and how we punish those deemed unruly.

And the press continued to focus on the star’s struggles under her unique conservatorship. In late February, Spears’ father delivered an official retort to Framing Britney on Good Morning America via his now-attorney, Vivian Lee Thoreen. He reiterated that the conservatorship is to “protect” his daughter and inaccurately stated that Britney has never sought to remove him; Thoreen later wrongly claimed that Britney can end it whenever she wants. Then, at a hearing in March, Britney’s lawyer presented her request that her father resign as conservator of her personal affairs and be replaced by Jodi Montgomery, a professional fiduciary who has been temporarily filling that role. Those court papers state, underlined and in bold, that Britney still “reserves the right to petition for the termination of this conservatorship.”

Beyond Britney

Soon, the press coverage generated by the film and the “Jamie vs. Britney” battle moved beyond Britney to another important discussion: the broader issue of guardianship abuse. Op-eds, explanatory pieces, and think pieces called out its overly restrictive nature and documented its potential for abuse. These reports continued for two months in respected magazines on politics and economics as well as in the entertainment press.

For example, journalist Sara Luterman, who covers disability rights, was one of the first to address  “the darker story just outside the lens.” In The New Republic, she wrote that “There is a broader, systemic issue at play. Spears isn’t an anomaly, and in actuality, conservatorship has few safeguards and checks. Legal personhood is regularly stripped from disabled people…and nobody blinks an eye. The biggest difference is that Spears is famous. The unusual part of the story is that people are paying attention.”

Luterman notes that many people as young or younger than Spears are under the control of guardians, citing a report on a “school-to-guardianship pipeline in which conservatorship over students with intellectual and developmental disabilities leaving school is treated as a matter of course.” As Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project told her, “There’s this double standard where, if you’re perceived as having a disability, your preferences are subsumed by what’s in your, quote, best interest.”

Several outlets published articles on how conservatorships work and why they can be problematic for anyone. As an op-ed by law professors Rebekah Diller and Leslie Salzman put it in Business Insider:

“After exposés revealed critical problems, many states reformed their laws in the 1990s. Today, in most states, courts are supposed to consider less restrictive alternatives and narrowly tailor any guardianship order to preserve maximum autonomy. Yet these reforms, which are often ignored in practice, have not gone far enough….”

They sum up: “Because guardianship has traditionally been justified as a protective mechanism, the guardianship system is tainted by a culture of paternalism. As a result, many courts still err on the side of granting guardianship petitions even when less restrictive alternatives would suffice.”

Similarly, The Economist published a piece titled “Why Are Conservatorships Controversial?” It answers that question this way:

“An alleged mental illness seems to be the reason for Ms. Spears’s situation, but little is publicly known about her diagnosis or condition. A conservatorship strips someone of almost all their rights — much as imprisonment or commitment to an asylum does — and only a court can restore them. That is rare [italics added].”

The article also points out that:

“Legal gaps at the state level, where the matter is regulated, make exploitation easier. For example, some states let courts appoint ‘emergency conservators’ without notifying the person in question or others who may come to their aid. The conservator can often sell assets, such as a house, without extra court approval. Patchy monitoring makes it hard to catch self-dealing.”

What didn’t we see in these pieces? The idea that Britney’s — or anyone’s — mental health struggles justify their conservatorship in the first place. Perhaps because having a diagnosis is beside the point. As Doyle opined in GEN, “Spears likely does have a mental illness — she’s undergone psychiatric hospitalizations — but a woman who can raise two young boys while holding down a demanding full-time job as a pop star is not incapacitated to the point that she requires an adult guardian.”

From Talk to Action

The momentum generated by Framing Britney and press reports on the impact of guardianships has led to a discussion of alternatives. It has even prompted bipartisan calls for political action to reform the conservatorship system in California and beyond, which have received widespread news coverage. In an era when Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on anything, guardianship reform seems to be an exception.

Former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee launched this trend with his February 27 op-ed at FoxNews online. He wrote: “The enormous scope of the conservatorship abuse epidemic goes far beyond Spears, but often gets ignored by mainstream news outlets.”

Huckabee cited dozens of guardianship abuse cases across America, such as that of former court-appointed guardian Rebecca Fierle, “charged with aggravated elder abuse and neglect following the death of a ward in her care. Investigations into Fierle have also allegedly uncovered staggering conflicts of interest and double-billing among hundreds of cases that she handled in the state.” He concluded that the topic “deserves national bipartisan reform and a grassroots campaign to protect the most vulnerable members of our society entrapped by it.”

Less than two weeks later, Congressmen and House Judiciary Committee members Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) took up Huckabee’s call. Gaetz issued a press release announcing that they had sent a letter to Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, “requesting that the House Judiciary Committee convene a hearing to review and examine the plight of Americans trapped unjustly in conservatorships.” Gaetz stated, “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.” The letter also cited reports by the federal Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department along with commentary from an ACLU attorney on conservatorship as a disability-rights issue.

The move generated headlines in major media including Vanity Fair and the network news as well as the entertainment press.  But while the letter spotlighted the star’s situation to focus on the larger issue of guardianship reform, the headlines tended to overemphasize the celebrity angle. For example: “Republicans Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan Try to Free Britney Spears” (CBS); “Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz  Joins the Fight to Free Britney Spears” (ABC affiliate WPAC); “Gaetz Joins ‘#FreeBritney’ Movement, Calls for Hearing on Conservatorships” (Fox News). Fox News’ piece did include a video segment in which two attorneys debated whether to end Britney’s conservatorship — but passed on the opportunity to discuss the broader pros and cons of the system itself.

Similarly, some media focused mainly on the “Britney vs. Jamie” angle of this story, and her father’s reaction to the Gaetz/Jordan proposal. Such pieces, including NBC’s, leaned pro-conservatorship and mentioned the larger issue only in passing.

Perhaps it is understandable that the press didn’t take the congressmen’s policy proposal too seriously. Gaetz and Jordan are not known for their social-justice credentials. And guardianship laws are made at the state, rather than the federal, level (a point no news outlet bothered to make).

And when allegations emerged linking Gaetz to sex trafficking, the matter dropped from the headlines.

However, legislators in Spears’ home state of California were already in the process of working on bills that, if passed, may lead to actual conservatorship reforms — all inspired by Framing Britney Spears. While headlines about the bills, which appeared in late March, also tended to overemphasize the #FreeBritney angle, the stories themselves explained how the proposed new laws could protect the civil rights of wards and prevent system abuse.

Assembly Bill 1194, introduced by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-28th District), proposes special oversight and training for conservators, imposes penalties for those who don’t act in their ward’s best interest, and guards against conflicts of interest.

Senate Bill 602, by State Sen. John Laird (D-17th District) would increase the frequency of reviews over conservatorships. And Democratic State Sen. Ben Allen’s Senate Bill 724 — passed by the state Judiciary Committee in April and headed for a full hearing — would allow a person subject to conservatorship to choose their own attorney, even when their mental capacity is in question.

The Los Angeles Times’ article even pointed out that some lawyers think the bills don’t go far enough, with one seeing a need for court reform as well and another saying they are too focused on people like Spears and need to look at conservatorship more “holistically.”

MSNBC’s coverage, which spanned both Gaetz’s proposed hearings and the new state laws, featured an interview with Kathy Flaherty, Executive Director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, which advocates for low-income individuals in the mental health system. Flaherty noted that people who struggle with mental health conditions can regain the ability to run their lives. She explained that conservatorships are “not necessarily to deprive someone of their rights for their entire life” and enumerated less-encumbering alternatives for assisted decision-making.

Lessons Learned

Clearly, Framing Britney has led to a change in the public’s view of Spears as somehow incapacitated. And it provided news hooks for many important and overdue conversations. It even prompted political action on guardianship and, by extension, the rights of people with mental illness labels. But these issues are not new. Multiple government reports and investigative article series on problems with guardianship have been published for years — the Associated Press did an exposé as far back as 1987 — only to be forgotten. Why only now are we starting to take both Spears’ case and guardianship abuse seriously?

Part of the change may be cultural. Greater awareness and concern about social justice is now part of the zeitgeist — encapsulated by the social media hashtags #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #CriptheVote — and may be lending more credence to the principles animating the #FreeBritney movement and the larger questions it raises.

Also, as P. David Marshall, a professor and research chair in New Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies at Deakin University in Australia, wrote in The Conversation, “A new sense of connection and responsibility to famed individuals is emerging: where once we gawked at the public struggles of Britney, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, now there is a more concerned response. Audiences have become vocal supporters of the vulnerable, exploring cultural issues in new ways….New norms are developing.”

Jessica Ford, a lecturer in Film, Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Newcastle, echoed this line of thinking in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s no longer culturally acceptable to openly ridicule someone for mental health struggles.” Or, one might argue, to assume she needs someone else to run her life

In the film’s aftermath, there also seems to be a realization that when it comes to guardianship, the stories and voices of those subjected to it matter. This side was often omitted in past coverage of Spears’ struggles, rationalized by the fact that she rarely spoke publicly about her conservatorship — as if silence implies acquiescence. Now that she has voiced a desire, through her lawyer, to remove her father’s power over her life, her perspective is finally being acknowledged and even supported. And a different picture is emerging than when the media focused mainly on the perspective of those who sought to control her.

Last week, the BBC released its own documentary about Britney Spears’ conservatorship. According to a recent Instagram post, the singer feels re-traumatized by such films and wonders why the media focus on her past rather than her future. But if the last few months are any indication, the future of her conservatorship, and the wider topic of guardianship and the civil rights of those deemed mentally ill, will stay in the spotlight — and that offers the possibility of real change.


*Note: Per her request, Britney Spears is scheduled to address the court directly about her conservatorship at a status hearing on June 23.

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Tom Girardi a No-Show at Disciplinary Hearing

The plaintiffs lawyer has also failed to respond in writing to allegations that he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement money from victims he represented in litigation.

By Cheryl Miller
Thomas Girardi. Photo: Christine Jegan

Tom Girardi did not appear at a state bar court conference held Monday to review disciplinary charges against the fallen Southern California trial lawyer.

Girardi has also failed to respond in writing to allegations, filed by state bar attorneys in March, that he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement money from victims he represented in litigation. Bar attorneys have filed a motion for entry of default.

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Carl Junction man receives plea deal in financial exploitation case

By Jeff Lehr

A Carl Junction man was allowed to plead down to a misdemeanor offense this week in a case of financial exploitation of an elderly woman and received a suspended sentence and probation.

Garyn L. Adams, 27, pleaded guilty in Jasper County Circuit Court to a misdemeanor count of stealing in a plea agreement and was sentenced by Judge Gayle Crane to one year in jail, with execution of the sentence suspended and the defendant placed on unsupervised probation for two years.

Adams was charged in August 2019 with a felony count of financial exploitation of an elderly person following an investigation by Carl Junction police of money taken from an 86-year-old woman's bank account without her approval.

A probable-cause affidavit stated that Adams gained access to the bank account and began making fraudulent charges by setting her up for online banking, creating a PayPal account using her Social Security number and transferring money to PayPal accounts belonging to him and a second person.

The affidavit alleged that he tapped the account for more than $1,000. The judge ordered as part of his sentencing that Adams pay the remaining restitution in the case of $63.82.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Guardian reforms bring more oversight

by Colleen Heild, Albuquerque Journal, N.M. 

May 9—An attempt by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration to push its own adult guardianship reform measure appeared dead last legislative session after running afoul of state judges who were concerned about its constitutionality.

What resulted — looking very little like the original bill — is a comprehensive new law that promises thousands of incapacitated adults under court-ordered guardianship more oversight of their cases by a new team of court auditors. It also sets up a pilot program in which volunteer court visitors will meet with those under guardianship to ensure their welfare.

Lujan Grisham personally worked with judges, the state Office of Guardianship, and legislators on the reforms, her office said, and signed the measure into law April 8.

"This legislation will help ensure that our guardianship system provides adults with the least restrictive alternatives to managing and living their lives," she said in a message. "We must commit to the ongoing work of reforming and evolving beyond guardianship."

Come July 1 when the law goes into effect, the State Auditor's Office will review all annual reports filed by conservators appointed by the courts to manage an incapacitated adult's finances and assets. And the auditor will have the power to subpoena bank and other records.

Especially heartening to disability advocates is a new provision requiring that state judges be informed whether any less restrictive alternatives are available before turning over an incapacitated person's life and bank accounts to the control of third-party guardians or conservators.

Another feature of the new law, a priority of the governor, creates a standing committee representing 19 stakeholder groups, including two "protected people," to meet quarterly to study future guardianship reforms.

The legislation marks the third wave of reforms since the Journal launched "Who Guards the Guardians?," a series of investigative articles, beginning in November 2016.

The complex and still mostly secret legal process has been criticized in New Mexico and elsewhere as ripe for corruption given the power of guardians and conservators appointed to make decisions for those deemed incapacitated — typically older adults.

Most records in such court cases are confidential to protect a protected person's privacy, although some hearings in New Mexico are now public, thanks to an earlier reform law.

Since 2018, the Legislature and courts have continued to study ways to close loopholes and improve the system through a steering committee created by the state Supreme Court.

The latest reforms weren't on the radar of that committee, said state Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, a committee member who also has sponsored prior guardianship reform laws.

"This is kind of a fresh look at an old problem to see if we can make it more robust. I was really shocked at how creative it was," Ely said in an interview last week.

Licensing proposal

The 26-page comprehensive package grew out of a 14-page bill that called for the licensing of guardians and conservators and put the state Office of Guardianship in charge of the process. That agency, which represents nearly 1,000 low-income people in guardianship cases, would have had the power to suspend or revoke licenses if an investigation warranted.

But the bill was essentially dead on arrival at its first legislative committee hearing on March 5. At the hearing, the Office of Guardianship bill was tabled and the licensing provision eliminated from the committee's substitute bill.

"The courts had a problem in the sense that this would create a separation-of-powers conflict because the courts appoint guardians," state Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, said at the time. "They were fairly adamant that was something that we could not do appropriately."

Currently, the state requires certification of guardians by a national group, but not licensing.

Matthews, a lawyer, said she was approached by the administration to sponsor the bill, and met several times with the governor. Four other lawmakers became co-sponsors, and the bill passed both houses without opposition.

Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon said last week that the judiciary endorsed the overhauled bill, especially because it included funding for a new division of the Administrative Office of the Courts to audit guardianship files. That means three full-time employees will review the estimated 500 reports filed each month by guardians and conservators required to update the courts about the welfare and finances of the person under guardianship.

"Their (the auditors') responsibility year in and year out is going to be providing an extra set of eyes on every annual report filed while looking back in the court file" to ensure nothing is missed, said Bacon, a former state district judge who has been a longtime advocate for reform.

Currently, judges have no investigators or other staff to help review the accuracy of such reports, which are essentially the only routine monitoring of the nearly 5,000 active guardianship or conservatorship cases in New Mexico.

District Judge Nancy Franchini of Albuquerque said during a March legislative hearing that she has more than 200 guardianship and conservatorship cases in her court.

"This is a good bill; it's going to forward guardianship," she said, "but it's all predicated on the required funding that has to be recurring."

Court visitors

Families have long complained they didn't realize the ramifications of resorting to the drastic legal action of placing a loved one, perhaps with memory loss or dementia and unable to care for themselves, in a legal guardianship.

While some family members or friends become legal guardians, others have watched helplessly as professional guardians appointed by the courts have sold off a loved one's possessions and homes, without considering or perhaps disregarding the family members' input.

Alice Liu McCoy, the executive director of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, which oversees the state Office of Guardianship, told lawmakers earlier this year that the guardianship office will be required to submit an annual report and recruit and train court visitors for the new program, which will start in several court jurisdictions in the state.

"We envision a system where court visitors will be able to visit every single person (under guardianship) in their homes," she said. "They will be the eyes and ears on the ground."

Albuquerque elder law attorney Feliz A. Rael testified in support of the revamped bill at the Legislature in March. "I wish we had a pilot program for court visitors a long time ago," she said. "Honestly, I think it has the potential to save lives."

Laurie Hedrich, president of the New Mexico Guardianship Association, told the House State Government Elections and Indian Affairs Committee her group supported the measure, "particularly because it encourages deliberate thinking of least restrictive alternatives, which should formalize what should be happening anyway in protected proceedings."

"It is our hope it will result in less guardianships being granted where there are alternatives, the use of limited guardianships where full guardianship is unnecessary, and termination of guardianships in cases where it's no longer necessary," she said.

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