Saturday, June 26, 2021

National Guardianship Network Calls for Reforms to U.S. Guardianship System

For Immediate Release

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122

WASHINGTON, DC – During the week of May 10, 2021, the National Guardianship Network, with the support of the State Justice Institute, the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging, and the Syracuse University College of Law, brought together 125 advocates, family guardians, judges, lawyers, scholars, and other stakeholders for the Fourth National Guardianship Summit. These participants gathered virtually for four days to discuss the current state of the nation’s adult guardianship system and develop recommendations for reform and improvement around the theme of maximizing autonomy and ensuring accountability.

At the conclusion of the summit, delegates approved 22 final recommendations to improve and reform the adult guardianship system in the United States.

Six working groups convened during the week to address the rights of persons subject to guardianship; supporting decision-making; limited guardianship, protective arrangements, and diverting guardianship pipelines; rethinking monitoring and addressing abuse by guardians; fiduciary responsibilities and tensions; and developing guardianship court improvement programs.

On the final day of the summit, participants discussed, debated, and amended the recommendations offered by the working groups. Seventy-five summit participants serving as delegates for National Guardianship Network members and other sponsoring organizations then voted to adopt the recommendations developed by each working group.

The National Guardianship Network hopes the recommendations will guide reform efforts in the states, along with federal support, to improve oversight and accountability of guardian system, and reduce many unnecessary and overly broad guardianships. The National Guardianship Network members will take steps to assist its members and other organizations work to achieve the recommendations over the coming month and years.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

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How Britney Spears' Case Could Change the Future of Conservatorship

Click to Watch Video

By Abigail Abrams
When Britney Spears told a judge on Wednesday about her experience with her conservatorship—the legal arrangement that gave her father control over her finances and personal life—her words horrified the public.

“This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” she said, detailing how her legal guardians have dictated where she lives, works and receives therapy, stopped her from seeing friends, forced her to take medication against her will and prevented her from having her IUD removed so she could try to get pregnant. “I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.”

But while Spears’ speech was shocking for many listeners, disability rights lawyers and advocates say what she described is not unusual for many conservatorships in the United States, which are typically instituted for elderly adults, people with mental illnesses or those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Spears is arguably the nation’s most high-profile conservatee, and people with disabilities who have been fighting to reform conservatorships for years now hope that the attention paid to her case can give momentum to the push to rethink the entire system.

“I’m really heartened by the support that people have shown her and the outrage that people express when they see what conservatorship has done to her life,” says Sam Crane, legal director at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “What I really hope is that people can go beyond advocating for her and start really advocating for broader reforms that will help ensure that other people don’t have to go through this either.”

“It’s supposed to be a last resort”

If the system was born of good intentions, in practice, it can become warped and strip people of their basic civil rights.

A conservatorship, also known as a guardianship, is a legal tool that puts a court-appointed guardian or “conservator” in charge of making decisions for another adult who is deemed incapable of managing their own affairs. “The idea of conservatorships and guardianships is supposed to be a protective mechanism to protect a person who cannot take care of their own basic needs,” says Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project. There is limited data on conservatorships, but a National Council on Disability report estimates that at least 1.3 million Americans are under guardianship. Once people are under a conservatorship, there can be periodic reviews, but the process varies by state and there is little oversight.

Conservatees don’t have to lose all of their freedom. In California, for example, where Spears’ case is located, the system is supposed to favor limited conservatorships and give the conservator only those powers that a judge determines are truly necessary. This could mean someone only gets help with making financial decisions or has a guardian attend medical appointments, while retaining the rest of their autonomy. However, the National Council on Disability has found that most guardianships for people with disabilities go way beyond that and give all of the conservatee’s rights to the appointed conservator. 

And once a guardianship is in place, it is incredibly difficult to end it. It can only be lifted by a court. Conservatees often lose access to their money, to their ability to sign a contract and in some cases even to the Internet. Their conservator might be the one hiring a lawyer for them, they might not be able to afford a lawyer, or in cases like Spears, the court can appoint a lawyer they didn’t choose. “It’s supposed to be a last resort because it’s so invasive. It’s supposed to be only if there’s nothing else that works,” Brennan-Krohn says. “But in reality, it’s very often the first resort.”

This is in large part because of the way society views people with disabilities, advocates and lawyers say. “It’s a cultural failure,” says Jonathan Martinis, senior director for law and policy at Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute and a leading expert on alternatives to conservatorship. He notes that the idea of guardianship for people with disabilities goes back as far as the first codified laws in ancient Rome, and it’s been a fixture of western legal systems since then.

Assumptions that people with disabilities can’t take care of themselves can also lead to situations like Spears being denied the choice to remove her IUD and have another child. “There have been efforts to control the reproduction of people with disabilities, and especially women of color with disabilities, for a long time,” says Crane. “And it really was born from the eugenics movement.”

In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that it was constitutional for the state of Virginia to forcibly sterilize a “feeble minded woman” for the “welfare of society,” and this kind of practice continued for decades. States have stopped allowing this kind of sterilization, and most have extra protections before someone under conservatorship can be sterilized, but Crane argues that Spears’ forced IUD constitutes reproductive coercion and should fall under that category as well.

Some guardianships are abusive, as Spears has alleged, but disability rights advocates say there are serious problems with the system even when everyone is acting in good faith. This is especially an issue for young adults. Among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, people ages 18-22 are the age group most likely to be under guardianship. Educators routinely recommend guardianship for teenagers leaving school, creating a “school-to-guardianship pipeline,” according to a 2019 report from the National Council on Disability. For other young adults, making mistakes and learning from those choices is part of growing up. But for people with disabilities, those mistakes can be used against them in guardianship hearings.

“One of the things that we’ve seen with guardianships really commonly is that when you don’t have the ability to steer decisions around your life, you’re not in the driver’s seat, you disengage,” says Crane. “So people don’t develop skills under guardianship, they actually lose skills under guardianship. And it keeps people trapped in the cycle where people are making decisions for them without consulting them.”

A new model of support

Increasingly, advocates are promoting the model of “supported decision making” instead of conservatorship.

Supported decision making is a process by which an individual builds a network of people who they trust to help them make decisions, instead of having a court designate people for them to manage their affairs. This can be done informally, codified in a notarized agreement, or in some states recognized by a court. In 2013, Martinis represented Jenny Hatch, a Virginia woman with Down syndrome who was suing to end her guardianship, and the case became the first trial in which a judge denied permanent guardianship in favor of supported decision making.

Since then, 12 states and Washington, D.C. have recognized supported decision making as an alternative to guardianship, and there are movements in most states to bolster the model, says Martinis. Guardianship laws have come a long way in recent years, and legislators in California and other states have introduced bills to strengthen the rights of those under conservatorships.

But advocates says there is still more work to be done to educate teachers, doctors, judges, and families of people with disabilities about steps to take before or instead of guardianship. People who need support could also designate a power of attorney, for instance, which transfers more limited authority, or work with experts like a financial manager before moving straight to guardianship. With so many people now focused on Spears’ situation, advocates are hopeful that the star’s wrenching testimony can serve as a call to action for others.

“Every time we shine a little bit of light, things get easier for everyone after that. Britney’s not just shining a light, she’s a huge spotlight,” says Martinis. “So maybe just maybe the conversation changes a little bit and the culture changes a little bit. And we say before guardianship, what else can we do?”

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Woman arrested after hidden camera shows she abused 87-year-old patient

Mayte Todd-Molina is accused of abusing an 87-year-old patient at an assisted living facility in Miami-Dade County. (MDPD)

– Officers arrested a 42-year-old woman on Wednesday who is accused of abusing an 87-year-old Alzheimer’s patient at an assisted living facility in Miami-Dade County.

Surveillance video shows Mayte Todd-Molina pulled the victim’s hair down toward the pillow, and slapped the victim in the face several times, according to Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“It is incredibly sad to see a caregiver abuse a patient,” Moody said in a statement. “Floridians utilize assisted living facilities once they are no longer able to take care of themselves and trust that caregivers will help, not harm them.”

The victim’s relatives lost trust and installed a hidden camera after noticing bruising. The facility did not have an explanation or report on any incidents that may have caused the bruising, according to Moody’s Medicaid fraud control unit.

Todd-Molina faces two third-degree felony charges of abuse of an elderly disabled adult. Records show she was at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. The Office of the State Attorney in the 11th Judicial Circuit will prosecute the case.
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Friday, June 25, 2021

No deal reached in case accusing lawyer of stealing

The case has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed by the court.  

By Stephen Betts

A court conference was held last week in the case of a former Rockland lawyer, accused of stealing nearly $1.2 million from three elderly, incapacitated people.

The conference between representatives of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, defense and court was held June 17 in the case of Anita M. Volpe, 75, of Tenants Harbor.

No further hearings are scheduled yet.

Volpe was indicted in March 2019 on three counts of felony theft, two counts of Class B misuse of entrusted property and one count of Class C misuse of entrusted property. In October 2019, the AG’s Office filed paperwork court, saying it would seek a seven-year prison sentence if Volpe was convicted of the charges.

Volpe pleaded not guilty at her April 2019 arraignment.

The case, like most in the court system, has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed by the court. There have not been any jury trials held in Knox County yet, since March 2020 when the pandemic restrictions were imposed.

Volpe is free on bail with the condition that she not be a trustee, personal representative or handle finances for anyone until the case is concluded.

The memorandum filed in court Oct. 7, 2019 by Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin alleges that Volpe stole $553,225 from Mary Webb; $490,416 from Patricia Wakefield; and more than $100,000 from Corine Hendrick. The state is proposing that Volpe pay restitution of those amounts to Webb and Wakefield’s estates.

Volpe served as the power of attorney for the three women.

According to the state, Volpe stole from Webb and Wakefield to repay the estate of Hendrick, who was her mother-in-law.

The longtime local lawyer is alleged to have used the stolen money to pay personal credit card debt and to purchases real estate, according to the state’s memo to the court. The real estate included a parcel abutting her home in St. George.

Volpe also used some of the money to repair her Main Street law office in Rockland, according to the state. She also is alleged to have used the money to repair her home.

Volpe also traded in a car owned by Wakefield to help pay for a pick-up truck, the state alleges.

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Media Covering Britney Spears' Conservatorship: Where Have You Been?

 by Gretchen R. Hammond

Britney Spears. Image by the New York Times

Listening to Britney Spears’ devastating testimony about life under a guardianship at her hearing in Los Angeles yesterday was heartbreaking, sickening and all too familiar. 

In Oakland County Michigan, for the past three years, I’ve heard the same stories repeated thousands of times by innocent seniors and developmentally disabled individuals and their families relentlessly suffering under an antiquated system that, with little or no due process, stripped them of their civil and constitutional rights and handed them over to an attorney guardian who systematically destroyed their lives, robbed them of their life savings and personal belongings down to the clothes on their back and left them to rot in facilities the inhumanity of which defied description. 

My team and I were able to demonstrate that it was a problem repeated in surrounding counties for over 40 years without anything being done. In June of this year, a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Forensic and investigative Reporting, came to the same conclusion: that what is happening to Michigan’s most vulnerable is systemic. 

However, readers outside of this diary do not know that. 

In the aftermath of international media reports racing each other to blow up Twitter, with a transcript of Ms. Spears’ remarks, or some hurried article on what the mechanics of a “complicated conservatorship”, I’ve been waiting for the breaking news afterbirth in the form of OpEds condemning the state of America’s probate and family court system.

I’ll wager that some of their authors will react, as their social media followers have, with abject shock that this is happening to America’s vulnerable. 

Where the hell have they been?

One would think that a hopelessly corrupt legal system that has abused with impunity for decades would be prime real estate for my peers.

Yet, in Michigan, outside of myself and investigative reporter Heather Catallo’s work with ABC-affiliate WXYZ,  the issue has been avoided by local journalists. This, despite victims and their families pleading with them to just look into their cases. 

Those few local journalists who answered my questions as to why there has been little to no interest responded with a combination of “it’s too complex an issue” or a fear of being on the wrong end of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) filed by any one of a group of powerful estate and probate firms based in Troy.

Leading that pack has been Kemp Klein, which has not only hatched a legacy of corrupt attorney guardians like the Alien Queen, but is so sinister they make John Grisham’s “The Firm” look like The Innocence Project. 

When I approached the Detriot Office of the ACLU with evidence of civil rights abuses that should have been smack in the center of their wheelhouse, the door was slammed followiing the brief explanation “we don’t have the resources.” 

Or, roughly translated, “we won’t get the media attention.”

As a result, when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced, in March 2019, that her Elder Abuse Taskforce was focusing on reforming the guardianship system (an event I was barred from attending) no one in the Lansing Press Corps. wondered aloud why they were necessary.

One day later, Georgia Callis, vice president of the pro-guardianship lobbyists the Michigan Guardianship Association, gave an interview to Michigan Public Radio during which she stated the organization’s intent to push back on reforms that “micromanaged” guardians.

In explaining why, she stated that professional guardians not only work for free, but are our actually out money because they have to pay for parking druing a court hearing. She added that guardians make only $83-per-month for a ward on Medicaid. 

She neglected to say that professional guardians, her own compnay included, have hundreds of wards each on Medicaid and that she owned a house in Waterford valued at $600,000. However, she was not challenged  by the interviewer on any of her assertions. 

When in August 2019, Nessel fired Public Adminstrators Thomas Brennan Fraser, John Yun and who were the focus of our reporting, only two outlets covered the story The Detroit News and the Macomb Daily, neither of whom asked Nessel for any more specifics than her vague explanation that their removal was the result of “an internal decison.” 

They just weren’t that curious. 

On the afternoon of June 10 of this year, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing at which activist and daughter of Casey Kasem, Kerri Kasem, alongside victims of guardianship abuse in at least five counties described, in horrific detail, the suffering their loved ones endured.

The local press was there. But, Nessel astutely decided to hold a press conference that morning to officially announce and congratulate her Taskforce for their reform packages and so received the lion’s share of the day’s coverage. With the exception of Ms. Kasem, the victims again went unheard. 

Had the opposite been true, perhaps the victims would have been heard when they made the salient point that neither probate judges nor their professional appointees have been following the law anyway and, without consequences, volumes of reform legislation the size of Marcel Proust’s Greatest Hits are a waste of pulp. 

When this past Tuesday, the House Judiciary held their own hearings Nessel dominated the hour with an impassioned speech as to the value of the reforms. However, only WXYZ covered it and no one asked her if she planned on taking action against professional guardians who break the law. 

I have repeated that question to Nessel for three years and her only answer was to block me on Twitter. 

As a coda to that heairng, the Michigan Probate Judges Association made the nonsensical statement that, while they had been proud to work on the Taskforce legislation for two years, they object to the reforms now. That organization has successfuly blocked such efforts by Taskforces dating back to 1998. Actvists who have the kind of cyncism I have since adiopted tell me that, frankly, it will be a minor miracle if any of the bills make it out of committee unscathed or at all. 

With one possible exception involving the family of Aretha Franklin, this will be my last post on Michigan’s guardianship problems. 

I poured everything I had into exposing them (ironically including my savings and my home in Chicago) and there really isn’t anything more I can write that I have not already covered. I am an idealist at heart, so the only way I can shake a feeling of failure, is remembering that by my showing up at hearings wearing my press badge, three unneccssary guardianships were reversed. Three out of 2,237. 

If there’s one thing these judges and their attorneys fear it’s the light of the media, even my own dim bulb.

What a difference Ms. Spears’ has made.

All I can do is hope that the outrage somehow seeps into Detroit’s newsrooms and injects a little courage and dedication to uncovering an issue that, without them, will just go on and on. For that reason. I do want to sincerely thank those of you who have followed and encouraged my team’s investigation. If the most realistic goal is to reach just one person, we achieved that. 

If the arc is long, in Michigan it is also made of iron. For it to finally bend towards justice for thousands of people who are wrongfully mprisoned behind it, will take a media and a country to finally start listening to them. 

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Britney Spears Compares Conservatorship To “Sex Trafficking,” Asks Judge To Free Her During Hearing

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — At a hearing Wednesday in Los Angeles that took place virtually, Britney Spears asked a judge to release her from a conservatorship primarily controlled by her father.

The conservatorship — also called a guardianship in some states —  sparked the #FreeBritney movement. It was put in place after Spears’ had a mental health crisis in 2008.

According to California law, a conservatorship is put in place for people who are “unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter,” or for someone who is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.”

Speaking by phone, Spears referred to the conservatorship as “abusive” and said, “The only thing comparable is sex trafficking,” according to the court transcript.

The last time Spears addressed the court was in 2019 and she said she didn’t feel that she was heard at that time.

In an emotional and sometime profanity-laced statement, the pop star condemned her father and others who have been in charge of the 13-year long conservatorship and asked to be released from the arrangement without an evaluation.

“I feel ganged up on, bullied and alone. I need your help,” Spears told the judge.

Spears’ statement went on for about 30 minutes and shed light on issues previously kept out of the public sphere by the court.

A particularly dramatic moment occurred at one point in the hearing when Spears shouted after an attorney representing the co-conservatorship suggested any medical information revealed in the transcript be kept private. Spears insisted that her words be public.

According to Spears, after she disagreed with a piece of choreography that was supposed to appear in her 2019 Vegas residency that was ultimately cancelled, she was forced to take lithium. She made a point of adding that she’s not a slave to anyone and is allowed to say no to a dance move.

A crowd of fans and supporters of the #FreeBritney movement could be seen outside the courthouse. Many held signs that read “Get out of Britney’s life” and “Free Britney now!”

After a brief recess, Vivian Thoreen provided a statement on behalf of James Spears, the pop star’s father.

“He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” the attorney said. “Mr. Spears loves his daughter, and misses her very much.”

The pop star said that her father loved to control her life and that she believes her family has done nothing to help her. She also said she’d like to sue them.

“After I’ve been telling the world I’m okay…I’m not. I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. My dad and anyone involved involved in this conservatorship…they should be in jail,” Spears said. “I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work and earn money. I have worked since I was 17-years-old. I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive. I don’t feel like I can have a full life.”

According to court records, Spears’ estimated wealth is around $50 million. California law requires Spears prove that she is competent in order to be released from the conservatorship.

Attorneys and all parties agreed during the hearing that they will meet and come up with further dates for future proceedings.

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Disbarred Columbus attorney facing up to 20 years following guilty plea in fraud case

by: Jolyn Hannah

COLUMBUS Ga. (WRBL) – A disbarred Columbus attorney has entered a guilty plea in a federal fraud case. George W. Snipes, age 68, pleaded guilty to the charge of federal mail fraud on June 23, 2021 in the of court U.S. District Judge Clay Land.

According to officials with the United States Attorney’s Office Middle District of Georgia, investigation into Snipes revealed the former Columbus-based attorney stole a settlement fee from two clients in a personal injury case.

“Lawyers are bound by a sworn oath to act with utmost integrity for the good of their clients and the legal profession itself. Snipes not only violated his oath, he acted in a criminal manner by diverting funds intended for his injured clients for his own personal use,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. 

The charges against Snipes stem from a personal injury case he was involved in back in September 2017. Snipes’ clients in the case has been involved in an auto accident in August 2017, and retained Snipes services in a personal injury case.

According to officials, Snipes settled the case without his clients’ knowledge or authorization in the amount of $48,000. He had the payment sent to himself rather than his clients. He then used the settlement money for personal use, according officials.

Snipes is scheduled to be sentenced on October 19, 2021. Along with a $250,000 fine, Snipes faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

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Rome man charged with exploitation of an elderly person

By Doug Walker

A Rome man faces a list of charges after he allegedly made threats against an elderly woman, threw a bat at a man and spit on police, reports stated.

According to Floyd County Jail reports:

Edward Lamar Baker, 55, was picked up at his home Monday by Floyd County police, who reported that he inflicted mental anguish on an elderly woman by punching out a couple of windows and threatening to blame her for his injuries.

Baker also threw a baseball bat at a man before police took him to the hospital, where he is accused of spitting on officers.

Baker is charged with felony exploitation and intimidation of an older person along with misdemeanor criminal trespass, two counts of willful obstruction of officers, simple battery against police, disorderly conduct and public drunk.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

AG Nessel testifies in Lansing, challenging state's guardianship laws: 'We should be ashamed...'

The Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified Tuesday in front of a committee in Lansing telling legislators we should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in our state.
By: Heather Catallo
LANSING (WXYZ) — The Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified Tuesday in front of a committee in Lansing telling legislators we should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in our state.

Members of the Elder Abuse Task Force are trying to get the laws changed to improve Michigan’s flawed guardianship system, which the 7 Investigators have been reporting on for years.

“We should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in this state.”

“We should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in this state,” said Nessel during her testimony in front of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. The attorney general said adult guardianship reforms are not just a good idea – they’re a moral imperative.

“We must remember that guardianship and conservatorships can and do ruin lives,” Nessel added. “Even prisoners, convicted murderers retain more rights than someone under a guardianship.”

The 7 Investigators have been exposing problems in the state’s guardianship system for four years.

Nessel even cited the WXYZ story about Marcie Mitchell’s parents, who were separated from their loved ones by a professional guardian back in 2019.

“The legislation before you today addresses the problems we saw in this case,” Nessel said.

When you’re declared mentally incapacitated by the probate courts and placed under guardianship, you can no longer make your own medical, financial, or legal decisions.

“We do not serve to denigrate those who do the sometimes thankless job of serving as guardians. But we do want a more transparent guardianship system here in Michigan,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-Dewitt), who is sponsoring some of the bills.

New legislation created by the attorney general’s Elder Abuse Task Force will make it harder for professional guardians to isolate vulnerable adults or cash in on their estates.

“Sometimes we see guardians who misuse resident funds or who won’t provide residents with the most basic things, like underwear or consent for medical treatment,” said State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Salli Pung about people under guardianship in nursing homes and long term care facilities.

The four new bills would change several things, including giving judges more rules to follow to make sure family members get to serve as a guardian, instead of a stranger. The bills would also require more medical documentation before declaring someone incapacitated.

“Under this bill, a court may dismiss a proceeding if it cannot be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the individual is an incapacitated individual,” said Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield), who is also sponsoring some of the legislation.

“They just improve transparency by making everyone knows what the rules are to be determined whether someone is unsuitable to serve,” said Christopher Smith from the State Bar Elder Law & Disability Rights Section.

The Michigan Probate Judges Association is not thrilled with all of the changes, but their president-elect testified that they’re working with the task force to keep tweaking the legislation.

“There are, however, some provisions that we see as problematic to the court process,” said Judge John Tomlinson.

Testimony for the bills was limited by time on Tuesday, but committee members say they will continue to hold hearings and work on these changes to the law over the summer.

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Jury selection begins in ethics trial of suspended Lee County DA Brandon Hughes

by: Elizabeth White

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – The stage is set as suspended Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes prepares to defend himself against multiple felony ethics charges

Jury selection began Monday morning inside the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University.  The decision was made to hold the selection process at the venue because the pool of potential jurors is so large. After a jury is seated, the trial will shift to Lee County Justice Center. The selection process could last a few days.

Monday, several potential jurors had already disclosed either knowing or having a friendship with Hughes and/or his family members as both prosecutors with the Attorney General’s Office, Hughes’ defense team, and appointed Circuit Judge Pamela Baschab asked them if they could be fair and impartial after hearing the evidence in the case. 
Brandon Hughes sits with his defense attorney during jury selection

Hughes has pleaded not guilty to five ethics violations, conspiracy to commit theft, and perjury. Hughes was indicted in November and is accused of using public funds to pay attorneys to settle a private legal matter; testimony given during a pre-trial hearing suggested Hughes allegedly used public funds to litigate a settlement in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee

Additionally, court documents accuse Hughes of illegally hiring his children and issuing a subpoena to a private business to gather evidence for his potential criminal defense. Hughes is also charged with conspiring to steal a pickup from a business in Chambers County by using a Lee County search warrant.

Hughes maintains his innocence on all counts. Hughes was elected as the Lee County District Attorney’s Officein 2016. He was suspended after his arrest. A judge appointed Jessica Ventiere as district attorney pro-tem to oversee the office.

It is not known if Hughes will take the stand in his defense. The trial could last at least two weeks.

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Former caregiver charged with stealing, withholding care from elderly in Junction City, Eugene and Salem

by Louis Krauss

Junction City police are seeking help identifying pieces of stolen jewelry.  Photos of the jewelry can be viewed online at Junction City Police Department

Eight months after her arrest, a former Junction City retirement home caregiver was arraigned on 21 charges, which include allegedly stealing money and intentionally withholding care and medical attention from elderly people in facilities in Junction City, Eugene and Salem.

Noelle Jendraszek pleaded not guilty to all charges on June 14.

Jendraszek, a Harrisburg resident, was arrested in October under suspicion by police of 99 felony charges and 11 misdemeanor charges, which included stealing jewelry, money and drugs from residents of the Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living Facility, according to a news release from Junction City police at the time. 

Jendraszek confessed in October to stealing in a notarized affidavit after being arrested, as well as to similar crimes at previous care facilities where she worked, according to police.

When investigators initially interviewed Jendraszek, within hours of the first interview, she gave up about 275 pieces of jewelry she had admitted to stealing from residents in care facilities where she was employed in the past five or six years, police said.

"Jendraszek has also admitted withholding vital and medically necessary medication from 44 vulnerable and elderly residents whom were (in) her care," police said after her arrest.

There is still an active page from Junction City police with hundreds of photos of stolen jewelry they are asking for help with identifying. The original owners' friends or relatives can file claims at

Jendraszek wasn't formally charged until May 10, before being arraigned on June 14 on 21 charges she pleaded not guilty to. The charges filed in Lane County Circuit Court include six counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment, two counts each of second-degree and third-degree theft, six counts of tampering with drug records, and five counts of recklessly endangering another person.

Her next court date is Aug. 11. Lane County District Attorney Patricia Perlow declined to comment on why Jendraszek was not charged more immediately following her arrest in October. The case is now being handled by the Oregon Attorney General's office, Perlow said.

The office's communications director Kristina Edmunson also declined to comment on the matter.

"We are not able to comment on a pending case," she said.

Over the years, Jendraszek has worked at the Junction City facility, River Grove Memory Care in Eugene and six care facilities in Salem: Cedar Village Assisted Living Community, Capital Manor Retirement Community, Four Seasons Residential Care, Gibson Creek by Bonaventure, Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights, and Redwood Heights Retirement and Assisted Living Community.

In her statement of guilt, Jendraszek said the following, according to police: “I am very apologetic for any harm I have done and/or any sadness I have caused. It is my intent to correct my wrongs and do the right thing by taking responsibility for my actions. I hope someday that all the families and persons I have harmed can find it within themselves to forgive me because I know what I have done is wrong and I am seeking the help I need to recover and become a better person.”

The release said police began investigating Sept. 10, when the son of a resident at Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living reported someone had stolen cash from his father.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

New Oregon law seeks to improve life for people with appointed guardians

By Kristian Foden-Vencil

A new law requires that guardianship explanations be understood by those they’re protecting.

People in Oregon can be appointed guardians for all kinds of reasons. They may be too young to look after their own affairs. They may be incapacitated after an accident or have a disability.

Two years ago, the Oregon Legislature handed people under guardianship a major victory. It passed a law requiring people with guardians be properly notified when a court appoints someone to oversee their daily activities, such as banking or renting an apartment.

In June, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 190 to update that law, ensuring that notification of guardianship is actually understandable to people receiving the care.

“That means, often times, orally describing the guardianship and also using language that most people understand, not legal jargon,” said Jake Cornett with Disability Rights Oregon, which advocated for the change.

The new law might also mean the paperwork for guardianship be provided in large print, for example, to someone who has low vision.

“The core of this is all about a guardian working with the person they’ve been appointed guardianship over, to help them understand what’s going on,” Cornett said. “That’s the most important thing and the whole thrust behind this bill.”

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Michigan Attorney Overturns Disbarment Tied to Use of Client Fee

by Maeve Allsup

A criminal defense attorney who allegedly misspent a client’s advance fee and failed to repay it deserves to have his license suspended but not revoked altogether, the Michigan Supreme Court said in reversing a decision from a state discipline board.

James Sterling Lawrence, who has argued litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court, was ordered disbarred by the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board in September over allegations he misused client fees.

Lawrence, a criminal defense attorney, allegedly requested an advance fee to conduct preliminary research and file a motion seeking reversal of a 1981 first-degree murder case. Lawrence deposited the fee into his business checking account, which had a negative balance at the time of deposit, and made withdrawals from that account for personal expenses.

The client, who was serving life in prison for the murder charge, later decided not to proceed with the motion to reverse the judgment and requested the return of his advance. Lawrence, who said most of the personal debits to the account were made by his wife, was unable to pay back the advance in full and set up a payment plan to the client. But he didn’t reimburse according to the plan.

Lawrence told the state discipline board he “forgot” to make payments until reminded to do so by the client.

A hearing panel of the board found Lawrence didn’t act with fraudulent or larcenous intent and concluded his misconduct occurred as a result of gross mismanagement and ignorance. The panel suspended him for 100 days, but the board increased the penalty to disbarment in September of last year.

The Michigan Supreme Court reversed that decision June 18, finding disbarment too extreme given the facts and circumstances of Lawrence’s conduct.

Reasonable minds could disagree over whether Lawrence moved quickly enough to make his client whole, but the presence of several mitigating factors makes suspension a more appropriate sanction, the court said.

And while the board was rightly concerned by the “mere” 100-day suspension, Lawrence has now effectively been suspended for over a year, the court said.

Lawrence’s career has included a case that went to the nation’s top court. In 2010, Lawrence failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Michigan top court’s rejection of his argument that Black jurors were systematically excluded from jury pools in Grand Rapids.

Justices Bridget Mary McCormack, Brian K. Zahra, David F. Viviano, Richard Bernstein, Elizabeth T. Clement, and Elizabeth M. Welch joined the opinion. Justice Megan K. Cavanagh didn’t participate because of her prior service as a member of the Attorney Grievance Commission.

The case is Grievance Admin. v. Lawrence, 2021 BL 228982, Mich., No. 162155, 6/18/21.

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Volusia Count judge upholds law that keeps court-appointed attorneys from collecting fees from people who aren’t under legal guardianships

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — After more than a year fight to keep them out of the guardianship system, a tearful Maria Enzor was overwhelmed to hear the estate of her parents, Joe and Patricia Smith, won’t have to pay more than $22,000 in fees to a court-appointed attorney who filed for payment after they died earlier this year.

“I feel people watching and paying attention made a big difference, but I’m ecstatic,” Enzor said.

As advocates hoped, Judge Margaret Hudson expressed her opinion that it was time for the case to end.

She also noted Florida law that denies payment when no legal guardianship was established, which was exactly the case for the 87- and 88-year-olds.

That’s despite a court record of multiple attempts by opposing counsel to prove them incapacitated.

All parties agreed that a $400 portion was justified for court-appointed attorney Sherrille Akin, but not from the Smiths’ estate.

The judge will seek state funds to cover it.

Today the court-appointed attorney in this case said she never anticipated getting those feeds paid.

Akin told Channel 9 she wanted her petition put on the record in case of future reviews to compensate court-appointed attorneys in these complicated cases.

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Monday, June 21, 2021

Catfishing, financial exploitation and other elder abuse impacts one in 10 seniors

by Sierra Rains

In a recent investigation, local law enforcement found that a disabled veteran reportedly had been exploited out of almost $90,000 during a two-year span.  

Sadly, the exploitation of vulnerable adults is all too common, Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Investigator Michael Kruger said. 

In this instance, the victim’s only source of income was a monthly Veterans Affairs Disability payment, ranging from $2,973.86 to $3,106.04, according to an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office report

The payments were deposited into a bank account he shared with a court-appointed guardian, and by November 2020 the account was depleted to a balance of only $55.44. 

Kruger, who specializes in investigating economic crimes, said a majority of financial crimes are directed at the elderly. 

Financial exploitation is considered a form of elder abuse, a term that also encompasses physical and sexual abuse, as well as confinement and willful deprivation. The National Council on Aging estimates one in 10 adults aged 60 and older have experienced elder abuse in some form. 

The annual loss by elderly victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion, according to NCOA. Whether they fall victim to a scam or are exploited financially by a family member or guardian, Kruger said the effects can be devastating. 

In many cases, once the money is gone, victims never see it again. Even when victims are able to claim restitution, it can be a long time before they ever see the money because it often already has been spent. 

“They’ve earned throughout their whole life and then it’s gone,” Kruger said. “If you’re talking about an elderly person who may be at the end of their lifespan, they won’t see that money by the time they pass away. That part is very sad.”

Kruger said the perpetrator in most financial exploitation cases is a family member, a guardian or someone close to the family. According to NCOA, that is the case in almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents nationwide. 

The staff at nursing facilities and care centers are often some of the first to spot and report sudden or suspicious changes in financial situations or signs of abuse. Reports are made through the Department of Children and Families abuse hotline and directly to local law enforcement. 

“The people that work at these care centers, they care a lot about the people they are taking care of. That’s usually how we find out about it,” Kruger said. “They’ll call the hotline and .. say ‘Something's going on. I really want you guys to know about this.’ ”

Investigators spend weeks going through financial records to determine if there is any criminal activity involved. Kruger said two out of three cases typically end up being criminal. 

“We see a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’ve had some cases where on the face of it, it looks like exploitation, but when you look at it financially it turns out that they were just in a poor financial situation to begin with.” 

In most criminal cases, investigators will find instances in which money directed to go toward the needs of an elderly person is being used for unnecessary expenses such as a new sports car. 

“Unless that car is used to transport them around,” Kruger said. “But if you’re going and buying a brand new car, a sports car, and you’re saying that’s what you’re going to drive your mom around in, that’s not going to really go over very well.”

Kruger said it’s also common to see the staff at care centers dip into their own pockets to help victims obtain everything from socks to blankets — simple things that should be provided for them but are not. 

Adults older than 60 can become vulnerable to scams and exploitation for a variety of reasons. Some face illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or don’t have a firm grasp of technology. But the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic also created a vulnerable group longing for socialization. 

“The romance schemes against the elderly, that went through the roof. And that just had to do with them being lonely and reaching out online,” Kruger said. “So my job, part of it is to go and prove to the person being exploited that this romance is false. You’ve been catfished. This person is not that person.” 

In romance schemes, victims often end up giving large amounts of money to people posing as romantic interests, and Kruger said some facing isolation would rather give away their life savings than not have someone to talk to. 

“That’s the saddest part, is a lot of the elderly that I dealt with, this person is the one person they talk to all the time,” Kruger said. “So when I tell them they have to change their phone number, this person is bad. Then they’re like ‘But I won’t get any phone calls. I like to talk to them.' "

When older adults become victims of fraud it can be difficult for them to share with their family or loved ones, Kruger said. Some fear that they might lose their independence or respect. As a result, a number of cases go unreported. 

“That’s the other side of it," Kruger said. "With the elderly being exploited by people outside of their family, it’s hard for them to tell their kids or their family members because there’s that fear that once they see that, they’re going to take away their freedom. It’s like a double-edged sword.”

Kruger said older adults who are victims of exploitation should never feel ashamed, and hopes that by shedding some light on the issue more people might feel comfortable to come forward and learn how to avoid fraud schemes. 

“Other people are probably also victims, and by you talking about it you can shed light and make people aware of it,” Kruger said. “There shouldn’t be any type of negative thing against the person, because I can tell you that these types of people that are scamming them are professionals. They are good.”

Fraud, financial exploitation or other forms of elder abuse should be reported to local law enforcement or the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-962-2873.

Kruger also suggested reporting fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, and advised that one of the key ways people can avoid becoming a victim is by not answering calls from unfamiliar numbers. 

More information on the latest scams and resources for people to protect themselves can be found online at

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Twin Cities Couple Bilked $200,000 From Elderly Mother

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged a Roseville man and his wife with bilking his elderly mother out of almost $200,000.

Gregory and Kelly Harrington were both charged Thursday with felony financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

According to the criminal complaint, Gregory’s 94-year-old mother gave the couple power of attorney in 2015 before she moved into a senior living development. The woman had $380,000 in savings then.

Investigators determined the couple spent about $197,000 of that on expenses that didn’t benefit her. They depleted her savings so much that she couldn’t pay her living expenses. The couple moved her into an 8-foot-by-10-foot room in their basement that was just big enough for a bed, chair and television, the complaint said.

The couple maintained that they reached a family agreement that they could spend the woman’s money.

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Ohio’s COVID-19 health orders lifted, but some upset nursing homes still face restrictions

By Sara Goldenberg

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - This Wednesday it’s “back to normal” for many Ohioans as the state’s Covid-19 health orders expired.

But some families with loved ones in nursing homes feel like they’re being left behind again.

Some restrictions have been left in place for group settings in Ohio.

19 Investigates spoke with one woman calling for changes.

One year ago, we spoke with Vicki Krafthefer.

The only way she could see her sister Christy was through a window at her Westerville nursing home.

It was a painful time for many families who could not visit their loved ones in person during most of the coronavirus pandemic.

Christy caught Covid-19, but was asymptomatic.

She is vaccinated now.

Krafthefer said her request for compassionate care visits at the time were denied.

“My sister got an infection in her eye, they let it go. And this went on for like three months. And my sister had to end up having surgery on her eye,” she said.

Krafthefer believes if she had been let into her sister’s nursing home, this would not have happened.

Many restrictions have lifted since then, including visitation.

According to this map on the Ohio Department of Health’s website, 86 percent of facilities are allowing indoor visits right now, 56 percent are allowing outdoor visits and just three percent are not allowing visits at all.

But there still are struggles.

Krafthefer has to make appointments to see her sister Christy.

She can go into her room, but only for one hour. No children are allowed.

ODH orders allow only two people per visit, face masks are required and so is social distancing.

The restrictions vary by facility and by any Covid-19 outbreaks they may have.

Krafthefer wonders when the restrictions will go away.

“They keep the restrictions and everything, but it’s like, okay you’re not going to make people get vaccinated who don’t want to get vaccinated,” she said.

She thinks some, like appointments for visits, are unnecessary.

“Everything’s 50/50 now, you have people vaccinated, people not vaccinated. And everything’s being lifted and opened up out here. So why can’t we give the residents the same respect?” she said.

Krafthefer said some normalcy for nursing home residents will really help their mental health.

Ohio Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff addressed nursing homes and Covid-19 restrictions in a press conference Wednesday.

He said they’re not lifting restrictions in nursing homes because of the environment, citing vulnerable Ohioans are receiving health care.

He pointed out this population was most impacted by Covid-19.

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Sunday, June 20, 2021

C.A. Reverses Judgment Dissolving Marriage

Panel Says Judge Was Obliged to Hold Hearing on Competence of Husband to Decide to End Marriage

By a MetNews Staff Writer

Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has taken the rare action of reversing a judgment dissolving a marriage, holding that a judge of the Orange Superior Court erred in declining to hold a hearing to determine if there was merit to the wife’s contention that her husband lacked the mental capacity to determine that he wanted a divorce.

Under a status-only judgment by Judge Sandy N. Leal, the 39-year marriage of Wayne Steven Hermes and Julie Amanda Hermes ended on Oct. 4, 2019. That judgment was reversed in an unpublished opinion filed Wednesday.

Not specified by the author of that opinion, Justice Richard D. Fybel, is whether the Hermes’s present status is that of husband and wife—or whether that prior status will be restored upon finality of the opinion in 30 days. The answer was provided yesterday by an expert in appellate and family law, Julia C. Shear Kushner, who advised:

“Per Family Code Section 2341, subdivision (b) since this appeal challenged termination of marital status, the dissolution judgment was stayed pending the resolution of the appeal. As a result, the parties have been married for the duration of the appeal. Because the statute automatically stayed the dissolution judgment, the parties marital status was not terminated. So the parties are currently married—and have always been married throughout the proceedings.”

The wife questioned the husband’s mental competence based on a marked change of mood and personality following a concussion he suffered in a 2012 bicycling accident, as well as concussions incurred in subsequent mishaps. She attempted at various points in the divorce proceedings to have medical evidence heard as to her husband’s mental competence but it was spurned by the judge, who suggested she might seek a conservatorship.

Kushner said in Wednesday’s opinion:

“Mental capacity is required to enter into a valid marriage….Lack of capacity therefore can be raised as a defense to a petition for dissolution of marriage….The requisite mental capacity must be maintained throughout the dissolution action….”

He went on to say:

The trial court’s admonition to Julie to seek a conservatorship confirms the court misunderstood the scope of its authority. The standard for appointing a conservatorship and the standard for mental capacity to end a marriage are not the same.”

The jurist explained that competence to seek a divorce entails an ability to exercise judgment and to express a desire for termination of a marriage based on irreconcilable differences, while a conservatorship requires, under Probate Code §1801(a), that the person be “unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.” He wrote:

“[A] person may be the subject of a conservatorship yet still have the capacity to end a marriage….[I]f a conservator were appointed for Wayne, the trial court still would have the obligation to make a finding on the issue of Wayne’s mental capacity to seek a divorce. “The trial court also mistakenly believed it did not have the authority to order a physical and mental examination of Wayne. The trial court had such authority pursuant to Evidence Code section 730. Although the trial court is not required to order an examination of Wayne, it must at least consider whether to do so.”

The full disposition reads:

“The judgment of dissolution is reversed. The matter is remanded with directions for the trial court to do the following: (1) determine whether to order a physical and mental examination of Wayne; (2) conduct an evidentiary hearing on the issue of Wayne’s mental capacity to bring and maintain a petition for dissolution of his marriage to Julie; and (3) make a determination on the issue of Wayne’s mental capacity to bring and maintain a petition for dissolution of his marriage to Julie. If the trial court finds that Wayne had the requisite mental capacity at all appropriate times, then the judgment of dissolution shall be reinstated. Appellant to recover costs on appeal.”

The case is Marriage of Hermes, G058623.

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