Saturday, July 3, 2021

Judge Denies Britney Spears' Request To Have Her Father Removed From Conservatorship

by Anastasia Tsioulcas

A judge has denied Britney Spears' request to remove her father, Jamie Spears, as a co-conservator.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge signed an order Wednesday denying Britney Spears' request to have her father, Jamie Spears, removed from the financial aspects of her conservatorship.

Judge Brenda Penny denied the request, which was first filed by Britney Spears' attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, in November. The judge's decision comes after the singer appeared in court June 23 to make a direct appeal. In that emotional statement, Spears said that she was being exploited and "bullied" by the conservatorship — and specifically, by her father.

Until recently, both the financial and personal arms of the conservatorship were controlled by the singer's father.

Last year, Ingham stated in a filing that Spears "strongly opposed" her father as conservator and that she refused to perform if he remained in charge of her career.

In February, Penny allowed a wealth management company, Bessemer Trust, to come in as a co-conservator for the financial arm of Spears' arrangement. Jamie Spears remains the main conservator for all other aspects of the performer's conservatorship.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 14. It is possible that Britney Spears will submit a petition for the conservatorship to be terminated. In her comments to the judge last week, Spears said she had been unaware that she could take such an action. "I didn't know I could petition the conservatorship to end it," she said. "I'm sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn't know that."

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L.A. Courts End Remote Audio Program After Illicit Britney Spears Hearing Recording Surfaces

by Ashley Cullins

Los Angeles, CA - June 23: Supporters of Britney Spears rally as hearing on the Britney Spears conservatorship case takes place Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It didn’t take long for audio from Britney Spears’ June 23 conservatorship hearing to make the rounds on the internet, despite a clear and emphatic warning from the L.A. County Judge Brenda Penny that recording wasn’t allowed. Whether the person, or people, who did it will face any penalty remains to be seen, but the court has taken another action in response: It shut down its remote audio attendance program entirely.

Under California state and local court rules, no recordings of court hearings are allowed (including by members of the press) without advance permission from the judge in the form of a written order. According to the 2019 California Rules of Court, “Any violation of this rule or an order made under this rule is an unlawful interference with the proceedings of the court and may be the basis for an order terminating media coverage, a citation for contempt of court, or an order imposing monetary or other sanctions as provided by law.”

When asked what is the court’s general policy is on taking action if a proceeding is recorded without permission, L.A. County Superior Court Communications Director Ann E. Donlan said only: “Parties who publish unauthorized recordings of court proceedings in violation of a court order are subject to sanctions and other potential liability pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 1209 and other applicable law.”

Penny, at the beginning of the hearing, not only reminded those listening about the policy against recording but also warned against live-tweeting and told those physically in the courtroom that they needed to use a pen and paper instead of a laptop for their notes. Still, audio of Spears’ testimony began circulating just hours after the hearing, including in a YouTube post that has since been taken down because of a copyright claim from the court.

The next day, the court issued an announcement that, effective Monday, the remote audio attendance program would be shut down.

“Effective June 28, the Court will no longer offer the Remote Audio Attendance Program (RAAP) to listen remotely to courtroom proceedings,” read the announcement, which also detailed the rolling back of other COVID-19 protocols. “The Court implemented this temporary program during the pandemic recognizing there may be abuses of the Court’s orders prohibiting recording, filming, and distribution of proceedings. Widespread breaches by the public in a recent court proceeding highlighted the need to return to in person, open courtroom proceedings, which is a welcome development.”

The program, which was launched in January in response to the pandemic, marked a step toward improved court access for media. Even pre-COVID, cramped court rooms and varying judicial preferences regarding the use of laptops for note-taking made covering proceedings logistically difficult. And, after the O.J. Simpson murder trial became a televised international spectacle, courts have long been reticent to give even bona fide news outlets permission to record.

Amid the pandemic, federal courts have also dabbled in allowing access to hearings via audio and video feeds (though the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals has been routinely streaming hearings for quite some time). There’s currently a bill in the U.S. Senate, dubbed the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2021, that would give federal judges broad discretion to allow courtroom proceedings to be televised, or otherwise recorded. The bipartisan bill is opposed by the Judicial Conference, the policy-making arm for U.S. courts, which argues cameras have an intimidating and negative effect on litigants, witnesses and jurors.

During the June 23 hearing, as you can hear in the illicit audio, the performer said her conservatorship was “abusive” and listed a series of complaints including that she didn’t have any control over the medication she’s prescribed and couldn’t get someone to make a doctor’s appointment to remove her IUD. On Tuesday, her father, Jamie Spears, filed two documents in response to those claims. One is a petition asking Penny to “order an investigation into the issues and claims” she raised. The other is a response to a pending motion that would make Jodi Montgomery’s temporary role as conservator of Spears’ person a permanent one, which requests an evidentiary hearing. Jamie Spears notes that he hasn’t had any input into his daughter’s medical care since 2019 and challenges the contention that she doesn’t have capacity to consent to medical treatment. He notes Spears’ court-appointed attorney Samuel D. Ingham III stated in the petition her incapacity was determined by a court order in October 2014, but Jamie contends “there was no such finding, and there is no such order.” (Read that filing below.)

On Wednesday, Penny signed an order that reflects her decision back in November to install corporate fiduciary Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of the estate alongside Jamie Spears.

The next hearing is currently set for July 14. Unless there’s a reversal of court policy, it will not be streamed. The Judicial Council, which is California’s policy-making arm, says it’s a local court decision and “we’re not aware of any movement toward consistent audio or video streams of court proceedings.”

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Gaetz invites Britney Spears to testify before Congress

A judge this week denied Britney Spears' effort to end her father’s role in her conservatorship.
#FreeBritney activists protest at Los Angeles Grand Park during a conservatorship hearing for Britney Spears in Los Angeles. | Rich Fury/Getty Images


Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and a handful of other Republicans have invited pop star Britney Spears to testify before Congress about her conservatorship.

"You have been mistreated by America’s legal system. We want to help," Gaetz wrote in a letter to Spears dated Wednesday. "The United States Congress should hear your story and be inspired to bipartisan action. What happened to you should never happen to any other American."

Gaetz said he and fellow Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Burgess Owens (Utah) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) have been following her conservatorship battle with “deep concern” and stand with the pop star.

Rumors about Spears' discontent with her conservatorship spread for years online and trended with the #FreeBritney hashtag. But last week, Spears spoke directly about the issue herself in court, describing her conservatorship as “abusive.”

Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, has been the legal manager of his daughter’s multimillion-dollar estate since 2008. He was also the conservator “of her person” until 2019, when he stepped back from this part of the legal agreement for his own health reasons. Since then, Jodi Montgomery, a private professional fiduciary, has been in charge of Spears’ person.

In last week’s testimony to Los Angeles Superior Court, Spears described how her conservatorship thwarted her desires to have another child and remove her IUD contraception, get married and take time off from her concerts and touring schedule.

"I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive," Spears told the judge. "I just want my life back. It's been 13 years and it's enough.

Judge Brenda Penny denied Spears’ request to end her father’s role in her conservatorship on June 30.

But because of the revelations in Spears' public testimony, Bessemer Trust, a private wealth management firm, said in a court filing on July 1 that it wishes to resign from its role in managing her estate. Bessemer Trust was added as a co-conservator along with Jamie Spears last fall, but it has not yet received any of her assets or taken any fees, according to the New York Times.

In recent months, a number of conservative lawmakers have taken up Spears' cause, using it to highlight what they have called conservatorship and guardianship abuse.

“Britney Spears wants to tell her story,” Gaetz told conservative TV network OAN on Wednesday night. “She’s not someone who wants to just crawl under a rug a pretend this didn’t happen. She wants accountability and justice, and I can think of no better place than the United States Congress to really tackle this problem and … bring people together from all sides of politics to solve it.”

Gaetz also told OAN that the "Free Britney" movement is part of a broader movement on conservatorship and guardianship reform in Congress.

In March of this year, he and House Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wrote a letter to Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to ask for a hearing on conservatorship and Spears’ case.

POLITICO asked Spears’ court-appointed attorney whether his client has received the letter and intends to respond, but he has not yet replied.

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Friday, July 2, 2021

Former guardian allegedly stole guns, forged appraisal

16-felony count criminal complaint filed
There are more legal troubles for former professional guardian Traci Hudson, who was first arrested in 2019 for allegedly exploiting a 92-year-old man under her care.
By: Adam Walser

LARGO, FL — There are more legal troubles for former professional guardian Traci Hudson, who was first arrested in 2019 for allegedly exploiting a 92-year-old man under her care.

Sixteen new felony counts were filed against Hudson Wednesday, involving different victims who prosecutors say she exploited while working as their guardian or power of attorney.

Those charges include exploitation of an elderly person, grand theft and perjury.

The majority of the charges stem from the guardianship case of Robert Moore, who a judge appointed Hudson to care for in 2016.

Robert's son Ryan Moore, who lives in Hawaii, says Hudson was appointed to care for his dad after another family member reported he was being exploited by people who moved into his home.


"She wasn't honest about anything whatsoever. Everything she said was a lie," Ryan Moore said about Hudson.

Prosecutor: 10 guns stolen, seven still unaccounted for

The state's attorney's office says Hudson removed 10 guns that were stored at Moore's home.

Investigators say Hudson pawned or sold three guns at pawn shops and sold others to individuals.

"You have seven firearms that are unaccounted for," Prosecutor Renee Bauer said at her court hearing Wednesday.

"I asked her about the guns and she said all the guns had been stolen except for one and it was in a police evidence room somewhere," Ryan Moore said.

Prosecutors say the guns and tools valued at more than $8,000 were appraised by a professional appraiser but were not included in documents Hudson presented to a judge.

"The defendant did a cut-and-paste job. She forged and altered that appraisal," Bauer said.

Investigators say Hudson also financially exploited Moore.

Criminal information charging document filed against former professional guardian Traci Hudson

Despite receiving $7,200 in monthly income, Ryan Moore says that while under Hudson's care, his dad had no belt, was dressed in thrift store clothes, and had only one pair of worn-out boots.

Ryan said on one visit, the retired military veteran had two coat hangers wrapped around his waist to hold his pants on.

"He had a pair of boots with the soles completely ripped off except for about an inch of the soles on the back of them," Ryan said.

Robert Moore's boot while under Hudson's care

Hudson is still awaiting trial on felony charges filed in 2019 when she was accused of stealing more than half a million dollars from another elderly man under her care. Investigators say she used that money to buy a 4,000 square-foot home, jewelry and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets.

“This is not her, what we heard in there today”

Hudson's attorney believes prosecutors have it all wrong.

"Traci Hudson is a good person. Family person. She takes care of her father, takes care of her daughter, takes care of her grandchild. This is not her, what we heard in there today. And I'm gonna show that to you," said Richard McKyton, Hudson's attorney.

Ryan Moore says Hudson limited his family's ability to see his dad during his three-year guardianship.

Family members were eventually appointed to care for him after Hudson's arrest, but he died a short time later.

"She totally destroyed my family. And that's what I'd tell her, 'hey you destroyed my family. I hope you sleep well at night, knowing you did that,'" Ryan Moore said.

Currently, Hudson's bond is set at $190,000 on the new charges.

Her attorney has asked for that amount to be reduced. A bond hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at

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Attorney disbarred after five suspensions, claims of improper spending

by Jim Walsh

CAMDEN – A Gloucester County attorney has been disbarred after being accused of taking almost $250,000 from a client’s trust account.

The action followed a series of escalating penalties for Adam Brent, a Franklinville lawyer who has faced multiple allegations of ethics violations.

Brent, who could not be reached for comment, also was known for his courtroom role in a high-profile murder case in Camden. He was the defense attorney at the 2018 trial of Tyhan Brown, a Camden man now serving a 51-year term in connection with the accidental shooting death of a child.

The state Supreme Court ordered Brent’s disbarment Wednesday, acting on a 25-page recommendation from its Disciplinary Review Board, court records show.

According to the board's report, "the record clearly and convincingly supports" a charge of knowing misappropriation against Brent, an attorney since 2003.

Defense attorney Adam Brent sits next to Tyhan Brown prior to his client being sentenced to up to 51 years in state prison for his role in the August 2016 shooting death of 8-year-old Gabby Hill-Carter in Camden.
Defense attorney Adam Brent sits next to Tyhan Brown prior to his client being sentenced to up to 51 years in state prison for his role in the August 2016 shooting death of 8-year-old Gabby Hill-Carter in Camden. Chris LaChall/Staff Photographer

The attorney was accused of taking about $246,000 from trusts that he established in 2012 and 2014 on behalf of two clients, Benjamin Gropper and his son Jonathan.

The withdrawals included $3,600 for a Disney World vacation and purchases from home improvement stores, restaurants, gas stations and other merchants. The trusts also incurred overdraft charges of about $500, it said.

The alleged misspending was noticed after the Groppers replaced Brent as their trustee in April 2016.

The new trustee filed an ethics grievance in August 2017, saying Brent had refused to provide financial records and tax returns for the four-year period that he oversaw the funds.

At an April 2018 meeting with the Office of Attorney Ethics, Brent asserted the withdrawals were allowed under a fee agreement that was “not spelled out, but it was definitely understood.”

In contrast, the board said, Jonathan Gropper “denied that he either knew or consented to” the alleged unauthorized spending.

The Groppers are among at least five parties to file malpractice suits against Brent in state court.

Superior Court Judge John Harrington in Mount Holly ordered a default judgment against Brent in June 2018, ordering him to pay almost $534,000 to the Groppers for negligence and "intentional theft of trust funds."

Brent received the first of five suspensions in March 2019, this one for failing to cooperate with an OAE review of his actions.

The board's recommendation noted Brent “repeatedly” claimed he could not recall information at the April 2018 meeting and refused to attend a second meeting.

Requests for documents and accounting records “predominantly went unanswered,” even after Brent was warned the OAE “had a ‘clear case’ of knowing misappropriation,” it noted.

While the March 2019 penalty was still in effect, Brent received another temporary suspension in October 2019 for failing to comply with a fee arbitration determination in another case.

He received a three-month suspension in December 2109 for gross neglect and other ethical violations.

"In that case, (Brent) had provided his clients with two fabricated documents — a general release that falsely stated that the matter had settled for $140,000 and a bogus release of a deed," the board said.

A one-year suspension in May 2020 occurred because Brent practiced law during five periods of ineligibility between 2008 and 2014.  During that time, Brent improperly handled “dozens of client matters” and served as a municipal prosecutor in Franklin and municipal public defender in Delran.

And the Supreme Court in October 2020 ordered a consecutive two-year suspension for misconduct in four separate client matters.

The disciplinary board, in recommending the October 2020 penalty, noted "the recurring nature" of Brent's "serious misconduct" and said "his continued practice of law represents a clear danger to the public"

The board's most recent recommendation noted correspondence sent by certified mail to Brent’s “last known home address” in Vineland was returned as “unclaimed” in February and April 2020.

It said Brent’s failure to defend himself “is deemed an admission that the allegations are true.”

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Elderly man charged with murder is in hospice care

YOUNGSTOWN — An arrest warrant is in effect for an elderly man charged in the 2019 death of a fellow nursing home resident, but it’s unlikely he will see the inside of a courtroom.

During arraignments Tuesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, defense attorney Frank Cassese told Magistrate Dominic DeLaurentis that Horace A. Landers of High Street is in hospice care.

Assistant prosecutor Rob Andrews said he does not believe law enforcement will pick up Landers, apparently because of Landers’ medical status. Landers was scheduled for an arraignment last Tuesday and again this Tuesday in the murder case.

An arrest warrant was issued for Landers when he was indicted, and that warrant is still in effect, Andrews said. The magistrate said the warrant will remain in effect.

Landers is charged with murder and felonious assault, accused of causing the death of Watson R. Wilcox Jr., 89, in Windsor House Guardian Healthcare Center, 1735 Belmont Ave., July 24, 2019.

Wilcox’s death certificate in January 2020 listed his manner of death as undetermined. But after a follow-up investigation by the state, Mahoning County Coroner D. David Kennedy changed the ruling to homicide early his month.

Wilcox died Aug. 6, 2019, after he was found on the floor of his room at the nursing home with a head injury. A Youngstown police report states that officers were called to the nursing home at 3:32 a.m.

Wilcox was found on the floor with a swollen eye and nose with bleeding from the mouth. He had bruising on his right shoulder.

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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Court-Appointed Pennsylvania Guardian and Virginia Co-conspirators Indicted for Stealing Over $1 million From Elderly Wards

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

PHILADELPHIA – Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Gloria Byars, 60, of Aldan, PA; Carlton Rembert, 66, of Hampton, VA; and Alesha Mitchell, 40, of Suffolk, VA, were all indicted for their roles in scheme to defraud elderly, incapacitated people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. All three defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of bank fraud. Additionally, Rembert and Byars were charged with five counts of wire fraud, and Byars faces an additional charge of money laundering.

The Indictment alleges that between 2012 and 2018, Byars stole from dozens of incapacitated wards while serving as their court-appointed guardian. Prior to operating her own guardianship company, Byars was an office manager for a different company that was appointed to care for wards in Pennsylvania. As office manager and then as guardian herself through her own firm, Byars had unfettered access to wards’ property including bank accounts, pensions, real estate, annuities, and other assets. Byars allegedly stole money from the wards’ bank accounts by writing unauthorized checks to companies she controlled, or to shell companies controlled by Rembert and Mitchell. The Indictment further alleges that Rembert and Mitchell assisted Byars in the theft by opening bank accounts in the names of shell companies purporting to be medical billing companies and depositing the stolen checks they received from Byars into those accounts. After the stolen checks cleared, Byars, Rembert, and Mitchell are alleged to have shared the fraud proceeds.

Byars is alleged to have also stolen gold Krugerrand coins, valuable gold coins first minted in South Africa in the 1960’s to introduce the country’s gold supply onto the world market, from one elderly victim’s safe deposit box. Byars is also alleged to have stolen $131,000 from the same ward’s bank account and over $756,000 from a retired federal employee’s Thrift Savings Plan. Finally, according to court documents, Byars managed assets for an individual identified as C.G., whose heir asked for the assets’ return from Byers after C.G.’s death.  But Byars had already stolen C.G.’s money. In an attempt to conceal her theft from C.G., Byars is alleged to have stolen $122,000 from yet another ward and used it to repay C.G.’s heir.

Mitchell was arrested in Virginia yesterday, has been released on bail pending trial, and will appear in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Friday, July 2.  Byars was previously arrested in both Philadelphia and Delaware County for theft from her wards. Byars and Rembert are scheduled to appear for the federal charges in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, July 6.

“As a court-appointed fiduciary, Byars had a moral and legal obligation to act in her clients’ best interest,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “Instead, she and her co-conspirators allegedly used her position to help themselves to the very property they should have been protecting – no better than wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

“Elder fraud cases are probably the most heartbreaking of the financial violations we work,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Here we have someone entrusted to oversee their incapacitated wards’ affairs, allegedly siphoning off money and property for herself and her co-conspirators. Anyone who targets vulnerable older folks for their assets has neither a conscience nor a moral compass. The FBI is committed to holding such crooks accountable, on behalf of those they’ve so cruelly victimized.”

If convicted, the defendants face the following maximum possible sentences. For each count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud, the maximum sentence is 30 years’ imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine. For each count of wire fraud, the maximum sentence is 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine and for money laundering the maximum sentence is 20 years’ imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, Criminal Investigation Division, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tiwana Wright.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.


Dougherty County Probate judge's attorneys respond to March terroristic threats charge

By Alan Mauldin

Dougherty County Probate Court Judge Leisa Blount, center, is flanked by attorneys Maurice King Jr., left, and Pete Donaldson. Blount, charged in March with terroristic threats and violation of oath by an officer, is seeking a speedy disposition of her case.
Staff Photo: Alan Mauldin

ALBANY — Attorneys for the Dougherty County Probate Court judge accused in March of making terroristic threats against a county maintenance employee are asking for a speedy disposition of the case.

The issue revolves around the employee entering Judge Leisa Blount’s office on two occasions after office hours when she was working alone in her office. Blount expressed her fear about the behavior of the employee, who apparently did not have any duties in the building at the time, to the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office and county staff.

Maurice King Jr. and Pete Donaldson, who are representing Blount, told reporters on Tuesday that the elements of the case do not merit a criminal indictment and that the charges should be dismissed.

The two Albany attorneys appeared with Blount, who has continued working since charges of terroristic threats and violation of oath by a public officer were filed in late March, at a news conference at King’s office.

The case has been referred to the office of District Attorney Brad Shealey of the Southern Judicial Circuit based in Valdosta for investigation.

“This is not a case that meets any criteria that would suggest any violation of any criminal (statute),” Donaldson said of the charges, which were filed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after the case was referred to the agency by Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul. “We are asking the district attorney in Valdosta to move this case along.”

Blount is not filing a civil suit in the matter or seeking damages, but is looking to settle the matter, which should not have resulted in the filing of criminal charges in the first place, Donaldson said.

As a judge, Blount has been placed in a kind of legal limbo because grand jury sessions mostly have been suspended for more than a year, the attorneys said, and it is imperative that she clear her name to continue to enjoy the confidence of the public she serves.

“(People) of Dougherty County have a right to know the courts are being operated properly,” Donaldson said. “As long as this case is out there, there is a cloud in the air. We would like to remove that.”

The attorneys also pointed to an investigation by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates complaints against judges.

After reviewing surveillance videos and witness statements obtained by law enforcement, the agency wrote that its panel “has concluded that the institution of disciplinary action is not warranted at this time.” It added that no action will be taken unless new or additional information comes forward.

In an affidavit filed in the criminal case, Blount described the two incidents involving the county Facilities Management Department employee. On around Jan. 25, 2021, the employee used a master key to enter the back door of the Probate Court offices. The employee had no cleaning supplies or cart for removing trash, was not assigned to clean the area and had never entered the Probate Court area to turn out lights since Blount had been serving as judge in April 2020, the affidavit said.

When questioned by Blount, the employee said he was in the building to turn out the lights and did not exit when she told him that she turns off the lights when she leaves, according to the affidavit. He eventually left when she picked up her cellphone. Blount was told by county staff that the employee was not assigned to perform any tasks in the Probate Court offices after hours.

On March 10, at about 5:53 p.m. the employee used a master key to enter the back door of the offices again, Blount said in the affidavit. Blount went to the door of her chambers and asked the employee twice why he was in the office, but he did not answer.

Blount sent emails, included in the court filing, about the incidents and had a meeting with representatives from the sheriff’s office and the county. During that meeting, she asked Chief Deputy Sheriff Terron Hayes for permission to bring her pistol into the courthouse for protection.

She told Hayes that she has weapons training in which she was instructed that a weapon is not to be used to scare or injure but in circumstances in which their use is required to be aimed at the target’s head or chest. For that reason, she did not carry a weapon because she did not want to have to use it, Blount wrote.

“She said, ‘I will protect myself,’” Donaldson said “Somehow that has been turned into a terroristic threat.”

Blount never brought a weapon into the building, although judges are authorized to possess a weapon inside a courthouse and no permission is required from the sheriff. The maintenance employee was not present during the discussion with Hayes, the affidavit said. He did not file a complaint in the case.

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Task force releases recommendations to address financial exploitation of seniors

Robert Torres, Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA), joined by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office and other members of a public-private task force, held a media briefing to provide an overview of its work and announce a series of recommendations, focused on multi-disciplinary approaches, to help prevent financial exploitation of older adults and to effectively respond to incidents of financial exploitation.

PDA led the task force, which included representation from state government, the legal and financial sectors, aging, law enforcement and healthcare stakeholders. The task force met from December 2020 to April 2021 and concluded with the development of specific strategies covering four categories: education, training, operations and procedures and legislation.

“The Financial Exploitation Task Force’s recommendations cover a wide spectrum and offer great opportunities for ongoing collaboration to implement them," Secretary of Aging Robert Torres said. "They are designed to offer practical solutions to raise awareness of financial exploitation and to improve how we work together to protect older adults from becoming victims.

“I thank all of the task force members for their engagement, input and dedication on addressing the financial exploitation of older adults. The department staff and I look forward to supporting the workgroups that will continue working on these recommendations to achieve tangible results.”

Some of the recommendations include developing a training program for financial services providers on reporting financial exploitation, creating an online toolbox to help law enforcement investigate cases of financial exploitation and updating Pennsylvania’s Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA).

"Every day, my office hears from older Pennsylvanians who share their stories of and concerns about being financially exploited," said state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. "The resources that have been put together by this task force address many of the conversations that we have with older folks, as well as providing helpful information for family members and caregivers who are looking out for their loved ones."

Over the course of five months, the task force reviewed the common types of financial exploitation, learned how capacity and cognitive decline in seniors increases their risk of being exploited, explored how to strengthen collaboration between government, law enforcement, financial services institutions and healthcare organizations, heard from family members of older adults who were victims of financial exploitation and discussed the critical need to update OAPSA.

“Like my family, I think most of the general public remains unaware of the sheer volume and heartache associated with financial exploitation of seniors until they become victimized," said Amanda Cassel, whose grandmother was a victim of financial exploitation. "Having been through the process of picking up the pieces due to this crime, my family hopes that by sharing our story we can help others going through this process or even prevent another senior from being victimized.

“I am very impressed with the work that the Financial Exploitation Task Force is doing to help protect our seniors, and I am happy to be able to contribute to their efforts by participating in this way.”

"This task force builds better outcomes by joining organizations into a 'Think Tank' environment," said David Shallcross, director of senior protection, attorney general’s office. "It has become apparent that no single organization is capable or prepared to handle all the aspects of preventing and responding to Older Adult Financial Exploitation on its own, it requires a team approach to accomplish our goals.”

“People living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia are especially vulnerable to financial exploitation because the disease may prevent them from reporting the abuse, recognizing it, or even remembering that it occurred in the first place,” said Jen Ebersole, director of state government affairs, Alzheimer’s Association. “Recognizing early signs of the disease that leads to an early and disclosed diagnosis can initiate important conversations between physicians, patients and caregivers that can prevent financial exploitation through advance planning when cognition is least impacted.”

“Pennsylvania’s credit unions help protect older members from financial abuse and exploitation on a daily basis by questioning suspicious financial transactions and counseling older members on how to protect themselves," said Christina Mihalik, senior vice president of government relations, CrossState Credit Union Association. "We routinely work with local authorities when abuse or exploitation is suspected. As the trade association for credit unions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, CrossState welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with other groups, including those represented on the Financial Exploitation Task Force, that are seeking to protect senior citizens and others from being taken advantage of financially.”

The task force will reconvene later this year to review and discuss the progress made on each recommendation.

The formation of a task force was one of five recommendations from a study on the Financial Exploitation of Older Adults conducted by PDA and released in September 2020.

The goal of the task force was to explore better coordination and proactive supports for older adults to improve early detection, prevention of and response to financial exploitation. Prior to assembling the task force, PDA convened a state interagency workgroup to explore improved collaboration between agencies and to develop initial recommendations for the task force to consider. This effort led to improved information sharing among several agencies.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Guardianship Abuse is Elder Abuse

by Kimberly Guilfoyle

Nobody is ever truly prepared for their parents to experience physical and mental decline. That challenge is hard enough on its own. But unfortunately, bad actors willing to exploit it have figured out how to manipulate a system designed to protect the vulnerable.

Guardianship abuse is a nationwide problem, and even the most diligent people can find themselves suddenly cut off from their own parents and grandparents, subject to a court system that prioritizes procedure over common sense. The media have given passing attention to this issue in recent months, thanks to the "Free Britney" movement and the Netflix film I Care a Lot,but for those affected by these injustices, media buzz is not nearly enough. They need elected officials and the legal community to take their claims seriously instead of implicitly trusting that judges and attorneys are always looking out for the best interests of those placed under guardianship.

Guardianship is intended to protect elderly Americans and ensure that someone responsible is looking after their personal and financial well being. All too often, though, the system is used to take advantage of people who are in no position to defend their own interests—and by the time their families become aware of the problem, it is frequently too late.

A stock image of an elderly man and woman holding hands. In a TikTok video an 100-year-old man is finally reunited with his sister, 98, after the pandemic had kept them apart. Getty Images

In some cases, predatory lawyers exploit the legal system's presumption of good faith, running up exorbitant bills for unnecessary, and sometimes imaginary, services.

In other cases, individuals are virtually imprisoned by "guardians" who restrict their access to friends and family, confine them to assisted living facilities with little regard for quality of care and systematically drain their assets to pay for inflated fees. In a matter of weeks, a victim can become a nonperson, with fewer rights than a convicted felon.

Sadly, it's difficult to know the full extent of the problem, because the system simply isn't set up to maintain adequate scrutiny. But with an estimated 1.5 million individuals under some form of guardianship, with combined assets of around $273 billion, the opportunities for malfeasance are abundant.

In February of this year, a Texas probate judge in Houston was sued for estate trafficking, racketeering and the abuse of a 91-year-old. Last year, a Florida woman escaped her guardian-imposed imprisonment in a care facility by using a phone and Facebook to signal for help. In 2019, a Tampa guardian was arrested for stealing more than half a million dollars from one of his wards. Another instance of guardianship abuse and medical kidnapping in Texas resulted in the tragic death of an elderly woman.

In jurisdictions that have a history of lax oversight and allegations of public corruption, the allure of guardianship abuse is irresistible to many bad actors. Under those conditions, lawyers and judges have ample opportunity to make corrupt bargains at the expense of elderly Americans and their loved ones.

Jefferson County, Alabama, is one of those jurisdictions. It has been the site of two particularly heartbreaking incidents of guardianship abuse.

In 2019, Marian Leonard, a 103-year-old retired schoolteacher, died in hospice care, alone, terrified and cut off from her family, after being placed under guardianship by a Jefferson County probate judge. She didn't even live in Jefferson County, but got caught up in the local court system because she stopped at a hospital on her way home from a trip. Her court-appointed guardian and conservator reportedly banned all visitors from seeing her, including her daughter, who was denied the chance to be with her before she died.

Then there's the case of a Jefferson County resident and philanthropist named Joann Bashinsky, who was forced to spend her last days fighting to protect her own estate after two former employees and the probate court allegedly used guardianship and conservatorship laws to take control of Bashinsky's assets. Her family is still fighting her case in the Alabama courts six months after her death.

The flaws in the system are most apparent when wealthy individuals are hauled into court and forced to disprove claims of their incompetence. It's easy to see why judges, attorneys, professional guardians and others would be eager to get their hands on a wealthy person's assets. But the same situation afflicts countless individuals of more modest means—although the spoils are smaller, the ranks of potential victims are vast and their ability to contest the process is minimal.

Guardianship abuse might just be one of the biggest criminal enterprises threatening the elderly in America today, but we won't know for certain until elected officials and the criminal justice community give this crisis the attention it desperately deserves.

Prosecutors need to take claims of guardianship abuse seriously, including those that implicate seemingly secret networks of judges, guardians and health care facilities, and work diligently to identify those who are preying on vulnerable individuals and their families. Lawmakers need to refine the guardianship process in response to proven instances of mistreatment in order to ensure that injustices are not inflicted over and over again upon those who lack the resources or expertise to fight back. The situation is intolerable, and it needs to be recognized as such.

We must demonstrate the love, respect and dignity that our elders deserve in their most vulnerable years, and fight hard to prevent predators from gaining control in their lives. Let's face it, it's always hard to lose a parent, but it's even harder to lose a parent while they're still alive.

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Disbarred Plymouth Attorney and Accountant Indicted in Connection With Stealing Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars From Client’s Family

For immediate release:
6/29/2021                                                    Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

WOBURNAn accountant and now-disbarred attorney from Plymouth has been indicted in connection with a scheme to embezzle more than $300,000 from the family of one of his clients, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.

Bruce Lavigne was indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury on the charges of Larceny over $250 (2 counts), Fiduciary Embezzlement (1 count), and Obtaining a Signature by False Pretenses (2 counts). He will be arraigned in Middlesex Superior Court at a later date.

The AG’s Office alleges that from 2015 to 2016, a client from Chelmsford entrusted Lavigne to invest more than $314,000 of his father’s funds in an annuity that would eventually be inherited by the client and his siblings.

The AG’s investigation found that instead, Lavigne diverted the funds to personal and business expenses unrelated to the intended investment. Lavigne allegedly later paid over $56,000 to the client’s heirs under the guise of a purported successor annuity agreement. From this scheme, the AG’s Office alleges Lavigne stole about $258,000 in funds that once belonged to his client’s father and were owed to his heirs.

Additionally, the AG’s Office alleges that in 2017, Lavigne allegedly enticed his client  to invest $60,000 in an entirely separate and fake annuity agreement and then failed to return those funds as requested, bringing the total amount of money he stole to more than $300,000.

Lavigne was disbarred in January 2019 for misuse of client funds unrelated to this investigation.

These charges are allegations and all defendants are innocent until proven guilty.


This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Edward A. Beagan of AG Healey’s White Collar and Public Integrity Division, with assistance from Financial Investigator Jillian Petruzziello, Victim Witness Advocate Lia Panetta, and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG’s Office. 



Michigan woman accused of stealing $23K from mother, brother while they lived in nursing homes

By Brandon Champion

DETROIT – A Detroit woman is accused of stealing more than $23,000 from her mother and brother while they lived in nursing homes.

Kim Carter, 41, faces two counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult over $1,000 and under $20,000, felonies punishable by five years and/or $10,000 each, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Monday.

Carter was guardian for her mother, who lived in Alpha Manor Nursing Home in Detroit.  It is alleged that Carter used her position as guardian to spend more than $17,000 from her mother’s bank accounts on items not related to her mother while also not paying for her mother’s care at the nursing home.

Carter’s brother lived in Boulevard Manor Nursing Home in Detroit and Carter was his social security representative payee.  It is alleged she used her position as her mother’s guardian to access her brother’s bank accounts and spend more than $6,000 from his accounts on items not related to him or his care.

“Taking on the role of guardian for a family member is most often a noble and compassionate undertaking—but it comes with legal obligations,” Nessel said.

“Getting legal access as guardian to the finances of a family member doesn’t make that account your personal slush fund. We stand ready to take action against anyone who tries to take advantage of those no longer in control of their own finances.”

Carter was charged in the 36th District Court in Wayne County on Thursday, June 24. Arraignment and a probable cause conference are being scheduled by the court.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

After Elderly Woman Changed Will To Give Caregiver $500,000, Family Fights Decision In Court

By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — Airline tickets, Air Pods, massage therapy.

Those are just some of the gifts one woman gave to her spiritual caregiver before passing away.

But the woman’s nephew later found out his aunt also left the cargiver a half-million dollars in her will and he’s claiming it’s a case of elder financial abuse.

Lauren Victory looks into the dispute that’s now headed for court.

“She loved people, she loved kids, she loved teaching,” said Ed Schwitzky, reliving fond memories of his late aunt, Hanna Schwitzy Lord. “Because my aunt was a teacher she traveled during the summers and she’d call my parents and say, ‘Can Eddie go with me to the world’s fair’ or to wherever it was.”

Ed Schwitzky thought he knew what was going on in his aunt’s life.

“Gosh, I talked to my aunt every day.”

But there was something she wasn’t telling him: After she died, she left $500,000 to her spiritual caregiver, Elizabeth Butler Jameson, a former priest at St. Simon’s church in Arlington Heights.

Hanna’s husband was receiving end-of-life spiritual care from Elizabeth. After he passed away, Elizabeth and Hanna grew closer.

“Every conversation became about Elizabeth,” Ed Schwitzky said.

And as their relationship developed, Hanna gave Elizabeth more and more gifts–including massages and AirPods and airline tickets. Seven months before she passed away, Hanna revised her will to leave Elizabeth a substantial sum–almost $500,000.

Although Ed was the executor of his aunt’s estate, he was never told about the change.

“All of this development last fall was terribly surprising and disturbing,” said Ed.

After Ed found out about the trust and gifts, he submitted a Title IV complaint with the Episcopal Diocese. The Diocese said Elizabeth shouldn’t have accepted the gifts. However, because she was retired when she received almost all them, it wasn’t possible to suspend her.

The Diocese ultimately dismissed the investigation.

Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee did reach out to Elizabeth and the two agreed it was inappropriate for her to be named a beneficiary.  In an email to Ed, Elizabeth said she would forfeit the $500,000.

But when Ed tried to reach a settlement with Elizabeth, she backed out of the agreement.

“It’s gut wrenching, it’s emotionally draining, and I would hope no one else goes through this,” Ed said.

Elizabeth is disputing that and accusing Ed of filing a lawsuit instead of following through with the plan. She released the following statement, including emails between herself and Ed:

“August 22, 2020 – 6:25pm

Ed and Mary Ellen,

I understand that Hanna has now died, may she rest in peace.  I am sorry for the tremendous loss in all of our lives.

I am sending this to both of you, as I assume one or both of you are executors of her estate.

I have been advised that I am named as a transfer-on-death beneficiary of one or more accounts that Hanna created. I very much appreciate Hanna’s thoughtfulness toward me, but as I told her several times, I wish from her only the friendship we have shared.

I therefore intend to disclaim any interest in the TOD account.  I will sign the necessary document(s) to do so if they can be provided to me.

Elizabeth Jameson


August 22, 2020 – 6:55pm

That would be I.

Documents will be provided for assets held at Edward Jones and Parkway Bank, plus any other assets we may discover naming Elizabeth Butler Jameson as TOD or POD beneficiary.

Ed Schwitzky”

Rather than following through and, as promised, providing the Rev. Jameson with the necessary documentation for her to disclaim all of the relevant proceeds from the subject accounts, Mr. Schwitzky instead filed a lawsuit against the Rev. Jameson seeking recovery of in excess of $1.4 million, plus his attorneys’ fees.

The Rev. Jameson expressly denies any liability and will continue to vigorously defend against such frivolous and vexatious litigation.

This matter will be resolved in court, not through one-sided reporting of Mr. Schwitzky’s misleading allegations and/or contrived suppositions.

With no results from the Diocese and a settlement off the table, Ed filed a civil lawsuit accusing Elizabeth of committing elder financial abuse.

Until a judge rules on this case, we won’t know if Elizabeth will be held legally responsible. We do know elder financial abuse is a big problem. We spoke to an attorney not connected to this case.

“Statistics show that we really have an epidemic of financial exploitation occurring against older adults,” said Kerry Peck, managing partner at Peck-Ritchey.

Peck’s a Chicago attorney who’s dedicated much of his career to these cases. Since 2016, the Illinois Department of Aging has confirmed more than 14,000 elder financial abuse claims (14,359).

But those numbers are only part of the picture. Peck said the cases are largely underreported.

Peck worked with the Department of Aging to strengthen laws protecting seniors — including a statute about caregivers..

“If a caregiver receives in excess of $20,000 in value it’s presumed to be fraudulent and the caregiver has the burden of proof to demonstrate that it’s not a fraudulent transfer,” Peck said.

While Ed’s case against Elizabeth will have to play out in court, he’s speaking out to prevent this from happening to others.

“If I could do something that could slow this down or stop this from happening, you know one person, one preacher or one church, one diocese,” he said.

Full statement from the diocese:

On August 19, 2020, Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee received a complaint from Ed Schwitzky, alleging that the Rev. Elizabeth Jameson, a priest of the diocese, had engaged in a financially exploitative relationship with his aunt, Hanna Lord. Ms. Lord, a member of the parish the Rev. Jameson had previously served as rector, was dying of cancer, and intended to leave a significant bequest to the Rev. Jameson, who had recently retired on disability due to a brain injury.

Ms. Lord died the following day. On August 21, Bishop Lee issued a pastoral directive  to the Rev. Jameson affirming her decision to decline any inheritance that might be left to her, and directing her “to sign ‘Disclaim of Rights as Beneficiary’ forms for any pertinent accounts that name you as beneficiary.”

The diocese also conducted an extensive disciplinary investigation into the Rev. Jameson’s relationship with Ms. Lord under Title IV of the canons of the Episcopal Church. Such procedures seek to establish a factual record and to foster reconciliation between parties. Given the Rev. Jameson’s permanent retirement from pastoral ministry and the bishop’s directive forbidding her from benefitting from Ms. Lord’s will, the diocese believed the case had been settled appropriately. The case was dismissed in late September 2020. Mr. Schwitzky did not exercise his right to appeal.

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Disbarred Leesburg Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

by Kara Clark Rodriguez

A former Leesburg attorney has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud following multiple allegations of embezzling from estates and civic organizations.

J. Christopher Chamblin had a private law practice in downtown Leesburg prior to having his license to practice law revoked by the Virginia State Bar in the fall of 2019. The son of retired Loudoun Circuit Court Judge James H. Chamblin, the younger Chamblin testified in an October 2019 affidavit that he had misappropriated more than $850,000 from several estates for which he had been appointed by the Circuit Court to serve as administrator.

According to a June 16 federal court filing, Chamblin abused his position of trust as administrator of the estates to embezzle funds from at least five estates, including by writing himself checks drawn on the estates’ bank accounts, depositing those checks into his own bank personal accounts, and then spending the funds for his own personal benefit. 

He was also accused of embezzling funds from two unnamed civic organizations, for which he served as treasurer. A court filing notes that Chamblin embezzled $3,000 from one organization, and $7,500 from the other. Although the two organizations are not named in court filings, an undated post on the Loudoun Therapeutic Riding Foundation listed him as treasurer for both that organization and the Leesburg Lions Club. Loudoun Therapeutic Riding Foundation has said it was not one of the organizations affected by Chamblin’s misconduct. Chamblin is also listed as being removed as a treasurer for Conversations with Oatlands on a corporate database website.

The wire fraud charge stems from Sept. 17, 2019, when Chamblin allegedly caused a check in the amount of $20,000 to be issued that was drawn on a bank account held in the name of one of the trusts he oversaw. On or about that same date, Chamblin deposited the check into his business bank account, causing an interstate wire communication between Washington, DC, and Virginia.

Court filings indicate that Chamblin repaid some of the funds he embezzled back to the trusts, with interest, but the repayments likely stemmed from embezzling from other estates. In the signed affidavit consenting to his law license revocation, Chamblin indicated that untreated depression was likely a contributing factor to his misconduct.

Chamblin’s sentencing is set for Sept. 28. He faces up to 20 years in prison, and must forfeit property or other valuables to repay the estimated amount of the proceeds arising the embezzlements, $866,953.23.

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Iowa woman gets prison for stealing $500,000 from aunt

An Iowa woman has been sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison for stealing roughly half a million dollars from her husband's ailing aunt. (Storyblocks image)

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa woman has been sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison for stealing roughly half a million dollars from her husband's ailing aunt.

Kimberly Anny Henny was sentenced Friday to five years and 10 months in prison for taking advantage of her husband's aunt, who was blind and suffered from diminished cognitive abilities.

The 53-year-old Waterloo woman was also ordered to pay $494,724 in restitution.

Prosecutors said Henny claimed she took the money to help support the nonprofit she had started, but she actually used the money to pay for a family vacation, furniture, spa expenses and other personal items.
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Monday, June 28, 2021

Michigan lawmakers: Guardianship deficiencies systemic

By Mardi Link

LANSING — Glaring deficiencies in the state’s guardianship system were detailed in a Michigan House Judiciary Committee hearing, where state Attorney General Dana Nessel and others gave testimony on proposed reforms.

“We should be ashamed at how we treat the elderly in this state,” Nessel said Tuesday, appearing alongside select members of her Elder Abuse Task Force. “This package of bills is not just a good idea. It is quite simply a moral imperative.”

Elderly and disabled residents have been assigned guardians without their knowledge, probate court judges have selected professional guardians and conservators to manage a vulnerable adults’ affairs instead of assigning a qualified family member, and once in the system it can take months for a person to extricate themselves from unnecessary oversight, Nessel said.

Examples of systemic oversight deficiencies have emerged statewide.

For example, in 2017 a Leelanau County probate judge granted an emergency petition to have a professional guardian appointed for Martha Rothaug, over objections from her daughter, Jen Rodgers. The appointment occurred despite Rothaug’s earlier move to grant Rodgers power of attorney and patient advocate status.

Rothaug was moved out of her home in Suttons Bay to first one then another assisted living facility, without Rodgers knowledge or permission, court documents show.

The AG’s office is reviewing the case, documents show.

And in 2020, an Emmet County probate judge appointed a professional guardian for George Pappas, a 95-year-old World War II veteran of Harbor Springs, after he said he needed help getting his car fixed and doing some simple bookkeeping.

Elise Page, who court and police records show made withdrawals of cash from Pappas’ bank account and used a bank card from his account to pay for purchases at Victoria’s Secret, fast food restaurants and a vape store. Earlier this year Page was arraigned on fraud charges and pleaded guilty to embezzlement.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 2 in 57th Circuit Court, records show.

“It sounds like a Netflix drama, doesn’t it?” Nessel said. “But it’s not. It’s something that has happened right here in Michigan.”

National controversies over high-profile cases involving celebrities — singer Britney Spears, actor Amanda Bynes and disc jockey Casey Kasim have each had court-appointed guardians, conservators or both — have brought new awareness to a system advocates in Michigan have been trying to reform, with little success, for decades.

In 1990, after a national study of 22 states found guardianship petitions filed in Michigan far exceeded other states, the State Bar’s Elderly Law and Advocacy section asked the Michigan Supreme Court to create a task force on guardianships and conservatorships.

It took six years, but in November 1996, the court appointed probate judges, probate court registers, lawyers and professors to a 25-member Task Force on Guardianships and Conservatorships. The group was to “examine how the judiciary, legislature, and executive branch agencies can better protect the interests of those for whom guardianship is sought.”

About two years later, 11 recommendations were unanimously adopted, records show, and resulted in minor legislative amendments to the Estates and Protected Individuals Code, officials said.

In 2005, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm created an Elder Abuse and Neglect Task Force, appointing 15 attorneys, law enforcement officers, insurance administrators and finance experts who, a year later, issued a report.

“In the case of guardians and conservators, standards need to be implemented,” the report stated, though few specifics were identified in the 53-page document and the legislature took no action on even minimum standards or basic certification.

Nessel created her Elder Abuse Task Force in 2019 and the proposed legislation, which Committee Chair Graham Filler (R-Dewitt) said was a “starting point,” is at least partially the result of information gathered by task force members during the past two years, she said.

If passed, the new legislation would add certification requirements to professional guardians and conservators, change the timeline of mandatory visits from quarterly to monthly, require probate court judges to provide written justification whenever a professional guardian instead of a family member is appointed, among other reforms.

But not everyone supports the changes.

Filler said further hearings on the proposed legislation will be scheduled throughout the summer and into the fall and reported that members of the Michigan Guardianship Association had both stated their opposition to the bills and asked to testify at a later date.

Lake County Public Administrator Nathan Piwowarski offered no opinion on the proposed legislation, but said he observed “frankly troubling” variations in how guardianship and conservatorship cases were handled from one probate court judge to another.

“Taken as whole, elders’ legal rights vary depending largely on the accident of where they live or where the petition was filed,” Piwowarski said.

Nicole Shannon, an attorney testifying on behalf of the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative, agreed.

“I’ve been doing these cases since before the ink was dry on my bar card,” Shannon told the committee. “The problem we keep coming back to is it really depends on whose courtroom you are in and that individual judge’s opinion of what (guardianship) looks like.”

Guardians and conservators are appointed when a probate court judge determines a person no longer can handle their personal affairs, whether because of age, illness or physical or mental disability.

Guardians generally are in charge of medical and hosting decisions, while conservators handle financial decisions though some probate court judges assign both tasks to guardians.

Probate court judges have participated in task force committees, said St. Clair Probate Court Judge John Tomlinson, president-elect of the Michigan Probate Judges Association.

The MPJA, which counts “nearly 100 percent” of the state’s probate court judges among its members, supports reforms in theory, Tomlinson said. He went on to criticize certain reforms as “problematic” that would “clog up the system.”

For example, the proposed legislation would require courts to set a second hearing date if there are objections at the initial hearing — a provision aimed at protecting vulnerable adults and their families from unnecessary appointments, but which Tomlinson took issue with.

“Requiring us to set matters for a second hearing would simply clog our dockets and prolong these situations for everybody concerned,” Tomlinson said.

Securing the support of probate court judges in the implementation of any passed reforms was one thing several speakers, both members of the committee and among those testifying, agreed on.

Rep Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Township) suggested a certification process for judges. In 2019 he recommended his constituents protect themselves with legal documents naming a patient advocate and a power of attorney, rather than risk a court appointment.

“I can see where you’re going, to have the guardians and conservators (be certified) but so many times I see the judge make up his own rules as he goes along, opposite of statute,” Wozniak said. “So, if I had a comment on this, a question, what can we do with the judges to make sure that this program succeeds because without them, it doesn’t go anywhere.”

“I think you hit the nail on the head,” said Katharyn Barron, an assistant attorney general and chair of the task force.

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