Saturday, August 14, 2021

After Decades Apart, Woman Connects With Secretly Institutionalized Sister

by Bill Jones

CHICAGO — Until she was 13 years old, Palos Park’s Katherine Hamann did not know she had a sister. It took her 13 more years before the two finally met. Today, she is strengthened by a relationship once lost to her, and works as both guardian and advocate for others with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I went from being an English major and thinking I was going to teach English to being involved in the disability field,” Hamann said. “It’s been a wonderful life in many ways. It’s been rewarding and enriching for me, all of the people I’ve gotten to know.”

Hamann’s parents had their first child, Margaret Doering, in the 1940s during World War II. She was born with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“In those days, there was such an aura of shame having a child who was disabled,” Hamann said. “My parents were told by the family doctor that it would be much better for my sister to be institutionalized because she would probably not live past 13. The idea was that she would be a burden on them and it would be hard for them to have other children and that it would be a stigma for the other children if they wanted to have a family.”

Hamann’s parents followed the doctor’s advice and put Doering in state-run care at age 2. The couple had a boy eight years after Doering, Hamann after that and then another boy. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and others were “sworn to secrecy” about the existence of their sibling.

“It definitely was deliberate that we didn’t know,” Hamann said. “We’re not sure that they even wanted to ever tell us.”

But when Hamann was 13, a friend’s mother had a miscarriage. Hamann started to wonder if anything like that had ever happened to her own mother.

“I just asked her if she ever had any other children,” Hamann said. “She just burst into tears.”

She told Hamann that she had a sister. The teen said she was shocked but also excited by the revelation.

“I was kind of thrilled I had a sister, because I always wanted a sister,” Hamann said.

For a long time, Doering still was not part of Hamann’s life. The family did not go to the Dixon State School together to see her, and when the parents eventually started visiting, the children typically only found out after the fact, Hamann said.

“There was a period of about 17 years where no one visited,” Hamann said records show.

When Hamann was 26 and married, she finally met her sister, then 36. Doering has been a constant in her life ever since. Hamann became her guardian and moved Doering closer to the area, despite her parents advising against it.

“They were not enthusiastic about my getting involved with her, because they always felt she was going to be a burden on us in some way,” Hamann said.

‘An alternate universe’

First, Hamann made regular visits to get to know her sister. Doering does not speak or sign, so Hamann had to rely on records to learn more about her life.

“She doesn’t communicate in any conventional way,” Hamann said. “But she does communicate by touch. Over the years, she’s learned to hug me, which is just amazing.”

Hamann said there were constant revelations about Doering’s life in the facility, but maybe none quite as jarring as the scene when they first came face to face.

“When I met my sister, she was in a locked hallway with about 20 people who were just milling around,” Hamann recalled. “That was the activity. There weren’t even enough chairs for everyone. I felt like I’d entered an alternative universe. I had no idea that people were living like this and this could be her life.”

It also struck her how no choice in Doering’s life up until that point was her own. Hamann’s parents had led her to believe her sister was incapable of making them.

“They said she was feebleminded and she should always be in an institution,” Hamann said. “As soon as I met her, she was this spunky little lady. She’s so strong. She’s such a survivor and she has so much personality.”

Hamann started seeing positive changes in her sister as they got together. She moved Doering to Tinley Park’s Howe Developmental Center. Hamann volunteered there for a while and then ended up working there. She ultimately spent 11 years at the facility, doing everything from kitchen work to human resources.

It allowed her to be more involved with her sister, but she also saw firsthand what a state-run facility was like.

“It really wasn’t a good fit for her,” Hamann said. “It wasn’t a very positive environment for her.”

So Doering moved again, this time to a community integrated living arrangement. She has been doing great there for more than a decade, according to her sister.

Rewarding work

A little over a decade ago, Hamann was contacted by The Arc of Illinois, an organization that empowers people with disabilities to fully participate in community life. The organization heard her story and was looking for someone who could be compassionate and encouraging while talking to families going through similar situations. Hamann has worked for the organization since 2010, becoming the director of its family transition project.

The organization, which Hamann calls a great resource, advocates for choices for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as fully funded services to help them live independent and fulfilling lives.

State changes

The Dixon State School and Howe Developmental Center have been shut down by the state, part of a decades-long shift toward community-based care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said Allison Stark, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities for the Illinois Department of Human Services.

“The change from that was the idea that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be supported to live in communities just like everyone else, and that they actually have a right to live in communities just like everyone else,” Stark said.

That change started in earnest nationally in 1999. But 2011 marked a big shift for Illinois, according to Stark, who has served in her position for just under two years but has been involved in the disability community for roughly two decades. At that point, the state had roughly 13,000 people in community-based care. Since then, it has added roughly 7,000 to those numbers.

But Illinois still runs seven state-operated developmental centers, which serve about 1,600 individuals.

“They don’t offer a very high quality of life for people,” Hamann said. “Sometimes they’re the only option for people who need more advanced medical or behavioral services.”

Stark said some residents choose to stay in the larger centers. In other cases, families may have had bad experiences trying to integrate a loved one into a community setting, or they simply prefer an environment they see as “insulated and supportive,” despite the push toward community-based care, she said.

The developmental centers are the only facilities operated directly by the state, but Illinois also funds close to 12,000 individuals who are in private group homes, working with roughly 225 providers to operate them, Stark said. There is another shift toward people with intellectual and developmental disabilities holding their own leases in subsidized, supportive housing that is integrated with a broader population, Stark said.

Of course, money is always a concern. Illinois has invested $650 million since 2017 to try to make community options more attractive, Stark said. Illinois legislators recently added $170 million in new funding for community-based services, the largest single increase seen in the division, according to Stark.

But the Division of Developmental Disabilities is one of many under the state’s human services department’s umbrella, and all face their struggles, Stark said.

Hamann said there is still a long way to go to full inclusion in the state. Her sister opened the door to a greater disability community that Hamann said has been rewarding to know. She wants other people to know it, too.

“People with disabilities don’t need to be hidden away,” she said. “They’re part of our world, and they want to be part of our world.”

Hamann, now 68, understands that as well as anyone. Once unknown to her, Doering, now 78, is a beloved sister who loves music and ice cream. They go for drives together and play the stereo loudly. They take walks. And Doering shows she cares by taking Hamann’s hand.

These are all things many take for granted, but Hamann has come to appreciate in a unique but beautiful way.

“It’s wonderful to have a sister,” Hamann said. “It’s just been wonderful having her in my life.”

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County’s most vulnerable residents get help

Allen County Probate Court Judge Todd Kohlrieser presided over the organizational meeting of the Allen County Guardianship Services Board on Monday. Six members were issued the oath of office as inaugural board members. The agency’s mission is to help residents with developmental disabilities and mental health issues navigate the complexities of day-to-day life.

LIMA — The most vulnerable members of the Allen County community got a helping hand Monday when the county’s initial Guardianship Services Board transformed from a vision into a reality.

Allen County Probate Court Judge Todd Kohlrieser issued the oaths of office to six board members as the board, which has been several years in the planning stage, became an official entity. It’s function, the judge said, is to help residents with developmental disabilities and mental health issues navigate the complexities of day-to-day life.

“This is something that’s been needed for years,” Kohlrieser said of the board.

The Guardianship Services Board is an initiative of the Allen County Probate Court, Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Allen County and Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Its mission is providing adult guardianship services for residents of Allen County who have been determined to be legally incompetent.

The three appointed members whose positions are mandated in the Ohio Revised Code are representatives of the probate court, the county Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Mental Health and Recovery Services board. Filling those seats on the new guardianship board, respectively, are Tim Hamman, Angie Herzog and Mike Schoenhofer.

Those three inaugural members, in turn, voted to welcome three more members to the fledgling guardianship board. Joining the panel by unanimous vote were Christa Bauer, representing Lima Memorial Health System; Denise Cook, representing Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center; and Laura Voth, representing the United Way of Greater Lima.

“This is a diverse group of people that make up this board, with representation from the mental health field, an attorney and representatives of the United Way, Memorial Hospital and Mercy Health,” the judge said. “They’re all volunteers and they have accepted four-year terms.”

Kohlrieser said attorney’s throughout the greater Lima area have been donating their services in recent years to help provide legal assistance. But over the years, for a variety of reasons, the number of lawyers who are available to step up when needed has declined.

“We needed an entity to care for the needs of the citizens who fall under the umbrella of the Guardianship Services Board in making sure their needs — from scheduling doctor’s appointments to scheduling other appointments to researching options for long-term care — are taken care of,” Kohlrieser said.

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New Hampshire long-term care facilities face ‘huge’ staffing shortage

by Amy Coveno
Long-term care facilities around New Hampshire are struggling with critical staff shortages.

Nursing homes are facing stiff competition when it comes to finding workers.

Some restaurants are closing during the week or cutting their hours down because of staff shortages, but long-term care facilities don't have that option. They are all-day, everyday operations and they desperately need workers.

"The fact that we are experiencing a huge staffing crisis has been troubling when it comes to all facets of facility operation," Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said.

Williams told WMUR he is more worried right now about staffing shortages than about the summer surge in COVID-19 cases around the state.

"Staff is really the existential issue right now and facilities just don't have the means with their Medicaid reimbursement to be as competitive as they want to be with a thriving service economy right now," Williams said.

Low unemployment in New Hampshire has employers competing for a work force that is lured to other industries by incentives that nursing homes just can't compete with.

"When I hear examples of restaurants that are offering $20 and hour and 401k's and health insurance and yet can't find takers, and this is in the Seacoast area for example, you know facilities can't compete with that," Williams said.

There are openings for all kinds of workers, including dietary, facility and nurses and nurse’s aides.

Nursing homes can only take the number of people that they can appropriately provide care for and Medicaid reimbursement rates just can't compete with private sector hourly wages, according to Williams.

"I almost wince when you drive around the state and you see these help-wanted signs in all the windows, or you go by a Walmart and you see that they are offering $16 to $17 and hour," Williams said.

The "New Hampshire Needs Caregivers" website is aggressively recruiting licensed nursing assistants right now.

The website is promoting training costs reimbursed by the state, and even has an option for people under the age of 18 to apply for the program, as well as a $500 bonus.

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Friday, August 13, 2021

Hospitals seek dismissal of lawsuit by family of man whose death sparked Florida guardianship scandal

By Monivette Cordeiro

Attorneys for two hospitals asked an Orange County judge Wednesday to dismiss for a second time a negligence lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died while under the care of former Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle.

The hospitals, AdventHealth Orlando and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, say the allegations against them by the family of Steven Stryker are improper and fail to comply with Florida’s medical negligence claim requirements. A different judge dismissed AdventHealth from the initial complaint last September for similar reasons, though the family has since re-filed.

Attorneys for Stryker’s family argued that their claims don’t relate directly to medical care but to the negligent decisions each hospital made regarding Fierle, who signed a “do not resuscitate” order against Stryker’s wishes and the protests of his daughter, health-care surrogate and psychiatrist.

The 75-year-old Navy veteran died in May 2019 at St. Joseph’s Hospital after medical staff were unable to attempt to save his life because of the order. His death led to Fierle’s arrest and pushed lawmakers to reform Florida’s troubled guardianship system amid a statewide scandal.

Circuit Judge Denise Kim Beamer did not make a ruling during a Wednesday virtual hearing.

Stryker was a patient at AdventHealth in 2018 when the hospital asked a judge to declare him incapacitated and appoint Fierle to make all his decisions instead of Stryker’s chosen health-care surrogate and friend, Linda Lanier.

Lanier has told the Orlando Sentinel that AdventHealth seemed determined to put Stryker into guardianship and get him discharged from the hospital, despite her efforts to find him a new place to live.

Without a judge’s approval, Fierle was improperly billing AdventHealth for providing services to Stryker — one of almost 700 vulnerable patients who received services from Fierle to the tune of nearly $4 million over a decade, according to an audit by the office of Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond.

“Our claims are based on AdventHealth’s decision to partner with an unfit profession guardian, Ms. Fierle, who had been paid millions of dollars by AdventHealth over the years,” said Lance Curry, an attorney for Stryker’s family. “AdventHealth picked ... that unfit guardian who’s purportedly supposed to serve [Mr. Stryker’s] best interests. But what did she do? Immediately after being picked by AdventHealth, she discharged him from the hospital, violated his rights, abused him and ultimately led to his death.”

But AdventHealth’s attorney J. Charles Ingram countered that the hospital only recommended Fierle. A judge ultimately appointed her as Stryker’s guardian.

“The need for a safe discharge was the only duty AdventHealth had to Mr. Stryker,” Ingram said.

Months after being discharged from AdventHealth, Stryker was a patient at St. Joseph’s when Fierle authorized a DNR order on his behalf despite him stating “several times” that he wanted to live, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. She also insisted his feeding tube be capped even though medical staff warned her he could choke and die.

Stryker died May 13, 2019 after aspirating and going into cardiac arrest.

St. Joseph’s risk management director failed to seek court intervention or call the authorities despite having concerns about Fierle’s behavior after an ethics consultation, said Robin Treto, another attorney for Stryker’s family.

“We’re not critical of doctors carrying out of any of the decisions of Ms. Fierle,” Treto said. “We’re critical of an [attorney’s] decision to ultimately not intervene.”

Andy Bolin, an attorney for St. Joseph’s, argued the allegations brought by Stryker’s family fit the definition of a medical negligence claim, which has requirements that the plaintiffs have not complied with. Under Florida law, claimants have to conduct an investigation to find “reasonable grounds” for the complaint with a corroborating opinion by a medical expert before filing the lawsuit, as well as give 90 days’ notice to the defendants.

“There is no escaping the fact that at its very core, the plaintiff’s allegations sound like medical malpractice,” Bolin said.

Fierle, who is also named in the lawsuit, has pleaded not guilty to the charges she faces in her criminal prosecution.

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Erika Jayne’s Estranged Husband Tom Girardi Will Refuse to Testify at Lion Air Hearing

By Eliza Thompson

Tom Girardi
, the estranged husband of Erika Jayne, said that he will not testify at an upcoming hearing related to the Lion Air Flight 610 case.

RHOBH’s Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi’s Divorce, Legal Woes: Everything We Know

The former lawyer, 82, told a Chicago federal judge on Monday, August 9, that if he is called to the stand, he will invoke his right to remain silent, Law360 reported. The September hearing is related to contempt charges stemming from the December lawsuit that accused Girardi and his firm of misappropriating funds intended for families of the victims of the Lion Air plane crash.

After the defense team conceded that $2 million in settlement funds were missing, the judge found both Girardi and his firm, Girardi Keese, in contempt and froze their assets.

In December 2020, class action firm Edelson PC alleged in court documents that Girardi and Erika, 50, embezzled the settlement funds intended for the Lion Air families. The firm also accused the former couple of announcing their divorce to protect their assets.

“While Erika publicly filed for divorce [in November 2020], on information and belief, that ‘divorce’ is simply a sham attempt to fraudulently protect Tom’s and Erika’s money from those that seek to collect on debts owed by Tom and his law firm GK,” the documents claimed.

The lawsuit also alleged that Tom’s “need to fund outrageous lifestyles for himself and his soon-to-be ex-wife” was the reason for the divorce filing, claiming that the disgraced lawyer used settlement funds to “release personal guarantees, pay down loans, route the money to friends and family and satisfy other outstanding debts.”

For her part, the Pretty Mess author has denied knowing anything about Tom’s finances or the whereabouts of the allegedly missing settlement funds. In a midseason trailer for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills released last month, when the women are discussing Tom’s legal trouble, Erika says, “If he stole the money, I’d like to know where it is.”

Earlier in season 11, the former Broadway star said that she’d asked Tom to explain the Lion Air situation to her, but claimed he refused. “I kept asking. And I was continuously shut out,” she said during the July 14 episode. “I [pleaded], I begged, I tried. I pushed as hard as I could until I couldn’t push anymore.”

Erika has not been charged with any crimes, but in June, a judge ordered her to turn over all of her financial records. The following month, Tom’s conservatorship was made official after he was diagnosed with dementia earlier this year. His brother, Robert Girardi, was initially appointed his temporary conservator in February.

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Britney Spears’ Father Jamie Spears Agrees to Step Down From Conservatorship

by Elizabeth Wagmeister

Britney Spears: Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection; Jamie Spears: AP

Britney Spears
’ father, Jamie Spears, has agreed to step down from his daughter’s conservatorship.

The turn of events is a massive win for the international pop star, who has been under a conservatorship for 13 years, ever since Spears placed his famous daughter under the court-ordered arrangement in 2008 when she suffered a very public breakdown.

But, in the 13 years since, Spears has been fit enough to perform, tour, hold a Las Vegas residency and earn hundreds of millions of dollars.

Speaking up more than ever before, Spears has been urging the judge to remove her father from her conservatorship through blistering testimonies this summer, even telling the court that she wants to “press charges” against her father for “conservatorship abuse,” and that she wants him in jail.

Her father’s decision to step down is being praised as a “major victory” by the singer’s new attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who says he intends to investigate Spears’ conduct over the past 13 years, and plans to depose him under oath.

On Thursday, Spears’ father filed in Los Angeles Superior Court his response to the singer’s petition for his suspension, announcing his decision to step down. He said he would cooperate with the court on a transition, but did not give a timetable for his resignation.

His filing also stated that he needed to wrap up certain matters before he could hand over the reins. “When these matters are resolved, Mr. Spears will be in a position to step aside,” the court doc reads. “But there are no urgent circumstances justifying Mr. Spears’ immediate suspension.”

Spears’ attorney cites the “public battle with his daughter” as his reasoning for stepping down, but states that there are “no actual grounds for suspending or removing” him.

Variety has reached out to Spears’ attorney, Vivian Thoreen, for further comment.

“There are, in fact, no actual grounds for suspending or removing Mr. Spears as the Conservator of the Estate. … And it is highly debatable whether a change in conservator at this time would be in Ms. Spears’ best interests,” her father’s court doc, filed on Thursday, states.

“Nevertheless, even as Mr. Spears is the unremitting target of unjustified attacks, he does not believe that a public battle with his daughter over his continuing service as her conservator would be in her best interests,” the filing continues. “So even though he must contest this unjustified Petition for his removal, Mr. Spears intends to work with the Court and his daughter’s new attorney to prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator. As the Court has likely surmised, before Ms. Spears’ new attorney arrived, Mr. Spears had already been working on such a transition with Ms. Spears’ former court-appointed counsel, Sam Ingham.”

“This is a major victory for Britney Spears and another step toward justice,” the pop star’s attorney, Rosengart, says in a statement obtained by Variety.

“I announced in Court on July 14 that, after 13 years of the status quo, it was time for Mr. Spears to be suspended or removed as conservator and that my firm and I would move aggressively and expeditiously for that outcome,” Rosengart adds. “Twelve days later, my firm filed a Petition for Mr. Spears’s suspension and removal based on strong, insurmountable legal grounds, which were unequivocally supported by the law and all parties involved, including Jodi Montgomery, Britney Spears, and her medical team.”

The singer’s legal team states that while Spears stepping down is a major win for their client, they are still unhappy by her father’s “attacks.”

“We are pleased that Mr. Spears and his lawyer have today conceded in a filing that he must be removed. We are disappointed, however, by their ongoing shameful and reprehensible attacks on Ms. Spears and others,” Rosengart’s statement says.

“We look forward to continuing our vigorous investigation into the conduct of Mr. Spears, and others, over the past 13 years, while he reaped millions of dollars from his daughter’s estate, and I look forward to taking Mr. Spears’s sworn deposition in the near future,” Rosengart adds.

His statement concludes: “In the interim, rather than making false accusations and taking cheap shots at his own daughter, Mr. Spears should remain silent and step aside immediately.”

This summer, Rosengart had publicly called for Spears’ father to resign, but prior to him stepping aside today, he had emphasized that he would not voluntarily resign.

Spears’ father became sole conservator in 2019 after attorney Andrew Wallet resigned from the co-conservatorship. In September 2019, he temporarily relinquished his powers and Jodi Montgomery became the conservator of her person, meaning she is responsible for Spears’ medical and personal well-being. Spears’ father has remained the sole conservator of her estate, managing all of her finances and making a hefty sum of of her annual multi-million-dollar earnings, given that Spears has continued to record music and perform regularly, while under conservatorship.

Just in the past two months, there has been more movement in Spears’ situation than there’s been in more than a decade: aside from being granted her own attorney in Rosengart, her court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, resigned; Spears’ manager of 25 years, Larry Rudolph, quit; and wealth management firm Bessemer Trust pulled out as co-conservator.

In recent filings in his effort to remove or suspend Spears’ father, Rosengart has claimed that he has “dissipated” her multi-million-dollar fortune. He also also alleged that he would not allow his 39-year-old daughter to go on vacation to Hawaii with her “own, hard-earned money.” Spears’ father denied these accusations, and has previously denied any and all wrongdoing, stating that his “sole motivation has been his unconditional love for his daughter and a fierce desire to protect her from those trying to take advantage of her.”

The singer has addressed the court with explosive allegations, such as her father and conservators not allowing her to remove her IUD birth control, despite her desire to get married and have another baby. She has also claimed that her father would not let her drive in a car with her boyfriend, visit friends who live close by, or choose what she wants to eat or drink on any given day.

“Instead of trying to investigate my behavior or my capacity, I want my dad investigated,” Spears told Judge Brenda Penny last month. “This conservatorship is literally allowing my dad to rule my life … that is abuse, and we all know it.”

Many legal experts, who are not affiliated with Spears’ case, have suggested that the elder Spears should remove himself from the conservatorship. A non-family member is typically preferred by the court in conservatorship cases.

Sources close to the singer had previously told Variety that the first step would be to remove her father, before any effort to terminate the conservatorship altogether. Now that her father has voluntarily stepped aside, it remains to be seen whether the star’s legal team will push to end the conservatorship.

Spears has said that she wants to be let out of her conservatorship, altogether, without evaluation. Legal experts have told Variety that scenario is highly unlikely, as part of the process to terminate a conservatorship — in any case — includes proper medical evaluation.

Without Spears’ father involved in her conservatorship case, the goal would be for the singer’s conservators to work together with the eventual goal of safely getting her out of the court-ordered arrangement. As an attorney for Montgomery recently said: “We all need to focus on one thing, and one thing only — the health, well-being and best interests of Britney Spears.”

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Thursday, August 12, 2021

Son, former sheriff face charges in Alzheimer’s patient’s disappearance

By Ed Pearce

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -Two years ago, police were searching for an 80-year-old Alzheimer’s patient missing from a local care facility. Wednesday her son and a former law enforcement official were in Reno Justice Court facing charges for her abduction.

The story that unfolded in their preliminary hearing had its roots in a bitter battle over the guardianship of 80-year-old Susan Hillygus. Her son, Roger, had lost that battle in the courts to his sister and by August of 2019, she had made plans to sell her mother’s home to support her care.

By then she was living in a Reno memory care facility, ambulatory, but mostly uncommunicative. He had apparently not given up and even approached Reno Deputy Police Chief Oliver Miller with a strange request.

“He wanted to have myself, Chief Soto, Sheriff Darrin Balaam to go down there to affect some kind of civil arrest of the individuals who were holding his mother at that care facility,” Miller told the court.

Miller said he advised Hillygus the department had no role in what was strictly a civilian matter. He should hire an attorney and stay away from the care facility where he had already been accused of trespass.

Hillygus apparently found a more sympathetic ear in another law enforcement veteran, former Mineral County Sheriff and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Police Chief Stewart Handte, who--Miller said-- made a similar call to the police department.

August 8th, Hillygus went to the care home, told staff he was there to visit another patient and took his mother. He later called to say he wouldn’t be returning her, but was taking her to California where authorities would have no power over them.

Days later, acting on a Secret Witness tip, police located them in an apartment in Bellflower, California. Hillygus was arrested on second degree kidnapping charges.

Handte admitted his role but explained he was sympathetic to Hillygus’ plight because of his own family’s history. His charge was later reduced to conspiracy, but he appeared with his friend at the hearing and may share the defense table with Hillygus, if this case moves on to trial in district court.

Sadly, Susan Hillygus died in October of 2019, a couple of months after her return.

Full Article & Source: 

Guardianship Battle: One Woman's Fight to Free Her Mom

The “free Britney” movement brought new scrutiny to guardianship and conservatorships in America. Sarah Wallace reports on one family’s fight with the system.


Judicial discipline report notes 6 corrective actions against judges in 2020

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13: Colorado Supreme Court Justice Brian Boatright stands at the podium in the Senate as he swears in senators at the start of the first legislative day of the 73rd General Assembly at the Colorado State Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

Colorado's Commission on Judicial Discipline initiated six corrective actions against judges in 2020 — the same number as the prior year — ranging from mild concerns about the handling of cases to illegal behavior that resulted in a Supreme Court censure.

The commission released its annual report, which includes specific details about judges who received public discipline, and only general, non-identifying information about circumstances involving private sanctions. The majority of complaints about judges were for issues the commission could not resolve because they pertained to evidence, court procedures or law, and not official misconduct.

Of the two cases meriting public discipline, the first involved former Weld County District Court Judge Ryan L. Kamada, who the state Supreme Court censured in December for obstructing a federal drug investigation and improperly disclosing information about cases. In one instance, Kamada texted friends that a woman in a divorce proceeding would be "free game tomorrow night." Last month, a federal court sentenced Kamada to little over a year in prison for his interference in the drug operation.

In the other instance of public discipline, the commission reported that it commenced formal proceedings against former Baca County Court Judge Debra M. Gunkel in December. She had violated the terms of her deferred sentence for impaired driving by picking up a second DUI conviction.

The report revealed that the state Supreme Court initially rejected a proposed resolution to Gunkel's disciplinary case, without noting what the proposal entailed. But her case was not resolved until May of this year, when the justices accepted her resignation and censured Gunkel.

There were three instances of private discipline meted out to unnamed judges. The commission reprimanded one judge and placed them into a counseling program after the judge exhibited a "pattern of personal conduct with staff in the close quarters of the courthouse [that] adversely affected the work environment."

In another circumstance, a judge delayed issuing a decision for nearly three years in a complex case that involved a 19-day trial with 46 witnesses. 

"The Commission determined that the intensity and complexity of the litigation were the primary cause of the delay, but that the judge, nonetheless, should have resolved it more promptly," explained the disciplinary report.

Finally, the commission twice reprimanded a judge for their "insensitivity in using racial and ethnic terms" and problems handling administrative tasks.

The commission dismissed two cases that did not amount to provable violations, but nonetheless registered its concerns. The commission encouraged one judge to seek the help of a retired senior judge in managing their docket when, as in the case at hand, the judge only was able to issue two orders in 20 months in a parental dispute. Frequent legal motions, changes in court staff and the COVID-19 pandemic were the sources of the delays.

Another judge received encouragement to better explain the nature of their communications with a magistrate, after the father in another parental dispute complained about improper discussion between the district court judge and a magistrate who also happened to be a witness on behalf of the mother.

In total, the commission received 199 requests for evaluation of judicial conduct in 2020. The executive director ultimately dismissed 190 of those because they involved the conduct of non-judges, did not reasonably relate to judicial misconduct or had no provable violation.

"The disruption of the judicial branch’s management of hearings and trials during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted several complaints about delays and the occasional difficulties in connecting with remote hearings by video and in managing the proceedings," the report noted. "These situations were unavoidable and did not involve judicial misconduct."

In 2019, there were 221 requests for evaluation, of which the executive director dismissed 211. That year, discipline included two public actions, two instances of private discipline and two cases being dismissed while noting the concerns of the commission.

The judicial discipline process, which by and large takes place out of the public's eye, came under scrutiny earlier this year after The Gazette and The Denver Post reported that the Judicial Department awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a former employee allegedly in exchange for her silence about instances of misconduct within the judiciary. A committee of legislators and executive branch officials is charged with selecting a firm to perform an independent investigation.

The Commission on Judicial Discipline dates to 1967 and monitors the judiciary's compliance with the canons of judicial ethics. Pursuant to the state constitution, the process remains confidential until the commission files a disciplinary recommendation to the Supreme Court at the end of formal proceedings.

"A significant number of the complaints made in the judicial discipline process are in fact somebody's effort to call attention to a case that turned out in a way they didn’t agree with. Those cases have to be winnowed out," former Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis told Colorado Politics in February. She added that a person might turn to human resources if they want a judge's problematic behavior to stop, while the judicial discipline process may be best reserved for "conduct that is reprehensible and which leads the complainant to want to see that person disciplined or taken off the bench."

In addition to dismissing the charges and doling out public or private reprimands, discipline could also include removing a judge from office, suspension without pay, or measures "necessary to curtail or eliminate the judge's misconduct."

Besides Gunkel, the only judge subject to public censure during 2021 so far is former Arapahoe County District Court Judge Natalie T. Chase, who offered her resignation in April after admitting to using the N-word in front of court employees and ordering her staff to perform her personal tasks at work, among other incidents.

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Arkansas woman arrested after mother found mummified, wrapped in newspaper

Arkansas woman accused Geanee Pike is accused of wrapping her mother in newspaper after her death and continuing to use money from the older woman's Social Security disability account. (Washington County Detention Center )

By Bob D'Angelo
LINCOLN, Ark. — An Arkansas woman is accused of living with the body of her dead mother and continuing to use the elder woman’s Social Security disability money that was being deposited monthly, authorities said.
Geanee Pike, 54, of Lincoln, was arrested Monday in connection with abuse of a corpse and financial identity fraud, according to Washington County online court records. She is accused in the death of Gloria Pike, 73, of Lincoln, KNWA reported.
Gloria Pike’s brother, George Maness, had reported her missing on July 21, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Maness said he had not seen his sister since August 2020, the newspaper reported. He added that Gloria Pike had stage 4 breast cancer and had been living with her daughter.

On July 21, investigators spoke to Geanee Pike, who said that her mother was staying with a friend in a location she did not disclose, KNWA reported. She denied that she had access to her mother’s bank account or credit card, according to a police report.

Authorities subpoenaed Gloria Pike’s bank account records and discovered a transaction on July 27, 2021, at a Dollar General store in Lincoln, the television station reported.

Surveillance footage from the store “positively identified Geanee Pike using her missing mother’s check card,” and a search warrant of the home was executed for financial identify fraud, according to KNWA.

Authorities found a woman’s body, later identified as Gloria Pike, on a bed next to her daughter’s bedroom, the television station reported. Gloria Pike’s mummified body was wrapped in newspaper, and bedding covered the newspapers, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

According to Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigator Sgt. Autumn Holland, Geanee Pike said her mother died of natural causes last year but she did not report the woman’s death, the newspaper reported. She said her mother owed her money that she had promised to pay from her monthly disability checks, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

Geanee Pike said she continued to use her mother’s bank account after her death, Holland said.

Geanee Pike is currently being held at the Washington County Detention Center, KNWA reported.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Guardianship requests decline as knowledge of alternative legal option grows

Supportive decision-making alternative helps maintain people’s rights to make decisions

By Emily Davies

AUBURNDALE, Wis. (WSAW) - In July 2020 Jordan Anderson and his twin, marked a milestone; the two turned 18 and became legal adults. It is a big day for anyone, but especially for children with disabilities and their families. Born 12 weeks early, the two have cerebral palsy.

The Auburndale family scheduled a hearing with the court that fall so Anderson’s parents could have legal guardianship over them to protect them and support them as they go through adulthood. In addition to planning for the two to graduate high school and prepare for their future, securing guardianship is an expected next step for many families who have children with disabilities.

Just before the hearing, Anderson attended a virtual conference that empowers people with disabilities called the Wisconsin Self-Determination Conference. He sat in on a session George Zaske, an attorney and member of the Wisconsin Board for People With Developmental Disabilities, led.

“That was the first time I’ve ever heard about supportive decision-making,” Anderson said. “Once I heard George say you might lose your right to vote, that really got my mind going.”

The sports, journalism, politics, and hunting enthusiast also learned guardianship could take away his right to hunt and make decisions.

“These are pretty significant decisions,” Zaske told NewsChannel 7. “A guardianship order can transfer all of the rights to a guardian and that guardianship order can stay in place for decades.”

After listening to the concerns and frustrations of individuals and families navigating the guardianship system, the Wisconsin Board for People With Developmental Disabilities worked with legislators to offer a less restrictive alternative. Wisconsin became one of the first five states in the country to enact the supportive decision-making law in 2018.

It is a legal document that gives the person with a disability or aging individual the ability to get support from people they trust in areas they need support, like making financial or medical decisions but leaves the ultimate decision about what to do in those circumstances up to that individual. It is a document that does not require the time or cost of going to court and is recognized by the State of Wisconsin.

“Without a law that is equally recognized the way guardianship is recognized, you know, families ran the risk of saying ‘yes, my family member wants supportive decision-making,’ but then going into a formal system like a school or a hospital and not having that recognized,” WBPDD’s executive director, Beth Swedeen stated.

Anderson learned all about the option a day before his guardianship hearing. The next morning as he was getting ready for school, he talked with his parents, shared his concerns, and told him about supported decision-making.

Anderson’s parents, like many other people looking to find ways to protect and support loved ones with disabilities, were told by attorneys they could either have guardianship over their son or no guardianship. When told about supportive decision-making, their attorneys said they had to do more research.

Since the law was introduced, guardianship requests have declined each year from 5,147 in 2017 to 4,146 by 2020. Zaske said there is still a lot of education need about supportive decision-making, noting that institutions like schools, medical facilities, financial institutions, and even judges are not aware of the different options.

“Until supportive decision-making came around, it (guardianship) was really the only option. It was kind of black and white and people over-protected their loved ones and checked a lot of options that are on the guardianship petition,” Zaske, a parent of a child with disabilities said.

As a parent, he recognized that you want to do everything to protect your child because they are not as supported in the adult world as they were as a child going through school. He noted just like all adults making their own decision, adults with disabilities may make mistakes. As long as they do not have life-threatening consequences to those decisions, there are other alternatives to help guide and protect them.

“A guardianship can be appropriate if somebody can’t recognize danger. (If) They don’t have a good sense of when they’re being exploited. But research has shown that if you give a young person, even with a cognitive disability to practice that decision-making, then, in fact, they get better at making those decisions and get a better sense of who they are and their sense of autonomy,” Zaske explained.

Swedeen said families often ask if they should go through the guardianship process first and then go to less restrictive options later, but she urged that is not recommended. She said guardianship is the most restrictive way to protect a loved one with disabilities, it costs a lot of time and money, and it can be difficult to reverse or reduce a guardianship’s restrictions after being implemented. Even if the family and individual want guardianship removed, she explained that person has already been considered legally incompetent and it is up to a judge to decide to change that label.

“So if you can start with the flexible tools and if they don’t work or if they’re not complete enough, then consider something more restrictive, that’s always going to be the easier path and the path that keeps people’s rights intact,” she said.

“I have the best parents in the world for listening to me,” Anderson smiled. He and his family decided to implement powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions, retaining Anderson’s rights, but providing him less restrictive support when he needs it.

To learn more about supportive decision-making click here. You can also register for the free Wisconsin Self-Determination Conference happening virtually Oct. 18-21, which will include in-depth explanations of options for people with disabilities who need support. Anderson will also be speaking at that conference.

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A woman caught a Miami caregiver forcing her dying father to masturbate him, state says

By David J. Neal

The 64-year-old caregiver, identified as Martha DiazSanchez, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery on a victim older than 65, tampering with evidence and elderly abuse.

A woman and a security camera caught a Miami-Dade hospice worker masturbating by forcing the hand of an 85-year-old patient with dementia to stroke the worker’s penis, the Florida Department of Health says.

That’s according to the July 8 emergency suspension order (ESO) on the certified nursing assistant license of Alfredo Gutierrez Hernandez, a 56-year-old who is also facing criminal charges in Miami-Dade County court over these allegations under “Alfredo Gutierrez.”

Originally, Gutierrez was charged with five counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of an elderly or disabled victim and two counts of lewd and lascivious exhibition of an elderly or disabled victim. Those charges, filed May 16, now are down to the two counts of the latter crime.

Gutierrez was released from Miami-Dade Corrections after posting $25,000 bond the same day. He’s been a licensed nursing assistant since March 2016.

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The Middle Ground For Fixing Long-Term Care Costs: The WISH Act

by Marc A. Cohen, Stuart M. Butler 

Roughly one week before Americans celebrated the July 4 holiday, Representative Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) introduced a revolutionary bill (H.R. 4289) designed to repair our broken system for financing long-term services and supports (LTSS). The “WISH Act”—Well-Being Insurance for Seniors to be at Home—is based on an idea first put forward by a group of long-term care experts known as the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative, which was convened in 2012 by the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution and included the authors of this blog post. The idea was developed further in a 2018 paper presented at the Bipartisan Policy Center. If enacted, the WISH Act could significantly transform our LTSS financing system by harnessing the best of what the public and private sectors can jointly do to solve a problem that neither sector seems able to solve on its own. And it does this in a fiscally responsible way.

The legislation seeks to address the growing problem that needing LTSS for a long spell and, particularly, receiving them in a nursing home, can be financially devastating even for middle-class Americans with significant savings. A year in a two-bed nursing-home room can cost upwards of $93,000, causing many to exhaust their funds and become reliant on Medicaid.

In theory, private insurance is the appropriate tool for protection against such a risk. But the private long-term care insurance market has been declining over the past two decades, with fewer than 10 percent of Americans having policies. What is more, in 2017, private coverage payouts accounted for less than 5 percent of total national spending on LTSS. Moreover, while premiums have been rising substantially, the number of insurers selling a meaningful number of policies has precipitously declined.

There are multiple reasons for the condition of the insurance market. One is the widespread but erroneous belief that Medicare will pay for LTSS, combined with confusion about what private long-term care policies cover, and an aversion among consumers to the policy’s upfront cost. Meanwhile, growing uncertainty among actuaries—and earlier mistaken assumptions—about potential payouts, has led many companies to withdraw from this line of business leaving remaining firms to offer policies that are largely unaffordable to most middle-income Americans. And the remaining companies no longer sell policies that cover long-duration LTSS need, that is, lifetime protection

For more than 30 years, policy makers have been grappling with this issue. Some have argued that the solution is for government to step into the gap and take over the responsibility of protecting middle-class people from the costs of extensive LTSS. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act (part of the Affordable Care Act) aimed to do this by creating a voluntary, publicly administered insurance program. But after it was enacted, the proposed program was found to be financially unsound. It never got off the ground and was repealed in 2013. 

Agreement on a policy solution has long been stymied by a fundamental philosophical conflict between those who would limit public policy to the promotion of private insurance as the only appropriate policy for protecting private resources and those who regard public insurance as essential to the assurance of adequate, affordable protection for all.

The WISH Act, however, steers a careful middle course. It combines public and private roles in ways that would promote comprehensive insurance protection while strengthening the private insurance industry. It does so by creating a modest “catastrophic” public program to limit exposure for LTSS costs that modest- and middle-income people can reasonably be expected to manage, either through reliance on family caregivers, personal resources, or on private insurance. In this way, the WISH Act gives private insurers the opportunity and greater actuarial certainty to design insurance as a gap-filler (much like private Medigap insurance does for health costs). The likely result: Many more middle-income people would buy private policies that, combined with the new public insurance, would provide nearly comprehensive insurance protection against LTSS costs. This fundamental idea is key to the WISH Act: using limited public insurance in part to help stabilize private insurance.

Recognizing That “One Size Does Not Fit All”

Under the legislation, the public program would begin paying a benefit only after an individual has a LTSS need that lasts for at least one to five years—depending on income. In this case, a LTSS need is defined as becoming functionally impaired in two or more activities of daily living or suffering from dementia for a pre-determined amount of time. The benefit would be $3,600 paid monthly to help support that individual in the setting of their choice, which is most often their home. 

The innovative idea behind this approach is the recognition that for some families having a need lasting just one year would represent a catastrophic burden—either for family caregivers providing care or due to the significant financial costs associated with paying for care. For others with greater resources, the need would only be truly catastrophic after four or five years—when a combination of family care, private insurance, and savings would no longer be adequate. Thus, the amount of time a family would wait to receive the public insurance benefit would be directly related to their income history so that those with lower incomes have to wait less time to receive benefits. This scaled, income-based waiting period is designed to target benefits to middle-income households and protect them from financial ruin.

Valuing Family Caregiving

Most individuals who require LTSS receive it from family caregivers. In fact, in 2017, more than 34 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at $470 billion, were provided by family members to adult relatives. Many people who cannot afford costly services must rely entirely on family care when they have LTSS needs. Even if the individual receiving care does not incur any direct costs, the caregivers themselves, who are often adult daughters, often do incur heavy costs in the form of making workforce accommodations or even leaving the labor force, thus putting their own future retirement security at risk. 

Typical health insurance requires individuals to spend money on health services until a deductible amount is reached. The WISH program does not require this; the waiting period for benefits is instead based on the amount of time someone has had an LTSS need, not on how much money they spend out of pocket on LTSS services. The implication is that those who rely exclusively on unpaid family supports, who tend to be individuals of more modest means, will be able to receive public insurance benefits at the same time as those who have paid for such care out of pocket, once they have met their waiting period requirement. Unpaid family care is thus valued the same as paid care. 

Stabilizing The Private Insurance Market

The WISH Act would also strengthen private insurance by using public insurance to address a part of the risk that is hard for the private insurance market to predict: the costs associated with long-duration LTSS need. Historically, the unpredictability of these costs has discouraged insurers from offering policies in this market. But having a well-defined public insurance program in place would stabilize the market and make it more appealing to new entrants. And for the public, it would crystallize that in the period before the public insurance would take effect, there is a definable risk they need to plan for. Because that period varies by income, WISH would make private insurance coverage affordable to people of more modest means, since they would only need to buy short-duration, less costly policies. Most such people have never considered private insurance as an option.

With the public catastrophic insurance in place, private insurance carriers could fill the gaps in public coverage and do so for lower prices than plans charge today. Sales costs would be lower because carriers would not have to spend as much on education and marketing because more middle- and modest-income people would understand the risks and enter the market. The WISH Act includes substantial efforts to educate the public about their risks and likely costs. Underwriting guidelines could be relaxed as more people become part of the target market. And, like Medicare Medigap supplement insurance, insurers could market their products in alignment with the public coverage. The number of Medicare supplement policies in the market far exceeds the number of long-term care insurance policies, suggesting that keying off public-program coverage can significantly help the industry and lead to more carriers re-engaging in a revitalized market. In essence, the WISH program could lead to a “mainstreaming” of private insurance for first-dollar costs, thus assuring Americans that they have access to a comprehensive insurance solution built on well-defined public and private roles. 

Reducing Medicaid Spending And Advancing Health Equity

The largest public payer of LTSS is the Medicaid program. While it pays for more than half of all LTSS, however, it covers support services only after people expend most, if not all, of their personal resources. Moreover, in many states Medicaid limits access to services at home or in the community, and thousands of individuals with LTSS needs are on waiting lists to receive home and community-based care. Furthermore, Medicaid represents one of the fastest-growing state budgetary items; several states are in the process of examining new state-based LTSS financing initiatives, largely motivated to help stem what they view as unsustainable growth in the program. 

The WISH Act would have a dramatic impact on state Medicaid programs, helping to stem expenditure growth and in a manner that also advances health equity. Indeed, by covering long-duration LTSS needs, which are the primary driver of LTSS costs, the WISH program would reduce Medicaid expenditures by at least 23 percent, based on an analysis of a similar approach. This would mean significant budgetary relief for states. Meanwhile, the reduction in the number of middle-income Americans eventually making claims on Medicaid because of LTSS costs would provide the program more capacity to serve those for whom it was designed.

Achieving Fiscal Sustainability

One of the shortfalls of the CLASS Act was that its design made it fiscally unsustainable, leading to its repeal in 2013. In contrast, the WISH Act is financed much like a typical insurance program, with a payroll premium offsetting program costs. In this case, 0.6 percent of wages would be collected from all participants (half from employees and half from employers). Like Social Security, full benefits would be available after 40 quarters of work. Pro-rated benefits would be available after six quarters. This structure would fund projected benefits and administrative expenses without general revenue.

What does this mean for a typical worker? In early 2020, median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary employees were $936. Thus, for such full-time employees, a total of $5.62 per week ($292 per year) would be set aside into a trust fund to pay for future catastrophic LTSS needs. 

Filling Gaps

The risky market conditions of long-term care insurance have left most people without an effective way to plan for the single greatest threat to their financial security during retirement—the possibility of heavy LTSS costs. The WISH Act seeks to ameliorate this threat by focusing public spending on a risk that private insurers are unprepared to take on. This public focus will, in turn, encourage private insurers to focus on the role they have historically been more willing and able to perform, filling gaps in public insurance coverage with products that “wrap-around” a well-defined public benefit. In doing so, the proposed legislation would help slow the growth of Medicaid and protect many middle-income Americans. As Congress considers ways to strengthen the care infrastructure for older adults, the WISH program could be an essential component. 

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Jamie Lynn Spears Shares Recording of Daughter Comforting Her Amid Britney Spears Drama

Many Britney Spears fans have criticized her sister in recent months amid the pop star's legal battle. In a new audio clip, Jamie Lynn Spears' toddler daughter offers some comforting words.

By Corinne Heller

Jamie Lynn Spears
is leaning on her family for support following criticism by many of Britney Spears' fans and by the singer herself on social media.

On Saturday, Aug. 7, the 30-year-old Zoey 101 alum posted on her Instagram Story an audio recording of her 3-year-old daughter Ivey comforting her. The clip, which contains captions, was shared twice, with a "sound on" sticker added to the second story.

"It'll be okay, Mom," Ivey tells her mother. "It has to be okay, Mom."

Jamie Lynn replies, "Oh, thank you, baby."

The former Nickelodeon star's video comes amid negative posts made to and about Jamie Lynn on social media as Britney continues her legal battle against her conservatorship.

As Britney wages a legal battle to try to remove their father, Jamie Spears, as a co-conservator, fans continue to accused Jamie Lynn and other family members for allegedly failing to support the singer and for reportedly taking advantage of her. Jamie Lynn has publicly voiced her support for her older sister on social media and has denied being paid by her.

As a result of the negative posts directed towards her, Jamie Lynn has turned off comments on all Instagram posts that she's shared in recent months. In earlier ones and on Twitter, many Britney fans have launched insults and profanity at Jamie Lynn, as well as made accusations against her and calls to #FreeBritney. The country singer, a mom of two daughters, has also signaled that she and her children have received death threats.
Criticism of Britney's family has increased since she spoke out publicly in a court hearing about her personal and legal turmoil in late June. She slammed her family for adopting what she called her "abusive" conservatorship since it was implemented 13 years ago following a psychiatric hospitalization, and pleaded for it to end entirely. 

After the hearing, Britney, 39, also began voicing opinions about her family on Instagram. In mid-July, she wrote, "I don't like that my sister showed up at an awards show and performed MY SONGS to remixes !!!!! My so-called support system hurt me deeply !!!! This conservatorship killed my dreams ... so all I have is hope and hope is the only thing in this world that is very hard to kill ... yet people still try !!!!"

Jamie did not comment on her post.

Britney Spears, Jamie Lynn Spears 
Image Group LA/Disney Channel via Getty Images
In late June, just days after the hearing, Jamie Lynn said in an Instagram video, in response to criticism from fans, "Maybe I didn't support [Britney] the way the public may have liked me to, with a hashtag on a public platform, but I can assure you I have supported my sister long before there was a hashtag and I'll support her long after."
As for the sisters' dad, his attorney has said Jamie would not be resigning as Britney's co-conservator and also told CNN in March, "Like any parent, he doesn't always see eye-to-eye on what Britney may want. But Jamie believes every single decision he has made has been in her best interest." 
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