Saturday, October 2, 2021

Opinion: #FreeBritney Is Only The Beginning. It’s Time To Fix Our Nation’s Guardianship System

The author of a new reform bill argues that American families deserve better accountability, better resources, and better information.
by Sen. Bob Casey

Axelle / FilmMagic via Getty Images

When a judge suspended Britney Spears’ father as her conservator on Wednesday, fans and advocates cheered. Ms. Spears’ fight may not be over, but after 13 years, she is on the path to restoring her basic rights. But an unknown number of other people with disabilities, older adults, and their families are still struggling to undo restrictive or even abusive guardianships and conservatorships.

Ms. Spears’ case, along with years of tireless work by advocates and journalists, including a recent investigative series by BuzzFeed News, has shined a spotlight on our nation’s fractured guardianship system. With little accountability and poor oversight, it can leave people with disabilities and older adults exposed to exploitation, fraud, and abuse without any real recourse or way out.

It’s a reality that Nancy Pantoni and her son, Dominic, of Pittsburgh know all too well. As an infant, Dominic was diagnosed with a rare genetic disability called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome that has caused behavioral and emotional health problems. As he grew older, it became more difficult for him to live alone without support, and Nancy struggled to afford the services he needed to remain independent.

Dominic Pantoni seated at a table with his mother, Nancy Pantoni
Nancy Pantoni

Dominic and Nancy Pantoni in 2019

As Nancy and Dominic worked to find a solution to fit his needs, a social worker suggested that a guardianship agency could help secure housing. Nancy and Dominic agreed to what they thought would be a limited or temporary arrangement, in which she would have a say in his care. In 2009, a judge appointed a guardian for Dominic, granting an agency full control over his life. Twelve years later, Nancy and Dominic are still fighting to reverse that decision. Originally Nancy’s visits were limited to once a month. It took a court order for her to earn the right to see her son every week. Their interactions are now more frequent, but they are still supervised.

The National Center for State Courts estimates that approximately 1.3 million people in the US live under a guardianship or conservatorship ruling. It’s impossible to know the exact number because these rulings are controlled at the state or county levels, with no required national reporting system in place.

Many guardians are dedicated and caring individuals who help people with disabilities and older adults manage their lives. Yet, it has become increasingly clear that the system allows unscrupulous guardians to defraud, abuse, and exert unnecessary control over vulnerable people. People who are being abused in guardianships often have their financial resources drained to the benefit of the guardian, have medical decisions made on their behalf, and in some cases, are cut off from their loved ones. This widespread abuse cannot be blamed on a few bad apples. Our nation’s patchwork system of guardianships — without any consistent accountability — has allowed exploitation and abuse to thrive.

Ms. Spears may be on the path to regaining control over her life, but in order to ensure others in exploitative or overly controlling guardianships can see the same result, our entire system must be reformed.

The first step is to collect information on guardianships. We need states to expand or improve guardianship databases to make it easier to track fraud and abuse, and to share information with one another and the federal government. We will not fully understand the scope of this challenge until we start collecting solid facts on a national basis. Second, we need less restrictive alternatives that ensure guardianship is used only as a last resort. One alternative is called supported decision-making. This process ensures people who need assistance making life decisions are provided with support from a network of people they choose and trust. Finally, we need enhanced resources that will allow states to do better background checks on people seeking to become guardians and to track them over the years that follow.

That is why I introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act with Maine Sen. Susan Collins on Sept. 28. This legislation takes important first steps toward enacting the change we need. This bipartisan bill aims to promote oversight and accountability while encouraging states to share information about alternatives to guardianship. The Guardianship Accountability Act will create a National Resource Center on Guardianship to publish model state and local legislation and best practices, promote the use of less restrictive alternatives, collect state statistics on guardianship, facilitate information sharing, and compile and publish training materials. The bill will expand the availability of federal demonstration grants to help develop state guardianship databases, improve training for court officials to spot abuse, and expand the use of background checks for guardians.

While Britney Spears’ case has focused the public’s attention on the need for guardianship reform, most families in similar situations don’t have a national spotlight on their hardships. Nancy Pantoni is now on her fifth attorney, fighting to regain control of her and her son’s lives. Nancy and Dominic deserve a chance to regain that control. But more than that, they and so many families like them deserve to navigate a transparent system that presents good options, benefits from strong oversight, and includes clear protections for individuals and their families.
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Spears case spotlights state efforts to rein in conservators

Britney Spears’ fight to end the conservatorship that controlled vast aspects of her life is putting the spotlight on ongoing efforts in the states to reform laws that advocates say too often harm the very people they were meant to protect.


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Britney Spears' fight to end the conservatorship that controlled vast aspects of her life is putting the spotlight on ongoing efforts throughout the U.S. to reform state laws that advocates say too often harm the very people they were meant to protect.

Already this year, New Jersey cracked down on the circle of people who could petition for someone to be placed under a guardian. New Mexico created an independent review process to oversee how conservatorships are being handled, including the ability to check bank records. And Oregon is ensuring that anyone placed under a guardian gets free legal help.

On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed into law a set of changes prompted by the attention generated by Spears' legal battle to free herself from a 13-year conservatorship run by her father.

The law includes greater oversight of professional fiduciaries, such as those who controlled Spears' life and financial decisions. It will increase scrutiny of financial, physical or mental abuse, which could result in $10,000 fines.

The new law also will allow people placed under a conservatorship to choose their own attorneys, which Spears was finally allowed to do in July.

California lawmakers had passed a series of reforms to the state’s conservatorship system in 2006, but they were never implemented by the courts because of budget cuts during the recession in 2008 — the same year Spears was placed in the conservatorship after suffering a mental health crisis.

Her ordeal caught the attention of Congress, which held a Senate Judiciary committee hearing this week examining ways to reshape conservatorships.

The system "is failing people from every walk of life, whether they are a global superstar whose struggles unfortunately play out in public or a family unsure of how to take care of an elderly parent," said state Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat who introduced the bill after watching the recent documentary "Controlling Britney Spears.”

Low added: "This bill saw unanimous, bipartisan support throughout the process because it's painfully clear that we can and should do better.”

Changes to conservatorship laws in other states also have sought to protect assets and provide less severe alternatives to conservatorships, which also are referred to as guardianships.

In New Jersey, lawmakers introduced legislation that would eliminate a “catch-all” category that lets virtually anyone who claims to have concern for the financial or personal well-being of another adult petition the court to strip their decision-making power.

Studies have found that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or those with mental illnesses, dementia and Alzheimer's disease are at high risk of being placed under a guardianship.

“Let’s say some wealthy woman is worth millions and millions, and their nephew is going around saying she’s not all there and she needs to be taken care of. Well, under current law you can do that,” said New Jersey Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, a Democrat who was a primary sponsor of the bill. “I want it to be hard for somebody to be a conservator and take money from somebody without adequate protections for that person.”

High-profile cases of guardians exploiting vulnerable people in their care led Nevada and New Mexico to overhaul their laws governing conservatorships.

New Mexico reformed its system, starting in 2018, amid rising public complaints and a federal investigation that found 1,000 clients lost more than $10 million in a multi-year embezzlement scheme perpetrated by the Albuquerque-based company Ayudando Guardians. In July, a married couple that helped operate the company were sentenced to a combined 62 years in prison on fraud, theft and money laundering convictions. A judge said their conduct left former clients destitute and homeless.

Initial legislation provided greater access to secretive guardianship records and court proceedings. It also prohibited guardians from placing limits on visitation with the elderly and infirm after families complained they weren't allowed to visit or communicate with their loved ones. The state has added bonding requirements and training for conservators, new rights for the incapacitated and a grievance process to challenge court decisions.

New Mexico state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said he's glad Spears' legal battle thrust the conservatorship process into the spotlight. The Democrat cosponsored successful legislation that pays for judicial staff to review conservator and guardianship accounts.

“It really goes to the heart of the matter,” Ortiz y Pino said. “You’re taking away basic civil rights from a person, and it’s not that apparent to the casual observer if a person is capable of managing their own affairs any longer. That’s why you have someone evaluate the person’s mental acuity. You have someone check whether there are less restrictive options. You try to build in some protections.”

In March, New Mexico lawmakers gave the state auditor’s office new authority to review conservator and guardianship annual reports, conduct audits and subpoena bank records.

“That’s not necessarily public transparency, but transparency in the sense of third eyes are looking at what the conservator is doing, besides the judge,” said Democratic state Rep. Marian Matthews, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

After a guardian was charged in 2017 with siphoning more than half a million dollars from hundreds of people she had been appointed by courts to protect, Nevada lawmakers enshrined a right to legal counsel for adults under guardianship, created a system to allow people to pre-nominate guardians in case they became incapacitated and formed a compliance office to crack down on abuse.

Karen Kelly, who heads the Clark County Public Guardian's office, said the number of private guardianships have plummeted since the reforms went into effect and more people challenged proposed arrangements.

In June, Oregon's Democratic governor signed a bill that provides legal counsel — paid by the state — for people potentially being placed into guardianship.

“Protected persons currently don’t have a right to representation, which obviously sets up people without means for potential abuse,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat who was one of the measure's sponsors.

Delaware, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin area among a growing number of states seeking to provide a less restrictive alternative to full guardianship, a step that is intended to allow people to direct their own lives.

The laws, backed by advocates for people with disabilities, require the courts to consider “supported decision-making” agreements. They allow a person with a disability to choose someone who can help with critical tasks such as reviewing a lease, but cannot make a decision for them.

“We're not calling for abolishing conservatorships, but changing the paradigm in which we see people with disabilities and see their ability to make choices in their own lives,” said Judy Mark, president of Disability Voices United, a Southern California advocacy group.

Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said that approach applies “the lightest possible touch” to the process of formal oversight.

Borel said it’s extremely hard for someone to be removed from a guardianship. In one memorable case, he recalled a man with an intellectual disability who had the support of his caretakers in a state institution to move into a community housing facility.

But the move was initially denied because the man remained under guardianship of his grandmother — even though she had died years before.

“It’s still harder to get your rights restored than to never go under unnecessary guardianship,” he said.

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Woman accused of elder abuse at Folsom senior care home appears in Sacramento court

By Rosalio Ahumada and Sam Stanton

A 90-year-old woman with dementia who was evacuated from her home during the Caldor Fire ended up at a Folsom senior living facility where workers allegedly abused her — and it was caught on video, according to a complaint filed with state regulators

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A caregiver at a Folsom senior living facility accused of abusing an elderly Caldor Fire evacuee made her first appearance in Sacramento Superior Court since her arrest last week.

Prosecutors have charged Sharan Umlesh Kaur, 49, with one felony count of elder abuse stemming from an incident that occurred on or about Sept. 2, according to a criminal complaint filed Sept. 21 by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

Kaur is accused of abusing a 90-year-old woman with dementia who was evacuated from her Pollock Pines home during the Caldor Fire. The elderly woman ended up at the Brookdale Senior Living facility on Harrington Way in Folsom.

Kaur appeared in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon for her arraignment hearing. She was accompanied by her defense attorney, Joe Hougnon. Superior Court Commissioner Ken Brody scheduled Kaur to return to court Oct. 20 for a pretrial hearing.

The defendant did not enter a plea Tuesday. Hougnon explained after the hearing the procedural matter of entering a plea will be conducted at a later date once the defense has had more time to review the evidence in the case.

Deputy District Attorney Tara Crabill asked the court for a stay-away order. Brody granted the prosecutor’s request and ordered Kaur to stay away from the listed victim in this case and the Brookdale Senior Living facility.

Defense attorney speaks outside courthouse

Kaur only spoke during her arraignment to tell Brody that she understood the charge that has been filed against her. She declined to comment after the brief court hearing, but her attorney spoke on her behalf. He said his client has no prior criminal record, is supported by her family and has ties with the community.

“We need a chance to review the evidence,” Hougnon told The Sacramento Bee outside the courthouse. “She’s never been in this kind of trouble before, she’s a very nice lady. I don’t know what happened yet, let’s see what the evidence actually is first.”

In a complaint filed Sept. 10, the Sacramento-based Foundation Aiding the Elderly accused the senior living facility of “elder abuse, failure to protect resident from physical harm, fall and left unattended, lack of dignity and insufficient staffing.”

The Bee is not identifying the 90-year-old woman because she is a victim of alleged abuse.

In the complaint to the community care licensing arm of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, FATE President Carole Herman wrote that the alleged abuse was caught on video through a camera the woman’s granddaughter had concealed in her room.

Herman said the woman’s family installed the camera because of concerns about the type of care she was receiving at the facility. Herman wrote that the family “saw evidence on the video that (the woman) had been brutally attacked by two facility employees.”

The complaint to state officials contends that the facility employees “slapped her, pulled her hair, tormented her and laughed at her.”

“Earlier that morning around 7 a.m., it is also on the video that (the woman) fell and laid on the floor in her room for almost an hour before someone came and picked her up,” Herman wrote. “Someone was seen placing a covering over her as she was on the floor naked.”

Attorney denies client’s involvement in neglect

Kaur’s defense attorney said there’s no information that indicates his client had any involvement with the allegations of neglect made by the elderly advocacy group. He said the allegation of neglect “seems a little more egregious” to him.

“I don’t think my client had anything at all to do with that,” Hougnon said. “She didn’t have anything to do with (the elderly woman) being neglected.”

Kaur was arrested Friday and released Saturday from the Sacramento County Jail. No criminal charges have been filed involving the second worker.

Officials at Brookdale’s corporate headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn., responded to the allegations in an email to The Bee. In the written statement, the officials said they have thorough employment standards, including background checks and ongoing training in compliance with state regulations.

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“Inappropriate conduct or behavior is not tolerated and is dealt with appropriately,” officials wrote in the Brookdale statement. “The individuals involved are no longer with the company, and we are cooperating with the authorities.”

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Friday, October 1, 2021

Guardianship forces pop art legend Peter Max to live as shut-in, pals say: Devine

By Miranda Devine

Peter Max is in a legal guardianship in which every aspect of his life is controlled by court-appointed strangers, says his daughter Libra Max. -  John Lamparski/WireImage

It’s not just Britney Spears who is trapped in a guardianship, isolated from friends and family, with all personal, financial, and legal decisions controlled by others. 

In New York, legendary pop artist Peter Max also is being held against his will in a legal guardianship, in which every aspect of his life is controlled by court-appointed strangers, says his daughter Libra Max, 54. 

She complains that she is not allowed to visit her 83-year-old father at the Upper West Side apartment that was her childhood home. She is permitted to see him only on a public bench in Riverside Park, and only for an hour at a time after requesting the appointment 48 hours in advance. 

The visits are limited to three per week and can be canceled without explanation, as happened this week after she spoke to The Post. 

“He is being treated like a prisoner,” she says. “Every single time I see him, which has to be approved and scheduled, he says, ‘Sweetie, please come up to the apartment.’ How many times can someone ask for companionship? He must feel tremendously abandoned. 

“I see his disbelief when I tell him that I cannot accept his invitation to come up. . . . Instead, he is left with a cast of strange nurses [who] change constantly and he does not know their names. 

“My father [is a] Holocaust survivor. His deepest fear was having friends and family taken away from him.” 

Peter Max guardianship
Peter Max’s longtime friend Edward Tricomi and daughter Libra Max say the artist is being taken advantage of by his legal guardian.
Stephen Yang

Max, a counterculture icon of the 1960s and 1970s, whose works hang in the Museum of Modern Art​, has an estimated fortune of at least $65 million. An intimate of the Rolling Stones, the German immigrant became rich plastering his psychedelic designs on postage stamps, cereal boxes, album covers, even a Continental Airlines Boeing 777. Nancy Reagan asked him to paint portraits of the Statute of Liberty at the White House, after which he helped raise money to restore the monument. 

Now he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and was placed under guardianship in December 2016, after the court ruled that he needed protection from alleged physical, mental, and emotional abuse by his then-second wife, Mary

Mary Max committed suicide at age 52, in June 2019, just before attorney Barbara Lissner took over the guardianship, when the previous court-appointed guardian resigned. 

Libra applied to the court two months later to end the guardianship — but failed. Even though the reason for protecting Max had ended with Mary’s death, the burden of proof on those who want to end the guardianship is onerous. 

“A guardianship is forever,” says lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a friend of Max’s since the 1990s, who was denied permission this week to visit him. “They never stop.” 

Britney Spears
A judge removed Jamie Spears from Britney Spears’ conservatorship on Sept. 29, 2021.

Since Lissner’s appointment, says Libra, her father’s freedom has been savagely curtailed. His beloved cats were removed, and his friends are required to sign nondisclosure agreements before they can even talk to him on the phone. 

More than $1 million per year has been drained from Max’s bank accounts to pay for his care, which Libra claims is excessive. 

Max’s previous two guardians, who served from January 2018 to June 2019, charged $53,127 in fees over 18 months, while Lissner billed $598,654 over 13 months through July 2020, according to itemized accounting prepared for the court by Libra’s attorney, Linda Redlinsky. 

At the time Lissner became Max’s guardian, he was receiving care from home health care aides for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at a cost of $528,039 in 2019. 

Lissner hired additional registered nurses from Alliance Nursing Homecare for an extra $397,731. 

Libra alleges that her father is the victim of the growing scourge of guardianship abuse and has enlisted the help of a dozen of his old friends and relatives, including hairdresser Edward Tricomi, Woodstock producer Michael Lang and Max’s former long-term lover, model Rosie Vela, to petition the court to set him free. 

“This system of appointing guardians has become an ATM machine for some lawyers and guardians,” says Dershowitz. “I’m sure many are well intentioned but ‘family first, courts last’ has to be the rule. 

“I just feel terrible for him. He’s my age and it could happen to me as easily as it happened to him. The only thing people like Peter need is loving contact with their children. . . . It is so inhumane [to] put him in the hands of strangers who bill by the hour. Really, what harm could there be in having old friends and relatives sit with him and schmooze with him?” 

Lissner, Max’s “personal needs” guardian, declined to comment. 

She and her husband, Michael, are partners in the Columbus Circle law firm Lissner & Lissner, founded by Michael’s late father Jerry to serve Holocaust refugees who had fled Europe. 

The couple was criticized by the Supreme Court in Bronx County in 2014 over a case in which they sought to be appointed financial guardians of an unnamed 94-year-old woman at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale. 

“It would be an understatement to declare that this court is outraged by the behavior exhibited by the interested parties,” read the decision, “parties who were supposed to protect the person, but who have all unabashedly demonstrated through their actions . . . that they are only interested in getting paid.” 

Peter Max and Mary Max
Peter Max’s wife Mary Max committed suicide at age 52 in June 2019.
John Lamparski/WireImage

However, Lissner does have the support of Libra’s brother Adam Max. 

Adam, who is in a separate legal dispute with his sister, disputes Libra’s allegations about her father’s treatment and has opposed her attempts to end the guardianship. 

“Peter is doing extremely well and receives visits from family and friends regularly including Adam multiple times every week,” said one of Adam’s attorneys Matthew Seidner. 

“Libra has feigned difficulties with the guardianship for a long time.” 

But Adam also is restricted in his visits with his father, which must be scheduled in advance through the guardian, and Seidner could not explain why Libra was not allowed into her father’s apartment. 

Max’s friend of 40 years, celebrity hairdresser Tricomi, confirms that he was cut off from seeing his old pal the day Mary Max died. More than 40 phone calls went unanswered, and he says the doorman at Max’s building told him the new guardian would not allow friends up to the apartment. 

Peter Max attends The Humane Society Of The United States 9th Annual To The Rescue! Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on November 09, 2018
Libra Max complains that she is not allowed to visit her 83-year-old father Peter Max.
Mike Pont/Getty Images

Recently, Tricomi has been allowed to talk to Max on FaceTime, but says whenever they talk, his friend begs: “please visit me.” 

A gregarious, hospitable man, Max always hated to be alone, Tricomi said. 

“He would even call me up to come and watch him paint. He would say, ‘I have a cappucino and a brownie for you,’ and I would play music and stay till two or three in the morning.” 

Max’s West 64th Street studio was always full of people. “You’d go there and find Keith Richards or Ronnie Wood hanging out, or President Clinton. There was always some celebrity at his studio.” 

But after Mary died, Max was forced to become a recluse. “There’s no reason on earth he should have a guardian. This is a legal kidnapping.” 

Max’s former live-in partner, Vela, said they remained “best friends [and] for the last 30 years, we have talked on the phone daily. 

“Nearly a year ago, Ms. Lissner blocked me from all contact with my closest friend. I was not allowed to see or speak with Peter for 11 months. This year has been very difficult for all of us who love him, but surely it has been devastating to Peter.” 

Vela said when she finally was able to FaceTime Max this year, he begged her to visit him. 

The removal of Max’s cats was especially “cruel,” she said in an affidavit. “Peter’s animals have always been such a big part of his life. He loves them.” 

Max’s cousin Susyn Gliedman, who grew up with the artist in Brooklyn, also complains that Lissner has “blocked us all from his life. He doesn’t deserve to be punished like this . . . Libra has always been the apple of Peter’s eye . . . She looks like his mother Sala. To deprive him of having Libra care for him at his age is abuse, pure and simple. 

“He needed a guardian to protect him from Mary when Mary was alive, but he no longer needs that protection.” 

The US system of court-appointed guardians originally was intended to protect the vulnerable elderly and incapacitated, but in some cases, it has become a money-making scheme for a network of unscrupulous lawyers, judges and care providers, who sell the assets of their charges and control their lives without their consent. 

The Britney Spears case grabbed the headlines when the 39-year-old pop princess rang 911 to report herself as a victim of guardianship abuse, and went to court to remove her father as guardian. But cases of abuse have been bubbling through the courts for years. In 2019, former Nevada guardian April Parks was accused of stealing from hundreds of vulnerable people in her care and sentenced to 16-40 years in prison. 

There are 1.5 million people in America in guardianships. If someone as wealthy and famous as Peter Max, with lots of high-profile friends, can be trapped, so can anyone. 

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Britney Spears Conservatorship Hearing: What’s at Stake Now?

A judge may take up whether her father should be ousted as her conservator, and whether the arrangement should be ended entirely.
Credit...Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Joe Coscarelli

Some changes have come quickly in the three months since Britney Spears spoke up publicly for the first time about the conservatorship that has overseen her life for more than 13 years, calling the arrangement abusive and exploitative at a hearing on June 23.

For the first time in the case, Ms. Spears, 39, was allowed to hire her own lawyer, replacing a court-appointed one. A bank that was set to begin managing the singer’s money, alongside her father, resigned, as did her longtime manager. And Ms. Spears, who said she believed the conservatorship would prevent her from getting married or having a baby, got engaged to her boyfriend, Sam Asghari.

But other changes Ms. Spears has been seeking to the conservatorship — in some cases for many years — remain open questions as the case returns to a Los Angeles courtroom for its latest status hearing.

Ms. Spears’s new lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, doubled down in recent weeks on his attempts to remove the singer’s father, James P. Spears, as the conservator of her estate, calling him actively harmful to her well-being and asking for further investigation into Mr. Spears’s conduct. Mr. Rosengart has said in court documents that he will move to terminate the conservatorship entirely this fall.

Yet even as Mr. Spears, 69, reversed course this summer, agreeing to step aside eventually before filing to end the conservatorship altogether earlier this month, he has continued to push back against his immediate suspension or removal.

These are some of the questions that could be decided by the probate judge in the case, Brenda Penny, on Wednesday. The hearing is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. ET.

At this point, Ms. Spears has not officially filed to end the conservatorship. In a twist this month, lawyers for Mr. Spears, who had long maintained that the conservatorship was voluntary and necessary, did file to end it, citing the singer’s stated wishes and recent shows of independence. But experts have said that terminating a conservatorship without a medical evaluation — as Ms. Spears and now her father have asked for — is unlikely, and there is no public record of the judge calling for a psychiatric evaluation recently. (In 2016, according to confidential documents obtained by The New York Times, a court investigator said the conservatorship remained in Ms. Spears’s best interest despite her requests to end it, but called for a path to independence.)

Mr. Rosengart has called Mr. Spears’s attempt to terminate the arrangement “vindication” for Ms. Spears, but suggested that the singer’s father was attempting to “avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath” by filing to end it.

In a filing last week, Mr. Rosengart said that Ms. Spears “fully consents” to terminating the conservatorship and said that Ms. Spears’s personal conservator since 2019, Jodi Montgomery, backed it as well, “subject to proper transition and asset protection.” But he called for “a temporary, short-term conservator to replace Mr. Spears’s until the conservatorship is completely and inevitably terminated this fall.”

“While the entire conservatorship is promptly wound down and formally terminated, it is clear that Mr. Spears cannot be permitted to hold a position of control over his daughter for another day,” Mr. Rosengart wrote in his filing last week. “Every day Mr. Spears clings to his post is another day of anguish and harm to his daughter.”

Ms. Spears’s lawyer has moved to replace her father on a temporary basis with John Zabel, a certified public accountant in California who has worked in Hollywood.

Yet Mr. Spears maintained in filings this week that while there is “no adequate basis” for his suspension or removal as conservator of the estate, the court should instead focus on terminating the conservatorship — something that is “opposed by no one” and should take priority. (Lawyers for Mr. Spears contend that in 13 years, “not a single medical professional nor the report of a single probate investigator has recommended that Mr. Spears’ presence as Conservator was harming Ms. Spears.”) Ending the conservatorship, Mr. Spears’s lawyers wrote, “would render some of the other pending matters moot” and “would provide an incentive for the resolution of all other matters.”

At the same time, Mr. Spears’s lawyers also argued that Mr. Zabel “does not appear to have the background and experience required to take over a complex, $60 million” estate immediately, pointing to Mr. Zabel’s personal losses in a real estate investment. Mr. Rosengart countered on Tuesday that Mr. Spears has “zero financial background,” a previous bankruptcy and faces allegations of abuse.

Following Ms. Spears’s comments in June — in which she said she had been forced to take medication and was unable to remove a birth-control device — her father asked the court to investigate the claims, denying his own culpability and instead calling into question the actions of Ms. Montgomery, the singer’s current personal conservator, and others.

Mr. Rosengart has since asked for a future hearing on outstanding financial issues involving the conservatorship, calling mismanagement of Ms. Spears’s estate by her father “evident and ongoing.” He said that Mr. Spears had been served a request for discovery and a sworn deposition in August, before he filed to end the conservatorship.

So far, the judge has not addressed potential investigations, and additional financial matters — including disputed fees for various lawyers in the case and accounting for the conservatorship covering 2019 — remain outstanding. In their filing this week, lawyers for Mr. Spears said that “all pending issues could be resolved” if the judge called for a mandatory settlement conference of private mediation.

“The last thing this Court or this Conservatee needs or wants would be extended and expensive litigation over pending or final accounts and fee petitions,” they wrote.

Since the last hearing in July, three documentaries about the Spears conservatorship have been released, in addition to related reporting on the case. “Controlling Britney Spears,” the second documentary on the subject by The New York Times, revealed that an intense surveillance apparatus monitored the singer, including secretly capturing audio recordings from her bedroom and accessing material from her phone.

Recording conversations in a private place and mirroring text messages without the consent of both parties can be a violation of the law. It is unclear if the court overseeing Ms. Spears’s conservatorship approved the surveillance or knew of its existence. Ms. Spears’s lawyer called for an investigation, writing in a court filing on Tuesday that Mr. Spears “crossed unfathomable lines,” further supporting the need to suspend him immediately.

A Netflix film, “Britney Vs. Spears,” reported that Ms. Spears sought to end the conservatorship beginning in 2008 and 2009, raising concerns about her father’s fitness for the role, the money she was making for others and threats involving custody of her children. Documents obtained by the filmmakers also showed that Ms. Spears’s access to medication she liked increased when she worked, including during a stint as a judge on “The X-Factor” in 2012.
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Man with developmental disability dies, caretaker faces murder charge

Ben Garbooshian, 39, faces a second-degree murder charge after the death of Daniel Lidvall, 29, who had intellectual development disabilities and was in his care.
Credit: Denver Police Department

by Wilson Beese

DENVER — A man faces a charge of second-degree murder after the death on Saturday of a man with intellectual development disabilities who was under his care, according to a probable cause (PC) statement from the Denver Police Department (DPD).

Ben Garbooshian, 39, was arrested after officers and firefighters responded to a call about 2 p.m. Saturday at his house in the 3200 block of South Utica Street for a report of an injured man, the PC statement says.

Inside the home, firefighters and paramedics found the unresponsive victim on the floor, and they noticed a possible head injury, the PC statement says.

The victim, identified by the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner as 29-year-old Daniel Lidvall, was taken to the hospital and was pronounced dead at 5:29 p.m., the PC statement says.

The death was ruled homicide due to blunt force injuries, according to the office of the medical examiner.

A witness reported that the Garbooshians are host-home providers who get government funds for allowing individuals with intellectual development disabilities to stay at their residence and providing them care, according to the PC statement.

The witness said Lidvall was a line of sight client, meaning he required constant visual supervision, the PC statement says.

The witness reported that Lidvall was agitated on the day of his death and used a beanbag chair to block the basement door at the top of the steps, where Garbooshian and the witness were, the PC statement says.

The witness said that Garbooshian went upstairs to talk to the victim and pushed the beanbag chair, which was in the Lidvall's hands, knocking Lidvall backward about five feet, according to the PC statement.

The witness said Lidvall hit his head on a living room couch and the floor, and then 911 was called, the PC statement says.

When asked to provide a statement, Garbooshian declined and requested an attorney, according to the PC statement.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867 or visit Tipsters can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000. 

Metro Denver Crime Stoppers works by assigning a code to people who anonymously submit a tip. Information is shared with law enforcement, and Crime Stoppers is notified at the conclusion of the investigation. 

From there, an awards committee reviews the information provided and, if the information leads to an arrest, the tipster will be notified. Rewards can be collected using the code numbers received when the tip was originally submitted. 

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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Here Are 8 Major Takeaways From BuzzFeed News’ Investigation Into Guardianships

As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee begin hearings to discuss “the need for reform,” get up to speed on the three-part investigative series into America’s guardianship and conservatorship industry.
by Katie J.M. Baker & Heidi Blake
Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News

America’s guardianship system is supposed to protect people who are completely incapacitated. But a BuzzFeed News investigation shows it has grown into a vast, lucrative, and poorly regulated industry that has subsumed more than a million adults and placed them at risk of abuse, theft, and even death.


People in guardianships can permanently lose the right to vote, marry, start a family, decide where to live, consent to medical treatment, spend their money, seek employment, or own property. And they can lose the right to hire a lawyer to fight for them, which means that once a guardianship is in place, it is often impossible to escape.


Britney Spears and the #FreeBritney movement brought international attention to guardianships that are overseen by family members. But guardians aren’t always relatives. Many are professionals, who may have dozens or even hundreds of people under their control. “If you’re somebody that’s predatory and you get into this business,” said Shannon Butler, a board member with the National Guardianship Association, “it’s scary.”


The system is rife with potential conflicts of interest. Guardians, guardianship lawyers, and expert witnesses may all be paid from the same source — the estate of the person whose rights hang in the balance. “The judge knows the lawyers, the lawyers know each other,” said J. Ronald Denman, a former state prosecutor and Florida lawyer who has contested dozens of guardianships. “The amount of abuse is crazy. You’re going against a rigged system.”


Guardians who carry out their duties faithfully can be a lifeline for people with serious needs. But people have been abused, neglected, and killed while living under guardianship. Others have been locked up and isolated from their families and friends.


One guardianship nonprofit drained the accounts of more than 800 people. Another guardian made millions while controlling the lives and finances of more than 500 people. She was charged last year with abuse and neglect of someone under her protection. When police raided her office, they found urns on display, containing the cremated remains of nine people who died under her protection. A 31-year-old man was abused by care home staff and buried in concrete for months before his guardian realized he was missing. No charges were brought against her, and she is still in charge of 130 people.


There are no national laws about guardianship, and no comprehensive data detailing how many people are affected. BuzzFeed News’ analysis suggests that as many as 200,000 new adult guardianship cases are filed per year.


Judges are not supposed to strip anyone of their rights without first considering less extreme alternatives — but it doesn’t always work out that way. Young people with disabilities get locked in so often that the National Council on Disability calls it a “school-to-guardianship pipeline.” “Parents say, ‘I don’t know how this happened,’” said disability rights attorney Viviana Bonilla L√≥pez. “‘I didn’t mean to do this. Help me get them out.’” But by then it’s too late.

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Britney Spears Is Finally Free From Her Father's Control After More Than 13 Years

A judge suspended the 39-year-old pop star's father, Jamie Spears, as conservator of her estate on Wednesday in a highly anticipated hearing.
by Stephanie K. Baer 

Britney Spears in 2017 - Rich Fury / AP  

LOS ANGELES — A judge on Wednesday removed Britney Spears' father from her conservatorship, releasing the pop star from the power he had over her life for more than 13 years.

During a highly anticipated hearing that came as Spears and her attorney continue to criticize her dad's handling of her affairs, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny granted the 39-year-old singer's request to immediately suspend Jamie Spears as conservator of her estate, a role he has filled since the conservatorship's creation in early 2008. Penny appointed John Zabel, a certified public accountant nominated by Spears herself, to oversee her finances on a temporary basis.

The step marks a pivotal moment in Spears' quest to break free of the court-mandated arrangement that gave her father and a cast of lawyers the reins to her personal affairs, business deals, and fortune.

“Britney Spears deserves to wake up tomorrow without her father as her conservator,” her attorney, Mathew Rosengart, argued in court on Wednesday.

At a hearing set for Nov. 12, the judge will consider whether to terminate the conservatorship altogether, based on a separate petition filed by Jamie Spears. Facing ongoing pressure from his daughter's counsel, who accused him of trying to extort her, he has asked the court to order an end to the arrangement.

Court papers show that the singer had planned to file a petition to terminate the conservatorship herself but only after her father was removed, a series of events that would require him to turn over his full conservatorship files to the temporary conservator.

"I believe in those files we will find evidence of his corruption — and worse," Rosengart said during the hearing on Wednesday.

As he left the courthouse, Rosengart told reporters that Britney Spears would sue her father if it was determined any of her money had been misappropriated. And the attorney appeared to suggest that Jamie Spears could face criminal charges.

"And the ramifications are going to be more severe than just civil litigation against Mr. Spears based upon my present understanding of what happened here," Rosengart said.

Nick Ut / AP

The singer's father, Jamie Spears, leaves court in 2012.

Public interest in the Spears case was reignited in February when the New York Times released the documentary Framing Britney Spears, which questioned the control that her father, Jamie Spears, continued to hold over her financial and physical well-being. A follow-up documentary, Controlling Britney Spears, was released on Friday, in which a former employee of the pop star’s security team alleged that all communication on her phone was monitored and that an audio recorder was even placed in her bedroom. In California, it’s illegal to record people’s private conversations without their knowledge or consent. But because Spears was under the conservatorship, her father, as conservator, could have consented for her, Christa Ramey, an attorney who previously handled a case about conservator liability, told BuzzFeed News.

In a statement last week, Rosengart said they considered Jamie Spears' removal to be "a prerequisite to the immediate restoration" of her "dignity and fundamental rights."

In July, the pop star formally asked the court to immediately suspend her father as conservator. In court papers, Rosengart described Jamie Spears' role in the conservatorship as "toxic" and untenable as he argued that removing him was in his daughter's best interest.

The move was supported by Jodi Montgomery, who has been serving as conservator of the singer's personal life for the last two years, as well as her medical team and her mother, Lynne Spears, according to court documents.

The pop star previously requested in 2020 that her father be suspended from his role as conservator, but that bid was denied despite Sam Ingham, then her court-appointed attorney, telling the court that she was afraid of her father.

At Wednesday's hearing, Jamie Spears' attorney Vivian Thoreen said she “vehemently” objected to her client being suspended, arguing that it was unnecessary to remove him if the conservatorship was going to be terminated anyway.

As she has said in recent court filings, Thoreen argued that the priority should be the petition to terminate, as it is not contested by any of the parties involved. She questioned Rosengart's strategy not to file such a request himself, calling the attempt to suspend her client and replace him with another conservator "actually very confusing."

"If the end is in sight, let's make that the goal," she said.

Thoreen and Rosengart spent much of the afternoon criticizing each other's strategies and accusing each other of trying to delay the resolution of the case. At times, the muffled chants of #FreeBritney supporters demonstrating outside the building could be heard in the courtroom.

Chris Pizzello / AP

Britney Spears supporter Brian Molina celebrates outside the courthouse on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles.

When Rosengart brought up the new allegations of surveillance raised in the Times documentary, Thoreen shot them down, saying, "That's not evidence, and he knows that." But regardless of the truth to those claims, which Rosengart described as "unfathomable," he said Jamie Spears should be suspended immediately or the pop star would be "extraordinarily distraught."

"Your honor, this has been going on for too long," Rosengart said.

The judge's ruling was no doubt due in large part to Spears' public statements in an emotional and explosive hearing on June 23, when she told the court that her conservatorship was abusive and had prevented her from living a full life. During her comments then and again in July, she railed against her father and the power the legal arrangement has given him to "ruin [her] life."

"He loved the control to hurt his own daughter, 100,000%," she said. "He loved it."

Thoreen also questioned the claims Britney Spears made during that previous hearing, saying that "nobody knows the veracity" of her allegations. She again argued that Jamie Spears has served "faithfully" and "loyally."

Rosengart responded later that it didn't matter if Thoreen or Jamie Spears believed his daughter's claims of abuse. What was important was that she herself believed them, he said

"Britney Spears believes he was abusive, cruel, toxic, and she's right," Rosengart said.

Fans once again rallied outside the courthouse on Wednesday, yelling for the conservatorship to end and waving pink flags and signs. #FreeBritney activist Megan Radford told BuzzFeed News the amount of progress in Spears' case in recent months felt indescribable.

"But the job isn’t done, and we’ll be here until the job is done,” she said.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Senators Collins, Casey Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect Individuals Under the Care of Guardians

The legislation would implement many of the recommendations from the Aging Committee’s year-long investigation of guardianship abuse

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