Saturday, November 6, 2021

Free Peter Max: a daughter’s fight to remove her dad from the clutches of ‘predatory’ guardianship

Libra Max (M), daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, friends and animal rights activists protested outside the law firm Phillip Nizer demanding an end of the artist's forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

While Britney Spears’ nightmare conservatorship has ended after 13 years, thanks partly to the tenacity of the “Free Britney” movement, family and friends of renowned pop artist Peter Max have been fighting a legal battle since 2019 to free the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor from a guardianship his family and supporters describe as abusive and exploitive. 

At a protest outside the law office of Phillips Nizer LLP in Midtown Manhattan on Nov.4, his daughter Libra Max rallied for her father’s freedom with the support of animal rights activists and family members of victims of guardianship abuse. 

Peter Max, who has Alzheimer’s and made a name for himself with his colorful psychedelic paintings in the 60s and 70s and whose works hang in the Museum of Modern Art, was placed under guardianship in 2016 because of alleged mistreatment by his wife Mary, who committed suicide in 2019 at the age of 52. 

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside the law firm Phillip Nizer demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Libra Max shared that they didn’t encounter any problems with the first two guardians because they didn’t interfere with her dad’s life. The older Max’s nightmare began in 2019 when his court-appointed attorney Elizabeth Adinolfi, a partner with Phillips Nizer LLP, picked attorney Barbara Urbach Lissner of Lissner & Lissner LLP as his legal personal guardian. 

Libra Max and her supporters allege that Adinolfi and Urbach Lissner and Peter’s legal property guardian, Lawrence Flynn, worked together in the past and that his estate is being depleted under their guardianship and that they control all aspects of his life.

“The problem is when somebody steps into that role, a court-appointed role, and they don’t have proper motives, and they don’t have proper ethics, and they’re there for greed. There is no oversight, and you can’t get them out,” Peter Max’s daughter said. 

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside the law firm Phillip Nizer demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Speaking to about thirty supporters holding up signs reading “#FreePeterMax” and depicting some of his most iconic paintings, Libra Max shared that she can only see her dad three times a week for an hour under strict supervision -on a public park bench in Riverside Park. She is prohibited from entering her childhood home on the Upper Westside, where her father lives in complete isolation. She claims that her dad has to ask for permission to call his family and friends – something four of Peter Max’s long-time friends attested to in an affidavit to the New York State Supreme Court– and the guardians even got rid of his five beloved rescue cats.

Libra Max said that her father, who she estimates barely weighs 100 pounds, has been begging to be released to the care of his family.

“That is what was in [Peter Max] estate planning documentation, which has all been voided by the guardianship system,” Libra Max explained. “When you are put into guardianship, all of your estate planning is voided. All of your documentation is voided. Your human rights are voided. Your constitutional rights are voided. You have less rights than a convicted felon!”

Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, friends and animal rights activists protested outside Phillips Nizer LLP demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Libra Max pointed out that about 1.3 million Americans are in guardian and conservatorships in the United States. While some guardians certainly represent the interests of their wards, many might have more sinister motives since $50 billion are in the care of conservators. 

“This is a money-making industry. This is not about protection,” Libra Max, who recently submitted a written statement to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding Toxic Conservatorships: The Need for Reform, said. 

“My father escaped the Holocaust,” Max said. “He came to this country as a teenage immigrant with nothing. He started from nothing. He believed in the American dream. And because he achieved the American dream, it has now made him a target.”

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside Phillips Nizer LLP demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Every person who ever crossed paths with Peter Max described him as a deeply caring, warm-hearted man with an abundant love for animals.  

Animal rights campaigner Donny Moss joined the rally to help free vegan Peter Max from his alleged predatory guardianship and support Libra Max in her quest to get her father back. 

“Peter Max, for as long as I can remember, opened his legendary art studio to the animal rights community,” Moss said. “And now he’s being abused in many of the same ways that he was fighting against. He’s being stripped of his freedom, of his family, of his dignity.”

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside Phillips Nizer LLP demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS, a non-profit animal rights organization, has known Peter Max for many years and was grateful for his support of NYCLASS and his efforts banning the horse carriage industry.

“It’s so wrong what’s happening,” Birnkrant said about Max’s situation. “That someone who fought against injustice and cruelty and exploitation for people and animals is now suffering and doesn’t even have his freedom. It’s like he’s in jail.”

Birnkrant promised to fight as vigorously for Peter Max’s freedom as he fought to free abused and exploited animals. 

“We’re just so heartbroken that his own freedom and dignity is being stripped of him,” Birnkrant expressed.

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside Phillips Nizer LLP demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Animal rights activist Rachel Levy Ejsmont worked with Peter Max on the “Surrender Your Heart” video by Missing Persons in 1983 and described him as a “sweetheart and gentle, gentle being.”

“There’s absolutely no reason for him to be held in captivity,” Levy Ejsmont said and pointed out that like animals, humans don’t thrive in isolation. “Animals are driven to lunacy, and they’re driven to madness when they’re kept isolated and captive from their loved ones.”

In a statement, which the law firm handed out to protesters and signed by Marc A. Landis, Managing Partner, Phillips Nizer LLP wrote that the firm supported the First Amendment right to peaceful protest and referred to the firm’s long history of First Amendment advocacy. It rejected the claims made by Libra Max and her supporters. 

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside Phillips Nizer LLP demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“Phillips Nizer is providing legal services to a client as ordered and approved by the New York State Supreme Court. We serve this client, as we do all of our clients, in accordance with our professional and ethical responsibilities as attorneys. 

The claims made by Libra Max and her allies are demonstrably false and defamatory to our firm and attorneys. We will address this at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum.

Due to the sensitive nature of guardianship proceedings, and pursuant to the duty of privilege that we owe to our clients, we will not offer any further comments at this time.”

Friends and animal rights activists protested alongside Libra Max, daughter of pop-artist Peter Max, outside Phillips Nizer LLP demanding an end of the artist’s forced guardianship. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

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Lewiston attorney suspended six months for lying and misconduct

Attorney Stephen Link was found to have been intentionally dishonest with one client and to have failed to follow through on representing another. 

By Matt Byrne

A Lewiston-based attorney has been suspended from practice for six months after being found to have lied to one client about filing a case on her behalf and failed to file a case for another client despite collecting a $1,500 fee.

Stephen J. Link was suspended Oct. 31 after the two clients filed complaints with the state Board of Overseers of the Bar, the professional licensing agency for attorneys in Maine.

Attorneys who are admitted to the bar agree to follow strict rules of professional conduct or risk losing their right to practice. Complaints against attorneys are investigated by the overseers. If a complaint is found to have merit, a recommendation for sanctions is often presented to a single justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, who decides what penalties are appropriate.

Link was admitted to the Maine bar in 2015. A listed phone number for his Lewiston office is disconnected, and he could not be reached for an interview Thursday. His corporation, Stephen J. Link, Attorney at Law, LLC, was dissolved in 2020 after he failed to file an annual report with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office as required by law.

Link filed an initial response to the bar complaints, but failed to participate in further proceedings and the findings of misconduct were entered as a default judgment, meaning the case presented by the bar board was heard unopposed.

In her Oct. 29 decision against him, District Court Judge E. Mary Kelly, who was designated to write the opinion, found that Link has no disciplinary history, was relatively new in practice and that some of his errors could have been unintentional. But she said that his failure to engage in the disciplinary process meant he was unable to discharge his duties as an attorney, and she highlighted his deception of one of the clients who complained.

“The Court cannot determine whether Attorney Link’s failure to participate in this process is the product of disdain or disability, but finds that in either event before Attorney Link returns to practice he must demonstrate his fitness to do so,” Kelly wrote.

The first case that resulted in a complaint began in late 2018, when Pamela Stowe hired Link to represent her in a probate matter, a contested will, and paid Link a $1,500 advance fee.

Two months later, Stowe instructed Link to file a lawsuit on her behalf, but Link never filed it. From January 2019 into that summer, Stowe attempted to contact Link but could not reach him.

He replied to her in August 2019, apologized and offered to refund the $1,500. By January 2020, Stowe still had not received repayment.

Link’s failure to file the lawsuit at the proper time means Stowe is now barred under law from pursuing the matter because of rules setting time limits on when certain claims must be made.

The second case began in 2019, when a woman engaged Link to represent her in another probate matter in which she sought to be named personal representative of a dead man’s estate, according to Kelly’s decision. Such filings are a routine aspect of settling a deceased person’s affairs.

The client, Jennifer Cutting, asked Link via email in late February 2019 to provide a progress report on the probate case. Link told her his pleadings were not accepted by the court because he needed the addresses of the heirs listed in the deceased man’s will, and Cutting provided the addresses the same day, Kelly’s decision said.

About a week later, Cutting again asked for a status report, and Link told her he expected to hear back from the court in about a week.

Cutting contacted him again more than a week later. When he did not reply, she called the court and learned that the matters Link had promised to pursue had not been filed, according to the decision. Thirteen days later, Link responded, telling Cutting that the probate matter was proceeding – but in reality, he waited another month to file it.

By early May, Cutting still had not received the paperwork she expected, and attempted to contact Link again. Another week passed before Link told her on May 20 that there had been a mix-up with the death certificate but that it had been addressed.

In fact, Link did not file the death certificate until the next day, May 21. Finally, in June, Cutting directed Link to withdraw from the case, but he failed to file that paperwork, as well.

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Vienna couple arrested after alleged exploitation of elderly woman

by Stephanie Southey

VIENNA − A Vienna couple has been arrested and charged following an alleged financial exploitation of an elderly person. 

Gary and Deborah Honse were charged with the felony after allegedly exploiting a 91-year-old Vienna woman out of her generational farm. The woman had exhibited signs of dementia, according to the couple.

The farm is worth nearly $1.5 million, according to Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman. 

Sheriff Heitman said the couple did not give the woman any of the compensation.

The couple also allegedly deceived the 91-year-old into signing a Quitclaim Deed by saying the paperwork was for something else entirely.

A local title company refused to file the deed and advised the couple to seek legal assistance due to the value and appearance of the transaction. Instead, the couple drew up their own documents for the transaction and used instructions found on internet, according to the sheriff. 

"As a Sheriff it is always so upsetting when someone takes advantage of the elderly. I am utterly disgusted with the actions of these two. After reviewing all of evidence I do not believe it will be a hard case to prove at all and I am certain they will be held accountable for their actions," Sheriff Heitman said in a Facebook post.

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Britney Spears’ Dad Is Out Of The Conservatorship, But The Battle Over How He Spent Her Money Is Just Getting Started

“It can be very hard to disentangle the authorized financial decisions from fraud or self-dealing or anything like that, which is a real problem with giving that much power to someone.”

by Stephanie Baer

Britney Spears in 2018

As the #FreeBritney movement was gaining steam in 2019, one fan took aim at Britney Spears’ then-business manager, Lou Taylor, creating a parody website under her name. Jokingly subtitled “Your #1 source for the gay demon exorcist,” featured various articles that were republished from other sites, including a story about Spears allegedly calling Taylor a “stalker.”

Taylor apparently wasn’t amused, and she filed a lawsuit against Bryan Kuchar, alleging the 32-year-old medical assistant was trying to “exploit Taylor’s fame and goodwill” and damage her reputation. And though Spears wasn’t a party in the lawsuit or even criticized by the fansite, she paid: Her dad, Jamie Spears, authorized $153,759 from her estate to the two Atlanta-based law firms that represented Taylor as well as an unspecified amount to another firm that handled a cease-and-desist letter on Taylor’s behalf, according to court documents.

The site was taken down, and Taylor and Kuchar ultimately reached a confidential settlement in March 2020. But what remains in question is whether Spears should have footed the bills for Taylor; based on the pop star’s own recent statements, she’s thankful for the fans who’ve attacked the conservatorship, and she’s been critical of her management.

“My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship and my management — who played a huge role in punishing me when I said, ‘No.’ Ma'am, they should be in jail,” Spears told a judge earlier this year.

The ongoing dispute over whether Spears’ money should have covered Taylor’s legal bills is just a preview of the accounting issues that will likely come up as Spears’ legal team tries to claw back funds they believe were used for illegitimate purposes or wasted on legal services that provided no benefit to her. In his investigation, Spears’ attorney Mathew Rosengart has brought on lawyers who focus on fiduciary and estate litigation as well as an expert in fraud and money laundering who previously worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. If they uncover evidence that Jamie Spears misappropriated his daughter’s money or engaged in any other misconduct, Rosengart has said Britney Spears will sue.

“I said at the outset that my firm and I were going to take a top to bottom look at what Jamie Spears and his representatives have done here,” Rosengart told a crowd of #FreeBritney supporters in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 29 after a judge suspended the singer’s father from the conservatorship. “That’s already in process and it will continue for as long as [it takes] … to get justice for Britney.”

Rosengart speaks to #FreeBritney supporters outside the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 29.

On Nov. 12, just weeks before the pop star’s 40th birthday and more than five months after she publicly criticized the arrangement in an explosive public hearing, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny is expected to terminate Spears’ conservatorship. Penny will then consider whether to approve payments to the attorneys who represented Spears, her father, and Jodi Montgomery, the current conservator of Spears’ personal affairs, in the conservatorship at another hearing on Dec. 8. Under state law, Britney Spears has had to pay for both her attorney and her conservators’ attorneys.

The judge will likely also review Jamie Spears’ accounting report detailing the money that went in and came out of his daughter’s estate during 2019. While much of the public version of the report is redacted, documents filed by the singer’s former court-appointed attorney, Sam Ingham, in November 2020 show Spears is raising issues with the payments to cover Taylor’s legal fees and also nearly $400,000 in transactions paid to Taylor’s management company, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment group.

For years, Tri Star had earned a percentage of Spears’ gross income, which topped $100 million during her Las Vegas residency alone. But in 2019, the pop star for the first time under the conservatorship stopped working. According to the court documents, Jamie Spears modified Tri Star’s compensation arrangement late that year, approving — without notifying his daughter, her attorney, or the court — a new $500,000 annual floor after Taylor complained that her company had lost $400,000 as a result of the singer’s work hiatus. As a result of the new arrangement, Jamie Spears paid Tri Star an additional $308,974.51, a payment that Ingham said amounted to “a 260% increase” from what it would have otherwise received that year. Jamie Spears also paid Tri Star another $80,000 for “accounting services” prior to changing the company’s compensation structure, according to the documents.

“These radical new arrangements were made by JAMES without any apparent legal obligation to do so,” Ingham wrote. “There is no indication that he questioned the propriety of TRI STAR’s huge fee increase, attempted to negotiate a more favorable deal, or even requested supporting detail for the ‘time and billing.’”

In court documents, Jamie Spears’ attorneys said his decision to set a new compensation floor was “reasonable” and protected the estate. Their response to Ingham’s questions about the “accounting services” payment is redacted.

In a Nov. 12, 2019, email about the change, Taylor suggested that the $500,000 floor should also apply for 2020, court documents show. It’s unclear whether that ultimately happened. Jamie Spears has not yet filed an accounting report for last year. Taylor and Tri Star resigned as Britney Spears’ manager in fall 2020.

An attorney for Taylor and her company did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ questions.

A Britney Spears supporter holds a sign at the #FreeBritney Rally in Washington Square Park on Sept. 29, 2021, in New York City.

In more recent filings, Rosengart, who was hired by Spears this July when the court allowed her to retain her own counsel for the first time, has taken aim at the legal fees her father’s attorneys have charged over the last year, as well as the salary that Jamie Spears collected as conservator. Of particular concern is a request by Jamie Spears’ former attorney Vivian Thoreen and her firm Holland & Knight LLP that the estate cover more than $530,000 in fees for dealing with “media matters” between October 2020 and June 2021 — the time period during which the New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears documentary sparked a cascade of public criticism over Jamie Spears’ continued hold over his daughter’s life in spite of her return to a successful music career.

In a July 2021 declaration, Thoreen wrote that dealing with media coverage and inquiries was “an increasingly unavoidable and necessary” part of their work. She said Holland & Knight’s primary goal was “to minimize/protect Ms. Spears, her brand and image, and ultimately, her Estate from potential damage from inaccurate and/or false press and social media coverage.”

But Rosengart argued that the firm instead worked to protect Spears’ father, not Spears herself, and that the publicity around the case was only critical of him and the conservatorship. Shortly after the documentary’s release, Thoreen appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and CNN, telling the networks that “Jamie saved Britney’s life” and he “believes every single decision he has made has been in her best interest.”

“Fees spent trying to defend the reputation of a departing Conservator do not benefit the Conservatee and must not be charged to or collected from the Conservatee’s assets,” Rosengart wrote in a September filing.

Jamie Spears, father of singer Britney Spears, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Oct. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles.

Rosengart has also questioned the scope of the work by Thoreen’s firm, which Jamie Spears hired as his “litigation counsel” in October 2020, in addition to his representation by Freeman, Freeman and Smiley LLP. Both legal firms worked on the court filings seeking approval of his legal fees until their resignation last month, following his removal from the conservatorship.

Thoreen and Freeman firm partner Geraldine Wyle did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment, and Jamie Spears’ new attorney also did not respond to questions.

Though Rosengart has vowed to investigate Jamie Spears’ actions since the conservatorship was created in 2008, legal experts told BuzzFeed News it may be difficult to recoup money or obtain recourse for decisions made in the 11 years that the court has already approved accounting reports for. Only money spent in 2019, 2020, and 2021 has yet to be approved by a judge.

“Britney’s team is at a disadvantage,” said Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “Her father had this court-approved relationship that gave him a lot of leeway, so it can be very hard to disentangle the authorized financial decisions from fraud or self-dealing or anything like that, which is a real problem with giving that much power to someone.”

In addition to the $16,000 salary and $2,000 allowance for office space that he collected each month during the conservatorship, Jamie Spears also received 1.5% of the gross revenues from his daughter’s four-year Las Vegas residency Britney: Piece of Me, which raked in more than $130 million between 2013 and 2017. He also took in 2.95% of the receipts from her 2011 Femme Fatale tour. Both compensation arrangements were approved by the court, but legal experts told BuzzFeed News they pose an apparent conflict of interest.

“He is charged to look out for her health and well-being while at the same time being paid if she works, no matter how healthy she is,” said Jonathan Martinis, an attorney who has spent years helping people in conservatorships and guardianships get their rights back. “He had a financial interest in pushing her on stage.”

Spears performs at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

It does not appear that Ingham, who was Britney Spears’ attorney at that time, filed objections to either of her father’s requests for gross receipts from her performances, according to BuzzFeed News’ review of the court records. Martinis, senior director for law and policy in the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, said that while the courts are supposed to closely review requests like these, they often rubber-stamp them if they’re unopposed.

“In my experience, the vast, vast, vast majority of unopposed motions are granted because again, if someone had a problem they’d have objected,” he said. “Unless, of course, they didn’t know they had a right to object.”

Spears may not have known she could object to how her father was paid from her performance income; Rosengart did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ questions. During her public testimony in June, Spears said she didn’t know that she could file a petition to end the conservatorship, and she described feeling forced to work against her will because of it.

“My management said if I don’t do this tour, I will have to find an attorney, and by contract, my own management could sue me if I didn’t follow through with the tour,” she said. “It was very threatening and scary. And with the conservatorship, I couldn’t even get my own attorney. So out of fear, I went ahead and did the tour.”

Spears’ money may also have been used to spy on her. In the Times’ follow-up documentary, Controlling Britney Spears, 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.

When referencing the issue during the Sept. 29 hearing, Rosengart emphasized that, according to the Times’ reporting, Jamie Spears “instructed his security team, which was paid by him from my client’s funds, from my client’s estate” to secretly bug her bedroom.

“Ms. Spears knows about the allegation,” Rosengart told the court. “And imagine the traumatic effect that that has had on her.”

During the hearing, Thoreen, then Jamie Spears’ attorney, dismissed the report, saying the documentary was “not admissible evidence.” She added, “We dispute the allegations.”

In California, it’s illegal to record people’s private conversations without their knowledge or consent, but it’s unclear whether anyone could face criminal charges. People under conservatorships, or guardianships in other states, lose a wide array of civil liberties and rights — including that of privacy.

“Some states literally come out and say that the guardian or conservator has the same power over the person as a parent does over a minor child,” Martinis said. “The rights go away and they get embodied in the conservator or the guardian [who] then has the right to do things like surveil — or thinks they do.”

Though Spears has accused her father of abuse, conservators, or guardians as they’re called in some states, rarely face consequences for allegedly mistreating conservatees or mismanaging their affairs. That’s in part, Brennan-Krohn said, because of a presumption by courts — and by society — that conservators are benevolent actors. The name itself “brings to mind guardian angels,” she said.

Most conservatees don’t have the resources to challenge their conservatorships, let alone pursue civil lawsuits against those authorized to make decisions for them. “It's a relatively underutilized area of law,” Brennan-Krohn said.

But Britney Spears is not like most people. And the international attention on her case could pave the path for others to pursue lawsuits for harm they experienced while in conservatorships, experts said.

Martinis said he hopes that if Spears is able to prove her father mishandled her money, exploited her, or abused her and hold him liable for it, that others in similar positions will know accountability is possible. And perhaps, he said, guardians “think twice before they hurt somebody.”

“Because there was no accountability before,” he added. “Maybe, just maybe because of Britney Spears, there will be accountability now.”

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Britney Spears’ Attorney Wants To Know What Her Dad Said About Her Hawaii Vacation, Her Allowance, And Her Medication

Spears' attorney has requested that her father provide a slew of documents regarding management company Tri Star and the pop star's recent Hawaii trip, among other issues.

by Stephanie Baer

Britney Spears in 2016

Britney Spears' attorney is planning to grill her father over how much money he and her business managers reaped from the pop star's estate, and he's seeking extensive documentation about other actions during the conservatorship, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News Tuesday.

The Oct. 28 document, made public Tuesday, formally signed Britney Spears onto the petition to terminate the conservatorship that was previously filed by her father, Jamie Spears. In it, Britney Spears' attorney Mathew Rosengart notes that his team is still waiting for Jamie Spears to respond to requests for documents and other potential evidence and also to sit down for a deposition as they investigate his actions during the legal arrangement that gave him control over his daughter's life and finances.

Rosengart has said that if they uncover evidence that Jamie Spears misappropriated his daughter’s money or engaged in any other misconduct, Britney Spears will sue.

According to the documents, Rosengart has asked Jamie Spears to provide documents regarding nearly 40 issues, including the following:

  • All communications between Jamie and any representative of Britney Spears' former business management company Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group, including Lou Taylor and Robin Greenhill
  • "All documents relating to payments or approval for payments made for legal representation of Lou Taylor or Robin Greenhill"
  • All communications, including texts and instant messages, with "security services and/or guards" who have worked at Spears' home
  • All communications, including texts and instant messages, with individuals who have been contracted to work at Spears' home
  • All communications, including texts and instant messages, with Spears' current or past physicians, therapists, or other doctors
  • All communications, including texts and instant messages, regarding Spears' medications
  • All communications, including texts and instant messages, relating to Spears' "stays at non-hospital, residential medical facilities, including rehabilitation facilities"
  • All lease or rental agreements paid for by Spears' estate
  • All communications, including texts and instant messages, relating to the monthly allowance that Jamie Spears has allowed to Britney Spears from her estate
  • All documents regarding Britney Spears' vacation to Hawaii this past summer
  • All documents and communications regarding "the electronic surveillance, monitoring, cloning, or recording of the activity of" Britney Spears' personal phone, "including but not limited to the surveillance, monitoring, cloning, icloud mirroring, or recording of calls, e-mails, text messages, internet browser use or history, and social media use or direct messages on social media"
  • All documents and communications regarding "any recording or listening device" in Spears' home or bedroom, the decision to place any such device, and "the records of any such recordings"

The request for documents was sent in late August. Shortly after, on Sept. 7, Jamie Spears filed the petition to terminate the conservatorship.

In the Oct. 28 filing, Rosengart also indicates that he plans to ask Jamie Spears about the money he and any entity he owns have received from his daughter's estate since the conservatorship's creation in early 2008, as well as payments made from her estate to management company Tri Star, its employees, and others "but for the benefit of [Jamie Spears]" and payments made "for the benefit of anyone who works or worked" for Tri Star.

Rosengart first sought to depose Jamie Spears on Oct. 20, according to the documents, but it appears that has not yet happened. It's unclear whether a new date has been set. Jamie Spears' attorney Alex Weingarten did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

In a status report filed with the court Monday, Weingarten said his client "has nothing to hide regarding his administration of Britney's estate" and will "unconditionally cooperate in transferring all files" to Rosengart "without delay."

"A substantial portion of that transfer has already been accomplished and the process will continue with alacrity until complete," he wrote. "The time for innuendo, misrepresentations and impudent gossip is over. It does not serve the judicial system and most importantly, it is toxic to Britney and her family. Jamie is committed to full and complete transparency over all of it."

On Sept. 29, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny suspended Jamie Spears as conservator of his daughter's estate, freeing her from the control he held over her life for more than 13 years. The court is expected to terminate Spears’ conservatorship altogether at a hearing on Nov. 12.

"Ms. Spears has made her wishes known about ending the conservatorship she has endured for so long and she has pleaded with this Court to 'let her have her life back,' without an evaluation, recently attending two Court hearings and asking this Court directly to end the conservatorship," Rosengart writes in the newly released filing. "It is respectfully submitted—with the consent of all parties—that the time has come."
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Suburban caregiver charged with forging elderly couple's checks, using their debit card

- A suburban woman has been charged with ripping off an elderly couple she was supposed to be helping.

Orland Park Police said that Shantae White, 35, of Calumet City, had worked for several months for the couple.

During that time, police said, she forged several checks from their bank account. Detectives said she also made numerous online purchases using their debit card.

In total, police said she stole more than $4,000.

White is charged with forgery and was in court in Bridgeview on Wednesday, where she was issued a $25,000 bond.

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Thursday, November 4, 2021

Elderly Oak Park Woman Faces Losing Her Home

Community And Housing Leaders Come To The Defense Of Wanda Clark; Call Efforts To Remove Her From Her Home ‘Elder Abuse’ 

by Antonio Harvey

OAK PARK – The realities of the intense gentrification of the city of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhood could effectively put a 71-year-old grandmother and janitorial worker out on the streets.

Wanda Clark’s home in south Oak Park is in court-appointed receivership because of housing code violations and the dwelling located right off 14th Avenue can be auctioned off after Nov. 3, if the proceedings are not halted. 

“The city has been constantly penalizing me and at this point they decided they are tired of dealing with me,” Clark said before an Oct. 13 news conference in front of the house.

“Now they would like to tear my home down and use all my equity in my home. As we speak, at the end of their project I will have nothing, no home, no money, and I will be put on the streets.”

Currently, the three-bedroom, one-bath dwelling has been deemed unlivable by the City. Interior damage, disconnected power, and severe mold growth has made it uninhabitable and dangerous to enter. 

Clark has been living with her sister across the street from the home that had a for sale sign in front of it that has since been removed as of Oct. 26. Since 1995, Clark says she has never missed a mortgage payment. 

In an Oct. 25 email, Clark was notified by the receiver’s attorney of the Kirk Rimmer Law Office, located in Old Sacramento, that she would need a minimum of $175,000 to keep the property. The estimated cost would cover code violations and attorney fees. The amount owed on the house, including attorney fees, is $110,000, which brings the total amount to $285,000. 

As the undesirable situation worsens, Clark’s property could easily fall into the hands of real estate developers that could finance a luxurious home or two right off 14th Avenue near Highway 99.

The process would fall in line with all the other gentrification activities that have taken place in the historic neighborhood — Sacramento’s first suburb — over the last 20 years. 

At the news conference, Clark’s sister Terri Austin explained the bottom line of the matter to supporters, friends, family and community activists that attended the gathering in an effort to salvage the house.

“It’s not like that receivership is set to help anyone. They already told her they can put two housing units on the property,” Austin said. “It’s all (gentrification). I understand (gentrification) is fine but if we’ve been taking care of our homes, we’ve been taking care of ourselves, raising our children here, and have been law-abiding citizens; well, it’s time for someone to step up and help our elderly. Enough is enough. Back up.”

Under California law, a receiver is an individual or representative appointed to “take over control and management of property that is the subject of ligation” and “ultimately to dispose of it in accordance with the court’s final judgment,” according to the California Business Law Practitioner’s Spring 2010 newsletter.  

 Many dormant lots, vacant buildings, and homes built in Oak Park between the 1920s and 1960s that were once partly owned by African Americans have been swallowed by real-estate investment opportunities. 

Clark, who is a custodian for the County of Sacramento, could be the next victim of gentrification in Oak Park and new city and state zoning ordinances created to build sufficient housing.

Leah Miller, the president and chief executive officer for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento, described the system as “elder abuse,” which she says is compounded by “archaic and punitive city policies intended for revenue generation.”

“They have the consequence of displacement of senior homeowners, which adds to the gentrification of communities like right here in Oak Park,” Miller said. “It’s not just here in Sacramento. Receivership is a legalized form of municipal, enforced gentrification. It occurs all over the country.” 

Habitat for Humanity provides affordable home ownership opportunities to low-income, hardworking families, as well as provides affordable critical repairs and preservation opportunities to vulnerable elderly and Veteran homeowners to help them stay in their homes and age with dignity.

According to the Urban Displacement Project (UDP), a research and action initiative of the University of California Berkeley and the University of Toronto, gentrification is “a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood.”

Real estate investment and new higher-income individuals moving in from cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles also promotes “changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents,” UDP stated. 

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s (NCRC) 2019 report on gentrification and cultural displacement identified a “small group of boomtowns” that have experienced large-scale gentrification and notable displacement of longtime minority communities.

Between 2013 and 2017, the NCRC identified 954 neighborhoods with signs of gentrification. The studies were concentrated in “intensely gentrifying metro areas,” where a large percentage of low-income and low-home value neighborhoods were eligible for gentrification.

Nationally, half of all of the gentrifying neighborhoods were in 20 cities. San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento were listed as five of the top 20 cities for intensity of gentrification in NCRC’s June 2020 report. 

The current movement in Oak Park, an area southeast of downtown, is in full swing. An increase in the economic value in homes, an invasion of businesses owned by non-Black people, and a growing rate of college-educated residents are changing the dynamics of the neighborhood.

Rashid Sidqe & Wanda Clark

Rashid Sidqe, executive director of the Sacramento-based non-profit organization Lift Up Love Always (LULA), said the proceedings against Clark are fraudulent and receivership is used as a front.

“Nobody wants to talk about it, but yes, it’s all about gentrification,” Sidqe told The OBSERVER. “The receivership is a scam and our elders are getting bullied. Another couple from the Arden Area is getting bullied by the same receivership group.”

Clark’s issue, Sidqe said, started 10 years ago when, unbeknownst to her, she hired an unlicensed contractor to make additions to the home. She wanted to build a section above the garage to provide more space for her children and grandchildren. 

Through a home equity loan, Clark paid more than $35,000 for the work to be performed but the person never completed the job and later passed away, leaving the northside of the home blighted and in disarray. 

That’s when the fines from the city began flowing in just about every other month and instantly put Clark in debt. 

Peter Lemos, the city’s code compliance chief said in a written statement that a staff worked with the property owner to bring it back up to standard, “waiving thousands of dollars in fees and helping multiple times throughout the process.”

Lemos also inferred that the house became “a location for illegal activity,” he wrote.

“At this phase, the court has ruled that the house should be put into receivership. Nevertheless, the city remains committed to continuing its work to help secure a positive outcome for the property owner,” Lemos stated.

The OBSERVER reached out to the City’s Housing Compliance Division to elaborate on the issue, however, calls were not returned.

Clark did admit that in the beginning she was told that she would obtain help to repair the home. But somewhere down the line she was told to stop making mortgage payments on the property. 

“The receivership started off with saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to solve your problem. We’re going to come out and fix your home,’” Clark said. “But no, instead they would like to tear my home down. They decided that I can’t handle my affairs.”

Clark’s woes arrive at a time when Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed Senate Bill (SB) 9, the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act. 

Authored by California State Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 will allow property owners to split a single-family lot into two lots and place up to two units on each newly created lot. 

A total of four dwellings could legally end up on properties that were limited to single-family houses. Clark’s property would be an ideal location to implement such lots or four-plex units.

“SB 9 will open up opportunities for homeowners to help ease our state’s housing shortage, while still protecting tenants from displacement,” Atkins stated, after Newsom signed the legislation following the Gubernatorial Recall Election. “And it will help our communities welcome new families to the neighborhood and enable more folks to set foot on the path to buying their first home.”

In January 2021, the city of Sacramento approved a preliminary plan eliminating requirements that only allow single-family homes on properties in traditional neighborhoods, too. Four homes in the form of duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, could be built on one lot. The City Council is expected to finalize the plan at the end of the year or early 2022.

The plan is designed to offer lower-cost housing and inclusion in middle- to upper-class neighborhoods. Overall, Sacramento and the state is in the midst of a severe shortage of affordable housing and city and state officials believe that a change in zoning will uproot the problem.

Sidqe supports the city’s efforts to create affordable housing. But SB 9 and the city of Sacramento gives receivers additional motivation to prey on distressed properties, he said.

“This is really a law that is going to go against poor people or elderly folks who are having monetary issues to keep their properties up to code,” Sidqe said. “The (Clark’s house) is a cheap land grab for the city. The city is in cahoots with the receiver. Gentrification is about investment and receivers making money.”

Basically already homeless, Wanda Clark could officially lose her home by Nov. 3. Under the circumstances, she has little time to raise $175,000 to give to the receiver. 

Betty Williams, Sacramento NAACP President

Betty Williams, the president of the Sacramento branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said Clark’s issue is out of the city’s hands but she has been in contact with Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan to see what could be done next.

“The tricky part is that (the matter) has left the city and is now in the courts,” Williams said. “Nov. 3 is a court date. Now it goes in front of a judge. At this point, people must understand, the city manager cannot stop the court date unless the city attorneys are involved. If the city cannot stop the Nov. 3 date we will have to go into that court to advocate for her.”

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Judge Park named Excellent Advocate by State Long-Term Care Ombudsman

The Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman recently presented its Excellent Advocate Award to Judge Dixie Park of Canton.

The agency says Park ensures that people served by Stark County’s probate court have a voice for their rights, independence, and dignity. She also ensures that guardians in her county are held to high ethical standards. 

Ohio’s Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman advocates for people receiving home care, assisted living, and nursing home care. The office presents the Excellent Advocate Award to those who demonstrate remarkable character in protecting the rights of long-term care consumers through advocacy, service, collaboration, process improvement, or other accomplishments.  

Park was presented the award and special commendation from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine by retired State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Beverley Laubert and Regional Ombudsman Program Director Sam McCoy during a special meeting on Oct. 21 in Canton. 

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‘A long painful suffering before death’: Caregiver charged after Longs police say he neglected person

by: Kaitlyn Luna

LONGS, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County police have arrested a man they say neglected a person he was the caregiver for, causing them to die.

On December 23, 2020, an autopsy revealed that a person died from clinical neglect and extensive Psoriaform rash ulcerations, according to arrest warrants obtained by News13.

During the time of death, and for 10 months before the death, David Constantine was serving as the victim’s caregiver, according to the arrest warrant.

The autopsy also showed “the wounds on the victim and condition of the body indicate a long painful suffering before death,” according to the warrant.

Because Constantine did not seek medical help for the victim, police say his lack of actions resulted in their death.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Bill to Protect Seniors and People with Disabilities under Care of Guardians

By Rebecca Martin

U.S. Representatives Darren Soto, Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist, Debbie Dingell, and Brian Fitzpatrick introduced bipartisan legislation that supports the approximately 1.3 million adults, mostly seniors and people with disabilities, who are currently under the care of guardians by enacting protections from the risks of abuse or neglect. The Guardianship Accountability Act of 2021 implements further oversight and enacts data collection measures to hold guardians accountable in response to reports indicating an increasing number of fraud cases and financial exploitation from guardians towards vulnerable populations. 
“Congress must act to protect our most vulnerable community members and ensure that they receive the support they deserve,” said Congressman Darren Soto. “Our Central Florida community has experienced firsthand how inadequate protections against bad actors can lead to tragedy. In 2019, abuse by a former guardian led to the horrible, preventable death of one of our seniors. We must pass this bipartisan legislation to strengthen safeguards against abuse and address the failings of our nation’s guardianship system.”

“It is said that the strength of a society can be judged based upon how it treats its most vulnerable populations. We’ve seen from recent examples in the news, and alarming rates of elder abuse throughout Pasco and Pinellas counties, that guardianship is an area where we can and must do better to protect seniors,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis. “Our bill will provide additional resources, strengthen protections, and improve intergovernmental coordination to achieve this paramount objective.”

“Toxic guardianships, like that of entrapped Britney Spears, are sadly prevalent across Florida and the country. Lack of data and accountability is one of the biggest hindrances in our fight to protect those in the guardianship system. As the son to two senior parents, I can’t fathom either of them being caught in these horrific circumstances,” said Congressman Charlie Crist. “That’s why I’m proud to co-introduce this legislation with Rep. Soto that directs the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to collect and publish data on guardianships and conservatorships. It also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants to states for guardianship oversight programs and establishes a federal guardianship resource center — all towards the goal of eliminating guardianship fraud abuse.”

The Guardianship Accountability Act of 2021 would help ensure individuals under the care of guardians are not at risk of abuse or neglect by expanding the availability of federal demonstration grants to be used for developing state guardianship databases to assist with the collection of information on guardians, training of court visitors, and sharing of background check and other information with appropriate entities. It would also establish a National Resource Center on Guardianship, which would be tasked with:

  • Collecting and publishing information relevant to guardianship for use by guardians, individuals subject to guardianship, as well as courts, states, local governments, and community organizations;
  • Publishing model legislation and best practices developed pursuant to the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act;
  • Compiling and publishing training materials for guardians;
  • Sharing research related to guardianship; and
  • Maintaining a database on state laws regarding guardianship and the use of less restrictive alternatives, and the restoration of rights.

“Safeguarding our nation’s seniors from abuse and exploitation must be a priority, and too often our current guardianship system fails to protect older Americans,” said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. “The Guardianship Accountability Act will put in place commonsense protections to address these deficiencies, and I am thankful for the bipartisan efforts on this issue.”

“We must protect seniors and individuals with disabilities from exploitative bad actors who seek to take advantage of vulnerable groups through guardianships. Especially during these uncertain times, it is critical that we put in place needed safeguards at the state and local level to protect our seniors and individuals with disabilities from any potential injustice they may incur,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to introduce the bipartisan Guardianship Accountability Act, which provides additional resources to assist states and localities in cracking down on those who seek to harm our society’s most vulnerable. This bill is a first step to proactively fixing the shortcomings of our broken guardianship system.”

A companion bill has been filed in the Senate by Senators Bob Casey and Susan Collins.

For the full text of the bill, please click here.

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CR lawyer hit with second license suspension for role in ‘foreign scheme’

By: Clark Kauffman

For the second time, the Iowa Supreme Court has suspended the license of a Cedar Rapids attorney, stating that it would have leveled a more severe penalty against him in 2017 had it known more about his role in a scheme that deprived investors of $700,000.

Court records indicate that from 2006 to 2014, Cedar Rapids lawyer Bruce Willey was the attorney for a Linn County developer and entrepreneur, David A. Wild. As Wild’s attorney, Willey had created 20 or more business entities for Wild and, according to the commission, had performed somewhere between $20,000 and $100,000 worth of legal work for Wild.

Rather than pay Willey for those services, Wild agreed to give Willey a financial stake in some of those businesses, which would then provide loans to Willey.

Together, Wild and Willey formed Catalyst Resource Group to solicit financing for projects Wild was interested in exploring. Catalyst then entered into an agreement with a company called Ramis Limited, based in London, England. Court records indicate the plan called for Catalyst to give money to Ramis in return for Ramis pledging high-value assets, such as U.S. Treasury bills, to Catalyst, which could then use them as collateral for loans worth millions of dollars.

According to the commission, this method of raising venture capital is prohibited in the United States.

Under the agreement with Ramis, Catalyst claimed it had unrestricted cash in hand and that Wild and Willey were accredited investors. The deal appeared to call for Catalyst to invest up to $700,000 with Ramis, which would then return $100 million to $500 million to Catalyst, the commission stated, calling the arrangement a “high-risk foreign scheme.”

Neither Wild nor Willey “could explain how the planned investment would work in a manner understandable to the members of the panel,” the commission later found. “It was evident that neither of them truly understood what they were doing.”

To raise the necessary money, Willey allegedly contacted Laurus Technologies of Illinois, which agreed to loan Catalyst $500,000, and a client of his, Midwest SN Investors, which agreed to loan Catalyst $200,000. Willey, according to the commission, failed to inform Midwest he owned a one-half interest in Catalyst.

Neither Laurus nor Midwest was repaid any of the money loaned to Catalyst. Court records show Laurus filed suit against Wild and eventually obtained a judgment against him for approximately $700,000 for the principal amount of the loan, interest, and attorney fees. Wild eventually sued Willey, alleging malpractice by conflict of interest, breach of fiduciary duty and fraudulent misrepresentation, although the case was later dismissed.

The commission found that Willey had a conflict of interest in his dealings with Midwest and that he was “not only untruthful” in what he disclosed to the company, he failed to inform Midwest he would receive directly $50,000 of the total money being borrowed by Catalyst. The panel recommended a 30-day license suspension.

In 2017, Willey’s license was suspended for 60 days due to other alleged ethical violations tied to his representation of Wild. In that matter, Willey had allegedly arranged for a client to loan money to another of his clients, Synergy Projects. The client who loaned the money said Willey never told him Synergy and its principal owner, Wild, were clients of his.

After the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board examined Willey’s conduct in the Catalyst matter, Willey was accused of using money from investors to pay off credit card debt and failing to inform his clients of conflicts of interest.

Willey argued that if he had violated any ethics rules, the court was limited to ordering, at most, a public reprimand because the conduct at issue had occurred before the 2017 suspension of his license.

The board maintained that had the court been aware in 2017 of Willey’s conduct in the Catalyst matter, it likely would have suspended his license for more than 60 days.

“Willey suggests an attorney cannot receive an enhanced sanction for conduct occurring prior to a previous disciplinary action,” the Iowa Supreme Court stated in its recent review of the Catalyst matter. “Willey’s willingness to engage his clients in questionable investments — without disclosing the essential terms of the transactions to allow his clients to make an informed decision — was apparently not a one-time aberration. Had we known of Willey’s repeated conduct, we likely would have imposed a stricter sanction.”

The court agreed with the commission’s recommendation and suspended Willey’s license for 30 days.

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Carol Burnett,Husband Nominate Key Spears Figure for Temporary Guardianship

By City News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Carol Burnett and her husband have nominated the same woman who serves as Britney Spears' personal conservator to be the temporary personal guardian of the comedian's teenage grandson -- whose mother allegedly has a history of drug abuse -- but a judge today delayed ruling on the petition until next week.

Attorney Gabrielle A. Vidal, on behalf of Burnett and the 88-year-old entertainer's spouse, Brian Miller, told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Deborah L. Christian that Jodi Montgomery began serving as case manager for 15-year-old Dylan Hamilton-West in May, but that they would now like her to take over the temporary guardianship role in which they have served since they were first appointed on Sept. 1, 2020.

"Miss Montgomery assists (Dylan) with setting up his medical appointments and coordinates them with his school to ensure his absence is excused," Vidal wrote in the Burnett-Miller petition.

"She has conferred with his therapist and dentist. She also confers with (Dylan's) school advisers and dean about his education as well as his time away from the (Ojai) boarding school."

Lawyer Stefanie M. Bennett, appointed by the judge to represent Dylan's interests, said she would have a report prepared with her thoughts for the judge by the Nov. 8 hearing. The Burnett-Miller temporary guardianship officially expires Nov. 30, but will end sooner if Montgomery's appointment is approved before then.

Burnett did not take part in Monday's hearing because she was on location with another obligation, according to Vidal, but Miller appeared virtually with several other people, including Dylan's mother, Erin Hamilton, father, Tony West, and Montgomery.

Montgomery became a part of Spears' conservatorship team in September 2019 after having previously served as her care manager. The Spears conservatorship could end as soon as Nov. 12.

Montgomery has communicated with Dylan's parents and has helped facilitate communications between all of the teen's family members, according to Vidal's court papers.

In their original petition filed in August 2020, Burnett and Miller stated that throughout her adult life, and since Dylan's birth, Hamilton has suffered from severe substance abuse and addiction issues and that in the past two decades, she has been in and out of rehabilitation centers while being institutionalized a total of eight times for a minimum of 30 days each time.

Hamilton told the judge today that her attorney tried to appear virtually to voice objections on her behalf, but that he was unsuccessful. She said she believed that the other attorneys have known of her concerns for months.

"I don't understand, I'm confused," Hamilton said.

The judge said she had not seen any objections and that any that are filed will be heard Nov. 8.

Hamilton, a 53-year-old singer, is one of Burnett's three daughters from her marriage to television producer Joe Hamilton. Their oldest daughter, Carrie, died of cancer in 2002.

In July 2020, Hamilton sent Dylan and her adult son multiple text messages threatening suicide, according to the original petition, which says she was subsequently placed by the Los Angeles Police Department on a hold for "suicidality and drug use" before being released late that same month.

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