Thursday, June 30, 2022

Advocacy group calls for guardianship reform in PA

by Peyton Kennedy

CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — PA ADAPT, an organization advocating for disability rights, is asking for a review of what they call “Pennsylvania’s broken guardianship system.”

When an individual lacks the capacity to make certain decisions, a substitute decision-maker, or “guardian”, can act on their behalf, according to the disability rights of Pennsylvania.

PA ADAPT said they’ve seen too many cases of guardianship being overused and abused. State and local offices, however, said the system is highly monitored to reduce risks of neglect or exploitation. 

“Everybody to the extent possible should have the right to make a decision for themselves,” Pam Auer, a member of PA ADAPT said.

“In a lot of these cases they’re putting people in long-term care facilities or congregate setting institutions where they don’t need that level of care,” Misty Dion, a member of PA ADAPT said.

The group is offering four recommendations, followed by other states:

(1) prohibit guardianships where less restrictive alternatives would meet an adult’s
functional needs;
(2) require specific court findings before certain critical rights (e.g., to marry, vote,
choose visitors) are abridged;
(3) require petitioners to state whether less restrictive alternatives have been tried and
justify any failure to do so;
(4) create mechanisms that adults subject to guardianship and others can use to trigger
modification or termination of an order.

The Centre County Office of Aging said promoting the least restrictive care is a priority already in place.

“Any time that we are providing services we’re looking to support the older adult and eliminate the risk to them and keep them as independent as possible,” Centre County Office of Aging Director Quentin Burchfield said. “We really look at what’s the least restrictive, and that’s required not only by us, by the state, but also by the courts.”

Burchfield said they’re highly regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

In early June, PA ADAPT went to Harrisburg, demanding Governor Wolf take action to end the Department of Aging’s practices and develop an enforceable bill of rights.

In a statement to WTAJ, the Department of Aging said:

“The Department of Aging has a responsibility per the Older Adults Protective Services Act to reduce risks to older adults due to abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation. There are times when guardianship is one of the ways to reduce that risk; however the Department does not administer or oversee laws concerning guardianship.  The guardianship system and the application of its respective laws are solely under the authority of the Orphans Court.”

Full Article & Source:

Largo Taxi Driver Accused Of Exploiting $11,000 From Elderly Woman

A Pinellas County taxi driver is accused of tricking an elderly woman with dementia into giving him more than $11,000 for taxi repairs.

by D'Ann Lawrence White

A Pinellas County taxi driver is accused of tricking an elderly woman with dementia into giving him more than $11,000 for taxi repairs. (Renee Schiavone/Patch)

CLEARWATER, FL — A Pinellas County taxi driver is accused of tricking an elderly woman with dementia into giving him more than $11,000 for repairs on his taxi that he wasn't responsible for paying, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies said Elliott James Collins, 64, of Ulmerton Road, Largo, who works as a taxi driver for United Taxi, offered his telephone number to the 77-year-old woman and said she could call him directly when she needs a ride.

Police said Collins then told the woman he needed repairs to his taxi. Deputies said she gave him money totaling $11,000, even though United Taxi told the sheriff's office that it pays for repairs and maintenance of all its taxis.

Collins was charged with exploitation of elderly or disabled adult and scheming to defraud. He was released from jail on a $10,000 bond.

Full Article & Source:

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Families say NC immunity law protecting nursing homes is causing deadly consequences

by Cassie Schirm

The state’s immunity act for nursing homes is still in place two years after the pandemic started.

North Carolina legislators passed the measure unanimously during the pandemic to protect nursing homes from being sued for covid deaths. The state adopted the broadly worded provision in May 2020 to protect companies and staff from malpractice and negligence lawsuits arising during the pandemic.

State leaders say it was intended to only protect against covid deaths, but our recent reporting showed it may actually be causing more harm to patients, allowing some homes to shield themselves from neglect cases.

The provision will stay in effect as long as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s emergency declaration over the health crisis remains in place or it is amended in the state's short session.

Meanwhile, dozen of families say because the law is still in place, people in the facilities are still being harmed. One woman says her father was a victim and the care facility is being protected by the law.

“I'm not going to let this die," said Trish Willard, daughter of Allen Willet who died in a Greensboro nursing home, "They wouldn't treat animals the way they've treated these people in these nursing homes.”

It’s a fight that keeps Willard up at night after she says her father an army veteran died due to neglect.

“When he went in, he was at 204 and he was down to 114 when he died.," said Willard.

Allen developed dementia in his late 70s and went into the care facility in 2019. She says things went downhill quickly.

“It got to the point where there was no water," said Willard. "I mean, I've got pictures and video. The dirt all over my father. His toenails curled in so much where they were claws. I had to beg them to cut his toenails.”

What really was noticeable, she says was his weight loss.

“It got really emotional when I saw him losing weight rapidly," said Willard. "I brought it to their attention when it came to someone coming in and actually feeding him maybe even a feeding tube anything and they said, well, we'll see. We'll get a dietitian working with him. It's not going to help if they're not going to help feed him because he forgot how to feed himself."

And then Covid hit and nursing home doors across the state were shut to all visitors.

“I could not explain what that was like to see him in that condition because they would allow us to come look at him from a distance," said Willard. "But I did not get to see my father in person until they called me and said he was ready to die. When I did he had no kind of water or anything. The moisture his tongue was completely stuck to his lip. Like it was grown together. It was just sickening that they let a human get that way. And it's not about the $9000 a month. It's about I'm really trusting someone to take care of him because I was unable to take care of him at that point because I was a breast cancer patient.”

Allen died 14 months after going in.

"He died from starvation," said Willard.

Since her father's death Willard took her story to an attorney, but because of the immunity law courts are giving full immunity to nursing homes for any deaths within their walls. It is a law, that advocates across the state are trying to fight like Lauren Zingraff, executive director of Friends of Residents.

“I can tell you that Friends of Residents and other partners of ours have been working behind the scenes directly since before the session came back," said Zingraff. "We have had meetings with legislators. I've been on those calls along with lobbyists and other policy advocates specifically to address amending or changing Senate Bill 704. Now whether that goes forward, I don't know.”

Zingraff says the pandemic highlighted a problem that already existed in the nursing home, a lack of staffing as North Carolina is one of 20 states in the US that doesn’t have a minimum staffing requirement for the facilities.

"When you have only a few staff members available for a lot of residents that need 24-hour care, then their daily needs in some way, shape or form are going to be neglected," said Zingraff. "That means they're not getting their meals on time and they're not getting their medicines on time and they're not having their hygiene taken care of in a proper manner.”

A majority of nursing homes in the U.S. are facing staffing shortages, according to a recent survey, which can result in unsafe conditions for the nation's elderly.

The survey, released by the American Health Care Association, found that 98% of nursing home operators are having trouble hiring, 59% said they are losing money, and 73% said staffing issues could force them to close.

Attorneys say staffing levels in long-term-care facilities have been a battleground for years. They say the problem here is North Carolina’s pandemic immunity law blocked plaintiffs from arguing that low staff levels were a root cause of negligence. That removed a common argument plaintiff attorneys typically use in nursing home negligence cases.

North Carolina isn't the only only one where an immunity law was enacted. Thirty-eight states have created emergency orders or laws intended to immunize companies and individuals for care related to the pandemic, according to a tally compiled by National Consumer Voice, a nonprofit watchdog organization focused on nursing homes. The public conversation in most of the states was that hospitals, doctors, and long-term care facilities should not be held legally responsible for coronavirus infections and deaths in a viral pandemic that overwhelmed medical systems and long-term-care centers.

In nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, at least 185,000 people have died of covid-19, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. What’s new in North Carolina is that it’s the first state where immunity claims are being cited in court by facilities to defend themselves against cases that are not related to covid-19 and treatment.

North Carolina’s law says immunity applies to the delivery of care “directly or indirectly” impacted by the pandemic.

Advocates for residents and their families say these laws have gone too far. "They contend the industry sought broadly worded immunity laws, as the families who often serve as the eyes and ears for problems when they visit their loved ones inside residences were no longer permitted inside facilities," said am Brooks, program and policy manager for National Consumer Voice, who has been closely monitoring the spread of immunity laws. "Without those family members drawing attention to issues on a frequent basis an escalation in routine neglect cases was bound to happen."

Until the law is amended or new laws are passed Willard is concerned other families will have to go through the same nightmare she did having to say goodbye to a loved one too soon.

"I was sitting there and I told him I said daddy, I love you and I'm sorry I have fought to the end to try to help you," said Willard. "It's okay, you don't need to suffer anymore. I know what they've done to you in here. And I'm going to speak for you, I'm going be that voice for you that you didn't have. They made me leave after 30 minutes knowing that he was going to die alone. I can't explain how that's haunted me every single day."

Many of the families who have lost loved ones have come together and created a petition to stop the law from continuing.

If you are concerned, advocates say it’s okay to ask questions about your relative’s long-term care facility.

They say to contact the office’s administrator if you have questions about what’s going on behind the scenes.

According to the Department of Human and Health Services here in North Carolina, the agency receives thousands of complaints each year. Then regulation surveyors check for compliance with state and federal laws. If they find a facility is in violation, the facility has ten days to submit a plan of correction. If the issues aren’t corrected during a surprise visit, then DHHS can enforce monetary penalties or terminate their Medicare programs.

If you have concerns or complaints about a particular place, contact the state.

Full Article & Source:

Former New Orleans judge accused of groping court employee stripped of law license

Former New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Byron C. Williams, who was accused of groping a courthouse employee in 2017 before resigning from the bench in 2020, has had his license to practice law in the state suspended for a year and a day by the Louisiana Supreme Court. ( | The Times-Picayune file)

By Ken Daley

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Former New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Byron C. Williams, who resigned two years ago while still under investigation for accusations he groped a courthouse employee, has had his license to practice law in the state suspended for a year and a day by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

By a split 4-3 decision, the justices of the state’s highest court accepted the penalty enshrined in a joint petition for consent discipline agreed upon by Williams and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Justices William Crain, James Genovese and Jay McCallum opposed the disciplinary settlement.

A courtroom staffer alleged that in July 2017, as she was on a phone call at her desk, Williams twice crept up from behind and touched her chest before scampering out of her office. Female attorneys also accused Williams of inappropriate behavior and comments from the bench during his five-year tenure overseeing Section G of the city’s Criminal District Court.

Williams denied the allegations, but was suspended when the state’s Judiciary Commission began investigating his alleged conduct. Williams collected his annual $152,000 paycheck for another 18 months as the investigation and suspension dragged on, before he finally resigned from the criminal court bench in February 2020.

Louisiana taxpayers also were on the hook for a $52,500 settlement the state agreed to pay Williams’ chief accuser in July 2020, in exchange for her agreement to drop lawsuits she filed against Williams, the Criminal District Court and the state. Williams was not required to admit any wrongdoing nor pony up any of the settlement expenses, according to documents obtained in March 2021 by the Louisiana Illuminator as part of a public records request.

The financial settlement was the most expensive one related to sexual misconduct that the state’s Office of Risk Management paid out in 2020, according to documents the Illuminator received from Louisiana’s Department of Administration.

The report said Williams still receives more than $5,300 per month in state retirement benefits accrued through more than 13 years of public service. Williams’ previously worked in public education, for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and for four years with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office under DA Eddie Jordan and interim DA Keva Landrum.

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Woman arrested in alleged theft of $6K from disabled patient

By Mark Shenefelt

BOUNTIFUL — A 49-year-old woman has been arrested after police alleged she stole $6,000 from a disabled man at a care center where she worked.

Amber E. Miller was booked and released Sunday from the Davis County Jail in Farmington on suspicion of intentional financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a second-degree felony.

The patient, a quadriplegic, called Bountiful police on June 13 to report that he had asked a therapist in March to cash a check for him and bring him the cash. Despite repeated requests to hand over the money, it had not been delivered, the man said.

Miller told police, according to an arrest affidavit, that she cashed the check and delivered it to his room in an envelope along with mail items. The investigating officer said he left the case open for further follow-up.

The next day, Miller took the cash to the man, apologized, and urged him not to pursue criminal charges, the affidavit said. She was fired by the care center that day after managers learned about the theft, the report said.

The patient told police he wanted to press charges because now that Miller allegedly admitted to stealing and keeping the money, she may be a suspect in an earlier theft.

The charging documents said the earlier reported theft of $8,500 from the man’s safe in his room remains under investigation. Police said Miller denied taking that money. She said many staff members had access to the man’s safe.

No formal charges had been filed against Miller by Monday afternoon. She does not yet have an attorney of record.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Nursing home owner who left 800 in fetid warehouse during hurricane jailed

by Ramon Antonio Vargas 

Homes and businesses damaged after the hurricane tore through Louisiana. Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters

A Louisiana nursing home owner who sent more than 800 elderly residents to endure Hurricane Ida in a ramshackle warehouse was charged on Wednesday with neglect and other crimes.

Bob Dean, 68, surrendered to the Louisiana attorney general’s office and was jailed on eight counts of cruelty to infirmed people, five counts of healthcare fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice.

A statement from Louisiana’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, alleged that Dean had billed the federal Medicaid program for dates his residents were not receiving care, refused to move residents out of the warehouse and “engaged in conduct intended to intimidate or obstruct public health officials and law enforcement”.

Dean flew in from Georgia to turn himself over to authorities on an arrest warrant they obtained for him in recent days. His attorney, John McClindon, told the Associated Press that his client would be released on a $350,000 bond.

McClindon added: “I don’t think Bob Dean did anything that rose to the level of criminal.”

The criminal charges mark only the latest set of complications for Dean, who is facing a mound of unresolved civil litigation over his decision to send residents to the squalid warehouse in Independence, a town about 70 miles (110km) north-west of New Orleans while Ida caused widespread power outages and other devastation in south-east Louisiana in August 2021.

Besides losing his licenses and federal funding to operate his seven nursing homes in Louisiana, his attorneys have said Dean is battling dementia and other memory problems.

Bob Dean in an image provided by the Tangipahoa parish sheriff’s office. Photograph: AP

He is facing an unrelated reckless conduct criminal charge in Georgia after he shot his thumb off and Oregon authorities are investigating him after cattle from his ranch in that state had to be rescued from a snowstorm, the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper reported.

Authorities say some of the residents Dean’s nursing homes sent to the Independence warehouse were found sleeping on mattresses atop a wet floor, sobbing and lying in their own feces.

Some came without their medicines to endure a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 miles an hour. Conditions at the facility devolved rapidly, with generators used to provide electricity failing, driving indoor temperatures to dangerously high levels. The ceiling leaked, toilets overflowed and there was a dearth of food and water for residents who were packed in so closely it was impossible to follow social distancing guidelines in place because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Five of the 26 deaths that occurred in Louisiana for reasons related to Ida were linked to the fetid warehouse, according to officials, who had since launched an investigation into Dean and his nursing homes.

A total of more than a dozen others who had been at the facility died in the aftermath of Ida’s landfall in the state on 29 August, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

The most serious charges filed against Dean are the ones alleging cruelty to people with infirmities. Under Louisiana law, any one of those counts can carry up to 10 years in prison if he is convicted.

Dean owns two nursing homes in New Orleans, three in adjacent Jefferson parish and one each in nearby Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. All of those areas directly experienced Ida’s effects.

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Former Portland Attorney Pleads Guilty to Embezzling Client Funds

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Oregon

Monday, June 27, 2022

Former Portland Attorney Pleads Guilty to Embezzling Client Funds

PORTLAND, Ore.—A former Portland attorney pleaded guilty today to multiple felony charges after perpetrating a scheme to defraud her clients and use the proceeds to pay for personal expenses.

Lori E. Deveny, 56, pleaded guilty to mail, bank, and wire fraud; aggravated identity theft; money laundering; and filing a false tax return.

According to court documents, between April 2011 and May 2019, Deveny systematically stole funds she held in trust for her clients. The funds were derived from insurance proceeds due and payable to her clients. Deveny is accused of forging client signatures on settlement documents she sent to various insurance companies, making unauthorized transfers of funds to personal accounts and falsely telling clients that the insurance companies were to blame for delays in settling claims. Many of Deveny’s clients never received the insurance payout they were owed.

Deveny used the proceeds of her scheme to pay for personal credit card and loan payments, numerous big game hunting trips to Africa and the resulting taxidermy costs, other vacations, her husband’s photography business, home remodeling, expensive cigars and other expenses associated with a lavish lifestyle.

On May 7, 2019, a federal grand jury in Portland returned a 24-count indictment charging Deveny with mail, bank, and wire fraud; aggravated identity theft; money laundering; and filing a false tax return.

Deveny will be sentenced on November 23, 2022, before U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman. 

As part of her plea agreement, Deveny has also agreed to pay restitution in full to her victims as determined by the government and ordered by the court.

Mail and wire fraud are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and money laundering is punishable by up to 10 years. All three offenses carry maximum fines of $250,000 or twice the gross gains or losses resulting from the offense and three years’ supervised release. Bank fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and five years’ supervised release. Filing a false tax return is punishable by up to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine or twice the gross gains or losses resulting from the offense, and one year of supervised released. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by up to two years in prison running consecutive to any other carceral sentence imposed.

U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation and the FBI and is being prosecuted by Claire M. Fay, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.


Judge: California aid-in-dying law doesn’t discriminate against the disabled

A woman with ALS says California's aid-in-dying law discriminates against those who need help ingesting life-ending medication.

by Maria Dinzeo

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge said he cannot allow an Americans with Disabilities Act carveout to California’s assisted suicide law that would let doctors assist people too weak or disabled to ingest end-of-life medication, finding that such a provision would “fundamentally alter” the law from conferring the ability to take your own life to having a doctor do it for you.

Sandra Morris, a California woman in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), wants the option of ending her life in the future. But the possibility that she’ll be too incapacitated to take her own life means she may need a doctor’s help when the time comes. She says no doctor will help her ingest aid-in-dying medication because they could be criminally prosecuted.

California’s End of Life Option Act, signed into law in 2016, allows a terminally ill adult to request an end-of-life prescription medication from a doctor. But physicians are not allowed to step in and help terminally ill patients too disabled or weak to administer the drugs themselves.

“The legislation was polarizing, eliciting passionate responses both in support and opposition from religious groups, medical practitioners, and activists — including those advocating for disability rights. In the face of this controversy, policymakers took pains to craft a statutory framework that would provide choice and peace to many, while acknowledging the weighty moral issues involved and protecting against abuse and coercion,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria wrote of the ardent debate behind the law, which ended up being struck down as unconstitutional in state court in 2018 and reinstated by an appellate court a month later. An amended version of the law was enacted in 2021, and the case was dismissed.

The End of Life Option Act limits who is eligible for such medications and how they can take them. The patient must have an “incurable and irreversible” disease that is expected to result in death within six months, and physicians may only prescribe the medications to those who have the physical and mental capacity to self-administer.

“One of the most difficult questions facing the drafters of the End of Life Option Act was how to provide people with the option of a peaceful death without opening the door to abuse or coercion,” Chhabria wrote. “The Legislature thus included numerous safeguards in the statute to ensure that, at every stage of the process, a person demonstrates their voluntary consent.”

Morris, joined by her doctor Lonny Shavelson and other physicians, sued to challenge the provision barring patients from receiving help with ingesting aid-in-dying drugs when they are physically unable to do so on their own.

“It feels so cruel to me that because of the way the EOLOA is written, that I will have to tell my children that I have to leave them earlier while I still have the use of my hands, and while I can still swallow the medication — rather than having the assistance I need with ingestion so I can stay with them a few extra weeks, or days, or hours,” Morris said in a declaration. “I should not be asked to die early just because I’m severely physically disabled.”

At a hearing on the matter in April, disability rights attorney Cat Cabalo said disallowing this carveout is a violation of the American With Disabilities Act, because it disallows physically disabled persons from participating in a legally sanctioned activity available to their able-bodied peers. 

But Chhabria ruled the case could not proceed on the theory that it violates the ADA because the accommodation they seek would cross the boundary created by the End of Life Option Act, “from the ability to end your own life to the ability to have someone else end it for you.”

Chhabria wrote, “Such an accommodation would ‘compromise[] the essential nature of the act, and would therefore fundamentally alter the program.’”

The judge said the law’s self-administration requirement is the “final safeguard” to ensure the act remains voluntary.

“A person seeking to end their life pursuant to the act can opt out at any point — after requesting or receiving the prescription, after the drugs are in their hand, after the feeding tube has been installed, after saying goodbye,” he wrote. “The accommodation that the plaintiffs seek would significantly undermine these protections by opening a window during which there would be no way of knowing whether the patient had changed their mind.”

After the California Attorney General’s office moved to dismiss the case, patients and physicians asked Chhabria to narrow the requested accommodation to allow doctors to help a patient if they begin to administer the drug but lose the ability to complete the process. But Chhabria found the proposal that a patient communicate their desire to continue by blinking at the physician would again fundamentally change the law’s purpose. “Permitting a physician to assist a patient based solely on that patient’s communication would fundamentally alter the End of Life Option Act by legalizing the killing of others — something the act declines to do,” he wrote.

He also found it inappropriate to consider whether a physician could intervene if a patient begins the process on their own but cannot complete the act; for example, if they start to depress a plunger but lose the strength to finish. Chhabria said this is an entirely new theory of discrimination that would apply to “a tiny sliver” of the proposed class. “It is almost as if the plaintiffs have proposed a new lawsuit in response to the motion to dismiss,” he wrote, adding that it would be very difficult to articulate a class full of patients who find themselves in that situation.

Chhabria gave the plaintiffs another shot at amending their case, but said he was skeptical the effort would be worthwhile.

The state attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the decision. Cabalo, the disability rights attorney, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. Shavelson said he could not immediately comment.

Full Article & Source:

Monday, June 27, 2022

State House's Judiciary Committee dilutes guardianship reform bills

By Mardi Link

LANSING —Members of the state House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday on proposed legislation aimed at reforming Michigan’s guardianship system, voting to approve new versions of bills with several potent elements removed.

Committee Chair Graham Filler, a DeWitt Republican and bill sponsor, acknowledged the changes during Tuesday’s hearing.

“We’re definitely doing this with eyes wide open and trying to make a piece of legislation that actually works in the real world,” Filler said.

The substitute legislation does not require guardians to be immediately certified and does not increase the in-person visit requirement from quarterly to monthly, as was the case in the original version of the bills.

“That was just viewed as an unrealistic concept so we’ve modified that,” Filler said, of monthly in-person visits.

Guardians and conservators will be required to secure “some form of certification,” but not until funds to administer the requirement are allocated by the legislature.

Additional visits by guardians can be made virtually, over the telephone or, if that is not convenient, a guardian can speak with a vulnerable person’s healthcare provider.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who in 2019 drew from a wide swath of advocacy and legal groups in making appointments to her Elder Abuse Task Force, also testified about what she described as significant changes to the legislation.

“We, along with most of the task force members, believe these changes strike the proper balance,” Nessel said, adding the package ensures vulnerable people are protected, while burdens on professional guardians and the court are minimized.

Nessel credited AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, probate court judges and probate court registers, law enforcement, county prosecutors, elder law attorneys and members of the disability community for their support of the revised legislation.

Conspicuously absent from this list of supporters is the Michigan Guardianship Association, some members of which served on the Elder Abuse Task Force.

Vice President Georgia Callis, of Guardian Care, Inc. did not respond to a request for comment, though the association previously publicly opposed the package.

MGA is also not listed in a list of supporters Nessel’s office provided to the committee, records show.

Guardians and conservators in Michigan are appointed by probate court judges, to make medical, housing and financial decisions for someone when a judge decides they can no longer make these decisions for themselves.

Elected officials have been trying to fix guardianship for decades, though each attempt has yielded little real change.

In 1996, the State Supreme Court convened a task force on guardianship reform that produced 11 recommendations, including that “minimum ethical standards for professional guardians and professional conservators should be promulgated and enforced.”

In 2005, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm established another task force which also recommended minimum standards for guardians. This task force warned elder abuse cases would likely to rise significantly, owing to Michigan’s aging population.

The recommendations led to no new legislation and in 2012, state auditors found court administrators had only complied with a few of the previous recommendations made in 2003.

Reformers have urged lawmakers to pass a certification requirement since the 1990s, which would mandate education, training, background checks and insurance bonding for guardians and conservators.

Salli Pung, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, who chairs the task force’s subcommittee on certification, supports new versions of the legislation, records show, yet has also been a vocal supporter of requiring Michigan’s guardians to be certified.

“If we’re going to require certification for a dog groomer, we should be requiring it for people who are responsible for every aspect of someone’s life,” Pung previously said.

The bills were approved for a second reading and no date has been set for a floor vote; the Michigan Senate is also considering a proposed legislation package similarly aimed at reforming guardianship and conservatorship.

Full Article & Source:

Clifton Park attorney suspended for alleged theft from escrow account

by Robert Gavin

ALBANY – A Clifton Park attorney has been indefinitely suspended from practicing law as she faces allegations she stole money from an escrow account in a real estate transaction.

Kimberly Anne Harp, who became a lawyer in 2000, also sent allegedly altered bank statements to an attorney watchdog committee investigating her actions, according to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court’s Third Department, which imposed Harp’s suspension Thursday.

Harp is the second local lawyer to be suspended this month. Robert Morris Cohen, an attorney since 1972, was suspended last week  after failing to respond to allegations that he failed to refund a client’s retainer fee.

The Third Department’s Attorney Grievance Committee (AGC) began investigating Harp in June 2020 after learning that a check drawn on Harp’s business account was dishonored, the decision said.

An audit of the escrow account and business accounts, her subpoenaed bank records and Harp’s sworn testimony led the committee to request that Harp be suspended. 

Harp, 48, an Albany Law School graduate, did not respond to the the committee’s motion after being given two adjournment dates, leading the justices to impose the suspension, the decision said.

The ruling said evidence, including Harp’s testimony, showed she “misappropriated, for her own use, monies deposited in her attorney escrow account which were to be held in trust for the sellers in a real estate transaction.”

The decision said Harp commingled personal funds with money held in trust “in an attempt to make the sellers whole,” the decision said. “While these facts have been established, in part, by (Harp’s) own testimony, we also note that (Harp) concomitantly took measures to conceal her own misconduct by providing AGC with altered bank statements.”

Harp could not be immediately reached for comment.

Presiding Justice Elizabeth Garry and Justices John Egan, Michael Lynch, Sharon Aarons and Molly Reynolds Fitzgerald imposed the suspension.

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Scottsboro woman arrested on drug-related charges, financial exploitation of the elderly

Carrie Anne King was known to have warrants with the Scottsboro Police Department for second-degree financial exploitation of the elderly and fraudulent use of a debit/credit card.(MGN)

By Charles Montgomery

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WAFF) - Officers with the Scottsboro Police Department conducted a traffic stop on June 23, resulting in the arrest of a woman on multiple charges.

Carrie Anne King was known to have warrants with the Scottsboro Police Department for second-degree financial exploitation of the elderly and fraudulent use of a debit/credit card. Officers also discovered that King was in possession of methamphetamine, marijuana, controlled prescription pills and drug paraphernalia.

King was arrested and charged for the warrants and also charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance, second-degree possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and second-degree promoting prison contraband.

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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Dick Van Dyke, 96, says he’s ‘just glad to still be here,’ grins for cameras

By Andrew Court

Dick Van Dyke, 96, looked happier than ever as he left lunch with friends in Malibu last Thursday, telling well-wishers that he’s “just glad to still be here.”

The “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” legend was subsequently seen running errands after the lunch date, picking up a bottle of Neutrogena self-tanning spray from a local store.

The spritely star dressed casually for the outing, clad in a light gray sweater and navy pants. He added a pair of sensible slip-on shoes and a stylish leather shoulder bag.

Proving he’s still sharp as a tack, Van Dyke got behind the wheel of his Lexus and drove himself home afterward.

The “Mary Poppins” vet is occasionally seen around Malibu, grabbing lunch and hitting the gym with his wife, Arlene Silver, 50.

Van Dyke cut a casual figure for the outing, clad in a light grey sweater and navy pants.
Van Dyke cut a casual figure for the outing, clad in a light gray sweater and navy pants.
Proving he's still mentally sharp, Van Dyke got behind the wheel of his Lexus and drove himself home after the outing.
Proving he’s still mentally sharp, Van Dyke got behind the wheel of his Lexus and drove himself home after the outing.

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in February by going viral with a romantic Valentine’s Day video — and are rarely seen without one another.

The age-defying actor is famous for keeping fit and healthy in spite of his advancing age, telling Closer Weekly that he still hits the gym three times a week.

“I’ve always been an exerciser and still am … I get in the pool and exercise. At my age, they say to keep moving. Put me on solid ground and I’ll start tapping,” he declared in 2019.

Van Dyke revealed he does water aerobics, lifts weights and walks on a treadmill. He also credited his fit physique to “good genes.”

Van Dyke was seen telling well-wishers that he's "just glad to still be here."
Van Dyke was seen telling well-wishers that he’s “just glad to still be here.”
Super-fit Van Dyke is often seen out and about in Malibu. He regularly hits the gym with his wife, Arlene Silver.
Super-fit Van Dyke is often seen out and about in Malibu. He regularly hits the gym with his wife, Arlene Silver.

Meanwhile, the smitten star said that much-younger Silver also keeps him on his toes.

“I sometimes forget that we’re doing a great experiment here — 46 years’ difference. And we work at it to some extent,” he explained. “There’s got to be some understanding. Find out what old habits don’t work anymore. It takes some adjusting and fitting in, but that’s part of the fun of it.”

Van Dyke first met Silver at the 2007 Screen Actors Guild Awards. At the time, he was 81 and she was just 35.

Silver spoke with Closer in a separate interview earlier this year, recalling the moment she first laid eyes on her now-husband.

The "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" legend was subsequently seen running errands, picking up a bottle of Neutrogena micro-mist self-tanning spray from a local store.
The “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” legend was seen running errands after his meal with friends, picking up a bottle of Neutrogena self-tanning spray from a local store.
Dick Van Dyke, 96, makes rare public appearance after hitting gym with wife

“He said, ‘Hi, I’m Dick.’ The first thing I asked him was, ‘Weren’t you in “Mary Poppins”?’ We got along immediately as friends, so it didn’t feel like he was so much older than me,” she told the publication.

The devoted wife further cooed: “He is the most perfect human being. I’ve never met anyone so happy, so genuine, so amazing. He’s just like a happy pill.”

The pair were friends for several years before their relationship turned romantic.

The pair said they don't often notice their 46-year age gap. They are pictured together in 2017.
Van Dyke and Silver met in 2007. They were friends for several years before embarking on a relationship. They wed in 2012.

Van Dyke said he was relieved his fans were supportive of the relationship: “I thought there would be an outcry about a gold digger marrying an old man, but no one ever took that attitude.”

In their popular anniversary video, the couple showed off their fun-loving relationship by dancing to a cover of the 1958 Doris Day song “Everybody Loves a Lover” performed by Silver’s band, Arlene & the Vantastix.

Dick-Van-Dyke-arlene-12.jpg (2000×1333)
Silver and Van Dyke on the red carpet at a gala back in April 2016
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Disbarred Winter Park attorney gets 5 years for stealing $3M from elderly client

by Brenda Argueta

Matthew Roby (Orange County Sheriff's Office)

– A disbarred Winter Park attorney received prison time after agreeing to a plea deal for stealing $3 million from an elderly client.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Matthew Roby was arrested in 2021 and agreed to the plea deal Friday for exploitation of an elderly person and grand theft of more than $100,000.

Deputies said Roby stole from Helen Kuhn, a client of his, by fraudulently getting a power of attorney and “draining her accounts.”

The sheriff’s office said more than $2.4 million of the stolen funds were able to be recovered.

Officials said there may be more victims. Anyone with information is asked to call 407-836-4357.

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"It's just a form of neglect": Nursing homes face severe staffing shortages, putting elderly at risk

By Mark Strassmann

Newton, North Carolina — A majority of nursing homes in the U.S. are facing staffing shortages, according to a recent survey, which can result in unsafe conditions for the nation's elderly. 

The survey, released this month by the American Health Care Association, found that 98% of nursing home operators are having trouble hiring, 59% said they are losing money, and 73% said staffing issues could force them to close. 

"I think COVID took it to a different level," said Amber McIntosh, the executive director of Abernethy Laurels, a senior living community outside Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Jackie Rojo Sanchez, a certified nursing assistant, looks after eight residents each shift at Abernethy Laurels. But Diondre Clarke, a traveling certified nursing assistant in the same area, sometimes has to look after 20 or more. 

"I have never been to a place which was fully staffed yet," Clarke said. 

The impact the staffing shortages have had on care is "bad," Clarke said, adding that she will hear residents yelling and "you go in their room and they're on the floor." 

McIntosh calls CNAs the "backbone" of nursing homes. Without them, she says, they cannot function.

Last January, North Carolina investigated two deaths at Pine Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center in the city of Thomasville. Investigators found that one nurse and two CNAs cared for 98 people. The center was subsequently sanctioned.

This month, the union representing a quarter-million nursing home workers demonstrated for better pay and staffing. 

"The status quo is unsustainable for workers in this industry, for the residents that are cared for, and for the best employers," said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union. 

To recruit more CNAs like Sanchez, Abernathy Laurels raised pay to $16 per hour. It also started paying to train and certify new CNAs. 

"It was an investment," McIntosh said. 

But most nursing homes remain understaffed, some dangerously so. 

"It's just a form of neglect, and I don't want to be part of that," Clarke said. 

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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Loss of autonomy: how guardianships threaten people’s rights

The system intended to protect vulnerable people can leave them powerless. Advocates are pushing for reform.
by Melissa Hellmann

Supporters of the FreeBritney movement rally in support of Britney Spears for a conservatorship hearing outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on Nov. 12, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

From Britney Spears to Wendy Williams, financial guardianships and conservatorships have entered the limelight as legal tools with the potential for abuse. 

These high-profile cases have led to growing calls for reform. Disability rights organizations also have long advocated for less restrictive alternatives to guardianship for people with disabilities. Guardians, in some states called conservators, impact a large swath of the population: In 2018, there were an estimated 1.3 million active guardianship or conservatorship cases nationwide, according to a National Council on Disability report

While the systems vary by state, a guardian or conservator is a court-ordered representative who makes financial or healthcare decisions for a person deemed incapable of properly caring for themselves. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the elderly or those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries are most likely to have guardians appointed.

A National Center for State Courts study of Minnesota’s conservatorship system found that women were disproportionately exploited by their conservators, and that the majority lived in assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facilities. Most of the cases involved people taken advantage of by their own family, primarily their children, and half the affected people were under 65, the study found. 

Nina Kohn, a Syracuse University law professor and a distinguished scholar in elder law at Yale Law School, spoke with the Center for Public Integrity about abuse in conservatorship, reform efforts and how people can protect themselves. 

The interview with Kohn has been edited for length and clarity.

Nina A. Kohn 
(Syracuse University)

Q: Who is disproportionately impacted by financial guardianships? 

We know that some guardianships happened very early in life. Historically, guardianship has been treated almost like a rite of passage for young adults with intellectual disabilities, who were assumed to be incapable of making decisions for themselves.

Increasingly, today there is recognition that that’s not proper and that even individuals with substantial cognitive and intellectual disabilities can make decisions for themselves, especially with support.

Another category of people you often see this with are people with dementia who have progressive cognitive decline that’s making it harder and harder for them to manage their own affairs. And then a third primary category is individuals who are experiencing some level of mental illness or non-progressive cognitive challenge acquired later in life, and that could be through a traumatic brain injury. 

A common pattern you see with petitions for conservatorship or financial guardianship is that you have an individual who has substantial funds and other people are expecting to benefit from those funds. Then the individual does something, which puts those who would be beneficiaries on edge, and they become concerned that those funds they were expecting to benefit from won’t be there for them. Often these are family members expecting to inherit from an older family member.

Legally, nobody has a right to inherit from you, except for some very limited protections for dependent children and spouses. 

You also sometimes see that with non-family members outside of an inheritance concern. That could be business partners, it could be service providers.

The fact that you’ve been the victim of one thing [like a financial scam] doesn’t mean that you don’t have the ability to make decisions for yourself. And when it starts to be treated as enough to show that a guardianship has to be imposed, you risk double victimization. First the individual is victimized by being exploited and then they’re victimized by having their rights removed as a consequence of victimization. 

Q: Is there any data that shows the demographics of who’s vulnerable to financial guardianships? 

We have woefully inadequate data in the United States on this issue. There is no national source of guardianship data. Many states are not keeping data on who’s under guardianship, how many people are under guardianship or why they’re under guardianship — it’s a major problem in terms of understanding this issue.

We do know that guardianship is a common intervention offered by Adult Protective Services. Guardianship is sometimes the right choice. It’s rarely the right choice, but sometimes it is.

So older people with progressive cognitive decline and individuals who haven’t done advanced planning are at increased risk.

Let’s imagine that I developed dementia in my 60s — will I need a guardian? That’s going to depend on what else I’ve put in place to handle my affairs. If I have a power of attorney in place or a trust in place — things that are adequately taking care of making decisions for my body and my property — I don’t need a guardian.

Individuals who haven’t done that advanced planning, which is disproportionately going to be less privileged members of our country — think about just access to legal services — are more likely to be at risk of having a guardianship imposed. 

Unlike advanced planning tools, in which the person isn’t giving away the right to make decisions, once a guardian is put in place, the individual loses the right to make any decision and the only way to reverse that is to go to court.

And we know that courts are doing, unfortunately, a highly inadequate job by and large at monitoring these arrangements, making sure the guardians are making the decisions that are right for the individual, that are sensitive to that person’s preferences, wishes, values, culture.

Q: What are some other ways in which a financial guardianship can be abused? 

A guardianship being imposed where it is not in fact necessary to meet the person’s needs or where a guardianship is imposed that is broader than it needs to be.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical person who has lots and lots of money. If they are put under a broad financial guardianship, they may lose the right to manage any money whatsoever. For this individual, $1,000 a week may be chump change. And thus putting a guardianship into place that doesn’t even allow them to spend smaller amounts of money, or control things that don’t put them at risk, should be seen as abusive.

And for your lower-income individual, there may still be an amount of money that they could manage without any substantial risk of undermining their ability to meet their own needs. 

Then there’s the bad acts by guardians category. For example, laws will typically require the guardian to make the decision the person would make if able. If the guardian says, “I’m just going to make the decision that I think’s best, regardless of what you would have wanted,” or “I’m going to make whatever decision is easiest for me,” that could be abuse.

And then another category of abuse is a guardian charging unreasonable fees.

Q: Are there ways in which the laws or the rules of different states exacerbate these abuses? 

This is an area where substantial law reform is needed urgently. 

One issue where there’s a need for reform is the standard for appointment of a guardian or conservator in the first place. Every state in the nation allows for limited guardianship, which is a guardian appointed to only make some decisions and not all decisions a guardian could be appointed to make under state law.

But many states don’t prohibit courts from imposing plenary [or absolute] guardianships, even when a limited guardianship would meet the person’s needs. So we need to make sure that it is unlawful for courts to strip more rights than is absolutely needed.

And we need to make sure that, before any rights are stripped, all less restrictive alternatives have been ruled out as possibilities. Another thing we need to do is really make sure that there are good due process protections in place for individuals.

Typically, states will provide a hearing, a notice and evaluation before a guardian is imposed. But often, a lot of those critically important civil rights protections can be circumvented by requesting a temporary guardianship, or sometimes it’s called an emergency guardianship. And so the individual can be stripped of the right to make decisions before those important due process protections are provided. That is especially a problem if the standard for appointing emergency guardianship is too lax, or the emergency guardianship can trundle along for a long time.  

Court monitoring is a huge issue. What are courts doing to make sure that guardians are doing the right thing by those that they’ve been appointed to protect and to make sure that abusive practices aren’t happening? 

Right to counsel is another tremendously important issue and something I think the Britney Spears case showed people. Some courts are denying individuals the right to choose their own counsel.

Another problem is around restoration of rights: Once you’ve been stripped of your right, what do you have to show to get it back? 

There is model legislation that would address each of these concerns: The Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act created by the Uniform Law Commission. I served as the reporter for that act, which means I was the principal drafter. 

Q: That leads me into my next question, which is on efforts to improve the system. Could you talk more about this model legislation and any other state efforts to try to improve the system? 

At least since the early ’80s, we’ve seen efforts in place to try to improve guardianship. Initially, we saw an effort to try to change the rules, and increasingly, I think we need to change systems and incentives within the systems. My work really focuses on trying to realign incentives so that it’s easier to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong thing.

The most significant efforts, right now, are around adoption of the Uniform Act on guardianship, an act that was created with input from all the major stakeholder groups —  entities representing older people, people with disabilities, judges and state courts, attorneys, family members aggrieved by guardianship. 

The U.S. Senate [Special] Committee on Aging has recommended its adoption. The barrier to adoption is … that some of the reforms would take additional money or court time, and courts typically don’t want anything that’s going to take additional time and money unless they’re going to get a lot of money to do it. And then I think often people don’t understand why these changes are necessary.

Because guardianship has gotten, in some cases legitimately, a bad rap, sometimes the advocates say, “Let’s just get rid of all guardianship.”

I understand that perspective, but unfortunately sometimes the desire to abolish gets in the way of true reform.

Q: You mentioned that service providers have triggered guardianships. Are there examples of financial institutions doing this? 

I teach a case that is really egregious where an attorney petitioned for guardianship over his own client, and his evidence was that his client had fired him, and “who could possibly fire me?” Bad decision-making isn’t a basis for guardianship. We get to make really bad decisions. Guardianship is only when we’re at real risk because of those bad decisions and we don’t understand that we’re at risk.

One of the issues here in trying to understand the guardianship system is that many of these cases are under seal.

This can be very stigmatizing and traumatizing, and putting out all this really private information can benefit fraudsters, who can then use it to engage in exploitation. But it also makes it really hard to get visibility and accountability.

If you can’t see what the courts are doing, how do you hold the courts accountable?

As the person on the street, it is really important to put in place advanced planning documents. The most important one is called a power of attorney for health care, or sometimes called a health care proxy, that says who will make health care decisions for you, if you can’t make them for yourself. It’s a very low risk document because it’s only used when you lose capacity. Unlike a power of attorney for finances, it can’t be used until you lack capacity.

There are major racial gaps on who completes advanced directives. In part, that’s consistent with distrust of health care providers, often well-founded.

This is one sort of advanced planning tool that has low costs and can be done by lay people that can avoid guardianship. For older adults, or people who are anticipating more decline in abilities in the near future, then a power of attorney for finances may also be a very good idea. Putting that in place and trusts are good ways to avoid guardianship. Trusts tend to be for higher-net-worth individuals who are typically middle class and up. 

Q: Is there anything else about financial guardianships that you’d like our readers to know? 

If these issues concern you, I really encourage people to reach out to their state legislature.

I think we’ve seen enough problems to know that we need to fix the systems, and we need to change the incentives so that individuals aren’t stripped of their basic liberties unnecessarily. To the extent that seeing some of these horror stories can be a call to action, maybe there’s a silver lining.

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Mobile Sheriff's Office seeks man for theft and financial exploitation of the elderly

by Keith Lane
Mobile Co Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook Thursday attempting to locate Sonny Mitchell:

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Friday, June 24, 2022

Northern Michigan woman accused of embezzling thousands from vulnerable relative

By Amber Ainsworth

ROSCOMMON COUNTY, Mich. (FOX 2) - A northern Michigan woman is accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from a vulnerable adult relative she had guardianship of.

Kelly Marlynne Haynie-Ulrech, 41, of Saint Helen, is charged with embezzlement from a vulnerable adult $50,000 to $100,000.

Police said Haynie-Ulrech was granted guardianship of the victim in June 2017.

Another relative had concerns about the misuse of money in the victim's bank account, and petitioned for a reevaluation of the need for a guardian in December 2021. After a hearing in February of this year, guardianship was terminated.

After the hearing, Michigan State Police troopers obtained bank records, credit card statements, monthly bill statements, copies of checks, deposit slips, withdrawals, and tax information, and the victim was interviewed.

Troopers turned their evidence over to the Roscommon County Prosecutor’s Office, who issued an arrest warrant on June 1. Haynie-Ulrech turned herself in the next day.

Haynie-Ulrech's bond was set at $25,000, 10% cash/surety. She is due in court July 13.

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Former Newton client hoping attorney's disbarment ends term on Rockdale board

Sherri Washington
by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — A Newton County resident says she was glad to hear about the state Supreme Court's ruling today, June 22, that a Rockdale County commissioner can no longer practice law in Georgia because she "failed to act diligently" for clients in time-sensitive cases. 

Tracy Belcher told The Covington News Wednesday she hoped the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling that Commissioner Sherri Lin Washington be disbarred and surrender her law license will lead to her being removed from the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners.

Belcher said Washington never paid her after a Rockdale County court ruled in August 2021 after the Covington resident sued the commissioner for return of the $3,000 fee Washington charged her for a case on which she took almost no action.

"I am so happy," Belcher said.

Belcher said she hired Washington after she successfully represented her in a previous, separate case. She also was told any other attorney would have needed only a few months to do what it had taken Washington five years to complete.

Then in 2019, neighbors repeatedly complained to police that Belcher's mother and father — who both suffered from dementia — often roamed their neighborhood and sought entrance to others' houses. She was forced to quit her job as a medical assistant and move in with her parents to take care of them. 

Belcher also said she needed an attorney quickly to avoid the courts taking action to take custody of her parents. She paid Washington in 2019 to do the legal work needed to become her parents' guardians and was told it would take about 30 days to complete. 

Washington then never returned calls or communicated about the status of the case and Belcher ultimately was unable to be appointed as custodian, she said. Luckily, her parents stopped leaving their house and it eventually was not an issue.

She later sued Washington's Conyers law firm, The Washington Law Group, for return of her fee. A judge ordered her to pay Belcher $3,096 in August 2021 during a hearing at which Washington failed to appear, according to court records.

Washington, however, did not pay as ordered and Belcher said she filed a complaint with the Bar Association. 

Her interactions with her clients — detailed in the Supreme Court's ruling — correspond to actions Belcher said Washington took in her case.

The Supreme Court's unanimous ruling upheld a State Disciplinary Review Board recommendation that Washington be disbarred "for her multiple violations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with three separate client matters." 

The Court said Washington "failed to abide by her clients’ decisions, desires and directions regarding the scope and objectives of the representations; she failed to act diligently in filing, pursuing or responding in any of these clients’ matters; she failed to communicate or consult with these clients (or respond to their inquiries) about matters of importance in, or even the status of, their cases; and she failed to properly and timely respond to the personally served notices of investigation relating to each of these matters."

Among the claims cited by the Disciplinary Review Board in its recommendation was one from March 2017 in which a woman hired Washington to represent her in a divorce case. Washington did not file it quickly as requested, did not file a protective order, failed to keep the client advised about the case, and other items associated with the case. 

The client said she ultimately lost her health insurance coverage on her husband’s policy, was denied an equitable division of marital assets, denied alimony and required to pay her former husband $5,000 in attorney fees.

Other instances included Washington accepting a $515 fee to appeal a child molestation case, missing the appeal deadline and not returning the fee; and the attorney taking a $3,000 fee for a lawsuit against a building contractor, taking no action and not returning the fee until a Bar Association investigation began.

Washington finally was served with a formal complaint and "failed to timely answer or otherwise respond." That led to the Board's appointed special master finding the county commissioner was "in default such that the factual allegations and the disciplinary violations charged in the formal complaint were deemed admitted," the ruling stated.

Washington was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2007. She was elected to an at-large seat on the three-member Rockdale County Commission in 2016 and reelected in 2020. 

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