Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Hospital Overcrowding Prompts Push For Guardianship and Informed Consent Reforms


By Leo Brine

Seattle Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43) is working on a bill to reform Washington’s informed consent and guardianship laws, which have prevented hospitals from discharging some patients who need long-term care at a time when hospitals need as many beds as possible to handle the latest spike in COVID cases.

Washington’s guardianship and informed consent laws have prevented hospitals and family members from transferring some patients who cannot make decisions for themselves into long-term care facilities even when a family member has given consent. Macri has a bill cued up which will address the problem, she said.

While the state’s informed consent laws empower family members to make many decisions for incapacitated people, they don’t allow incapacitated patients to leave hospitals for long-term care without the consent of a court-appointed guardian. The reason? Money: Guardians are responsible for paying for long-term care.

It can take months for courts to establish someone as a patient’s guardian, so Macri wants to amend the state’s informed consent laws to make it easier for patients to move to long-term care facilities while allowing courts to establish guardianship for the patient’s long-term financial management later.

Right now, hospitals have patients occupying hospital beds that could be used to treat people with acute needs because they don’t have a paper saying who’s going to front the bill.

As of January 12, Washington state has 2,062 COVID patients in hospitals with 172 on ventilators, according to state data. In King County, hospitalizations more than doubled between January 2 and January 9, county data shows.

Hospitals in Washington have said they are in “a state of crisis” after operating for months at high capacity and now with omicron sending more people to the hospital than ever before.

The Washington State Medical Association sent Governor Jay Inslee a letter last week saying that hospitals are in “a state of crisis” and asking the governor to change guardianship laws so that family members can agree to transfers. The letter included the draft of a proclamation that, if Inslee signed, would have that efect.

However, Inslee said last week that he does not have the executive authority to make the proclamation because, “you have to comply with federal law to admit someone to a long-term care facility. I cannot waive federal law.”

Instead, the governor—inadvertently highlighting the need for Macri’s fix—announced Thursday that he hopes to increase the number of social service workers who work on patient transfers. He also proposed create a program to expedite the process of establishing guardianships and increase the number of guardians, which could help reduce the backlog of patients stuck in hospitals. “[This] may involve more resources for the superior court,” he said. Additionally, to help long-term care facilities take on more discharged hospital patients, he’d add new health care workers to long term care facilities.

Macri says her bill is still necessary because establishing guardianship “can still take months even with the steps that [Inslee is] putting in place.” Her bill will change informed consent laws to allow family members, those with power of attorney, and other surrogate decision makers to consent to a patient’s transfer to a long-term facility.

Macri plans to meet with the governor’s team about her bill to hammer out how it fits in with Inslee’s plans and to address some concerns the governor’s office has around informed consent. One potential sticking point is that, according to Macri, Inslee’s team is sticking with their position that only guardians should be able to make these transfers happen.

Meanwhile, patients without guardians are not the only ones who are having a hard time getting out of hospitals. Often, there are no shelter beds available for homeless patients. And some patients came to the hospital from long-term care facilities but are unable to go back into their care because of understaffing.

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Michigan judge berates 72-year-old cancer patient over weeds, says she would send him to jail if she could

A judge in Hamtramck berated a 72-year-old man for having overgrown weeds in his yard.

"Shameful!" Judge Alexis Krot said. "If I could give you jail time on this, I would."


During a virtual hearing, Burhan Chowdhury is seen struggling with the language as his son attempts to explain why the yard was messy. He was cited by the city's code enforcement for his overgrown yard.

He explained that his father has cancer and is not doing well.

"My father is currently sick and weak," his son said.

As the son tried to explain the circumstances, Krot raised her voice and asked if he had seen the photo of the blight.

Neighbors said Chowdhury went back to native country of Bangladesh for about two months in the summer for his son's wedding, and that's when the yard started to get bad.

Chowdhury was ordered to pay a $100 fine by Feb. 1, and the yard has since been cleaned up.

When FOX 2 reached out to Krot, she said she would like to comment but state judge administrator said she couldn't.

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Bad judgment? New Orleans judge charged with allegedly failing to pay taxes on cash she earned officiating weddings

By Lukas I. Alpert
 
Prosecutors say Ernestine Anderson-Trahan officiated hundreds of weddings for cash fees of $80 and up, but never disclosed the income to the IRS.
 
Judge Ernestine Anderson-Trahan is accused of failing to disclose tens of thousands of dollars in income she collected for presiding over weddings. (Getty Images)

The couples said “I do,” but this judge said “I don’t” to the IRS.

A New Orleans judge has been indicted on charges that she failed to disclose on her taxes the thousands of dollars she earned in fees for officiating weddings over several years.

Ernestine “Teena” Anderson-Trahan, 55, has been a judge in the Second City Court in the Parish of Orleans dating back to 2013, hearing civil cases, small claims disputes and eviction proceedings. 

On the side, she presided over weddings, both in the courthouse and at private ceremonies, prosecutors said.

Between 2013 and 2017, Anderson-Trahan oversaw hundreds of ceremonies, charging between $80 and $100 in cash for in-court weddings and more for nuptials held off-site, according to court papers. But prosecutors say she failed to disclose any of that income on her tax returns.

A message left with an attorney for Anderson-Trahan wasn’t immediately returned. 

The issue came to attention in 2018, when WVUE-TV aired a report pointing out that several judges in local New Orleans courthouses were charging fees on the side to officiate weddings, possibly in violation of the law. The report said the judges each were collecting as much as $25,000 in supplemental income each year.

Anderson-Trahan faces up to 12 years in federal prison if convicted on all four of the counts of filing false tax returns with which she has been charged. 

A message left with a spokesman for the court wasn’t immediately returned. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Anderson-Trahan had been suspended from her duties as a judge.

Anderson-Trahan, a Democrat, was automatically re-elected in 2018 after running unopposed. Before becoming a judge, Anderson-Trahan was a lawyer in New Orleans after having passed the bar in 1992.

Monday, January 17, 2022

WANTED: Two Bronx, New York men for elderly scam theft in Ocean County, NJ


Two men who reside in the Bronx, New York are wanted for their roles in an elderly scam that took place in Ocean County, Barnegat Police Chief Keith Germain and Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer announced on Thursday.

There are warrants out for the arrests of 34-year old Jorge Peguero-Mendez and 24-year old Richard Quinones-Perez who have each been charged with Theft by Deception as well as Conspiracy to Commit Theft by Deception.

This all stems from an incident that occurred last month in Barnegat when an elderly woman received a call from a man claiming to be her grandson.
 
He said he was in a motor vehicle accident in New York City and that he was arrested because the other driver sustained injuries and that he already had a lawyer appointed to represent him.

Shortly thereafter, the woman got a second phone call, this from a man claiming to be the man's attorney (her fake grandson) and he said he could get her 'grandson' out of custody if she gave him $8,000 in cash.

Both men then drove down to Barnegat and one of the men pretended to be a courier there to pick up the $8,000.

When she spoke to her family, the woman realized that she had fallen victim to a scam and that her grandson was not arrested.
 
Barnegat Police began an investigation and along the way they learned that similar incidents, scams had occurred recently in Hopewell Township as well as up in Nassau County, New York.

As the investigation progressed, Barnegat Police worked with Hopewell Police, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Office of the Inspector General, Nassau County New York Police Department and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Economic Crime Squad.

Peguero-Mendez and Quinones-Perez were later identified as the individuals responsible for the scamming incidents in all those areas.

If you or someone you believes you've been victimized by these men or know any information on where they are, you're urged to contact Officer Robert Armstrong of the Barnegat Township Police Department at (609) 698-5000.

“These types of incidents should serve as a cautionary tale for all of our senior citizens here in Ocean County, as well as a reminder that unscrupulous individuals are out there just waiting to prey upon the most vulnerable members of our community,” Prosecutor Billhimer said in a statement. “Please be vigilant in identifying these fraudulent phone calls, and recognize that any phone call or message requesting large sums of cash or wire transfers is likely a scam. These types of calls should be immediately reported to law enforcement."
 
Full Article & Source:

Police: nursing assistant stole thousands from resident at The Gardens at Wyoming Valley

by Dylan Fearon
 
Inside The Gardens at Wyoming Valley nursing home, residents expect to be cared for. So do their families. 
 
What they don't expect is a certified nursing assistant to steal thousands of dollars from a man living there.

But Wilkes-Barre City police say that's exactly what happened in September and October of last year.

Cops are accusing certified nursing assistant Alyssa Nappa, 24, with stealing a resident's wallet, which had his identification, social security card and debit card in it. 

The resident's son visited his father and noticed the wallet missing. After calling M&T Bank, they realized there were a large number of withdraws on the account, totaling more than $10,000. Then the resident froze his account.

Police were able to obtain records from the nursing home to find out which employees had worked on the resident's floor from September 16 to October 8. Police then obtained surveillance footage of Nappa and Zachary Wengzen, 25, withdrawing money and using the debit card at several local establishments. "Approximately $13,049 in withdraws and fees were taken out of (the victim's) bank account from 9/27/2021 to 10/12/2021 before he was able to freeze his account," the criminal complaint says.

Police say Nappa was an employee at the nursing home, but hasn't been showing up to shifts. Police have also attempted to contact Nappa but have been unsuccessful. Nappa and Wengzen have been charged with theft, receiving stolen property and access device fraud. Warrants are out for both of their arrests.

FOX56 interviewed Nappa in May when she and other employees at The Gardens at Wyoming Valley were protesting and demanding better pay and conditions in nursing homes. 

"When the pandemic started, a lot of people walked off the jobs because it has been very hard, very stressful," Nappa said in May. Just months later, the alleged theft took place. 

Nappa and Wengzen's arrest warrants were signed by magisterial district judge Thomas F. Malloy.

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Defending Elderly: Know Your Rights Against Nursing Home Abuse

by kashif


When an elderly member of a family is no longer able to live on their own, families must make difficult decisions about their loved one’s care. The solution is often to find a good nursing home and place the loved one there for safety and care. That decision helps the families reduce worry about the person and relieves the family members of taking care of the family member on a daily basis. But, what happens when the nursing home neglects or allows patient abuse?

What is Classified as Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse can come in many forms, which can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, financial abuse, or patient exploitation. Legally, nursing home abuse happens when patients in long-term care facilities or nursing homes suffer physical, psychological, or emotional harm because of the intentional acts or neglect of their caregivers.

Getting Help For Those Suffering Nursing Home Abuse

It is unfortunate that nursing home resident abuse is as common in America as it is. However, there is help available in the form of law firms that represent families in bringing lawsuits against nursing homes that allow their residents to be abused. It is important to seek legal help to determine if the injury or complaint of a nursing home resident is due to an accident or nursing home abuse or neglect. This is not easy to prove without legal help from experienced investigators at law firms such as Hughey Law firm.

Signs of Abuse to Look For

There are always signs of abuse to look for when a family suspects their loved one is being abused. They include:

  • Physical abuse signs can include bruising or welts, unexplained broken bones, unexplained burns, hair loss, the caregiver refusing to leave you alone with your loved one, and more.
  • Emotional abuse signs can include new low self-esteem, depression, hopeless feelings expressed by the patient, changes in eating and sleeping habits, self-injury, crying and begging for help, and others.
  • Sexual abuse signs can include unexplained STDS and vaginal infections, vaginal bleeding without explanation, bruising on the thighs, breasts, and vaginal area, difficulty with sitting or walking, damaged clothing and bloodstains, and fear around a caregiver.
  • Neglect can be life-threatening and includes signs like medical needs not being met, failing to meet nutritional or care needs of a patient, dirty, unkempt spaces, residents too heavily medicated, patients allowed to wander around or out of the facility without supervision, and more.
  • Financial abuse signs might be harder to spot but can include sudden or unexplained transfers of money to another individual, will changes, residents’ personal belonging going missing, and forged signatures on financial documents.

Residents have a right to proper and safe care in any nursing home. when that is not given or their wellbeing is neglected or damaged, it is time to seek legal help to rectify the situation. 

It is not enough to simply move the resident to another facility because this lets the guilty parties keep abusing other residents. It is important to report bad nursing homes to proper government entities so they can be closed or forced to meet better standards of care. There are federal laws protecting nursing home residents. A law firm can make sure those rights are followed or seek damages from nursing homes that are not meeting the standards for the care of residents.

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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Will a conservatorship help homelessness in San Diego County?

While there's no plan in place yet, some are excited while some say it's not the solution.
 
 
Author: Regina Ahn, CBS News 8 Team

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The homelessness crisis in San Diego has been a priority for state and local leaders.

With a diverse population, there's a lot to be done to help combat the situation, and one tool is a conservatorship program for the homeless. While there's no plan in place yet, some are excited while some say it's not the solution.

"This year, I’m pushing for state action on conservatorships," San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said in his State of the City address on Wednesday.

Conservatorships in which a court appointed conservator manages another person's living situation, medical decisions, and mental health treatment – has gotten support from both Mayor Todd Gloria and Governor Gavin Newsom.

"We have more treatment programs, more conservatorships," said Gov. Newsom.

However, San Diego attorney Scott Dreher, who has worked with homeless people for over 20-years says it may not be the answer.

He says the issue and solution is too complex. 

In San Diego, it’s extremely difficult to get a conservatorship, according to experts. It requires a judge’s order and there are limited conservatorships, and a family member must be present.

"Anyone who thinks that ‘oh, we’ll just put everyone in a conservatorship’ and that’ll take care of that…that’s never going to happen, that’s not the way around this," said Dreher.

Dreher says while it may be a solution for some people, there are more pressing things that could help. "What's going to solve the problem is giving people a place to be that may not have a place to be," said Dreher.

Mayor Gloria and Dreher both say housing is the biggest issue to combat homelessness.

"The shortage of homes every day San Diegans can afford is splitting up families," said Mayor Gloria.

But there’s also the issue of being mindful and compassionate towards the homeless population,

Amie Zamudio is the homeless outreach director with “Housing 4 The Homeless” and says there are no simple solutions.

"What we’re seeing is there are some people who cannot take care of themselves and no matter how much support we offer, they refuse support,” said Zamudio. “They just can’t take care of themselves it’s not humane to leave people out on these streets to decay and die."


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Illinois judge disparaged lawyer in comments caught on video

An Illinois judge could be facing discipline after he mocked an attorney in comments that he apparently did not realize were being broadcast live on YouTube
 
FILE - Bill Cosby, center, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, right, and attorney Jennifer Bonjean, left, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby's home in Elkins Park, Pa., on June 30, 2021. An Illinois judge could be facing discipline after he mocked Bonjean in comments that he apparently did not realize were being broadcast live on YouTube. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

CHICAGO -- An Illinois judge could be facing discipline after he mocked an attorney in comments that he apparently did not realize were being broadcast live on YouTube.

Cook County Judge William Raines made the comments about attorney Jennifer Bonjean after she appeared before him during a court call. Bonjean — a New York-based attorney who has represented a number of high-profile clients around the country, including Bill Cosby — was before Raines in a case in which she is seeking to have a client's 1996 murder conviction thrown out.

“Can you imagine waking up next to her every day? Oh, my God!” Raines said in a conversation with two assistant state's attorneys and an assistant public defender in the courtroom after Bonjean had left, according to a transcript of the exchange. “I couldn’t have a visual on that if you paid me. "

A short time later, Raines, whose court call was carried live as many hearings have been during the COVID-19 pandemic, apparently realized that his comments were still being broadcast.

“Ohh, wait ... Media streaming live on YouTube? What’s up with this?” the judge said before the video ends.

Last year, Bonjean won an appeal of Cosby's sexual assault conviction that led to Cosby's release from prison.

She is a familiar presence in Chicago. Her clients have included men who alleged they were tortured by police, including one whose rape conviction was overturned and later awarded $5.2 million by a jury and another won a multimillion settlement from the city after a detective allegedly framed him for murder.

In a hearing Thursday before another judge, Bonjean asked that the video be preserved so she could lodge a complaint with the state's Judicial Inquiry Board, which reviews judicial misconduct allegations. Also, Chief Judge Timothy Evans scheduled a hearing next Tuesday of the court's executive committee made up of himself and the court's presiding judges, according to a court spokeswoman. Such hearings often result in a judge being placed on administrative duties until a full investigation is conducted.

“There was an incredible casual nature of these conversations that certainly suggests this is not the first time this kind of banter went on," Bonjean told Judge Erica Reddick, who agreed to preserve the video.

Bonjean called the remarks "sexist and offensive” and said the two prosecutors who took part in the conversation as well as Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx have apologized.

A spokeswoman for Evans' office said Raines could not comment because it involves a pending case.

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'Worst house on best block' of San Francisco sells for $2M

OAKLAND, Calif. — (AP) — A decaying, 122-year-old Victorian marketed as “the worst house on the best block” of San Francisco has sold for nearly $2 million — an eye-catching price that the realtor said was the outcome of overbidding in an auction.

A developer's $1.97 million cash offer for the 2,158-square-foot (200-square-meter) property in the Noe Valley neighborhood was finalized last week. On the social media page Zillow Gone Wild, some commenters marveled at the price while others questioned the value of a house with boarded-up windows, peeling paint and an unstable foundation.

One commenter joked: “It actually has a parking space. No wonder it sold for almost 2 million!”

The property sold at several hundred thousand dollars higher than other comparable fixer-uppers in the area as a result of a complex conservatorship sale, said Todd Wiley, who represented the seller.

Wiley said a judge approved the sale of the house after its elderly owner was placed in a conservatorship. The man's family, concerned about the way he was living, hired a licensed fiduciary to handle the sale with the proceeds going to pay for his continuing care, according to Wiley.

The house initially received the highest offer of about $1.4 million, and a probate judge ratified the offer, setting off a roughly 7-week process where the house stayed on the real estate market, generating intense interest.

At auction, a probate judge set bidding at $10,000 increments.

“That kept things low and kept five to six bidders in the game,” Wiley said. Two people ultimately went neck and neck, he said, “and it’s that auction environment that led it to go where it was.”

“They really wanted it but the data point didn’t support that sale. It was an anomaly,” he said.

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Saturday, January 15, 2022

Knoxville woman charged with crimes against the elderly

Constance Porter
BY CHERI REEVES

A Knoxville woman has been arrested and charged with theft and willful abuse and neglect of her 81-year-old Clarksville uncle.

Constance Porter, 56, who was entrusted with the man’s finances and personal care, reportedly had been making charges and transactions with her uncle’s personal account without permission prior to abandoning his care.

An agent with the Adult Protective Services Association alerted Clarksville Police to the alleged exploitation of the man’s bank account, according to the affidavit.

Porter was the authorized user for the victim’s bank account, but was to use the account specifically to benefit him.

An investigation revealed the man’s bank account had been charged several times by Clarksville Enterprise Rent-A-Car, according to court records.

Porter reportedly rented a vehicle in September 2019 making approximately $2,469 worth of transactions from the same account.

After a trip to Knoxville, Porter allegedly abandoned her duty as caretaker, but other family members stepped in and were able to replace her.

On Wednesday, Jan. 5, Porter was arrested and booked into the Montgomery County Jail on a $10,000 bond.

She’s been charged with auto theft and willful abuse, neglect or exploitation of the elderly.

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AG Ferguson lawsuit nets $45M in debt relief, payments from Navient


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
Jan 13 2022

Debt relief, restitution, will go to Washington borrowers impacted by Navient’s deceptive practices

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that, as a result of his lawsuit, student loan servicer Navient will provide nearly $45 million in debt relief, restitution and costs to resolve Washington’s lawsuit. Ferguson asserted Navient, the Sallie Mae offshoot that was then the nation’s largest student loan servicer, engaged in numerous unfair and deceptive practices harming Washington student loan borrowers.

Washington was the first state, along with Illinois, to file a lawsuit against Navient, and the first to obtain a judgment stating Navient broke the law.

The student loan giant will:

  • Extend more than $35 million in debt relief, erasing the remaining debt of more than 1,400 Washingtonians who took out certain private student loans between 2002 and 2014 — an average of about $25,000 per person;
  • Pay $2.3 million in restitution to approximately 8,900 Washington borrowers enrolled in forbearance for an extended period of time between 2009 and 2017; and
  • Pay $7 million to Washington to cover costs from the complex, multiyear investigation and litigation, along with future enforcement of the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

Washingtonians do not need to take any action to receive these benefits. Borrowers receiving private loan debt cancellation will receive a notice from Navient, and they will receive refunds of any payments made on those loans after June 30, 2021. Washingtonians who are eligible for a restitution payment will receive a postcard in the mail from the Attorney General’s settlement administrator in the next several months. Federal student loan borrowers who may be eligible for a restitution payment are encouraged to update their contact information in their studentaid.gov account or create an account if they do not already have one.

For more details and the most up-to-date information, please visit www.NavientAGSettlement.com.

Borrowers who will receive restitution or debt relief span all generations: Navient’s harmful conduct impacted everyone from students who enrolled in colleges and universities immediately after high school to mid-career students who dropped out after enrolling in a for-profit school in the early 2000s.

“Higher education should not equal a lifelong debt sentence — and student loan corporations do not have the right to deceive Washingtonians in order to maximize their profits,” Ferguson said. “We are holding the country’s largest student loan servicer accountable, achieving hard-fought corporate reforms, and helping repair the damage they did to Washington borrowers. We will continue fighting to prevent the financial abuse of Washington students overburdened with debt.”

Forbearance was easy for Navient, bad for borrowers

Navient will pay restitution to Washington students it enrolled in forbearance instead of fully explaining the benefits of income-driven repayment plans. Navient unfairly pushed borrowers into forbearance, which was good for the company because it was simple and cheap, but resulted in long-term harm to most borrowers. Forbearance allowed borrowers to suspend payments temporarily, but their interest continued to accumulate. When repayment resumed, the accumulated interest would be added to the loan principal, meaning borrowers ended up paying interest on their initial interest. Unlike forbearance, income-driven plans offer the possibility of loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years of qualifying payments, and can provide valuable interest subsidies. Under income-driven plans, payments can be as low as $0 per month. 

Resolution details

Ferguson submitted the proposed consent decree for entry today in King County Superior Court. The consent decree still requires court approval.

Today’s consent decree will apply to thousands of Washingtonians:

  • Approximately 847 Washingtonians who, from 2002 to 2014, took out subprime private student loans, and had delinquent payments for more than seven consecutive months prior to June 30, 2021. Any remaining balances on these loans will be canceled.
  • Approximately 717 Washingtonians who, from 2002 to 2014, took out non-subprime private student loans to attend certain private, for-profit colleges (including ITT, DeVry, Corinthian Colleges and University of Phoenix), and who had delinquent payments for more than seven consecutive months prior to June 30, 2021. Any remaining balances on these loans will be canceled.
  • Washingtonians who contacted Navient due to long-term financial hardships with their non-Parent PLUS federal student loans, and were enrolled into forbearance for an extended period of time. The approximately 8,900 eligible student borrowers can expect to receive a check of around $260 in the coming months.

Today’s consent decree also contains extensive injunctive terms to prevent Navient from engaging in similar harmful conduct in the future.

It also requires Navient to notify borrowers of the U.S. Department of Education’s important recent changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which offers millions of qualifying public employees a waiver that may count past payments or periods of repayment toward loan forgiveness.

Ferguson encourages all Washington residents who work in the government or non-profit sectors to review the PSLF website or consult the Washington Student Loan Advocate’s website to determine whether they might qualify for loan forgiveness.

Student loan borrowers with questions or complaints about their student loans can contact the office of the Washington’s Student Loan Advocate by using the Washington student complaint portal at studentcomplaints.wa.gov.

On Oct. 20, 2021, Navient transferred its servicing of 5.6 million loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education to a company named Maximus, which will service loans under the brand name AidVantage. Following completion of this transfer, Navient will continue to service its existing portfolio of private student loans and legacy Federal Family Education Loans issued before the program ended in 2010.

Nationwide relief

Ferguson, along with the Attorneys General for Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts, Ohio and North Carolina, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), led an investigation into Navient’s business practices. Ferguson, the Illinois Attorney General and the CFPB filed the initial lawsuits against Navient on the same day in January 2017, then other states followed.

Under the terms of the settlement, Navient will cancel the remaining balance on nearly $1.7 billion in certain private student loan balances owed by 66,000 borrowers nationwide in 39 states. In addition, Navient will pay $142.5 million to 32 state attorneys general. In addition, Navient will alert consumer credit bureaus to reflect the debt cancellation on the borrowers’ and co-signers’ credit reports, and refund certain payments sent after June 30, 2021.

Ferguson’s lawsuit first to result in a judge ruling against Navient

Ferguson’s lawsuit asserted that Navient deceptively promoted a “co-signer release” feature of private loans to entice family and friends to co-sign loans. However, Navient put up barriers to obtaining co-signer release without informing consumers in advance, and failed to disclose that very few borrowers ever achieved co-signer release.

In March 2021, King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván ruled that Navient violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act with its unfair and deceptive conduct related to this program. It was the first time a judge ruled that Navient broke a consumer protection law in a student loan servicing lawsuit filed by a state’s Attorney General or federal consumer protection agency.

The lawsuit also asserted Navient engaged in additional illegal business practices:

  • Made subprime, predatory loans to students attending for-profit colleges with low graduation rates, despite its own expectations that a very high percentage of borrowers would not be able to repay those loans;
  • Committed unfair and deceptive acts by offering financially distressed student borrowers a forbearance instead of informing them of the terms and benefits of federal income-driven repayment plans;
  • Failed to inform those borrowers who chose repayment programs based on their income that they had a yearly obligation to re-certify their income and family size;
  • Misapplied borrower payments, and failed to provide a way for borrowers to submit standing instructions for how to allocate excess payments; and
  • Trained its agents to deceptively ask borrowers to pay an amount that included the next upcoming regular payment, without clarifying this was not necessary to fix a delinquency.

Assistant Attorneys General Julia Doyle, Heidi Anderson, Craig Rader, Kathleen Box, Seann Colgan, Tad Robinson-O’Neill, Daniel Allen, Joe Kanada, Mina Shahin and Audrey Udashen; investigators Lourdes Fuentes, Victoria Suner, Rebecca Hartsock, Anton Forbes and Christopher Welch; paralegals Javier Trasvina, Kelli Goins and Amanda Bartling; and legal assistants Michelle Paules, Christopher Kiefer, Joshua Bennett, Kristina Winfield and Serina Clark handled the case for the Attorney General’s Office.

Former Senior Assistant Attorneys General Trisha McArdle and Shannon Smith, and former Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Roesch also worked on the case, but have since left the Attorney General’s Office.

Ferguson’s focus on reforming student borrowing

Ferguson proposed the Student Loan Transparency Act in 2017 as Attorney General-request legislation. The act requires schools to provide students basic information on their student loans. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House with a bipartisan vote and unanimously in the Senate.

In 2018, the Legislature passed the Student Loan Bill of Rights, which Ferguson requested to provide vital protections to Washington state’s student borrowers. The law created a dedicated student loan advocate to help students navigate the murky world of loan servicers and adopted standards for student loan servicers. The law also provided students with basic guarantees: Student loan servicers must credit borrowers’ payments within one business day, respond to requests for information promptly in writing and refund fees assessed in error, among other standards.

Ferguson has previously obtained millions of dollars in debt relief for thousands of student borrowers who attended for-profit colleges that used misleading and deceptive recruitment practices. He has also recovered almost $1.6 million cracking down on debt adjustment companies that charge fees to help borrowers consolidate their federal student loans and enroll in income-driven repayment plans — tasks that borrowers’ loan servicers can and should help them with free of charge.

To assist student loan borrowers in Washington, the Attorney General's Office has compiled a Student Loan Survival Guide. This guide provides tips and links to resources to help high school students thinking about attending college, former college students who are not able to keep up with their payments, parents of students and everyone in between. 

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Home health aide charged in $12K financial exploitation case

The Winona County Attorney's Office recently charged a 53-year-old Altura woman with four counts of financially exploiting a vulnerable adult. 

Jodi Marie Schilling allegedly received thousands of dollars in loans and checks from a Winona community member she provided services to as a home health care worker. According to the criminal complaint, Schilling started to provide services to the victim in 2018. She then repeatedly asked the victim to take out a loan for her, according to the complaint, and the victim did so as the victim “felt bad” for Schilling. The victim took out this loan at a bank in Winona around September 2018, investigators wrote. Schilling then allegedly asked the victim to take out several other loans, according to the complaint, and the victim ultimately did so and gave the money to her. 

Then, in May 2021, the victim received a $4,000 loan from another Winona bank, according to the complaint, and gave the money to Schilling after she asked for it. 

Meanwhile, the victim also wrote Schilling eight checks totaling $9,340 between January 2019 and July 2021, after Schilling asked for the funds, according to the complaint.

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Friday, January 14, 2022

Tonight on TS Radio with Marti and Coz: WHERE IS DAVID ITALIANO?


"Tonight on TS Radio (at 7:00 pm EST) we are asking that anyone who may have information on the whereabouts of David Italiano, resident of Pennsylvania, who has been seized in an unnecessary guardianship and disappeared in the system, please contact us. David has been isolated in an undisclosed location for unknown reasons.

Send info to tsrad1@outlook.com

PA, like many states, is quick to rush to guardianship vs. less restrictive ways to support a person. We have worked with many groups to find assistance to help David Italiano.

We reached out to the local Ombudsman for help but were told that there was a guardian and there was little that the Ombudsman could do.

We escalated our conversation to Margaret Barajas, the PA State Long Term Care Ombudsman.
We had multiple meetings with her that went nowhere. We met with her supervisor, PA Sec. of Aging, Mr. Robert Torres, to request his office facilitate a meeting with the guardian.

We filed complaints with the PA Office of Civil Rights but with no signed release from David, they would not act.

We had the same response from the Federal Office of Civil Rights,

We have reached out to PA State Rep Jeff Wheeland for help. Like many of the others, he would not get involved due to their being a guardian.

We contacted Senator Robert Casey’s office to request help. Both Senator Casey and his policy person for the Elderly and Disabled population, Michael Gamel-McCormick agree that the guardianship system is badly broken, there was nothing that they could offer in the way of help. Senator Casey is drafting legislation to be introduced to the 118th congress to address systemic changes that are needed to protect people from unnecessary guardianship."

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We need better data to improve Florida’s guardianship system | Column

There are glaring problems within the Florida guardianship system, and we must fix them.

 
by Ken Burke

Britney Spears supporters celebrate outside a hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles judge ended the conservatorship that has controlled Spears' life and money for nearly 14 years. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello) [ CHRIS PIZZELLO | AP ]

Ignited by the movement to free Britney Spears from her conservatorship, the issues and challenges within guardianship systems across the nation became uncharacteristically mainstream this past year. A week seldom passes without a new article highlighting the personal adversity of victims — both individuals under guardianship and their family members — who have suffered or are enduring hardships within the system.

Ken Burke
Ken Burke [ Provided ]

As Clerks of Court in Florida, we have a role in processing and auditing guardianships. The courts maintain oversight of guardianship proceedings to ensure the overall health, safety and well-being of individuals under guardianship, and clerks monitor these proceedings on behalf of the courts. As an administrative function, Clerks of Court also audit annual reporting on individuals under guardianship, which include any property submitted to the courts, and advise on the audit findings.

While most guardians work in good faith, there are far too many cases of guardians abusing their power. The most notorious example of abuse is the case of a former guardian in Central Florida named Rebecca Fierle.

Fierle oversaw hundreds of individuals who were entrusted by the court to her care. In 2019, she was arrested and charged with abuse and neglect related to the death of an individual under her guardianship for whom she had signed a Do Not Resuscitate order for without the court’s consent. It was later discovered she had collected $4 million in fees not approved by the court system and is accused of extravagantly overcharged clients for her guardianship services.

Rebecca Fierle
Rebecca Fierle 
[ Marion County jail ]

There are glaring problems within the Florida guardianship system that cause this unnecessary pain, and these challenges within the system need to be addressed. Last year, Clerks of Court and various stakeholder agencies and organizations with a direct interest or involvement with Florida’s guardianship system joined together to form the Guardianship Improvement Task Force to put forward recommendations for the Florida Legislature and Florida courts to consider as ways to improve the system. I served as the group’s chairperson.

Members drew upon their professional and personal life experiences to enrich the work of the task force, which facilitated meaningful discussion by membership and inspired passionate contributions from the public at each meeting. With the objective of providing effective feedback for the Legislature’s use prior to the 2022 session, the task force held to a quick timeline for completion. In less than four months, over the course of two in-person meetings and seven virtual meetings, we identified and discussed dozens of topics of concern involving Florida’s guardianship system.
 
Ultimately, the task force voted and agreed upon 10 specific recommendations for consideration by the Florida Legislature and Florida courts, which are elaborated on in the final report available at GuardianshipImprovementTaskForce.com.

Without question, the most significant issue this task force discussed and agreed upon was a means to improve what data is available to document problems within the guardianship system in Florida. Even basic information such as the number of people under guardianship, the number of guardians, how many cases each guardian has, how much money and property are under the control of guardians, and who the individuals are under guardianship, is not readily available.

I personally know of one egregious case where a guardian was removed from their eight guardianships in Pinellas County for misconduct, yet they were appointed to a guardianship examining committee in another circuit in the state. This happened because the judge had no way of knowing they were removed from their former role in Pinellas. Establishing a secure, transparent statewide database will help us uncover the flaws within the system, allow us to make better decisions, provide additional accountability, increase transparency, and lead to better protections for people within the guardianship system.

The recommendation for a statewide data collection system is captured in House Bill 1349 by Rep. Linda Chaney and Senate Bill 1710 by Sen. Jennifer Bradley. While we hope the other recommendations outlined in our report will lead to tangible future changes to the guardianship system, this legislation will have an immediate and substantial positive impact.

While there are many important issues for the Legislature to consider this session, few are more critical than improving protections for our most vulnerable populations. With the introduction of this bill, legislators can take the first steps in fixing Florida’s broken guardianship system. If you care about protecting individuals under guardianship and want to see Florida build a better system, I urge you to call, write or email your state senator and representative.

There’s a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “A society is judged not by how it takes care of its most gifted individuals, but those who are the most vulnerable.” The Guardianship Improvement Task Force has done a tremendous amount of legwork to get us here today, and we’ve provided a worthy roadmap for corrective action to take better care of children, seniors, and individuals with special needs. Please support this legislation because we know it will make a difference.

Ken Burke is the Pinellas County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller. He led Guardianship Improvement Task Force.

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Noted attorney's license suspended by New Mexico Supreme Court

By Phaedra Haywood

The state Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of former legislator Victor Marshall after finding he violated the judicial Code of Conduct by filing a frivolous charge, defaming a judge and engaging in conduct detrimental to the administration of justice.

“I’m sorry; I can’t talk to the press because of the court’s ruling,” Marshall, who practiced law for more than 45 years without previous sanction, said Thursday.

The Supreme Court’s ruling — announced by Chief Justice Michael Vigil following oral arguments Wednesday and formalized in writing Thursday — is in response to a motion the lawyer filed in a decadeslong dispute over water in the San Juan River basin and a related news release he sent to media.

In the motion, Marshall said a settlement in the case — which awarded more than 600,000 acre-feet of water in the basin to the Navajo Nation — should be set aside because, he alleged, now-retired Judge James Wechsler failed to disclose he had once worked for the Navajo Nation before approving the 2013 deal.

Wechsler had worked not for the Navajo Nation itself but for an outfit called DNA, a nonprofit legal aid organization, in the 1970s, according to information provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts in 2018.

Much of the discussion during oral arguments on the disciplinary action centered on the language Marshall used in his pleading.

“Our concern is not so much he made a claim that Wechsler had a conflict,” Supreme Court Justice Julie Vargas said, “but the way that he made it.”

Vargas said Marshall implied Wechsler intentionally concealed his relationship with the Navajo Nation, ignored the law and “fixed” the case in favor of his former clients.

The Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Panel stated in written findings, adopted by the court, Marshall’s conduct “was intentional and threatened serious harm to the integrity of the legal system” as well as causing a distraction and delay in the case.

Marshall’s attorney Jeff Baker told the court his client’s word choice may have been poor, but he was merely being a zealous advocate on behalf of his clients — a group of Northern New Mexico water districts — and shouldn’t be disciplined for asking for the case to be stayed while he investigated “rumors” he’d heard around the Legislature about Wechsler’s previously undisclosed relationship with the Navajo Nation.

“It all goes back to Mr. Marshall’s unfortunate use of the word ‘fixed,’ ” Baker argued. “That was too harsh of a word … but it’s not the kind of thing that ought to result in a lawyer losing his license for an indefinite period of time.”

Marshall said his words — particularly a passage in which he said the public might wonder whether Wechsler had fixed the case — were being misconstrued and he’d carefully chosen the language to comport with a rule that requires judges to disqualify themselves when their impartiality might “reasonably” be questioned.

“I do know how to accuse a judge of actually fixing a case if I wanted to,” Marshall told the court. “But I didn’t.”

The disciplinary panel disagreed, noting in written findings “an objectively reasonable person would not ‘wonder whether’ Judge Wechsler ‘fixed the case’ in favor of the Navajo Nation based upon his work as a staff attorney for DNA legal Services roughly forty-five years prior.”

The panel had originally contemplated disciplining Marshall via a public censure, according to written findings, but decided his lack of contrition warranted a harsher penalty.

“The panel has substantial concern [because (Marshall) continues to deny that he did anything improper and displays no remorse and] that [Marshall] could engage in similar conduct in the future unless [his] conduct has serious repercussions,” according to panel.

Former Foundation for Open Government executive board member Susan Boe said Thursday the group did not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We’re disappointed on both a policy level and certainly personally for Victor,” Boe said. “It’s a pretty harsh punishment.”

Marshall — who has represented The New Mexican — will be eligible to request reinstatement of his license after one year, according to the Supreme Court’s order. But he first must complete four hours of continuing education credits and take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination and pass with a score of at least 80 before doing so, according to the order.

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Warehousing disabled people in long-term care homes needs to stop. Instead, nationalize home care.

Jonathan Marchand, a 43-year-old man living with muscular dystrophy, protested in a cage near the Québec legislature, in Québec City, on Aug. 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger

The failures in both private and publicly funded long-term care (LTC) homes in Canada have led to 15,000 COVID-19 deaths. Calls to reform LTC through nationalization have become widespread, garnering support from unions, national advocacy organizations and political parties.

While LTC is often considered to be a necessary institution to support the complex medical care needs of seniors, LTC facilities are used to warehouse disabled people who require 24-hour care, regardless of age. And nationalizing LTC fails to adequately resolve the ableism of warehousing disabled people, ultimately maintaining the unjust and inadequate structures of care.

LTC is debilitating for disabled people who are forced to rely on institutionalized daily care. It is time to abolish LTC in Canada.

It’s time to dismantle and replace the LTC system with deinstitutional options that prioritize the flourishing of disabled people and meet the complex care needs of older and younger disabled people outside the confines of institutions. 

Warehousing disabled people

At the forefront of the call to abolish LTC facilities in Canada is the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, a disability-run organization based out of Hamilton that advocates for accessible and fulfilling living conditions for disabled people.

Its most recent campaign to abolish LTC seeks legislative action to deinstitutionalize the nearly 200,000 disabled people (including 260 children under the age of 18) living in LTC and begin closing all institutions with records of harm and violence.

They are also calling on leaders to support the nationalization of home care, palliative care, pharmacare and accessible housing that would give disabled younger and older people the option to choose where and how to live in the community with fully funded supports. 

The government’s ongoing reliance to confine intellectually, developmentally and physically disabled young people in LTC facilities has been met with protest by the system’s young disabled occupants who demand deinstitutionalization — like Jonathan Marchand in Québec, Vicky Levack in Nova Scotia and Tyson Sylvester in Manitoba.

In June 2018, Sylvester constructed a prison cell in downtown Winnipeg to protest the way in which the Manitoba care system “locked him out of his own life.”

Marchand similarly camped out in a makeshift cage on the lawn of Québec’s National Assembly in August 2020, and in August 2021 was able to move into his own apartment after receiving in-home support.

A woman wears a pink shirt and looks at the camera. She has purple glasses.
Vicky Levack is a spokeswoman for the Disability Rights Coalition. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Tutton

In addition to the urgent calls for change coming from young disabled people caged in LTC institutions, the deplorable living and working conditions of LTC facilities in Canada has also been well documented in over 150 scathing reports.

The scope of death recorded in LTC facilities during the pandemic is yet another marker of the system’s inability to provide the necessary care and support for its wide-ranging clients. However, the harm experienced by older and younger disabled people who continue to live in these spaces deserves action as much as condemnation.

Prisons by a different name

Nationalizing LTC, sometimes referred to as publicizing the system, would undoubtedly take profits out of LTC and may create system-wide changes to improve residents’ conditions. However, these calls ignore the fundamental character of LTC facilities as an extension of the carceral state, essentially prisons by a different name.

For example, LTC facilities frequently use carceral mechanisms of control such as the use of psychotropic medication, locking residents in their rooms and the use of physical restraints.

Residents are not able to choose what and when they eat, when they wake up or bathe, or when they can have visitors. LTC institutions seek to maximize resident surveillance and control while minimizing staffing costs.

In order to create a national home care program, workers need higher pay, job security and robust benefits. When working conditions are poor, staff shortages will occur whether due to low pay, precarious hours and physically demanding work, or because of workplace injury or illness (as with workplace COVID-19 exposure).

Staffing shortages mean that disabled people do not receive adequate or consistent care, resulting in malnutrition, dehydration or untreated bed sores. Abolishing LTC is about establishing better working and living conditions for both care workers and disabled people.

Philosopher Shelley Tremain refers to publicly owned nursing homes as the “window-dressing” of the nursing home industrial complex that “operates in the service of ableism, ageism and racism.”

It is clear that regardless of ownership — by private corporations or public agencies — the warehousing, caging and incarcerating of older and younger disabled people is an act of violence.

In Canada, solidarity is building between prison abolitionist movements and disability justice over the shared injustices of incarceration in prisons and disabled people’s institutional confinement. These movements help us build the political will necessary to move toward a world with no more LTC institutions.

We must support disabled people’s call to abolish LTC and develop a national home care, palliative care and pharmacare system that robustly funds and prioritizes disabled older and younger people’s desire to live in community.

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

AG Nessel's Elder Abuse Task Force Releases Jan. 2022 Newsletter

Agency:
Attorney General

Media contact: Lynsey Mukomel 517-599-2746
Public inquiries: 517-335-7622

January 12, 2022

LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released the Elder Abuse Task Force's latest newsletter this morning, which highlights the important work that continues to protect our elderly. 

The three-page update is now available on the Department of Attorney General's website. 

"The continued work of the Elder Abuse Task Force is bettering the lives of seniors across the state," Nessel said. "I'm proud of what this group has accomplished thus far and know their steadfast focus will lead to additional protections for our most vulnerable." 

Michigan's Elder Abuse Task Force launched in 2019 and consists of more than 55 different organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sections - all working together to combat elder abuse. 

Since the last newsletter was issued in July, the group has focused on accomplishing the Task Force's Second Set of Initiatives

The Financial Exploitation Prevention Act (FEPA) took effect Sept. 26. Its passage last year was part of the Task Force's First Set of Initiatives, while providing comprehensive training to implement the Act is part of the second set. 

The Act requires financial institutions to report suspected or detected covered financial exploitation of vulnerable adults to adult protective services or law enforcement.  FEPA also requires financial institutions to implement training for employees to recognize common types and signs of financial exploitation.  

  • subject line that states "FEPA Presentation Request"; 
  • a brief description of the professional background of potential attendees; 
  • the number of people likely to attend; 
  • potential dates and times that will work well for the group (flexibility is encouraged); and 
  • the format of the presentation (virtual presentations are recommended). 

If the group is below 50 attendees, the Department of Attorney General asks, to preserve time and resources, that the interested group allow another group to join their event upon request. 

Eligible groups include but are not limited to elder abuse coalitions, area agencies on aging, law enforcement, and financial institution professionals. 

The latest newsletter also provides an update on a bipartisan package of bills introduced in June. The legislation would implement fundamental reforms impacting guardians and conservators-individuals appointed by probate courts to act in the best interests of vulnerable individuals. It is now up to the legislature to move the bills forward. 

A recent criminal case of interest is People v. Haynes, decided August 12, 2021 (docket no. 350125). Gary Haynes' conviction came after he stole over $300,000 from a widow in her 90's while serving as her financial advisor. One of Haynes' arguments on appeal was that there was insufficient evidence that the victim was a vulnerable adult, arguing, in part, because she was mentally capable of handling her own affairs. In affirming the defendant's conviction, the Court of Appeals found that there was strong evidence by which a jury could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the victim was a vulnerable adult because she walked with a cane, needed help buying groceries, getting to appointments, doing chores around the house, and needed help paying her bills online because she was not familiar with computers. 

The case signifies why it is critical to continue to provide training to police and prosecutors on how to investigate and prosecute those who financially exploit vulnerable adults. 

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