Singer Britney Spears arrives for the premiere of Sony Pictures' "Once Upon a Time. .. in Hollywood" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. on July 22, 2019. VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
Last summer, Britney Spears stunned the public when she revealed that her father, acting as her conservator, prevented her from removing her IUD.
What shocked many people wasn't only the blatant disregard for her
right to make decisions about her body: it was that it was perfectly
legal for her conservator to take that decision away. Propped up by laws
all over the country, guardianship systems (sometimes called
conservatorships) deprive primarily disabled people from making some of
the most basic decisions about their lives.
The horrifying truth
is that Britney's experience under guardianship and its legality is just
the tip of the iceberg. Quietly embedded in legal codes across the
country, many state laws grant courts a draconian power: the power to
order disabled people to be permanently sterilized against their will.
I recently authored a new report
that exposed just how far-reaching these threats to disabled people's
reproductive rights are. The report, released by the National Women's
Law Center with contributions from the Autistic Women and Nonbinary
Network, detailed how the majority of states—31 states in addition to
Washington, D.C.—explicitly allow court-ordered sterilization of
These laws are not fossils of a bygone era. States have passed new
forced sterilization laws well into the 21st century, including two laws
passed as recently as 2019.
Under these laws, a court can order the forced sterilization of people
who—according to the judge—cannot make an informed decision for
themselves. When disabled people like me are empowered and supported, we
can make our own decisions about sterilization. But those who end up
before a judge are rarely given that support; many are not even given
the chance to try at all. Disabled people—particularly those with
intellectual and developmental disabilities, and often but not always
those under guardianship—may find themselves declared "incapacitated"
with little fanfare and as a matter of course.
What makes these laws even more insidious is that courts purportedly
order the sterilization for the disabled person's own good. The judge,
often with broad discretion, can force someone to be sterilized on the
grounds that it is in their best interest. Based on little more than
speculation and stereotypes, judges have claimed that having a baby
would be a tragic burden for a disabled person, a burden the courts are
benevolently alleviating by having them sterilized.
the surface, forced sterilization laws seem designed to protect
disabled people. These laws require a special process and a judge's
green light before the extraordinary step of forced sterilization. But
procedural safeguards do not transform a forced sterilization into a
voluntary one. They do not change the fact that these laws take the
decision out of disabled people's hands and put the state's seal of
approval over the violation of our bodies. Special procedures for forced
sterilization do little to give disabled people more control over our
futures. For that, we need large-scale reform, starting with dismantling
the guardianship system as it currently stands.
case was unusual—not because of her conservatorship or her forced IUD,
but because she had the platform to share her story, generate public
outcry and ultimately win control over her body. There are many more
people whose stories have gone unnoticed. These stories demand change.
They demand a world where no one—not a guardian, nor a judge, nor a
doctor—can force someone to be sterilized.
Geriatric ERs are game-changers in health care. Here's why older adults need them and how they have evolved.
By Nora Macaluso
A hospital's emergency department is not
always the best place for older people. The problems that bring these
patients in may be complicated or made worse by long waits, lack of food
and even some standard procedures, doctors say.
younger people generally go to the emergency department after one-time
crises, older adults more often show up because of exacerbating events
related to underlying conditions, such as a frailty-related fall or
shortness of breath due to congestive heart failure, said Dr. Ula Hwang,
professor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine and a key
researcher in geriatric emergency medicine.
"It's not like we're going to fix [the condition] and they're never going to have it again," Hwang said.
Medical centers around the country are
taking note, setting up separate emergency departments or instituting
separate policies for emergency geriatric patients. It's improving care
and saving money, and the value will become even more evident as the
population ages, hospital administrators say.
Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md. opened an acute care unit for
older patients in 2013, said Lillian Banchero, senior director for the
medical center's Institute for Healthy Aging.
these few short years, we have gone from an average age of patients of
sixty-five to an average age of eighty-five," Banchero said. "Up to a
hundred and two is not uncommon here."
A Collaborative for Change
Arundel is part of the Geriatric Emergency Department Collaborative, an
initiative designed to better serve older Americans in the emergency
department led by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP),
American Geriatrics Society, Emergency Nurses Association and Society
for Academic Emergency Medicine. It's supported by the John A. Hartford
Foundation (a funder of Next Avenue), and the Gary and Mary West Health
Yale's Hwang is also involved with the collaborative.
"Emergency room practices have changed,"
Banchero said. In the past, "it didn't matter what you had, when you
came in the door, you got IVs and a full catheter, maybe some
anti-anxiety medication," she said. "We're just not doing that anymore."
Instead, patients are evaluated individually and there's an effort to involve families and caregivers, she said.
hospital last year hired its first geriatrician, which is "a dream come
true," Banchero said. Having that person on staff "will make all the
difference," she noted.
are "few and far between," Banchero said, adding that it's important to
have someone who understands the unique needs of older adults, just as
it's important to have pediatricians to address the way children present
symptoms and deal with the stress of being in the hospital.
the years, we've developed policies, procedures and best practices
about how to care for the elderly," Banchero said. "Delirium is one
thing we've worked hard on. Up until two years ago, we weren't focused
on screening for delirium. Yet it's present in almost sixty percent of
Education Is Key
the hospital started focusing on geriatric medicine, delirious patients
were dismissed as "sundowners" (a dementia sufferer who is negatively
affected after sunset) and not treated. Now, they get early intervention
to prevent the syndrome, Banchero said.
Diversion activities keep patients occupied, preventing them from panicking or from falling as they try to get up, she added.
biggest thing we did was education," Banchero said. That includes
sending leaders to education courses and getting them certification
through programs such as Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystems Elders,
In the ER, the hospital
puts together "delirium carts" for patients, with amenities like
crossword puzzles, reading glasses, hearing amplifiers and phone
chargers — "things that enhance their stay" — Banchero said. "Somebody
comes in, they get Grandma into an ambulance, and she's forgotten her
glasses, her walker, or her charger. When they get [to the hospital],
that's what they want."
Providers are also trained to talk to patients with more of an understanding of their lives, Banchero said.
patients "have already articulated what their plan for the rest of
their life is," she said. "We need to be present and talk to the patient
about what they want," whether it's palliative care or more aggressive
For some people, the goal
might be to make it to a grandchild's wedding a week away, "so then you
change the plan of care," Banchero said.
Accredited Geriatric ERs
Arundel's Institute for Health Aging has Level 3, or bronze,
certification from the American College of Emergency Physicians, meaning
it has at least one doctor and one nurse trained in geriatric emergency
medicine, provides access to mobility aids and round-the-clock food and
drink, and has taken a "geriatric emergency care initiative" such as a
Level 1, or
gold, certification goes to hospitals with several specific policies and
procedures in place, including at least 20 age-specific protocols and
staffers dedicated to geriatric patients.
are more than 280 accredited geriatric emergency departments in 41
states and four countries, and the goal is to have 500 by the end of
2022, said Dr. Kevin Biese, chair of ACEP's geriatric accreditation
board of governors. By contrast, there are about 5,000 emergency
departments in the United States, he said.
ACEP started its accreditation program
about three years ago in response to a system that "wasn't designed
optimally for the needs of vulnerable older adults," Biese said.
idea was to standardize the guidelines and approaches hospitals were
taking to provide better care for that population. ACEP has three levels
of accreditation, each with a greater set of "best practices" for
hospitals to follow, Biese said.
health care systems are really leaning in" to the concept, he added.
Participating systems include the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic,
Northwell and academic centers including the University of California,
Administration recently announced plans to establish 70 geriatric
emergency departments by December 2022 through a partnership with ACEP,
the John A. Hartford Foundation and the West Health Institute. Nearly
half of U.S. veterans are over 65 and account for more than twice as
many emergency department visits as older adults nationwide, the VA
States are also embracing the
idea. Biese noted initiatives from New York and California: New York's
2017 Age-Friendly Health System Initiative calls for 50% of health
systems to be age-friendly within five years and includes the
establishment of age-friendly emergency rooms. California's Master Plan for Aging includes support for expanding geriatric emergency department certification.
What's more, Biese said, insurers — including Medicare — are taking note.
A study published in JAMA
Network Open in March 2021 found that Medicare beneficiaries treated by
transitional care nurses or social workers in the emergency department
cost Medicare as much as $3,000 less than those treated at hospitals
without geriatric emergency departments.
makes the health care system more sustainable," Biese said. "The
traditional emergency department does a really good job of fixing you
after you fall. The geriatric emergency department helps you not fall
Fall prevention, dementia
screening, "medication reconciliation" (putting together a list of all
the medications prescribed by a patient's various doctors) and delirium
evaluation are among the major benefits a geriatric emergency department
can provide, according to Biese.
the department doesn't diagnose dementia, staffers can provide
referrals and make sure family members or caregivers are aware of the
process, he said. Staffers are also trained to spot signs of possible elder abuse or neglect and help families cope.
geriatric emergency department can pull in specialists like social
workers, case managers and physical therapists, setting patients up with
services and releasing them safely, rather than admitting them to the
hospital where their frailties may worsen, said Hwang.
"Emergency medicine's not really geared to that," she said.
Creating a 'Senior Emergency Center'
don't have to "hire a whole new team" to set up an effective geriatric
emergency unit, though, Hwang said. Leveraging the social workers and
therapists who are already in the hospital and bringing them to the
emergency department for assessments is an "ounce of prevention" that
may allow a patient to go home earlier and avoid future hospitalization,
That's the philosophy at
Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., said Scott Graham, director
of emergency preparedness. Holy Cross' "Senior Emergency Center" is a
separate area of the emergency department with softer lighting, less
noise, slip-resistant floors and other features making the experience
less stressful for older patients, Graham said.
Doctors and nurses are trained in
geriatric care and communication and "everything is self-contained," so
patients can see what's going on and health care providers can see them,
Care managers in the
department assess patients' needs and "try to get a picture of the home"
to make sure each person is sent home with appropriate support and
potential hazards are addressed, Graham said.
a successful geriatric emergency department "doesn't happen overnight,"
Hwang said. "It takes a lot of working with the other disciplines" and
coordinating resources, she said. That's challenging at a time when
hospitals are crowded and short-staffed, she added.
think people in their own communities should know where geriatric
emergency departments are," and if one is not nearby, encourage the
local hospital to become one, Biese said.
think it's something that communities should ask for, or demand, of
their local hospitals," he said. "If you had a child at home, there's a
good chance you'd know where the pediatric emergency department was," he
added, saying the same should hold true for older adults.
As the population ages, demand for better geriatric emergency care will continue to grow, experts believe.
all need to be striving to really focus on geriatric care," Banchero
said. "This is not just something fleeting in the night. This is
According to Better
Business Bureau files, a Columbia woman reported that she hired the
contractor in 2020 to replace her roof and siding. She paid $8,000 to
the business in two installments, but the woman said the project was
abandoned after she submitted the second check.
A woman from Gravois Mills told the
Better Business Bureau she hired the company in 2019 to build a garage
and do excavation work on her property near the Lake of the Ozarks. She
paid the company $25,000, but only some excavation work was done before
the builder left and kept the down payment.
to the bureau reveal a pattern of taking payment from clients for
materials that were never delivered, failing to communicate and not
In February 2021, the bureau gave MO State Construction the lowest grade available: F. It has warned Columbia residents to avoid using Mahoney’s services because of the history of unfinished construction projects.
next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7. He is being held in the Boone
County Jail, and his bail has been set at $100,000 cash.
In this Sept. 14, 2017, file photo, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San
Diego, speaks before the Assembly in Sacramento, Calif.
By City News Service Sacramento
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — With the Britney Spears case playing out in Los
Angeles civil court, an assemblyman Wednesday introduced legislation
aimed at reforming state conservatorship laws to limit abuses of the
system and provide alternatives for conservatees.
Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, D-San Diego, says AB 1663 — The
Probate Conservatorship Reform and Supported Decision-Making Act — will
ensure probate conservatorships are used only a last resort, due to the
potential for exploitation of those the appointments are intended to
The legislation would support alternatives that provide greater
agency to conservatees, require courts to consider other alternatives
first, make conservatorships easier to end and require conservators to
make decisions "aligned with the conservatee's wishes or previously
In a statement, Maienschein said that prior to his legislative
career, he clerked for a San Diego Superior Court judge and "saw
firsthand the role that the court plays in establishing probate
conservatorships and how the system could be abused and misused."
Though state law holds that conservatorships should only be used if
they are the least restrictive alternative, Maienschein said they are
often granted without consideration of other options and with few
re-evaluations of the conservatees' ableness.
"It's time that we take action to reform the probate conservatorship
system in our state," Maienschein said. "It is reform that is long
In a statement announcing AB 1663, the assemblyman highlighted the
highly publicized case of Spears' 13-year conservatorship, which the pop
star was only recently able to have terminated.
A post-conservatorship hearing was scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles in the Spears case.
AB 1663 has garnered support from disability rights groups, as well
as the #FreeBritney movement that emerged amid reports of Spears'
efforts to end her conservatorship and allegations of wrongdoing at the
hands of her conservators.
"We started our movement for Britney Spears, but we quickly learned
that conservatorship abuse is rampant across the state of California and
beyond," said Leanne Simmons, Free Britney L.A. organizer. "The
successful termination of Britney's conservatorship helped to shine a
light on the problems with conservatorships, but there is much work to
is where Theresa Mullen’s legal troubles started during the 2016-2017
school year, when her daughters attended a Catholic school there and
while Mullen was a sitting judge. (Her judgeship ended in October 2021
after Gov. Phil Murphy did not renominate her.)
Mullen’s husband had taken legal action against St. Theresa School for
several grievances. One was to put their then 13-year-old daughter on
the boys basketball team, after there were not enough girls to form a
team. It was successful, the daughter played and the case received significant media attention.
a highly-charged confrontation in February 2017, Mullen went to the
school and refused to leave while arguing with school officials and
Kenilworth police officers - egging them on to arrest her. They did not,
but the school filed a defiant trespassing complaint.
incidents also kicked off an investigation by the state’s judicial
authorities, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC), which in
February 2021 recommended Mullen be removed from the post.
panel said Mullen abused her position in legal proceedings, violated
court orders, obstructed proceedings, and displayed a “demonstrable and
pervasive dishonesty.” Given the totality of her conduct, the panel
found “no remedy short of removal will properly safeguard the public’s
confidence in our system of justice.”
New Jersey Supreme Court filed notice in September 2021 to move forward
with Mullen’s removal, a process which is ongoing and unaffected by her
failure to be renominated, a judiciary spokesperson said Thursday.
her her Jan. 20, 2022 tort claim - a required precursor to filing a
lawsuit against a public entity in New Jersey - Mullen names former
Police Chief John Zimmerman and three officers.
the tort filing, Mullen lists a multitude of harms she says she’s
suffered, which have ruined her personal and professional lives. Mullen
says she suffered financially, starting on Oct. 22, 2021, her last day
as judge, as her salary had increased annually over the past several
also accuses Kenilworth police of functioning, “as private security
guards and who conducted police business entirely on non-recorded
Mullen herself signed the tort notice. She could not immediately be reached for comment.
administrator also could not immediately be reached, but towns
routinely do not comment on pending or forthcoming suits.
OCONEE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Financial fraud can hit anyone, but all too often seniors are targets.
In South Carolina alone, consumer analysts with Comparitech
found 3,700 cases of elder fraud in 2019, with a loss of $67 million.
And that is why SC lawmakers have recently given financial institutions
the power to protect vulnerable adults from exploitation.
Polly Fehler, in Oconee County, is the type of woman to pay off her
credit cards every month, and even make extra payments on her mortgage.
“I thought I was pretty smart to not spend any money and not being
foolish and not falling for anything and I didn’t just fall, I went down
to hell with this,” said Fehler.
It all started back in April of 2021 when the Seneca senior was on public Wi-Fi and got an alarming pop-up on her computer.
“I saw a triangle that was orange with an explanation beside it that
said computer compromised, with a phone number below,” she said.
Fehler now understands the hackers, claiming to be with Microsoft,
gained remote access to her computer under the guise of fixing the issue
for a few hundred dollars. Over the next two months, they were watching
her every move including online banking.
Then in June, they went in the for the kill.
Fehler said the bogus company had called to say they couldn’t fix her problem after all and offered a refund.
“All of these things on the screen kept flipping through. All of a
sudden, my checking account appeared, and I had $6000 in it and all of a
sudden it says $26,000. And I said how did that get there. And he said
we returned it the way you sent it,” said Fehler.
As the scam goes, they claimed to have accidentally put in too many
zeros and insisted she pay them back, telling her to wire the money
“I pay my bills, I didn’t know what else to do, and if there’s
$20,000 in an account that’s not mine, I don’t want it there,” she said.
Her bank helped her wire that money despite red flags like the destination, which was Vietnam.
It’s because of stories like Fehler’s that this past year South
Carolina lawmakers passed the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from
Financial Exploitation Act. It allows banks to halt transactions that
seem suspicious so they can be investigated.
Susan Ingles, the Senior Staff Attorney with SC Legal Service, said
she was surprised Fehler’s bank, USAA, approved the international wire
“You would hope that any institution would utilize this law to stop a transaction that looks this strange,” said Ingles.
But Ingles added that the law, which had been in effect for one month
at the time of Fehler’s wire transfer, also states banks cannot be held
accountable for scams that slip through the cracks.
USAA sent us a statement that reads in part:
“Members are informed of the fraud risk, particularly in the case
of an international wire transfer, and they are asked a series of
questions about the purpose of the transfer and the recipient in order
to help identify fraud and other criminal activity. We confirmed that
our processes were followed in this instance.”
Still, part of the problem is that scammers know banks become
suspicious and they tell their victims exactly what to say. And while
victims don’t realize why, financial institutions that see so many scams
can include this reality in their training so that employees can help
unravel the answers that scammers tell their victims to say.
The law gives financial institutions immunity from holding the
transaction if the bank acts on good faith and its decision is based on
the evidence it has at the time. Those who do halt transactions must
report it to Adult Protective Services or law enforcement to
But what about the $20,000? You may be as shocked as Fehler to learn
the funds came from her own home equity line of credit. It had a zero
balance for over a decade, but the hackers tapped into it and
transferred the money into her checking account. Now she’s on the hook.
Fehler admits she fell victim to the scam, but we also asked her if she felt her bank dropped the ball.
“Yes, I felt they should have supported me. They should have let me
know, an email, notice, or something, a call that they were approving a
$20,000 loan into this account that I didn’t use,” she said.
“I think this is a perfect example of an account that has maybe been
dormant for a long time and all of a sudden this big amount of money
should come out of this dormant account, wait a minute, let’s talk to
the customer and inquire a little more, or just go ahead and put a hold
on the account because that’s strange,” said Ingles.
Now Fehler is worried about losing her home.
“It’s devastating to have something happen like this, and that’s a lot of money,” she said.
For the last few weeks, 7NEWS has been talking with USAA about the
status of her case. We will keep you updated on whether anything
All she can do is warn others about the scam and hope financial
institutions will make full use of the new law, knowing its protections
are only as good as the systems in place to spot the red flags.
So, what are the red flags?
Impersonating a well-known company
Pressure to act fast
Requesting a wire transfer
On that last note, any caller that requests a wire transfer or
payment through some type of gift card are only looking for one thing,
money that is untraceable.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jcomp/Getty Images Plus and ENTphotography/Getty Images Plus.
Sady doesn’t remember how many times the police took her to the
hospital. They’d find her, loaded down with plastic bags, bantering with
strangers or taking off her clothes, and bring her to the ER in a spit hood.
There she would be strapped down, forcibly injected with a “booty shot”
of anti-psychotic drugs, and detained for days or weeks under
may be more familiar with the 14-year conservatorship of Britney
Spears, which was ended in November by a Los Angeles County judge. The
saga has drawn the country’s attention
to the opaque process by which Americans can be compelled to forfeit
their liberties, including choosing their own medical treatment, because
a judge has decided they are unfit to care for themselves. The
#FreeBritney movement was international news. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and
Bob Casey demanded national data on conservatorship, and journalists
told stories of abuse. Free Britney, reformers said. Free them all.
In California, however, the wind has been blowing the other way.
Prompted by the growing number of homeless people in visible mental and
physical suffering, lawmakers have been trying to make it easier, not
harder, to force residents into the state’s care. Under that
controversial process, which begins with the kinds of police-initiated
hospital stays that Sady endured, a court can appoint a guardian to
compel medical treatment, including placing a person in a locked
psychiatric unit for periods of months or years. It is the state saying:
You are unable to take care of yourself, so we are going to do it for
year Sady’s episodes started, 2016, California initiated more than
200,000 of those short-term “holds”—known as 5150s (72 hours) and 5250s
(two weeks), for their numbers in state statute. Sady’s experience was
typical in that many people are detained over and over again. That is
evidence of something that just about everyone in California agrees on:
The nation’s largest state is failing its citizens.
What to do about it is another story. Public anxiety about homelessness and mental illness
in California is at an all-time high, and the crisis at the
intersection of the two issues is particularly acute. They’re linked by
what some psychiatrists call a “never-ending loop”
in which homelessness and mental illness reinforce each other. It’s
harder for someone to take care of themselves when they don’t have a
safe, warm place to sleep every night, and it’s harder for someone to
find and keep a job and an apartment when they don’t have access to the
medication they need. Thanks to a dearth of such support, plus easy
access to drugs like alcohol, meth, and heroin, the inescapable distress
and misery on the streets of California cities has become the state’s
politicians, physicians, and homeless service providers say these
revolving-door cycles of arrest and hospitalization show that it needs
to be easier to convert short-term “holds” of disabled, homeless
Californians into long-term conservatorships.
allows us to provide the wraparound services needed to stabilize people
suffering from severe mental health and substance use issues, and help
them begin their recovery to get their lives back on track,” San
Francisco Mayor London Breed said in 2019. “Allowing them to deteriorate
on our streets when they are incapable of caring for themselves is not
rights advocates and many people with disabilities counter that
long-term conservatorship is unethical and illegal, particularly in the
absence of voluntary access to housing, medication, and drug treatment.
Susan Mizner, the director of the disability rights program at the ACLU,
that conservatorship is America’s “most extreme deprivation of civil
liberties, aside from the death penalty.” But even practically, she told
me, studies have shown that coerced treatment is not better than
voluntary treatment. “We haven’t provided them the support. If we’d
spent six months saying, ‘Here’s housing, here’s support,’ and that has
failed? Then we can discuss.”
Sady has her bipolar disorder under control now, thanks to regular
access to medication in her Oakland neighborhood. But she did not mince
words when she talked about the state’s psychiatric “holds” that kept
her confined in the hospital for days on end. “I would not wish it on my
worst enemy,” she said.
Britney’s conservatorship was in a different category from the more
common procedure for Californians suffering from a “grave disability” or
deemed to be a danger to themselves or those around them. Spears was
under a “probate conservatorship,” a court-mediated arrangement begun
and managed by family for someone thought to be unable to handle their
own affairs. Conservatorship under California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short
Act, by contrast, often starts with short-term psychiatric holds
initiated by police but must be ultimately initiated by a county judge.
however, the questions are not so far apart. When does a person lose
their right to care for themselves? At one time, it took as little as a
parent’s affidavit to have a kid committed for life. The enduring
document of midcentury America’s approach to mental health is Ken
Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,
which depicts an asylum of abusive authority figures and patients with
varying degrees of mental divergence. In California, reformer Frank
Lanterman recalled in 1982, the average court hearing for committing a person to a psychiatric institution lasted five minutes.
backlash to that system came to California in 1967 with the
Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which established the process of short- and
long-term holds as a precursor to eventual conservatorship for people
who are “gravely disabled.” Its civil rights protections were a direct
reaction to what had come before, and part of the national trend of
“deinstitutionalization” that diminished the size and importance of
state mental hospitals.
advocates hoped state asylums would be replaced by community facilities
where patients could get more flexible treatment, but budget cuts and a shift toward the private sector
meant that the per capita number of long-term beds for psychiatric care
plummeted from its midcentury high and never recovered. Instead of a
victory for civil liberties and community care, deinstitutionalization
came to be associated with the withdrawal of public aid.
In a landmark study of the NYC homeless
in 1983, the sociologist Frank Lipton declared the movement a failure:
“We should not continue to deceive ourselves that we have
deinstitutionalized these patients; rather, we have created a new
institution—an asylum without walls in which the homeless psychiatric
patient is disgracefully abandoned to meander like a vagabond.”
Fifty years after LPS, the pendulum has swung back. Jocelyn Wiener, a journalist with CalMatters, has written a series of heartbreaking stories
on families’ fruitless quest to get the state to take responsibility
for its disabled citizens. One of her subjects is a man named Mark
Rippee, who received a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident
decades ago and is now homeless. Unable to have him conserved—entrusting
his care to a public guardian—his sisters rely on a 2,000-person
Facebook group devoted to keeping them aware of his whereabouts.
Elsewhere, parents are forced to call 911 on their own children and
exaggerate their conditions to persuade police, hospitals, and courts to
bring them into the system.
2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that was supposed to ease the path
to conservatorship in the state’s largest cities, where homelessness
has both exacerbated mental illness and made it highly visible. In the
three years since, San Francisco has used its new authority to conserve
just two people. Advocates always knew the bill would target a
relatively small number of people with serious problems, among the
larger homeless population. But not that small.
is a gross dereliction of civic duty,” says Rafael Mandelman, a San
Francisco supervisor, of what he sees on the streets of his city. “We
are not conserving a whole bunch of people who we should.”
Conservatorship is personal to him:
His mother suffered from psychosis and spent time homeless before
ending up conserved. “It left me with a real impatience for people
unwilling to acknowledge that we have folks who need that higher level
of care,” he said. “I have confidence that we’ll expand [conservatorship
law]. It will take more than a decade for reform, and thousands of
people will go without the help they need.”
Mandelman argues that San Francisco General’s many repeat customers—during one four-month period, nine people visited the psych ER 168 times—are
evidence that long-term conservatorships are too hard to establish: “If
interactions with law enforcement are traumatizing, and I have no doubt
they are, they’re being subjected to constant trauma—the worst things
you’d be concerned about with involuntary treatment, without any of the
benefits.” (Or possibly even worse: As state Sen. Scott Wiener, who
sponsored the 2019 conservatorship measure, put it a few years ago, “We
do have a very large conservatorship program in California—it’s called
does the state’s program fall short? One of the experts on California’s
conservatorship is the sociologist Alex V. Barnard, who teaches at New
York University. Barnard has spent years talking to people up and down
the conservatorship chain, and his report on the subject
is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the byzantine
process that ends with involuntary medical treatment in a locked bed.
answer is a predictable one: A lack of resources shapes
decision-making, from crowded long-term care institutions to overworked
public guardians to frenetic hospital emergency rooms to worried
parents. Many on the pro-conservatorship side want to lower the bar for
what constitutes a “grave disability.” And it’s true, Barnard said, that
the bar can be very high: “In some counties, if you can open a water
bottle, if you can pitch a tent, if you are able to get a sandwich to
your mouth, you’re not getting conserved.”
it’s not judges, for the most part, who are rejecting conservatorship
candidates. Rather, this winnowing is the function of a highly stressed
system, Barnard observed, in which a strained supply of long-term care
beds pushes nondecisions down the chain. “The placement tail ultimately
wags the conservatorship dog,” he writes.
The court knows the public guardian will have nowhere to put a conserved
man. The hospital, facing pressure from the insurance company, puts
that man back on the streets instead of sending him to court. The police
will have foreseen all this and will not bother to take the man into
the hospital, and a worried neighbor who knows the drill won’t make a
call. There is no oversight, and no one person or agency that has
responsibility for the system from start to finish. And so the revolving
door of psychiatric holds spins on.
of conservatorship say politicians and public health officials are
leaping to implement an extreme solution because they have failed to
provide more fundamental services. “People are taken away from their
home, their community, and their support system, and that’s another form
of displacement happening alongside the eviction crisis,” said Raia
Small, an organizer with Senior and Disability Action in San Francisco.
How much of this debate would be superfluous had the state properly
addressed people’s need for housing, psychiatric care, and drug
treatment years ago? Or if it did so tomorrow?
anti-conservatorship advocates also express concerns about the quality
of care in the private institutions whose beds house conserved patients.
They point to a 2020 California audit
of Lanterman-Petris-Short, which concluded that the problem was not a
reluctance to conserve, but a broken and underfunded system. The number
of facilities with inpatient psychiatric beds has fallen by 20 percent since 1995, even as the state’s population has increased.
the most vehement arguments in favor of conservatorship make it seem
like a tactic to institutionalize the homeless for the crime of being
unable to afford an apartment. “If homeless people will not voluntarily
walk through the many doors open to assist them, it’s time to drag them
in,” Robert Austin, a retired lieutenant with the Sacramento Police
Department, wrote in 2020.
hard to dispute that California has failed to offer some pretty basic
aid to people living on the street, from a safe, warm place to sleep to
food itself. But those who work most closely with mentally disabled
homeless people say that failure is many years in the making, almost
intractable. “We need an extreme step right now if we truly care about
the 70,000-plus people suffering the devastation and death of
homelessness,” said Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission on Los
Angeles’ Skid Row, the 54-block area that is home to one of the largest
concentrations of homeless people in the world. (The most recent survey
of Los Angeles County, from nearly two years ago, counted more than
66,400 homeless individuals.) Bales said: “That anti-conservatorship
argument seems like a smoke screen. It’s not talking about where do we
go from here. It’s easy to say, ‘Well, if we would have done it right
from the beginning … ’ ”
other words, affordable housing and accessible health care might indeed
have kept many people off the path toward conservatorship. But that’s
not the path we took. And here we are, said Bales, with tens of
thousands of people living on the streets of Los Angeles, a number that
is growing even as four of them die every day.
applaud the Iowa State Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing Senate
File 522. This important legislation would create a criminal offense of
"financial exploitation against an older individual" and would treat
assault or theft against older Iowans as serious crimes. Elder abuse
takes many forms, but financial exploitation is most prevalent.
are sometimes strangers, but abusers are more often known and trusted,
including family members. Please join forces with law enforcement,
financial institutions and long-term care associations.
send a note to your state legislator to support legislation to impose
criminal sanctions for financial exploitation against older individuals,
something Iowa lacks.
keep the momentum on this important legislation. This is a nonpartisan
issue. We can work together to protect our most vulnerable Iowans.
People with disabilities deserve to decide where they live, who they love, who their friends are, and what kind of life they want.
A Supported Decision-Making Law will let people with disabilities choose, and keeps loved ones involved.
People with disabilities deserve more options to get the help they need with making decisions and carrying out tasks.
When people with disabilities need support with decisions like choosing where to live or deciding how to spend their money, there are few options. This leads to overuse of guardianship and guardian advocacy, two laws that allow a person's rights to be taken away and given to someone else to exercise for them.
Jamie Spears, father of singer Britney Spears, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, left, and Britney Spears arrives at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas in 2015. (Associated Press)
By Nardine Saad
Britney Spears’ conservatorship is over, but the legal proceedings in
its wake have continued. And they’re getting even more contentious.
Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny granted a motion Wednesday to
seal the termination plan of the singer’s nearly 14-year
conservatorship to protect her “right to privacy over her private
medical information.” Penny also rejected Spears’ father’s request to
reserve funds in the conservatorship, according to court documents
reviewed Thursday by The Times.
Those decisions were made during a
heated hearing discussing finances and accounting, as well as requests
made by several former attorneys to collect legal fees incurred.
Going into the hearing Wednesday, the entertainer’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who was instrumental in ending her conservatorship in November, rejected the notion that Spears should pay her father Jamie Spears’ estimated $30 million in legal bills
while he served as her conservator. Rosengart also fervently shut down
Jamie’s attorney’s suggestion to have the entertainer’s medical records
In court filings, Rosengart fired off a litany of objections to Jamie
Spears’ requests, accusing him of financial misconduct and other
improprieties such as reading his 40-year-old daughter’s therapy notes
and privileged communications with her lawyers.
continued in the courtroom Wednesday when the attorneys squabbled over
purported “lies” that they believe shaped public opinion about the case.
Jamie Spears’ attorney, Alex M. Weingarten, accused Rosengart of planting fake stories in the media, Variety reported, an allegation that Rosengart vehemently denied.
Rosengart reportedly asked that Weingarten be admonished: “He
has attacked me. He has attacked this court. And it is intolerable,”
Indeed, much of the “... Baby One More Time” hit-maker’s case
had been shrouded in mystery, but the singer finally spoke up and
asserted last summer that she felt constrained and abused under the
legal arrangement, which long controlled her day-to-day activities, as
well as her finances, for nearly 14 years before it was terminated.
in court Wednesday reportedly contended that the conservatorship was
put into place because the singer “was irresponsible with her finances.”
But Penny shut down that declaration, reportedly saying: “Please, let’s
not go there. Let’s not go down that road.”
The process of
closing the case still seems far from over. Rosengart has asked for an
evidentiary hearing on accounting to be scheduled, and new court dates
are to be set for issues involving the singer’s management, Tri Star
Sports & Entertainment Group, and other parties.
major hearing in the case has been set for July 27. Others have been
scheduled for March 16, April 1 and Dec. 2, according to court records.
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, attorneys for Jamie Spears and ex-wife
Lynne Spears filed petitions for payment of attorney fees. Jamie
Spears’ legal team had argued that his daughter’s estate should pay for
his legal expenses in order to ensure that the conservatorship is
closed out properly and because Jamie had engaged in no wrongdoing.
in a 256-page objection to Jamie Spears’ request filed this week,
Rosengart accused Jamie Spears of offenses such as “abuse to conflicts
of interest, financial mismanagement and corruption of the
conservatorship to implicating state and federal criminal law.”
Spears, the longtime former conservator of the singer’s lucrative
estate, allegedly paid almost $6 million from Britney’s estate to the
Black Box Security firm, which obtained private phone records for
Britney’s mother and others, the New York Times reported.
also confirmed media reports that Jamie hired Black Box Security to
monitor Britney’s phone, including her communications with her lawyer,
secretly recorded her in her bedroom and obtained GPS “ping data” to
track the locations of people close to the singer, the court documents
Additionally, a declaration filed for Kroll forensic investigator
Sherine Ebadi — a former FBI agent retained by the singer’s legal team —
corroborated the bombshell allegations made in an FX documentary
that Jamie Spears illegally surveilled his daughter and concluded that
he could be subject to criminal prosecution. The investigation also
identified several instances in which Jamie Spears engaged in financial
misconduct, self-dealing and mismanagement as conservator.
court Wednesday, Rosengart said that the investigation yielded “strong
evidence” that Jamie Spears was involved in “very intense and
potentially illegal” surveillance of the performer.
conservatorship case has not only shed light on Britney Spears’ legal
arrangement but broader issues revolving around conservatorships as a
whole. On Wednesday, disability rights groups and members of the viral
#FreeBritney Los Angeles chapter joined California Assembly Member Brian
Maienschein to promote legislation they say will prioritize less restrictive alternatives to conservatorships and establish greater protections for conservatees.
Wednesday’s hearing also took place amid an escalating media feud between Britney and her younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears.
Rosengart sent a cease-and-desist letter to Jamie Lynn, 30, on Monday
threatening legal action if she continues to speak about Britney while
promoting her new book, “Things I Should Have Said.”
The sisters have been trading barbs all week on social media, with Britney lashing out at her sister for publicly discussing their lives and the conservatorship before Britney has had a chance to. (Last week, the Sun reported that Spears might be in talks with Oprah Winfrey for a sit-down interview.)
letter calls the book “ill-timed” and accuses Jamie Lynn of making
“misleading or outrageous claims” about Britney. The letter also demands
that Jamie Lynn “cease and desist from referencing Britney
derogatorily” during her promotional campaign. If she fails to do so or
defames the singer, “Britney will be forced to consider and take all
appropriate legal action.”
“Britney has not read and does not
intend to read your book, she and millions of her fans were shocked to
see how you have exploited her for monetary gain. She will not tolerate
it, nor should she,” reads the letter, which was obtained by TMZ and Page Six.
Woven into his odd, chatty Yelp reviews of restaurants, stores and services, 22-year-old Aspie Marcus Katz chronicles in vivid detail how, after the death of his doting mother, he is railroaded by the Los Angeles probate court into an abusive conservatorship.
When his bullying conservator tries to warehouse him in a run-down, dead-end group home, intending to drain his inheritance, Marcus runs away to Oregon, pursued by his conservator, on a risky, ill-advised road trip to meet up with fellow Aspie Durinda, a devoted fan of his now viral Yelp reviews.
She lives with others also on the autism spectrum on a collective farm in rural Oregon. It is here that Marcus hopes to make a stand and finally take control of his life.
A REMINDER THAT THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF COURT-APPOINTED GUARDIAN CASES
IN MASSACHUSETTS EACH YEAR, WHERE INDIVIDUALS ARE STRIPPED OF THEIR
by Michelle Malkin
Thanks to Britney Spears’ court battles over her hard-earned fortune,
more Americans than ever before are learning about how predatory
lawyers, judges, doctors, conservators and guardians collaborate to
defraud and destroy the lives of innocent victims.
The 39-year-old Spears went public last week with her 13-year-long
struggle against her father and court-appointed guardian Jamie Spears —
who reportedly wrested legal control over her work schedule, dating
partners, ability to have children, psychiatric medications, vacations
and even, according to one court document, what color she was allowed to
choose for her kitchen cabinets. Britney Spears is not alone. A recent
Netflix movie called “I Care a Lot” depicted similar scams on a grand
scale. But the probate abuse racket is not just the stuff of Hollywood
nightmares. Estates large and small are fleeced every day in this
country through a cruel legal process summed up by Boston Broadside
investigative reporter Lonnie Brennan: “isolate, medicate, liquidate.”
Last week, I noted how the family of singer Nina Simone had blown the
whistle on former California Democrat Attorney General and now-Vice
President Kamala Harris’ role in an alleged probate abuse conspiracy
that they are still fighting to this day. The veep’s office did not
respond to my request for comment. Politicians in both parties have
shown disturbing bipartisan apathy toward elderly targets and their
Take the case of Oklahoma GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt. In August 2019, Texas
realtor Tonya Parks wrote Stitt, then-state Attorney General Mike
Hunter, U.S. Sen. James Lankford and the FBI requesting an investigation
into judicial corruption related to her late grandmother’s probate case
in the Sooner State.
Backed up by a sheaf of corroborating exhibits, Parks alleged that
the attorney for the estate, Roe Simmons, “lied to the court and told
the court that my grandmother’s house had been sold for ten thousand
dollars, when in truth it was sold for ($)16,000, presold for ($)35,000 …
and re-sold for ($)115,000, without prior approval from the court, and
without my mother (an heir) receiving proper notice.” Parks called the
transaction, which occurred at the attorney’s office, a “fictitious
sale” that amounted to “mortgage fraud.” Her family learned that former
Oklahoma County Judge Timothy Henderson intervened in the case by
holding a private ex parte meeting with Simmons, who had previously
sponsored a campaign fundraiser for Henderson. (In March, Henderson
abruptly resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations involving female
Oklahoma County prosecutors.)
Parks also provided Stitt and other top elected officials the
transcript of her phone call with a sheriff’s deputy confirming that
Henderson directed the sheriff’s office to draft a trumped-up
misdemeanor criminal charge against her elderly father for “threatening”
Simmons in retaliation for her father having exposed “fraud” and
“embezzlement” regarding the sale of Parks’ deceased grandmother’s house
and personal property. Shockingly, Parks pointed out, the phone call
revealed that it was “commonplace” for Oklahoma judges and sheriffs to
engage in “improper collusion” to cook up criminal charges against
Oklahoma GOP State Rep. Justin Humphrey has been investigating
alleged corruption in Oklahoma County and wrote Stitt on June 2 about a
“very likely pattern of judicial and court abuse in these cases.” He
informed Stitt about the manufactured arrest of former Oklahoma attorney
Alex Bednar for allegedly failing to appear in court in a foreclosure
case. “Court documents clearly show his case was not set on the date he
is accused of failing to appear,” Humphrey found. “It also seems
abundantly clear that court documents have been altered to cover up a
wrongful arrest” after Bednar blew the whistle on disgraced Henderson’s
“judicial misconduct and improper sexual misconduct with a district
Furthermore, Humphrey informed Stitt: “It appears this judge met with
the bar association, and may very well have coordinated inappropriate
activity to affect Mr. Bednar’s law license.” Bednar had previously
written Stitt in March on his knowledge of district attorneys who have
“regularly texted judges in Oklahoma County” ex parte, “abusing their
position at the courthouse to influence the outcome of litigation.”
This is the tip of a Corrupt-a-Homa iceberg. Longtime readers of this
column will recall that Henderson was also the judge at the center of
illegal ex parte “secret hearings” in the wrongful conviction case of
former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. Once again,
Oklahoma elites perpetuate injustice in the name of justice. It’s time
for outside intervention.
Will Stitt do the right thing? I’ve reached out to his office for
comment. Perhaps he’ll get back to me before Kamala Harris does. Stay
This column is the second in a series of columns on probate
predators. Michelle Malkin’s email address is