Saturday, April 2, 2022

Why did Amanda Bynes need a conservator?

Britney Spears & Amanda Bynes are the current best-known references of conservatorships, but, are there more celebrities under the regime of a conservator? Also, it’s important to question if this is a fair way to rescue someone from a personal crisis, or if there’s a legal way to make sure conservators won’t be abusive. Let’s keep in mind what happened to Britney with her conservator, which was her own father. 

In the end, celebrities are always exposed to being victims of media assault, and this should be talked about along with celebrating Bynes & Spears’s freedom. It must be overwhelming having so much talent & wealth and not being able to fully enjoy the fruits of labor due to social pressure & substance abuse. These two factors are the usual reasons celebrities get under a conservatorship.  

The number of either overdosed or suicide celebrities is astonishing. However, unlike the 90s when all eyes were posed over T.V. celebrities, this is the era of mediation & visibility. Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes, that future is now, just think of how easy it is to make a  TikTok go viral. However, we’re now collectively sensitizing ourselves to deal with visibility.   

What are conservatorships for? 

A conservatorship is a court case where a person or organization has a legal responsibility to someone else. The “conservator” cares for a “conservatee” which is another adult who for some reason, cannot take care of themself or manage their finances. This is a convenient way to protect people with different mental abilities, however, there are other situations that can make someone unable to self-decide. 

Even though the situation is officially managed by a judge, several ethical debates can appear when a conservatorship is decided. A lot of people wonder why Amy Winehouse wasn’t under a regime like this, and if having a conservator would’ve changed her destiny. In fact, Winehouse’s parents have been questioned about it and said that even though they didn’t control her finances, they did put effort into her.

After Jamie Spears became Britney Spears’s conservator in 2008, Lindsay Lohan’s father tried to do the same, but her siblings disagreed with the arrangement. In 2013, Lohan admitted being an addict to Oprah, however, she also mentioned a lot of situations were going on with her family. This shows how complex conservatorships can be, and the way family is not always the best option to care for you. 

Just recently, former actress Amanda Bynes went out of a nine years conservatorship. According to the media, her mother Lynn, now former conservator, was supportive of Bynes’s decision to terminate this condition, due to her recovery process. Yet, why did Amanda Bynes end up under a conservatorship? 

Why was Amanda Bynes under conservatorship?

While people remember Britney’s shaved head when thinking of her hardest time, with Amanda Bynes things are blurry. Looking at a before and after picture of her might give some clues about her having a rocky time, in fact, Bynes started working on her appearance after starting the liberation process. Her recently reopened Instagram shows her tattoo removal. 

But something stronger than a face tattoo & substance abuse had to happen for someone to end up under a conservatorship at twenty-seven. Well, Bynes almost killed a dog and a stranger. She started a fire in someone’s garage and almost set her dog on fire, apparently she only poured gasoline over it. Fortunately, she didn’t kill anyone.

After these events, her mother declared to the court that Bynes was dangerous to people, property, and herself. Also, Amanda’s parents started to fear for her daughter who started getting unnecessary & expensive plastic surgery and spent her entire net worth on it

Nonetheless, time has gone by and Bynes has transformed into another person with the full support of her family & fiance. Hopefully, this new era will bring Bynes the peace & happiness she couldn’t find before. 

Full Article & Source:

South Whitehall attorney sentenced to prison for stealing $500,000 settlement from father of man killed in drunken-driving crash

By Peter Hall

A disbarred South Whitehall Township attorney was sentenced to prison Tuesday for stealing more than $500,000 from a client who hired him to pursue an insurance settlement on behalf of his dead son’s estate.

A Lehigh County jury convicted Glenn D. McGogney in February of theft by deception for concealing the settlement from his client for more than five years and keeping a third of the money as an attorney fee. Another lawyer uncovered the theft.

McGogney, who was disbarred in 2012 for misleading a partner in a failed Bucks County strip club venture, also pleaded guilty Tuesday to forgery for doctoring a document presented as evidence in his disbarment hearing and no contest to a charge that he falsified a receipt stating that he had paid $52,000 in estate taxes on behalf of his sister-in-law when he had kept the money for himself.

McGogney was sentenced to two to five years in the theft case and two years of probation in the forgery and falsified receipt cases. With the benefit of a program for first-time offenders, McGogney could be released from prison in 18 months, his attorney, Gavin Holihan said. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office filed the charges in all three cases.

“It doesn’t appear to represent the finest hour for the legal profession,” Holihan said.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement that lawyers take an oath to serve the best interests of their clients, to act ethically and to follow the law.

“Mr. McGogney swindled his victim out of more than $500,000 of their hard-earned money. As a result of this conviction, he has been held accountable, and will never again be able steal from his clients,” Shapiro said.

The sentencing Tuesday is the culmination of legal difficulties that began 14 years ago with McGogney’s efforts to save a foundering Milford Township strip club, Coyotes Show Club, by bringing in investors.

One was John Sibley, who needed $50,000 to repay a partner who had pulled out of a land development deal. According to court records, McGogney persuaded him to mortgage the equity in the land Sibley and the partner had planned to develop and invest the money in McGogney’s club. Sibley said he believed that McGogney represented him in the transaction because McGogney prepared the mortgage papers. Sibley later learned that there were liens on the property and that it had been listed for sheriff’s sale just days after he signed the mortgage papers.

Sibley sued McGogney alleging breach of contract and fraud and reported him to the Pennsylvania office of disciplinary counsel, which prosecutes misconduct allegations against attorneys. In a hearing, McGogney presented as evidence a document purporting to show that Sibley understood that McGogney represented the strip club and not Sibley.

Sibley testified that he had never seen the document and said he believed that his signature had been “cut and pasted” from another document. A forensic document examiner later determined that Sibley’s signature had been copied from another document, court documents say.

In the theft case, George Fetchko of Northampton hired McGogney to represent his son’s estate after Nicholas Fetchko was killed in a drunken driving crash in 2010. Over the next five years, George Fetchko inquired of McGogney about a settlement with Erie Insurance over his son’s death but received only excuses about the settlement being delayed, court documents say.

In 2015, George Fetchko hired another attorney who obtained court documents showing that Erie had settled the case in 2011 for $510,000. McGogney later handed over about $330,000 of the settlement proceeds but kept one-third for himself as an attorney fee, court documents say. In addition to his prison sentence, McGogney was ordered to repay more than $170,000 in restitution.

The attorney general’s office also investigated after a Delaware County attorney told an agent that McGogney assisted his client, McGogney’s sister-in-law Carole Knopf, with her husband’s estate following his death in 2014. Although McGogney had been disbarred, he represented Knopf on a pro bono basis, court records say.

In the course of settling the estate, McGogney told Knopf that she needed to pay $52,000 in inheritance taxes to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. Knopf wrote a personal check for the amount and gave it to McGogney to remit to the state through the Lehigh County register of wills.

When Knopf hired the Delaware County attorney to file her taxes in 2015, the attorney contacted McGogney for records from the estate needed to complete the tax returns. He wrote to McGogney that the register of wills had no record of the estate and had not received an inheritance tax return.

The lawyer later received a fax from McGogney with a copy of an inheritance tax receipt. When the lawyer sent a copy of the receipt to the register of wills for confirmation, the Lehigh County solicitor’s office informed him that there was no record of the inheritance tax payment being made and that the receipt number on the receipt McGogney provided corresponded to another person’s estate.

The cases were prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Kirsten E. Heine.

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Betty Reid Soskin, Oldest National Park Service Ranger, Retires At 100

By Hilary Hanson 

The National Park Service’s oldest active ranger has announced her retirement at the age of 100.

Betty Reid Soskin’s last day was Thursday at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, where she led programs with the public and shared her own experiences from the war with visitors.

“Being a primary source in the sharing of that history — my history — and giving shape to a new national park has been exciting and fulfilling,” Soskin said in a statement from the National Park Service. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”

Betty Reid Soskin in 2016.
Betty Reid Soskin in 2016.
AP Photo/Ben Margot

Soskin was born in Detroit in 1921, and her Cajun-Creole family moved to Louisiana when she was a child. They moved again, to California, after being displaced along with hundreds of thousands of others by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

During World War II, she faced discrimination working for the U.S. Air Force before going on to work as a file clerk in a segregated union auxiliary. In 1945, she and then-husband Mel Reid opened Reid’s Records, a Berkeley music store that became an institution and, when it closed in 2019, was the oldest record store in the state.

She was a political staffer at the local and state levels, and in the early 2000s, started helping develop plans for the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, which opened in 2001 to honor the working women of World War II. She got more and more involved with the park, and by 2011, she was a permanent NPS employee.

Soskin has been a devoted advocate for making sure that Black women’s experiences are included in the history the park commemorates. She’s also said she hoped that seeing her could inspire girls of color.

“I still love this uniform,” she told the “Today Show” in 2015. “Partly because there’s a silent message to every little girl of color that I pass on the street or in an elevator or on an escalator ... that there’s a career choice she may have never thought of.”

The park plans to hold a celebration of Soskin’s retirement in April.

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Friday, April 1, 2022

House lawmakers target embattled Office of Public Guardianship, reject funding for expansion


The Colorado Office of Public Guardianship sits inside a building on the southwest corner of East Mexico Avenue and South Colorado Boulevard on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Denver, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

Problems with the state's Office of Public Guardianship, as reported by Colorado Politics last month, led state House lawmakers Wednesday to halt the program's expansion. 

The decision to keep the program from expanding occurred during the debate in the legislature over the proposed 2022-23 state budget. 

Democratic Reps. Meg Froelich of Greenwood Village and Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County, and Rep. Stephanie Luck, R-Penrose, persuaded their colleagues to support an amendment to eliminate $1.5 million in cash funds from the next fiscal year's budget– money the Office of Public Guardianship sought to allow it to expand into two more judicial districts.

Lawmakers initially rejected the amendment on a voice vote, but later voted in favor of it on a bipartisan 35-29 vote.

Legislation in 2017 and again in 2019 authorized the guardianship office to run a three-district pilot program to provide guardianship to indigent and elderly Coloradans who have no one else to care for them. Currently, the program is operating in the 2nd Judicial District, which covers Denver.

The office, housed in Colorado's Judicial Department, is under scrutiny from policymakers who created it following warehousing in hospitals of elderly people who had no one to look after them. Alarmed by the deaths, Gov. Jared Polis earlier indicated he would seek more oversight of the Office of Public Guardianship, which, as legislators noted, began with the best of intentions but is beset with problems, precisely because it is dealing with a population that faces grave socio-economic, and acute care and behavioral health challenges.

The overarching question before legislators is whether to expand the pilot program or scuttle it, although the sentiment at the Capitol appears to favor continuing its work, at the very least.

In the program's first 14 months, 14 out of the 86 clients assigned to the office have died. With nearly two years under its belt, the office faces criticism in how it operates and monitors its guardians from one of its biggest backers and its primary source for client referrals – Denver Health, which has raised questions about the program's efficacy and professionalism

Despite those concerns, the Joint Budget Committee, on a 4-2 vote, approved a funding boost for the office in the upcoming year budget to allow it to expand into two more judicial districts – in LaJunta and Montrose. 

Froelich, who has been critical of the program, told the House Wednesday the office serves an incredible need and noted testimony from Denver Health representative during a January SMART Act hearing that the health system does not want to live in a world without public guardianship but it also "does not want to live in a world where our office of public guardianship is ineffective.” 

The office already receives $1.2 million in court fees to fund its operation, but there are big questions about the program, notably surrounding the death of 14 of its wards.

"There's a lack of transparency and lack of responsiveness," Froelich said. 

The office currently has seven full-time employees and the funding increase it would receive in next year's budget would allow for the hiring of another four, including a deputy director, said Benavidez, who questioned why a staff of 11 needs a deputy director and an executive director. She also pointed out that the additional funding is only for a short time – until January 2023 and suggested to colleagues waiting for the office's required report, which is also due in January next year, before deciding to expand or nix the program.   

At a minimum, the report must quantify the unmet need for public guardianship and the average cost, Benavidez said.

So far, 80 individuals have been clients of the office at a cost of $5,000 per client, she estimated, adding, the office is "supposed to tell us" whether it should be a state agency or a non-profit entity.

"I'm not ready to say this is the best way to move forward... and why would we want to continue to put money in this program?" Benavidez said.

Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Colorado Springs, who was among the sponsors of the 2019 legislation, told the House the additional funding would put the program on track to serve rural Coloradans.

"It's had some troubles getting off the ground but is doing excellent work now," Snyder said. "We need to keep the momentum going."

Regardless of what's going on with the office, the pilot's scope was supposed to be narrow, and lawmakers need to ask whether it's working before expanding it, said Luck, a Penrose Republican.

"if we can limit the scope and make sure it's being effective, that's a better way forward," she said.

"We cannot show whether the program is working properly," Luck added, noting an allegation by Denver Health that it had to escort the program's guardians out of hospital premises for unprofessional conduct. OPG Executive Director Sophia Alvarez said she accepts “full responsibility for addressing any instances of unprofessional behavior once I have been provided with appropriate details.” 

Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, said eight people are waiting for a guardian at Denver Health, and they will stay there until a guardian becomes available. Because OPG isn't adequately funded, they cannot be responsive to those needs and isn't prepared to expand, Lontine said, adding, "I know there is unhappiness with the effectiveness of the pilot."  

Benavidez countered that Denver judicial district is still being served by the program, and the amendment only opposes expansion into the other two districts.

"We need to evaluate this program before it expands," she said. "It's not prudent to hire people for an expansion we could decide next year we don't want." 

Benavidez also cited remarks by Alvarez on the deaths of wards. Alvarez had told Colorado Politics that she had no reason to disclose the 14 deaths during the January meeting with lawmakers.

Joint Budget Committee Chair Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, asked colleagues to vote down the amendment, saying the guardianship office has no direct responsibility for medical care for its clients and noted that the latter are either indigent, elderly or medically frail. 

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Former Bay County attorney disbarred

In 2018, a Bay County jury found Greg Wilson guilty of introducing contraband into the jail and for perjury.(WJHG)

By WJHG Newsroom

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred a former Bay County attorney who was found guilty of introducing contraband into the jail.

In 2018, a Bay County jury found Greg Wilson guilty of introducing contraband into the jail and perjury.

Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court released a list of attorneys who were disciplined, and Wilson was on the list. He is one of four attorneys who were disbarred between February 24th and March 28th.

The summary reads, “Gregory Thomas Wilson, Panama City, disbarred effective nunc pro tunc to Oct. 27, 2018, the date of his suspension following a Jan. 27 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2003) Wilson was felony suspended on Oct. 27, 2018, for one felony count of possession of contraband at a county detention facility and a second count of misdemeanor perjury. (Case No: SC21-1567)”

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Former Bay County attorney disbarred 

This 101-year-old man finally received his high school diploma

 By Zoe Sottile

A 101-year-old Storer College attendee, Merrill Pittman Cooper, has been awarded an honorary diploma.

After waiting more than 80 years, Merrill Pittman Cooper finally received his high school diploma.

Cooper, 101, attended Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, from 1934 to 1938, but dropped out during his senior year when his family relocated to Philadelphia for financial reasons, Jefferson County Schools said in a statement.

Storer College was established in 1865 to serve newly freed slaves in the wake of the Civil War, according to the US National Park Service. The school was one of the only educational resources for Black residents of West Virginia. It served more than 7,000 students before closing in the mid-1950s. At the college, Cooper studied Latin, biology, history, English, and mathematics. 

In 2018, after a long and accomplished career in the transportation industry, Cooper visited the school, which is now part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. There, he expressed to family members his regret over not earning a diploma.  

To help him realize his dream, his family reached out to park staff, who worked with local, regional and state partners to honor the centenarian with a ceremony and diploma on March 19.

Jefferson County Schools, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Storer College National Alumni Association, and the West Virginia Department of Education were all involved.

“Jefferson County Schools is committed to helping every student, young or old, fulfill their dreams,” Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn, the school system’s superintendent, said in the JCS statement.

“For Mr. Cooper, that meant receiving a high school diploma. We are honored to help make that dream a reality.” 

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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Netflix Faces Defamation Suit for Documentary on Alleged Guardianship Abuse

The episode reported on the guardianship system in general and on two cases in particular.

Netflix Inc. and a prominent team of documentary filmmakers are appealing a trial court decision in a defamation lawsuit that attacks their portrayal of a guardianship case as an abuse of an elderly man.

The media defendants include documentary film director and producer Alex Gibney and his company, Jigsaw Productions LLC; the affiliate firm Muddy Waters Productions LLC; Peabody award-winning filmmaker Kyoko Miyake; story producer Sarit G Work; associate producer Samantha Knowles; and researcher Kate Gill.

The plaintiff, Tonya Barina, is the appointed guardian of the estate of Charles Thrash, a retired businessman whose estate was once valued at about $3 million. Barina alleges that after an episode of “Dirty Money” on the subject of guardianships was released, she received hundreds of death threats and threats of bodily harm from all over the world.

In August 2010, a trial court in Bexar County denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The 285th Judicial District Judge Cathleen Styker “correctly determined that Barina had established the prima facie case of libel,” counsel for Barina stated in their appellee brief to the Fourth Court of Appeals.

Carl J. Kolb of Austin and Glenn Deadman of San Antonio represent Barina.

Oral argument is scheduled for June 28, according to an order issued Friday.

Rachel F. Strom and Katherine M. Bolger of Davis Wright Tremaine in New York and Laura Lee Prather of Haynes and Boone in Austin represent Netflix and the other defendants.

The media defendants claim in the appellant brief that Barina failed to satisfy her burden under Texas law to establish by “clear and specific evidence” a prima facie case of each essential element of the defamation claim.

The episode reported on the guardianship system in general and on two cases in particular, including In re Guardianship of Thrash.

“Tonya Barina—who is named in the program because she is one of Thrash’s guardians—is displeased with her accurate, albeit unflattering, portrayal,” the media defendants claim. They assert that Barina sidesteps an obligation to identify actionable statements “by simply alleging that the gist of the Program as a whole defames her.”

The episode discusses the Thrash case through the experience of Thrash’s girlfriend, Laura Martinez, her daughter Brittany and their attorney, Philip Ross. Thrash began dating Martinez in 2009 and she moved in with him in 2012. In 2016, Thrash bought a new house and around the same time he signed a new will naming Martinez as the beneficiary.

Thrash’s bank became concerned about the home purchase and numerous transactions involving his business, and alerted the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. The agency filed an application for temporary and permanent guardianship in probate court, and a temporary guardian was appointed in August 2017.

The episode referred to Thrash’s court-appointed attorney ad litem, Ben A. Wallis III, who testified that Thrash was happy living in his home with Martinez and wished only that the guardianship proceedings cease.

At the request of Thrash’s sister, Barina applied to become permanent guardian a few months later and settlement negotiations began between Thrash’s relatives, Thrash and Martinez, according to court documents. Wallis told the court that the principal purpose of the Thrash family’s involvement was to obtain a 50% share of his estate, which he refused.

The parties were at a stalemate throughout 2018, court records show. On Jan. 29, 2019, the court appointed Barina guardian of the Thrash estate and she received a yearly percentage of the estate’s gross income. She closed his business, against his wishes, and moved to sell much of his assets. In addition, the appointed guardian of his person, Mary Werner, removed Thrash from his home to a secret location; he had been by then declared mentally incompetent.

Martinez and her attorney’s efforts to contest the orders have to date been unsuccessful.

Barina alleges the episode was too one-sided and deliberately omitted facts that reflected poorly on Martinez and her attorney. The media defendants’ “sources,” according to court records, showed a “complete disregard for the obligation to be truthful.”

The court found that Ross had carried out a “vexatious litigation campaign” against Thrash and his property; Martinez attempted to claim that she was the wife through a document that was later annulled, and to have the adult children adopted by Thrash.

“To present Thrash’s story, it features Ross, Laura, and Brittany, who all were severely sanctioned in the Thrash proceedings for their ‘guardianship exploitation,’ without ever mentioning the sanctions order,” the Barina brief states. “All of the Ross-Martinez defendants’ pleadings had been stricken by May 19, 2019, a year before the episode ran.”

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Nurse arrested in alleged abuse of patient

by: Cody Bailey

PRINCETON, Ind. (WEHT) – A registered nurse at the Waters of Princeton nursing home was arrested on battery charges after police say video captured the incident. Crystal McCrary was arrested after staff members turned in video of the incident, which allegedly shows McCrary grabbing an 85 year old dementia patient by the arm, dragging her to the ground.

“That was definitely disturbing,” says Captain Mike Hurt with the Princeton Police Department. “I showed it to my co-workers, who were also disturbed by it. And actually when I showed Ms. McCrary the video of what actually happened, she gasped. So I think she was shocked by her own actions as well, but I know she knows what she was doing.”

According to a probable cause affidavit, the patient suffered a rotator cuff injury due to the incident. Captain Hurt says McCrary initially denied the accusations and that her story did not line up with the evidence provided by the Waters of Princeton staff.

“I had her demonstrate on camera what her memory of what the action was, and it was totally different from what happened,” explains Captain Hurt. “I even specifically asked her when she fell to the floor, and she said ‘She never did fall to the floor’, however the video shows her being thrown to the floor.”

Responding to the incident, Kathy Seibel with The Waters released a statement saying, in part, “Due to the seriousness of the matter the staff member in question has been terminated by the facility as their actions do not reflect our core values and compassionate care standards which we have always upheld and embraced with every resident at our facility.” Seibel also mentions in their statement that The Waters is committed to the highest level of safety for their staff and residents, and they have provided additional abuse training and counseling to all staff members.

Captain Hurt praises the work of the staff at The Waters for reporting the incident to police, saying the outcome could have been different if they had not come forward. Eyewitness News also reached out to the victim’s grandson. He says the family is not ready to speak on the issue at this time, but they would like to thank the staff at The Waters as well as the Princeton Police Department, and hopes justice will be served for his grandmother.

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Elder Abuse Restraining Orders May Prevent Estate Planning Changes

by Jeffrey Galvin

Can a California court stop others from changing an elder’s estate plan?  Yes, in extreme circumstances, suggests a case arising from conflict in a blended family over which side would benefit from an elder’s trust.

In White v. Wear (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, the Court of Appeal reviewed the issuance of an elder abuse restraining order that precluded the respondent from making or facilitating any change to the estate plan of her 94-year-old stepfather.  Such an order might preempt an estate planning change and thereby avoid a future contest over a will or trust.

A Long Running Battle Over Thomas Tedesco’s Trust

Thomas Tedesco was born in 1926.  He and his wife Wanda created a trust in 1988 to benefit their three daughters, including Laura White.  When Wanda passed in 2002, Thomas (then about 77) divided the trust into five subtrusts.

By the end of 2005, Thomas’ estate was valued in excess of $40 million.

Thomas married Gloria Basara in 2007.  Gloria had two daughters from a prior relationship, including Debra Wear.  Both Thomas and Gloria entered the marriage with substantial assets and so they signed prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

Thomas, by 2013, had significant cognitive impairment that left him susceptible to undue influence by those close to him.

Gloria allegedly interfered with Thomas’ lengthy professional relationship with attorney Burton Mitchell.  Gloria blocked Thomas from communicating with his daughters and removed their photographs from the house.  Gloria also prepared scripts for Thomas in which he expressed the desire to leave 75 percent of his estate to Gloria and 25 percent to charity.

In 2015, Laura filed a petition in Riverside County Superior Court to appoint a conservator over Thomas’ person and estate.  Since Gloria and Debra continued to seek to influence Thomas to change his estate plan, Laura sought and obtained a temporary restraining order against Debra that precluded her from facilitating Thomas’ access to any attorney regarding his estate plan.  Yet the order apparently lapsed as it was not served on Debra.

After a contested trial, the court granted a conservatorship over Thomas’ estate, naming professional fiduciary Kenneth F. Jenkins as conservator.

The litigation continued notwithstanding the conservatorship.  Debra worked as a paralegal for attorney Russell Davis, who repeatedly requested appointment as counsel for Thomas, but the probate court denied those requests on the ground that Thomas should have independent counsel.

Eventually, in April 2020, Laura as trustee of Thomas’ trust sought an elder abuse restraining order against Debra, Gloria, attorney Davis, and several others.  Laura complained about a purported trust amendment dated January 2020 in which Thomas disinherited his biological daughters in favor of Gloria and her daughters.

In her petition, using mandatory California Judicial Council form EA-100, Laura requested that Debra be restrained from financially abusing Thomas, contacting him, being within 100 yards of him, being in his home, and making or facilitating any change to his estate plan.

Although Debra was served with the petition, she did not appear at the hearing on the restraining order and the court issued it.

Debra Wear Appeals, Mostly Unsuccessfully

In its opinion, the Court of Appeal provided an overview of the goals and provisions of California’s Elder Abuse Act.  Welfare and Institutions Code section 15657.03, in particular, controls the issuance of protective orders.

Debra sought to invalidate the restraining order because she later disqualified the judge who issued it by means of a peremptory challenge under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6.   The appellate court declined to apply the peremptory challenge retroactively.

Debra also attacked the restraining order on the ground that the probate judge substantially amended the petition at the hearing, without notice to her.  The appellate court, however, found that the probate judge appropriately had clarified the allegations to include mental suffering, harassment and intimidation because Laura had presented evidence of such claims.

The Court of Appeal, on the other hand, found that the probate judge improperly had added a firearms and ammunition restriction to the order because such a restriction requires evidence of physical abuse or mentally intimidating acts in excess of financial abuse.

Lastly, and most significantly, the appellate court rejected Debra’s argument that the 2020 estate planning change did not amount to financial elder abuse because she did not take anything from Thomas and instead supposedly helped him achieve his own estate planning objectives.

Quoting section 15657.03, the court observed: “The fact that [Debra] did not take, or possess, any of Thomas’s real or personal property is irrelevant” because elder abuse includes the taking of any property right “by means of . . .  testamentary bequest, regardless of whether the property is held directly or by a representative of an elder.”


Elder abuse restraining orders are seldom appealed, leading to sparse case law on the subject.  White v. Wear illuminates one potential use of such orders in extreme situations.

A restraining order may be appropriate and effective when even a conservatorship over an elder’s estate does not deter family members from attempting to change the elder’s estate plan without probate court approval.

Note that the California Legislature expanded Probate Code section 15657.03 by Assembly Bill 1243 in 2021.  As we’ll discuss in a future post, AB 1243 will allow restraining orders targeting the isolation of an elder and also permit a probate court to find that a specific debt incurred by an elder was the product of financial elder abuse.  The statutory change, however, won’t take effect until January 1, 2023, giving the Judicial Council time to update Form EA-100 and related forms.

White v. Wear and AB 1243 both point to expanded use of restraining orders in financial elder abuse litigation.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Wendy Williams Heads to Miami After Declaring She’s Ready to Do Talk Show

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Wendy Williams is back in South Florida, hopping on a commercial flight in the NYC area hours after insisting she’ll be ready to do her show again … once she deals with some “private things.”

We got these pics of the beloved talk show host in Newark Airport, where she was catching a flight to Miami. Witnesses tell us Wendy was traveling with her son, Kevin Hunter Jr.

As you know, Wendy’s been battling multiple health issues for several months. We’re told she was holding Kevin Jr.’s arm at times last Thursday night, and it appeared he was guiding her as they made their way to their flight.

One good sign, though … Wendy wasn’t using a wheelchair, which is major progress over the last few times she’d been out in public. She had been at a wellness center in Miami last year, so it’s possible that’s where she was heading.

Once arriving in Miami around 12:30 AM, Wendy was overheard talking to a fan who’d asked about her making a return to TV … and she said she’s in the process of getting her show back, and working things out with her money.

That jibes with what she’d said last week on ‘GMA’ — that she’ll be ready, willing and able to do her show again once she takes care of some personal matters.

As for the money, Wendy claimed Wells Fargo denied her access to her accounts and filed documents saying she has “several million dollars” that have been frozen due to alleged financial exploitation.

As we’ve reported, “The Wendy Williams Show” found a permanent replacement in actress and comedian Sherri Shepherd at the beginning of February.

By the end of the month, show producers announced the end of Wendy’s show and the launch of Sherri’s. We talked to Sherri the day before the cancelation when she still referred to herself as a “temp” host.

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Court of Judicial Discipline sanctions former judge Toothman for misconduct

Farley Toothman
By Mike Jones

Former Greene County president judge Farley Toothman will be barred from ever serving on the bench again and be required to write letters of apology to those he “victimized,” but he will not face any additional sanctions for his judicial misconduct.

The state Court of Judicial Discipline announced its sanctions Thursday against Toothman for “bullying others” inside and outside of his courtroom in two cases in which he was found to have committed misconduct as judge.

“Judge Toothman’s misconduct is motivated by personal anger at two people who offended him,” the eight-judge panel wrote. “His dictatorial actions are reprehensible. Misuse of the powers of the judiciary to satisfy one’s personal animosities is among the worst offenses a judge can commit.”

The court ruled in July that Toothman “engaged in misconduct so extreme that brought the judicial office into disrepute” when he retaliated against a courthouse employee and a person on probation. The panel found that Toothman abused his time on the bench and “committed serious misconduct” in two cases that violated judicial conduct rules in 10 of the 21 counts brought against him in 2020.

“Judge Toothman’s clearly improper conduct was blatant and inexcusable,” the panel wrote in its sanctions opinion. “No jurist should ever behave in such a manner.”

Judge Thomas Flaherty wrote a concurring opinion disagreeing with the decision to remove Toothman from the bench since he resigned as judge in January 2021. Flaherty also took exception with Toothman being required to write letters of apology to the people he wronged.

Toothman could have faced more severe punishment, such as fines and even revocation of his state pension and benefits.

Nevertheless, the state Judicial Conduct Board that filed the charges will now contact the victims in the case to see if they would like a letter of apology from Toothman.

Toothman wielded his power as judge to interfere with a retail theft investigation into his law clerk at a Waynesburg convenience store in September 2017, the panel concluded. While the clerk was never charged with a crime, Toothman was later accused of intervening in a county probation staff meeting about the woman who made the accusation of shoplifting at the convenience store.

He later learned the woman had not paid a $10 monthly fine, which prompted him to order her to appear in his courtroom rather than report to her community service location. Toothman held the woman in civil contempt and ordered her to spend 25 days in the Greene County jail.

In the other case, Toothman retaliated against a courthouse custodian by posting her union grievance on a public bulletin board outside the two courtrooms in January 2018. The judicial panel said his actions were “very serious” and violated judicial canons and the state Constitution.

In three other cases, the Court of Judicial Discipline found Toothman may have violated procedures, but there was not clear and convincing evidence of ethical violations.

“The conduct at issue here involves two incidents of bullying another as part of a personal grudge or fit of pique,” the panel wrote in its sanctions order. “The misconduct by Judge Toothman is serious and had a detrimental effect on those he targeted.”

The panel said Toothman “brought considerable disrepute” to the judiciary; however, it acknowledged that he admitted wrongdoing and has “voiced contrition” over his behavior. The four-page order effectively closes Toothman’s judicial misconduct case and he will face no further punishment.

Bethann Lloyd, who is representing Toothman in the case, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Judicial Conduct Board filed the complaint against Toothman in May 2020, and he announced that October that he was taking a temporary leave from the bench. He later relinquished his duties as president judge and resigned from the bench in January 2021. Toothman had served as a judge in Greene County for 11 years.

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Alabama creates nation's 1st elder abuse registry

The Alabama State Capitol stands on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

- A new state database, created by legislation called "Shirley’s Law" after a woman who survived elder abuse, will include the names of anyone convicted of mistreating senior citizens.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law Thursday to create the nation’s first elder abuse registry, WSFA-TV reported. The law was named for Shirley Holcombe, who died in 2018 after becoming a victim of forgery by a caretaker, after a campaign by daughter Jo Holcombe.

Following her mother’s death, Holcombe brought the idea for an elder abuse registry to Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile. Seeing it through to becoming a law was an emotional process, she said.

"I have cried when it passed the House and the Senate. And I cried today," said Jo Holcombe.

The law will allow family members to see whether someone being considered for a job involving older adults has ever been convicted of elder abuse, Gaston said. It will also provide information about people who have come under protection orders for elder abuse, said Sam Smith, the director of Adult Protective Services with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

"We need to have a place where all of the information can be stored in one location," said Smith. "So that nobody slips through the cracks."

Elder abuse is on the rise, according to the state, with 11,122 reports of abuse last year including physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

Holcombe would like to see a national registry for elder abuse.

"Think about the damage one person could do with multiple people," she said. "And that’s just not acceptable."

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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

I-Team: Florida legislature passes guardianship reform bill unanimously

by Danielle DaRos

There are very few things that receive unanimous support in politics, but guardianship reform was one of those issues this past legislative session.

Without a single vote cast in opposition, a bill to create a statewide guardianship database passed the Florida House and Senate, and awaits Governor DeSantis' signature.

"We need to protect the vulnerable citizens who are under guardianship in the state of Florida, and without the proper data, we can't do that," said Ken Burke, chair of the statewide Guardianship Improvement Task Force and Pinellas County Clerk of Courts. "This is a big step in helping make that happen, and I think the Governor will be aligned with that step."

Since last year, the statewide task force has been studying problems in Florida's guardianship system, and making recommendations for improvement.

Citing several CBS12 News I-Team stories, the Task Force submitted 10 recommendations to the Florida Legislature to help crack down on abuse and fraud.

As the I-Team reported last year, there is currently no way to track guardianship cases in the state, and no reliable data to show how many guardians there are, how many wards they have, and how much money they control.

Without proper oversight, advocates say, bad actors in the system can operate undetected and steal money from the people they are being paid to protect.

This year, State Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Petersburg, submitted HB 1349 to create such a database. If it becomes law, Florida will have that system up and running by July 2023.

"That was our top priority to establish a database that would have information on how many guardianships are active in the state of Florida, what type of guardianships there are to get basic information and make changes in the future," Burke said.

HB 1349 wasn't the only guardianship bill lawmakers considered this session.

Representative Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, submitted HB 1207, a bill that would ask judges to consider Supported Decision Making instead of guardianship for people with developmental disabilities.

The bill received unanimous support in its first committee, but stalled after that.

Lawmakers heard the story of Michael Lincoln McCreight, a Port St. Lucie man CBS12 News profiled last year who successfully ended his guardianship with Supported Decision Making. Instead of having someone else control every aspect of his life, he has a team of trusted adults to help him make certain decisions.

McCreight has become a champion for other people with developmental disabilities, and an advocate for this Supported Decision Making bill. He told CBS12 News advocates will continue to push for this legislation in future sessions.

For now, Burke says he is satisfied with the progress that the Task Force and legislature have made in addressing guardianship abuse. He hopes the momentum continues.

"I use this old expression I borrowed from someone else," Burke said. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We took a big bite this year with establishing a database bill and we have to keep taking bites in the future."

CBS12 News asked Governor DeSantis' office he intends to sign the guardianship database legislation. Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said he has not yet received the bill from the legislature, and once he does, he has 15 days to act.

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St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner accused of misconduct

by: Vic Faust

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that this case was before the Missouri Supreme Court. The court says the case is currently before a disciplinary panel.

ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Bar Ethics Department filed a massive complaint against St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, accusing her of professional misconduct. Gardner has a hearing set for April 11. That panel is responsible to determine if there is any wrongdoing before it moves ahead. If she is found guilty, she could lose her law license.

After studying the 73-page complaint, Brad Young of Harris Dowell, Fisher, and Youn said it alleges how Gardner fostered and promoted the perjury charges that were leveled against William Tisaby. He said she is accused of allowing Tisaby, her lead investigator, to commit perjury and that she took no steps to correct the record once she was made aware of his actions.

The case is not yet in front of the Missouri Supreme Court. If the panel moves the case forward then it could be in front of the high court.

“If the Missouri Supreme Court finds that she is guilty of ethics charges and professional misconduct, it could result in probation, a suspension of her law license, or disbarment,” said Young.

If that happens, under Missouri law, Gardner would be ineligible to be the circuit attorney. Also under Missouri law, Gov. Mike Parson would be empowered to appoint a replacement if he so desired.

When asked if the case could be continued in April, Young responded: “At this time, she has received two, if not three. But there is a chance it will be continued, but a greater chance it will be heard on April 11.”

It’s important to note the Tisaby guilty plea does not include Kim Gardner. Also, the accusations made in the 73-page complaint still have to be proven at the hearing.

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Caregivers charged in death of a patient who was beaten with a board

Anthony Freeman (left) and Brenda Hightower (right) were indicted for the death of a patient.(Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)

By Debra Dolan

CORDOVA, Tenn. (Gray News) – The owner and a caregiver of an adult home facility in Tennessee have been indicted for an abusive death of a patient.

According to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, a 59-year-old woman was found dead in her metal-frame hospital bed with blunt force injuries and cuts on her body in June 2020.

Surveillance video showed the woman falling out of bed and then Anthony Freeman beating her with a board for more than two hours, the DA’s Office said.

Freeman eventually put the woman back into bed and cleaned up the area where he had beaten her.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, a grand jury returned indictments this month charging Freeman with first-degree murder, aggravated neglect of a vulnerable adult, vulnerable adult abuse and tampering with evidence.

Brenda Hightower, the owner of the adult home, was also indicted with first-degree murder, aggravated neglect of a vulnerable adult, vulnerable adult abuse and financial exploitation of a vulnerable person.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Colorado bill on guardianship protections elicits passionate testimony

HB22-1271 would require guardians to inform family of loved one's status

A bill that would offer some protections for those under a court-appointed guardianship invited impassioned support from community members with first-hand experience dealing with guardians and conservators.
By: Jennifer Kovaleski

DENVER — A bill that would offer some protections for those under a court-appointed guardianship invited impassioned support from community members with first-hand experience dealing with guardians and conservators.

HB22-1271 was read before the Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee earlier this week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kim Ransom (R-Douglas County), would require that a guardian notify a protected person’s close family member within seven days if the person changed residence, spent more than two days away from their primary residence, was admitted to a medical facility, or died.

Those who spoke in support of the bill at a Tuesday hearing said this bill was a step in the right direction but added that more legislation is needed.

“At least the families are going to be notified when their loved ones die,” said Luanne Fleming, an advocate for families with members in a guardianship or conservatorship.

A court can place a person under guardianship if they are deemed mentally unfit to handle their affairs. If a family member is unable to step in, the probate court will appoint someone to serve as a guardian and/or conservator. Those guardians and conservators would then have full control over the protected person’s finances, medical care, and legal decisions.

During the past year, Denver7 Investigates has investigated situations where some guardians and conservators are bleeding people’s estates of its assets with little oversight from the judicial system.

“We have a serious problem in the probate court,” Lange Burnett said while testifying during the hearing.

Ransom said these issues need to be fixed and that her bill, despite not addressing any of the financial issues, could help start that process as it’s the first bill in the past few years to tackle guardianship issues.

She said the bill would give “some assurances that the guardians will not make the decisions without notifying the family within a certain amount of time.”

During the hearing, Republican committee member Rep. Richard Holtorf (R-Akron) submitted an amendment to strengthen the bill, requiring that families be notified within 24 hours of a protected person’s death or 48 hours if the person is admitted to a medical facility or changes residence.

“Sometimes, you are compelled to do something that is right,” he said. “Imagine if your mother was sent to the emergency room and no one told you for days or weeks. That is wrong. That is wrong on a human level.”

Ultimately, the bill was put on hold to gather more information and for Ransom to speak to some stakeholders to see if they would be in support of any of the proposed amendments. Holtorf pulled his amendment for now, but said he plans to reintroduce it down the road.

“You cannot take seven days to notify a family member of a deceased mother or father,” he said. “It is common sense for anybody.”

The Colorado Bar Association, which represents attorneys and judges, opposes the bill, saying it is unnecessary and that some existing laws already cover the notification issue.

“Although the CBA very much believes that our state’s guardianship laws can and should be improved upon, this law unfortunately does not further that aim because it is not well-written,” said Emily McDaniel, an attorney representing the Colorado Bar Association at the hearing.

Denver7 requested to speak with the attorneys representing the CBA, but they declined.

Holtorf said he feels the bar association needs to “get out of the way.”

“The bar association doesn’t run this Capitol and the bar association doesn’t speak for the people,” he said. “So, they need to find their place. And we need more representatives that aren’t scared to stand up and tell these special interests what their place is because the people come first.”

“This bill is a tiny step, but it is a step towards moving closer to what we need to have done,” Fleming said.

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