Saturday, September 10, 2022

Instead of being protected, California's conservatorship system ultimately cost one young man his life

A system designed to protect people with disabilities failed one young man at every single level.

Author: Andie Judson

LANCASTER, Calif — Editor's note: This story contains graphic and disturbing images. We made the decision to show these photos in an effort to illustrate how broken the system is and the impact it has on people with disabilities. We hope our state leaders will see this investigation, and will step in and help reform conservatorship system.

“Throughout your career, you have some cases you never forget,” said Krist Mason. “This is one for me. This is a call I’ll never forget..."

Mason is now an investigator with the Los Angeles District Attorney, but in 2012 she was a deputy assigned to patrol for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

She and her partner were dispatched to do a welfare check after the L.A. Sheriff’s Department received disturbing photos of Michael Parisio Jr., known as Mickey.

“In some of the photos he was handcuffed,” recalled Mason. “And (in) some of the photos it appeared he was just in the backyard unsupervised in a manner where it wasn’t normal.”

Mickey was a disabled 36-year-old man under a limited conservatorship of his parents.

“We went into the bedroom where Mikey was and that’s where it all started,” said Mason.

She recalled the room being hot and the curtains shut.

“So, no one could see in and he couldn’t see out,” said Mason. “He was wearing boxers. Nothing else.”

As they tried to communicate with Mickey, Mason remembers him grabbing onto her.

“He kind of grabbed onto me like, ‘Please help me,’” said Mason. “He was non-verbal but I felt like the way he grabbed me, the way he was looking at me, he was asking for help.”

Court reports describe Mikey as dirty and in need of a shower. They said he looked sick, and had bruises and an open wound.

“He had bed sores on him and he was starving. He was motioning with his hand – like an eating motion, which let us know he wanted something to eat,” said Mason. “We ended up giving him crackers. I remember he was trying to get the crackers down so fast; he wasn’t chewing them, he was just swallowing them whole.”

Mason recalled speaking with Mickey’s parents who admitted they used handcuffs to restrain Mickey when he was out-of-control and physical with them.

“But when we were there, the way that his body stature – meaning he was underweight – I don’t see how two adults could not control him,” said Mason. “And when we were there, he showed no evidence of violence.”

Mason and her partner called Adult Protective Services and recommended Mickey be transported to the hospital. She said Mickey’s parents were 100% against that and used the conservatorship as cause for him to remain home in their custody. It was the first time Mason had ever dealt with a conservatorship-situation.

“Me and my partner approached it as we would (like), ‘Hey, our main concern is just to do a welfare check – regardless of who has custody or who is in charge,’” said Mason. “But the parents were adamant that they were innocent, that they didn’t abuse Mickey… but it just didn’t make sense to me, why he looked the way he looked.”

Mason said the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office created a new protocol around how to handle conservatorship cases after this case.

“Now there’s a whole section of how to handle cases of this nature,” said Mason.

How exactly did Mickey get to this point? Let’s take you back to his childhood through his brother, Joseph.

“[I] grew up with my brother who was mentally disabled,” said Joseph Parisio. “He was on the verge of about a three to four-year-old.”

Court records show Mikey was born breached, depriving him of oxygen. He was later diagnosed with a developmental disability, autism, and suffered from seizures. He relied on others for most activities, including eating and bathing.

“The favorite thing he loved to do was have his head petted and his hand held,” said Joseph. “He was very kind and gentle.”

Joseph said he began noticing problematic behavior from his parents that continued to escalate as he grew up.

“When you’re a child, you don’t really know how bad a situation is and thinking now and looking back… I saw more problems than I probably knew back then,” said Joseph.

He and his parents no longer speak today.

“They are my biological parents but, obviously, when I talk about them I don’t talk about them that way because I just… sometimes you just have to cut a cancer away from you,” said Joseph.

It’s a strong sentiment that has grown for Joseph over the years. This is one of the reasons why he moved away right when he turned 18. 

In contrast, when his brother turned 18, their parents gained more control because Mickey was placed under a limited conservatorship. But Joseph was still involved in Mickey’s life.

“They would always want me to come in and watch him,” said Joseph. “As I was watching him more, I just noticed the relationship wasn’t right. There were problems.”

Problems like not providing Mickey with proper care, Joseph said.

“It seems to me they were just constantly isolating him,” said Joseph.

Court documents show Mickey’s regional center services were terminated by his parents in May 2012, at least two months before the Los Angeles Sheriff’s welfare check.

Regional centers are facilities throughout the state, funded by the Department of Developmental Services, that provide a range of services and supports to those with disabilities as well as their families. These services range from in-home caregiving, adult day care, speech therapy, transportation services and more.

“I just seems they wouldn’t take him anywhere,” said Joseph. “He was just basically stuck in his room watching TV all day.”

Joseph said Mickey was handcuffed by his parents as a way of controlling him when he was agitated and violent.

“He was so kind and gentle, but his parents portray him as being this violent person. That he was attacking them and they had to put him in handcuffs and all these things to him,” said Joseph. “That was not his personality with anybody else.”

Joseph also said in order to bathe Mickey, his parents would take him outside nude and spray him down with a hose.

Joseph said he took photos of this and sent them to Adult Protective Services and other law enforcement agencies.

“I wish I could just go over there and take him, but I know there was no way I could do that because I would basically be kidnapping,” said Joseph. “I started reporting it to Adult Protective Services. Nobody would do anything about it.”

Joseph said the only reason something was done was because of Tom Coleman, a human rights attorney.

“The email was, ‘My brother is being abused by my parents who were his conservators and we need your help,’” said Coleman. “They were afraid and they said, ‘He looks like he’s losing weight and we’re afraid if there’s not intervention, that he’s going to die.’”

It was how Coleman was introduced to conservatorships, sparking his now 10 years of work in this field, including the creation of Spectrum Institute – a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 that focuses on conservatorship reform and human rights for adults with mental and/or developmental disabilities.

Joseph believes Coleman’s involvement initiated the L.A. Sheriff’s Department’s welfare check. Their deputies then got Adult Protective Services involved and Mickey was taken to the Antelope Valley Medical Center.

“Basically, my involvement was just that day,” said Mason. “Once Mickey was transported to the hospital, that was it for me.”

Court documents show Mickey arrived at the hospital “severely dehydrated, malnourished, bruised on most of his body and was very aggressive.”

We called Mickey’s parents to ask why and hear their side of the story.

Michael Parisio Sr. told us Mickey’s mother has since died. He did not want to do an on-camera interview, but agreed to speak on the phone twice – allowing us to record the second conversation.

We asked about Mickey being dehydrated and malnourished.

“He’s always been skinny… for a long time he could only eat hotdogs or whatever,” said Parisio Sr. “Other times we thought, ‘He’s going to die.’ We brought him to the doctor to talk about that. (They said) he won’t die. He’ll eat, which was right.”

Parisio Sr. said Mickey had a “very high metabolism” and he could have all the food and water he wanted.

“I’d turn the water on and stick my head under the faucet and take a drink. And he (Mickey) would do the same thing,” said Parisio Sr. “There was no way he was dehydrated.”

We also asked Parisio Sr. about their use of handcuffs, to which he said they used handcuffs in the house to “protect himself as well as us.”

He said as Mickey grew older, he grew more violent and out of control. That’s why his son could not receive services from the regional center, he said.

“He’d attack you,” said Parisio Sr. “They didn’t have one type of program – they would mix everyone together. He would get beat up and smashed over the head, bitten and scratched… this is not good. No. He’s staying home.”

Over the two hours we spoke with Parisio Sr., he said Mickey was never abused and the allegations and photos of Mickey in the backyard came from his other son, Joseph.

“We never handcuffed him outside naked,” he said. “There should be no reason for [Joseph] to say we did anything against Mickey.”

Joseph disagrees and said the claims of him retaliating against his parents led to Mickey’s case failing to be properly investigated.

“It skewed them to think, ‘We’re going to believe everything that they have to say. We’re not going to look into it. It must be true. He must be lying,’” said Joseph. “That’s what angers me.”

Independent of who you believe, this story is about the systemic failures of California’s conservatorship system. Just one example of numerous failures that have led to the abuse and even death of some who are conserved.

For Mickey, the system especially failed him upon arrival at the hospital.

Court documents show the hospital placed him under a “Do Not Announce” order. This is an order that keeps the patient hidden and away from suspected abusers.

“They were able to get me in there because obviously the 'Do Not Announce' wasn’t for me, it was for them so they couldn’t find him,” said Joseph. “I could see he was very skinny. He had always been skinny – but he was even skinnier. You could see he was very weak but he was still in good spirits. He was very happy to see me and I remember he wanted a high five when I saw him… that was the last time I actually saw him alive because they released him days after that back to his conservators.”

Mickey remained in the hospital for 10 days. During those days, court documents reveal more actions were taken than in the 16 prior years Mickey had been under a conservatorship.

Actions like an investigation being conducted by the court investigator – who had unlawfully been mostly missing until this point. By digging through court records and confirming with the Los Angeles Superior Court Records Department, we found that while probate court investigators were at that time supposed to do bi-annual reviews (this law has changed and now requires annual reviews), the first report was filed 12 years after Mickey was conserved. The second was four years later, after these allegations of abuse arose. Meaning, the court only did two reviews in 16 years, records show.

In the court investigator’s second review to determine if abuse was occurring, the investigator interviewed several people including Adult Protective Services workers who, according to records, said the allegations “were credible.”

The investigator also interviewed the Sheriff’s Detective assigned to the case, the hospital social worker, Mickey, and his parents whose story changed. They “fervently” stated they “never handcuffed” Mickey and blamed wounds on him crawling because he was having trouble walking as well as picking at his skin, his court report said.

The investigator never spoke with Joseph – the one who reported Mickey’s alleged abuse.

“No one ever, ever contacted me. Nobody!” said Joseph.

The court assigned an attorney to Mickey for the first time despite current law saying this should’ve happened 16 years earlier when the conservatorship began.

“There was an attorney that was appointed for my brother that was supposed to look in his best interest,” said Joseph. “Never knew who he was, never saw him, didn’t even know his existence.”

Court records show the attorney spent 5.4 hours looking into Mickey’s case and conducting interviews – none of which were with Joseph.

“The person that was meant to represent him failed! He did nothing!” said Joseph. “You didn’t even come to the person that said something about it.”

Court records reveal an Adult Protective Services (APS) social worker tried to find a placement outside of his parents’ home while Mickey was in the hospital.

“I was trying to take my brother as soon as he was in the hospital,” said Joseph. “I called [APS] right away and told them, ‘I have a place for him. He can come, he can live with me, I have a room for him. I will take him.’”

Yet, Mickey’s social worker never spoke with Joseph. Instead, records show, she said she was unable to find somewhere for Mickey to live because of his “high level of aggression and extensive needs.”

The APS worker later said in a deposition that neither she nor her supervisor ever actually filed a petition with the court to find a placement for Mickey outside his parent’s home.

We reached out to this APS worker for months, but never received a response.

Meanwhile, a hospital social worker said in a deposition that after Mickey remained in the hospital for 10 days without APS finding a placement she felt “the ball had been dropped” and proceeded with a discharge plan to his parents. He was released back to their care on July 12, 2012.

“That’s what angers me – no matter what someone tells you, you have to investigate,” said Joseph. “You have to look into the facts and decide what is really going on here?”

Less than a month after releasing Mickey back to his parents, records show a hearing was held where Mickey’s court-appointed attorney submitted his findings saying a family rift “probably” accounted for Joseph’s complaint of abuse – despite this attorney never actually speaking with Joseph.

Mickey’s attorney also said Mickey was “thin but not malnourished” and that he “could not substantiate the allegations of abuse.” With this attorney’s report, Mickey’s parents remained as his co-conservators.

23 days later, Mickey was dead.

Parisio Sr. recalls Mickey’s moment of death saying he “put his head back” and he thought Mickey was “fooling around again.”

“I said, ‘C’mon Mickey. Stop it. C’mon you got to eat,’” said Parisio Sr. “Then I checked him out and he wasn’t doing anything. It was like he was dead or close to it… I gave him CPR and we called the rescue.”

“I knew something bad was going to happen if he wasn’t out of that situation… something bad was going to happen – and ultimately, it did,” said Joseph.

But Joseph’s fight wasn’t over – he pushed to get an autopsy.

We requested a copy of the coroner’s report and brought it to Dr. Bennet Omalu, one of the nation’s leading forensic pathologists and former San Joaquin County Coroner.

“Autopsy revealed he was malnourished,” said Omalu. “His body mass index was 16. He was dehydrated.”

The report showed at his time of death, Mickey was 5’5” and weighed only 93 lbs. He had pneumonia and he was so dehydrated his kidneys shut down.

He also found the conclusion of the forensic pathologist interesting.

“Whenever you see a long opinion that means something is wrong. I call it the ‘love letter,’” said Omalu. “Once you see that, something is wrong.”

The opinion for Mickey’s autopsy report was three paragraphs. Omalu said he trains his medical students the opinion should be no longer than one.

The opinion stated Mickey died of amantadine toxicity – an overdose of a drug used to help control Mickey’s unintentional motions and spasticity.

“It’s a relatively safe drug… but remember every drug is a toxin, so you need to manage the levels,” said Omalu. “He was completely dependent on other people – his primary caregivers were his parents… so the question you ask yourself is, since he did not self-administer the medication… somebody gave him an overdose: was it intentional or unintentional?”

Mickey’s father denies intentionally giving him too much of the medication.

“We never gave him an overdose,” said Parisio Sr. “If it was high, it wasn’t because of us.”

He said Mickey’s doctors were in charge of the medication and they went by the directed amount.

“I don’t know if all the sudden his body reacted the wrong way towards it, or what happened,” said Parisio Sr.

It’s an answer no one will know because even in his death, the system failed Mickey again.

“The forensic pathologist who did the autopsy classified the manner of death as ‘undetermined,’” said Omalu.

The manner of death is a medical, legal classification of circumstances surrounding the death. When a death is ruled undetermined, it means there’s not a reasonable amount of evidence to classify it as a death by natural causes, accident, homicide or suicide.

“If I had done this autopsy, I would’ve classified it as a homicide. Why? Because he’s completely dependent on caregivers. He was given an overdose, dehydrated, suffering from pneumonia, suffering from kidney failure – why wasn’t he taken to the hospital?” said Omalu. “Somebody contributed intentionally or unintentionally, by fault or default, to his mechanism of death. Period. By classifying it as a homicide, the legal system would be instigated to investigate it further.”

Because of the way Mickey’s death was classified, it closed the case.

“We tried over the course of two years to get the death review team to look into this case,” said Coleman. “No one would ever investigate.”

Despite the report saying it pended further investigation, the coroner’s office confirmed to ABC10 that Mickey’s case was never referred to another agency and that Mickey’s medical examiner has since retired.

“I remember getting the news that he passed away,” said Mason. “In my opinion it was the court’s fault; if they had not ruled the way they did, he would still be alive.”

Yet, records show the court did not even know that Mickey had died.

Three years after Mickey died, the court investigator showed up at the family’s home to do the annual review – that had not been done annually.

By that time, Mickey’s parents had moved out-of-state. The investigator’s report was submitted to the court saying the whereabouts of the conservatee and his limited conservators is “unknown.”

“You can see how the whole process is broken, how it failed him and how it’s failed so many other people,” said Joseph.

Mickey’s case is an example of every level of the conservatorship system failing, especially the probate court.

“We count what we care about. Bankers know how much money they have. Prisons know how many inmates they have. Hospitals know how many patients they have,” said Coleman. “But here we have tens of thousands of vulnerable people – adults with brain injuries or developmental disabilities, that are ordered under the protection of the courts… and yet, the courts don’t even know how many people they’re supposedly protecting. This is shameful. It’s shocking. It’s mind boggling. And why? Because there’s nobody in charge of the system.”

But isn’t the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) also supposed to be in charge of protecting those with disabilities?

Court records show Mickey’s regional center had previously been involved in his life, so why didn’t DDS or his regional center step in like the other families we’ve shown you?

Families that have had their loved ones taken away, placed under a conservatorship of DDS based only on allegations of abuse.

Yet, with Mickey – and the serious concerns of abuse that arose – DDS failed to intervene despite being the state agency that prides itself on protecting and ensuring people like Mickey have equal rights and live “in the least restrictive setting possible.”

We reached out to DDS for eight months prior to this investigation’s release requesting an interview. They declined. We sent them a three-paged letter with specific questions – they sent us back a written statement (below) that did not answer any of our questions.

“In California, unlike any other state in the nation, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a right to the services and supports to help them live their most independent and productive life. With the passage of the ground-breaking Lanterman Act in 1969, the state affirmed its commitment to these rights for Californians. We at the California Department of Developmental Services have the responsibility to deliver on the assurances made by the law. 

It is our obligation to hold ourselves and our system partners accountable, while ensuring that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive community-based services and supports that embraces choice and allows them to live with purpose and dignity. We are constantly looking to improve how we serve the whole person, all while protecting the health and well-being of those we serve.

We are striving to create effective, culturally responsive, and efficient services. We have advanced this vision by the historic investments made over the last two years that, when put together, drive us toward a system of value-based services and supports, where our main objective is quality and better outcomes.”

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Friday, September 9, 2022

'Star Trek' icon Nichelle Nichols' ashes to launch into space, son Kyle calls Enterprise mission 'great honor'

By Tracy Wright

Nichelle Nichols will rest among the stars when her ashes are launched into deep space later this year on an Enterprise Flight with a few of her late "Star Trek" colleagues.

Nichols, who was known for playing the iconic Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on all three seasons of the original show from 1966-1969, died on July 30. She was 89. Thursday, Sept. 8, marks the 56th anniversary of the first episode of the show and is now known as "Star Trek Day."

Her son, Kyle Johnson, exclusively told Fox News Digital that his mother had been "in pretty good health" before she passed away, and he was "expecting that she would be around a bit longer," so her sudden death threw him in a bit of turmoil.

Nichols boldly went where few had gone before and broke barriers for Black women in Hollywood, and she was an incredible advocate for space flight programs as NASA’s recruiter-in-chief.

"Star Trek" legend Nichelle Nichols will make a historic final flight aboard the Enterprise as her ashes will be launched into deep space. (Getty Images)

"As I was thinking about it in the aftermath of arrangements and so forth, what would be essentially family and very close friends service," Johnson said. "But there's also her larger base of fans, supporters, those whom she has affected and inspired. I was trying to think of what might be an appropriate way to acknowledge that."

He recalled an interesting phone call from a scientist that was like a "bolt from the blue room" and an opportunity he knew his mother would not want to miss.

Charles Chafer, Celestis Inc. CEO and co-founder, proposed honoring Nichols in the most unique way by including her remains in a memorial space flight mission aboard the Enterprise Flight.

Johnson said the mere opportunity is "a great honor" for his late trailblazing mother.

"They will include a portion of her remains to go up on the mission and also her DNA along with mine, which I very much appreciate," he said. "I thought there would be no more fitting and lasting tribute to her than this mission."

Kyle Johnson often attended "Star Trek" conventions with mother Nichelle Nichols (seen in 2019). He said her final deep-space mission would be a true honor.

Kyle Johnson often attended "Star Trek" conventions with mother Nichelle Nichols (seen in 2019). He said her final deep-space mission would be a true honor. (Gabe Ginsberg)

 "I thought there would be no more fitting and lasting tribute to her than this mission."

— Kyle Johnson

Launching later this year on board United Launch Alliance’s aptly named Vulcan rocket, Nichols' remains will also be included with late "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991, and his deceased wife and "First Lady of 'Star Trek'" Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who passed in 2008.

The cremated remains of late "Star Trek" actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott and died in 2005, and visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull, who died in February, will also be included in the mission to mark the unique "Star Trek" reunion flight.

Celestis has conducted 18 memorial space flights to date and has five more in the works.

They’ve since put close to "1,500 folks in space," which Chafer said is "more than all the governments combined."

Each flight is a unique experience, and the company offers seven different destinations. The "Earth Rise" suborbital mission launches a flight capsule with cremated remains and DNA into space before returning to planet Earth via parachute.

Nichelle Nichols (as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura) and William Shatner (as Captain James T. Kirk) are shown in a scene from "The Man Trap," the premiere episode of "Star Trek" that aired on Sept. 8, 1966.

Nichelle Nichols (as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura) and William Shatner (as Captain James T. Kirk) are shown in a scene from "The Man Trap," the premiere episode of "Star Trek" that aired on Sept. 8, 1966. (CBS Photo Archive)

Another option offered allows a capsule to orbit Earth on satellites or rockets that can circle for anywhere up to 200 years, and depending upon the altitude of the mission, they may re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere like a shooting star.

Celestis even offers flights to the moon.

"We first went to the moon at NASA’s request with their eminent scientist, Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. That flight was in 1999," Chafer said. To date, Shoemaker is still the only person buried on the moon, a mission carried out by the Lunar Prospector in honor of Shoemaker’s contributions to planetary sciences.

"It’s been a while, but our second mission will go this year, and we’ll put 90 folks on the surface of the moon as a memorial where people can step out at night, look up to the moon and say, ‘Hey Pops!'"

Nichols and a few of her late "Star Trek" colleagues will be part of the first deep-space mission, which will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, later this year and into a "forever orbit around the sun, about 300 million kilometers from Earth." Chafer noted her place among the stars is "an infinite voyage."

Clockwise from top left: Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the television series "Star Trek" circa 1969.

Clockwise from top left: Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the television series "Star Trek" circa 1969. (CBS Photo Archive)

"It’s been a while, but our second mission will go this year, and we’ll put 90 folks on the surface of the moon as a memorial where people can step out at night, look up to the moon and say, ‘Hey Pops!’"

— Charles Chafer, CEO of Celestis, Inc.

An important element of Nichols' voyage was including her fans in memorial efforts and making sure the people who have always been a guiding force in her career had the chance to stay with her forever, too.

Fans from around the world can send their names, tributes, drawings and images to include in the mission with Nichols for free through Celestis MindFiles, which will be digitized and sent aboard the Enterprise Flight.

Chafer added that for each space mission Celestis donates to two charities who "embody the commitment to space exploration and planetary preservation."

Johnson, who shares just as much of a passion for interplanetary sciences as his mother did, explained how Nichols was invested in science and education for the future.

He noted how early space programs, which were severely lacking in suitable candidates, were positively affected by Nichols’ involvement in recruiting new astronauts into the field.

"Her vision adhered to what the show represented and was coincident with what NASA was feeling but didn’t know quite how to implement it," he said. "Yet all of a sudden, and I’m sure that many of them were to this day, they are big fans of ‘Star Trek.’"

Nichelle Nichols and "Star Trek" co-star George Takei (pictured in 2015) worked together on dozens of episodes of the futuristic series.

Nichelle Nichols and "Star Trek" co-star George Takei (pictured in 2015) worked together on dozens of episodes of the futuristic series. (Bruce Gilkas/FilmMagic)

Johnson, who will be attending the send-off later this year, will also carry on his mother’s legacy of inspiring the future generations through the Nichelle Nichols Foundation, which launches on Dec. 28 and what would have been her 90th birthday.

"The number of supportive messages and letters and emails and phone calls that came in throughout the last 30 days are more valuable than I ever would have thought," he said. "The kindness and the thoughtfulness of so many people made it possible for me to get through this."

When asked if he had any final words to remember his mother, Johnson simply said, "Live long and prosper."

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'Always together': Elderly sisters who survived Holocaust die days apart in Alabama

by John Bacon 

Alabama is mourning two German-born sisters who endured the Holocaust to raise families in Birmingham before recently dying just days apart, leaving behind powerful personal stories of tragedy, survival, determination and courage. 

Ruth Scheuer Siegler, 95, died Saturday and Ilse Scheuer Nathan, 98, died on Aug. 23 after living within walking distance of each other for years.

They were barely teens when their family fled Hitler's Germany for Holland with plans to travel to America. But the war started and borders were closed. Their father was sent to Westerbork, a refugee transit camp, in 1940, and two years later the family voluntarily reported there rather than be deported.

Later they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where their mother died. Their father and brother also died in camps. The girls were shipped to Poland to clear runways for German planes and were later abandoned to die.

The sisters told the Alabama Holocaust Education Center they contemplated suicide: “We didn’t want to suffer anymore.”

They were found by Russian troops and sent back to Holland, where they reconnected with relatives before arriving in the U.S. in 1946. They married, settled in Birmingham and raised families.

“They were always together,” Ann Mollengarden, the center's education director, told “When Ilse died, I think Ruth was ready.”

Mollengarden says Ruth Siegler's dedication to the work of the center has "shaped what the organization has become today." She gave speeches and allowed the use of her story for teacher workshops. And the Siegler Fellowship created by her children for her 90th birthday provides opportunities for students to research Holocaust survivor-related topics.

She also wrote a memoir, primarily for family members, with a dedication that explains why.

"This book is dedicated to my children and grandchildren," she wrote. "So that the suffering I endured, along with millions of others, will never be forgotten."

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Lawyer and Netflix on Hot Seat Over Documentary on Court-Appointed Guardian

By Adolfo Pesquera

Netflix Inc. failed to obtain a lawsuit dismissal on appeal in Texas concerning a defamation suit that arose from a documentary on guardianship abuse of an infirmed millionaire.

The plaintiff also sued renowned documentarian Alex Gibney, his company New York-based Jigsaw Productions, San Antonio probate attorney Philip Ross and others associated with a Dirty Money episode titled “Guardian Inc.”

In 2017, guardianship proceedings began for Charles Thrash, a successful businessman who at 79 was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In 2018, Thrash’s great-niece, Tonya Barina, became guardian of his estate.

Thrash’s girlfriend, Laura Martinez, and her adult daughter contested guardianship with the help of their attorney, Ross.

Gibney and his associates, as part of their “Dirty Money” series for Netflix, prepared a documentary on the Thrash case. After it aired March 11, 2020, Barina became the target of hundreds of threats. She sued for defamation, and a Bexar County court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Justice Patricia O’Connell Alvarez delivered the opinion on the defendants’ appeal. A three-judge panel concluded the episode maligns Barina as a guardian by leading viewers to believe she took advantage of a elderly but capable millionaire, wrongly sold his assets, and used his estate for personal gain.

“The official proceedings for Thrash’s guardianship do not support these conclusions,” Alvarez stated.

Netflix, the production companies and their associated defendants raised three defenses. They claimed statements in “Guardians Inc.” are protected as fair comment; that any comment related to probate court proceedings are protected under official proceedings privilege; and that they cannot be held liable for third party allegations—a reference to statements made by the Martinezes and their attorney.

In her analysis, Alvarez reasoned that the gist of the documentary portrayed Barina as an exploitative guardian. She noted how the thesis was guardianship abuse as a crime and an epidemic, that statements made by Barina’s accusers were portrayed in a more favorable light versus statements by Barina, and evidence supporting her and disadvantageous to her accusers was omitted.

For example, Laura Martinez arranged a sham marriage to Thrash after he was mentally incompetent and then Ross signed papers on Thrash’s behalf to have Martinez’s adult children adopted by Thrash, the opinion states.

Also, the trial court ordered that Ross and his clients reimburse Barina’s attorney fees that were related to sanctions they incurred from lying to the court about the sham marriage, in violation of a court order.

Referring to the fair comment defense, Alvarez said this ignores the crux of Barina’s claim.

“There is no actual evidence of Barina committing wrongdoing. Therefore, if the gist of the show unfairly defames her, the Media Appellants cannot avail themselves of the fair comment privilege,” the opinion states.

As to the official proceedings defense, Alvarez wrote, “An accurate portrayal of Thrash’s case in the probate court would not lead a reasonable viewer to conclude that she should be accused of exploitation.”

On the third party allegations defense, Alvarez emphasized how “Guardians Inc.” places Ross and the Martinezes in charge of Thrash’s story. The third party rule requires a media outlet not take the additional step of adopting or endorsing the allegations.

The episode edits their accounts together with statements that suggest their accusations of exploitation have been confirmed, Alvarez noted.

“‘Guardians, Inc.’ takes that one step further, and this adoption of the allegations disqualifies the Media Appellants from relying on the third party allegation rule as a defense,” Alvarez states.

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

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.

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Farragut nursing home lost certification, residents to be removed

by: Hannah Moore

FARRAGUT, Tenn. (WATE) — A Farragut nursing home has lost its certification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) meaning residents will have to find a new home.

Summit View of Farragut’s Medicare provider agreement with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) was ended on September 1 due to the facility’s “failure to attain substantial compliance with Medicare’s health and safety requirements,” according to a release from CMS. In addition, All residents have to be removed by October 1.

On August 12, Summit View was given notice about a Health Facilities Commission investigation at the facility. According to a notice from the commission, the investigation found the violations of licensure statutes and regulations in the nursing home that are likely “detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the residents.”  

The executive director of the commission suspended admissions to the facility on Aug. 19. Summit View was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and assigned special monitors. Finally, the nursing home was ordered to put a copy of the notice on its front doors, prominently displaying it as long as it is effective. The full notice can be read here.

Summit View shared a statement about the closure with WATE on Friday, Sept. 2.

For over 30 years, Summit View of Farragut has been a pioneer in long term healthcare, and we are saddened to be closing for the foreseeable future.

Over the next 30 days, we will be assisting our residents and patients in transferring to facilities of their choice. We are aware of the impact this will have on them and are working to ensure an easy and safe transition.

We look forward to reopening in the future.

For those who currently live within the facility, CMS recommends visiting the Care Compare Website and Hospital Compare Website for assistance with the relocation process.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

How do hospitals handle patients who have nowhere to go?

By Zack Budryk
Much has been made of the "frequent flier" patients who return day after day to the emergency room, but some hospitals have another pressing problem: patients who they can't discharge long after their needs are met. 
Earlier in 2015, the District of Columbia's George Washington University Hospital admitted five patients in one month who could neither make their own healthcare decisions nor get in touch with loved ones or advocates, according to the Washington Business Journal. While the average length of stay at the hospital is five days, GW Hospital had no choice but to keep the five patients in the hospital for a total of 300 days.

"We became like a hotel, a boarding house," GW Hospital CEO Barry Wolfman told the publication. "This person is taking up a bed that could be used to care for someone else who needs it."

Wolfman reported the issue to the D.C. Hospital Association and found GW was far from the only hospital in the District with this problem. As a result, area hospitals have formed a "Guardianship Task Force," seeking to address a problem that, while not new, is escalating as the population ages and the healthcare industry's mental health resources fray.

A variety of factors can lead to patients being left in the lurch, from language barriers to mental illness to simply being abandoned by family, according to the article. The first step in such situations is to find the patient's next of kin or, failing that, a court-assigned advocate, which can take weeks. Even if the court assigns an advocate, the appointed person often drags his or her feet to make decisions on behalf of the patient, Patricia Dillard, head of GW's care management department, told the publication.

An average day of inpatient care at District of Columbia hospitals costs $2,500, meaning such patients could be running up a multi-million dollar price tag for providers. The prolonged hospitalizations are also dangerous for the patients, posing unnecessary risks of falls or hospital-acquired infections.

Since establishing the task force, GW's care management team has created a toolkit to help hold guardians accountable, providing information about expectations and responsibilities. The task force meets monthly to collect data in search of trends and improve hospital-court relations to streamline the guardian appointment process.

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Disbarred attorney to be sentenced for ex­ploiting elderly Orlando woman

Matthew Roby, 55, pleaded no contest to a charge of exploiting an elderly person after being charged with stealing more than $3 million from Orlando resident Helen Kuhn (shown). (Photo courtesy of the Orange County Sheriff's Office)

By Rebecca Turco
ORLANDO, Fla. – Sentencing day is approaching for the disbarred local attorney accused of stealing millions of dollars from an elderly client.

Matthew Roby, 55, is set to be sentenced Sept. 14. Roby took a plea deal in June, choosing not to contest a charge of exploiting an elderly person.

Orange County Sheriff's Office Detective Chris Williams said Roby stole more than $3 million from Helen Kuhn of Orlando, spending around $600,000 of it. Williams said the department was able to recover the rest of the stolen money.

“Mr. Roby had a lot of bank accounts, and so going through all of the records, you had to track down where the money was coming from, where the money was going to,” Williams explained. “And then from there, where it was going to again and to again. And that was his pattern.”

“It was almost like a little quasi-money laundering scheme he was running with all of his other accounts,” Williams added.

Kuhn, a retired teacher and pilot, died in June at the age of 108, just two weeks before Roby took the plea deal.

As part of the plea deal, the state dropped a grand theft charge and the judge will sentence Roby to no more than five years in prison. He is also on the hook to pay back more than $490,000. 

Kuhn’s best friend, Wanda Jones of Orlando, said she wished Roby had received a harsher punishment.

“I hope he never, ever has the opportunity to take advantage of anyone else again,” she said. “I want to see him on probation for the rest of his life after he gets out."

Jones said she plans to attend Roby’s sentencing.

She described Kuhn, who she affectionately called “Miss Wanda,” as a close friend with a great sense of humor who became a mother figure, with their decades-apart age difference.

AARP has resources on how seniors can protect themselves against fraud. Anyone who believes they, or someone they know, are the victim of elder financial fraud, can call the AARP Fraud Helpline at 877-908-3360.

They can also call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11.

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$375,000 grant aims to keep elderly residents safe in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has unveiled new funding to help keep seniors safe.

A new $375,000 grant aims to help those who are most vulnerable in the city.

The money will help hire a forensic accountant who will investigate elder financial exploitation.

"It gives me great joy to announce the expansion of the DAO's Elder Justice Unit," said DAO First Assistant Carolyn Temin, who has been instrumental in spearheading the creation of the PEAMDT. "As a result of this grant, we are now able to expand the services available to elder victims of crime."

Officials say the funds will also give a boost to medical and other advocacy groups to teach seniors how these crimes work and how they can spot the schemes.

According to the Action News Data Journalism team, there were 1,938 cases of elder financial exploitation reported from 2014 to 2022 in Philadelphia.

And there is a concern that many of these elder financial scams or thefts go under-reported.

To report suspected elder financial exploitation to the Philadelphia Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Team (PEAMDT), call the task force's hotline at 215-686-5710.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Minnesota Court of Appeals Confirms Immunity from Financial Liability for Guardians

by Amy Erickson, Marya P. Robben

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that, under Minnesota law, guardians are immune from liability for negligently performing their duty to provide care for a person subject to guardianship. The opinion continues the strong protections from liability in place for those who serve as court-appointed guardians in Minnesota.

The Opinion

In Zika v. Elder Care of Minnesota, (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 22, 2022), the Personal Representative of the Estate sued the decedent’s guardian, alleging that the guardian had negligently performed her duties, and sought monetary damages. In 2012, the decedent had moved to an assisted living facility after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The guardian was appointed in 2013 to make decisions about the decedent’s care, comfort, and maintenance. In 2016, the decedent was sexually assaulted in her room by an employee of the assisted living facility. Although the guardian was immediately informed of the assault, she failed to inform the decedent’s family members and did not provide trauma care to the decedent after the assault.

The district court dismissed the claims against the guardian, and the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that guardians are immune from liability under Minnesota law for negligently performing their duty to provide care, comfort, and maintenance needs for the person subject to guardianship. In making this determination, the Court of Appeals relied on the plain language of Minnesota Statute Section 524.5-313(c)(2), which specifically provides that “[f]ailure to satisfy the needs and requirements of this clause shall be grounds for removal of a private guardian, but the guardian shall have no personal or monetary liability.”

The Court of Appeals also reasoned that the legislative history of the guardianship statutes confirms that the legislature intended for a guardian’s immunity to be broad. For example, the Court of Appeals pointed to a different statute — Minnesota Statute Section 524.5-315 — which provides a guardian with immunity from liability related to wrongful acts of third persons if the guardian exercised reasonable care in choosing the third person to provide care. The Zika court explained that the immunity granted in Section 524.5-315 is an additional, specific immunity granted to guardians and not a limitation on or clarification of the protections granted to guardians under Section 524.5-313(c)(2).

As noted above, one of the key issues in the Zika case was whether the guardian could be held liable for her failure to notify the decedent’s family about the sexual assault. More specifically, the decedent’s son testified that, had the family known about the assault, they would have sought trauma treatment for the decedent and would have found her a different long-term care facility. Although the Court of Appeals held that the guardian was immune from liability for failure to notify decedent’s family about the assault, it is worth noting that a 2020 legislative change now requires guardians to communicate with all interested persons concerning, among other things, significant health or unexpected health changes or a medical condition requiring treatment or hospitalization. See Minnesota Statutes Section 524.5-316(d).

Key Takeaways

Guardians, interested persons, and persons subject to guardianship should take note of the decisions in Zika v. Elder Care of Minnesota, as the case provides several important takeaways:

  1.  Minnesota law provides immunity from financial liability for guardians.
  2. The laws protecting guardians from immunity are in place due, in part, to the need for court-appointed guardians in Minnesota and the hesitancy persons nominated as guardians would have to serve if doing so came with risk of significant financial liability. Although guardians cannot be held financially liable for their negligence as guardian under the Minnesota law, they may still be removed.
  3. Guardians today have a duty to communicate with interested persons. Those requirements are fully set forth in Minnesota Statutes Section 524.5-316(d).

Our Trusts & Estates team is experienced in representing guardians and conservators. If you have questions, please contact us to see if we can assist you.

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Attorney for a Top Florida Insurance Law Firm Disbarred After Forgeries, Misconduct

By William Rabb

A former attorney with one of Florida’s top insurance defense firms has been disbarred after the Bar said she engaged in repeated acts of neglect, deception and forgery.

Erika Lynn Muller, until recently a partner with the Cole, Scott & Kissane firm, based in Fort Lauderdale, can no longer practice in the state, the Florida Supreme Court said in an order last week. The court agreed with the Bar’s complaint and a referee’s recommendation that she be disbarred, following months of disciplinary proceedings.

The Bar’s complaint lists several issues, including lack of truthfulness, misconduct and lack of communication, and details one case in particular that unfolded in 2020 and 2021. In a slip-and-fall claim against Rooms To Go furniture company in Miami, Muller offered to settle the claim for $325,000, even though she was not authorized to do so, the Bar said.

She then sent the plaintiff’s attorney a photocopy of a check that she had allegedly fabricated. The plaintiff’s lawyer filed motions to enforce the settlement, which resulted in a court judgment in March 2021 of $425,000, the complaint explains.

Despite garnishment actions against the law firm, the money never materialized. Muller then agreed to send $550,000 to stop the garnishments. She allegedly sent a photocopy of another fabricated cashier’s check, then said she would hand-deliver the check.

But on the day of the planned transfer, she falsely said she was in an automobile accident, the bar said.

Meanwhile, Muller told the furniture company and an adjuster for the insurance company that the case was still in mediation, the Bar said.

On April 7, 2021, Muller informed Cole, Scott & Kissane attorneys that she was resigning.

In an affidavit, “respondent acknowledged that she made misrepresentations to multiple parties and presented altered documents to plaintiff’s counsel,” the Bar’s complaint reads. “In her affidavit, respondent further stated that she was suffering from a mental health crisis during the time of the misconduct.”

Muller later failed to respond to any of the Bar’s inquiries into the matter. The Rooms To Go litigation, brought by an independent contractor who was injured at an RTG parking lot, was dismissed in June 2021.

A referee judge who reviewed the case against Muller agreed with the disbarment action.

“It is imperative that a clear and unmistakable message be sent that callous disregard for clients, the Florida Bar, and the attorney disciplinary process are serious infractions which may not be committed with impunity,” Judge James Martz II wrote in April of this year.

The state Supreme Court, which in recent years has often disagreed with referees’ recommendations, accepted it in this case and said the disbarment will be effective Sept. 25. Muller must also pay $1,315 to cover the Bar’s costs in investigating the case.

The case made headlines in Florida in 2021 and raised eyebrows around the legal community. Court records show that Muller was listed as an attorney on four cases before Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals, including an insurance claim appeal that is still pending.

Muller is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and was a member of the Florida bar since 2008. The Cole, Scott & Kissane website notes that she focused on bad-faith litigation, personal injury defense, premises liability and insurance defense litigation. She and the law firm’s leadership could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

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Indiana couple charged with theft from legally incompetent family member, prosecutor says

Shouna and Christopher Muckerheide of Batesville, Indiana, were charged with theft of over $50,000 and exploitation of an endangered adult, Prosecutor Lynn Deddens wrote in a Facebook post.(Prosecutor Lynn Deddens)

By FOX19 Digital Staff

BATESVILLE, Ind. (WXIX) - A Batesville, Indiana couple is accused of stealing from a family member diagnosed with dementia.

Prosecutor Lynn Deddens says Shouna and Christopher Muckerheide are charged with theft over $50,000 and exploitation of an endangered adult.

The charges arose from a 2018 guardianship case opened for Shouna’s sister who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Deddens wrote on her Facebook page.

An accounting of the sister’s finances was required for the court as part of the guardianship case, the prosecutor wrote.

Deddens says there were “vast discrepancies” in the financials so adult protective services were contacted to conduct an investigation of possible exploitation of an endangered adult.

APS learned that the alleged victim had been living in a nursing home since August 2018 because she could not care for herself, according to the prosecutor.

Deddens wrote that the alleged victim owned a home in Hidden Valley, Indiana, which was sold in 2020.

Through the sale disclosure paperwork, the closing settlement reflected proceeds of $353,541.94, the prosecutor said.

Deddens wrote that Muckerheides listed net proceeds from the sale of the house at $145,537.94 - a difference of $208,004 - in their accounting to the court.

APS Investigator Suellen Cauble and Prosecuting Attorney Investigator Tom Baxter petitioned the court for a search warrant to obtain bank records, according to Deddens.

The prosecutor wrote that Cauble and Baxter learned the $208,004 profit of the alleged victim was used by the Muckerheides to buy their home in Batesville.

They also learned that a credit card that belonged to the alleged victim was used by the Muckerheides in an amount of over $40,000, according to the prosecutor.

“These allegations against the Muckerheide’s are disturbing. A sister who stepped up to be a guardian for her ill sister found a way to profit. This case brings to the forefront the unfortunate reality of what we are already witnessing in society and that is more cases of elder financial exploitation,” Deddens wrote.

The Muckerheides surrendered themselves on the warrant and a pre-trial hearing is set for November 9.

If you know or suspect that an endangered adult or senior citizen is being abused, neglected or financially exploited, you can call the Indiana Adult Protective Services Hotline at 1-800-992-6978.

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Indiana couple charged with theft from legally incompetent family member, prosecutor says