Saturday, June 24, 2023

‘Unsanitary and neglectful’: 2 men charged with exploiting and abusing residents at an unlicensed Midvale facility

Evergreen Place as it appeared from the outside in July 2021, while under the management and ownership of Ignacio Gonzalez-Villarruel and Gustavo Gonzalez Sr. (Google)

by: Derick Fox

MIDVALE, Utah (ABC4) — Two men who managed an unlicensed assisted living home in Midvale have now been charged with several charges involving unsafe and unsanitary living conditions, financial exploitation, and licensing violations.

Ignacio N. Gonzalez-Villarruel, 23, and Jorge Gustavo Gonzalez Sr., 54, both face five felony charges of intentional financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, five misdemeanor charges of intentional abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, and a misdemeanor charge for a licensing violation endangering persons in a human services program.

Ignacio and Gustavo operated Evergreen Place located just off 7800 South and 100 East in Midvale from July 2017 to January 2022. According to charging documents, 17 adult men paid a service fee of $1,000 to $1,400 a month but were subject to several unsanitary and neglectful care.

Charging documents describe Evergreen Place as having grimy floors, filthy carpeting, dirty walls, overflowing trash, stained bedding, and an insect infestation, all of which became “progressively worse” over a period of six months.  

One member of Valley Behavioral Health told prosecutors the immediate space guests walked into often smelled like urine or feces. In January 2022, raw sewage reportedly flooded the basement and backed up into the living quarters.

“At one point, a resident was observed walking through sewage water in his bare feet,” charging documents say. “In this period, the defendants made no known efforts to find alternate housing for the residents, or to notify their families or caseworkers.”

There were also reports of the furnace for the facility had broken, with one resident complaining he “nearly froze to death” from the cold.

Residents of Evergreen Place were also allegedly subject to crowded conditions with only one working shower, not getting medications, and a staff shortage that locked up food at 5 p.m. when they left for the day.

“The most basic of residents’ daily-living needs were not addressed,” allege prosecutors in the charging documents.

As staff and health personnel raised their concerns with Ignacio and Gustavo, they were allegedly met with excuses and the repeated claim they were “working on it,” according to charging documents.

After several health code violations and the overall conditions, Evergreen Place was shut down on January 2022. Residents reportedly had to go through a decontamination process, with charging documents saying one resident was covered in bedbugs.

Charges are allegations only. All arrested persons are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Full Article & Source:
‘Unsanitary and neglectful’: 2 men charged with exploiting and abusing residents at an unlicensed Midvale facility

Disbarred Manchester Attorney Indicted on Four Theft Charges

Attorney General John M. Formella announces that on June 20, 2023, the Hillsborough County-Northern District Grand Jury returned indictments charging David C. Dunn, age 63, of Durham (formerly of Manchester), with four class A felony counts of theft by misapplication of property and four class A felony counts of theft by unauthorized taking or transfer. Mr. Dunn is a former attorney who practiced in Manchester. He was disbarred in 2022.

The theft by misapplication indictments allege that between March 3, 2016, and June 9, 2021, Mr. Dunn, pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct, obtained funds in an aggregate amount of more than $1,500, from two revocable trusts in which he served as trustee, and one estate for which he served as executor, upon agreement or subject to a known legal obligation to make a specified payment to trust and estate beneficiaries, and Mr. Dunn recklessly failed to make the specified payments and dealt with the property as his own.

Additionally, the theft by unauthorized taking indictments alleged that between March 3, 2016, and June 9, 2021, Mr. Dunn, pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct, obtained or exercised unauthorized control over funds from two trust accounts and one estate account, property of another, in an aggregate amount of more than $1,500, with a purpose to deprive the owners thereof.

If convicted, Mr. Dunn faces up to 7 ½ – 15 years in the New Hampshire State Prison and a $4,000 fine on each charge. Mr. Dunn is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges in the Hillsborough County Superior Court-Northern District on July 20, 2023, at 10:30 a.m.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and Mr. Dunn is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This matter was investigated by Investigator Calice Couchman-Ducey of the Consumer Protection Bureau. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant Attorney General Bryan  J. Townsend, II, of the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation, please contact your local police department or the Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services (1-800-949-0470).

Full Article & Source:
Disbarred Manchester Attorney Indicted on Four Theft Charges

District Man Gets Time For Exploiting Disabled Family Member Unable To Make Decisions: Feds

Time will be served for a Washington, DC man who took advantage and financially cashed in on a family member suffering from cognitive disabilities, federal officials announced.

by Zak Failla

Tyronne Gregory Taylor, 53, has been sentenced to two years in prison after admitting to exploiting a family member for months in 2020 while he was in a hospital and unable to make decisions for himself.

According to court documents, between July and December 2020, Taylor gained unauthorized access to his family member's debit card while in a DC skilled nursing facility and had a field day with it.

Once in possession of his golden ticket, Taylor then used that ATM card to take out cash and make some luxury purchased at auto parts stores, hardware stores, restaurants, gas stations, liquor stores, hotels, and even treated himself to a new car.

To top off his scheme, prosecutors say that Taylor also used the card to make phony payments to TNTGreenConstruction, a company he owns a part of.

In total, more than $50,000 was stolen from his hospitalized family member, who was unable to communicate or make decisions for himself while the scheme was going on.

Taylor pleaded guilty in February to one felony count of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult or elderly person. In addition to his prison term, he will serve five years of supervised probation when he is released.

The judge also ordered that Taylor pay $51,886.3 in restitution to his family.

Full Article & Source:
District Man Gets Time For Exploiting Disabled Family Member Unable To Make Decisions: Feds

Friday, June 23, 2023

AZ Governor Signs Probate Reform Laws Inspired by Disney Family Court Battles

In a Year of Vetoes – Arizona Legislature and Governor Agree on Need for Sweeping Court Reforms with Unanimous Votes in Both Chambers

PHOENIX--()--Today, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs signed into law SB1291, drastically elevating the rights of citizens in guardianship and conservatorship in historic reform for an area of civil law that has long been noted for abuse. Governor Hobbs had previously signed SB1038, establishing a Probate Advisory Panel. Both bills passed out of the Legislature with unanimous support in both the House and Senate, which together bring long-needed reform and accountability to probate courts in Arizona.

The grassroots effort was led by Sherry Lund, who was motivated to act after her family endured over a decade of emotionally devastating and extremely costly litigation in two states to prove her stepson, the grandson of Walt Disney, was competent and not in need of a guardian or conservator. Her experiences led her to found 5-14 Protecting Liberty, a grassroots organization dedicated to probate reform.

“The amount of money that was demanded to be paid by our family through the legal action to protect our son’s rightful inheritance was nothing short of extortion. Across our nation the courts, attorneys, and fiduciaries have developed a pattern and practice of abuse that protects their sources of financial gain, pulling it from private citizens and into their pockets. After what happened to our family, I could not sit by and watch as other Americans are abused by the system that was designed to protect them,” said Mrs. Lund.

Both bills were sponsored by Senator John Kavanagh R-Fountain Hills, who stated in public testimony that probate reform is “a very important issue” and spent hours in stakeholder meetings to develop the bill language that would ensure the rights of individuals are not lost unnecessarily in Arizona courts. Rep. Alex Kolodin R-Scottsdale, who sponsored the striker amendment that added stronger protections for Arizona citizens, called SB1291 “a phenomenal bill” and was instrumental in seeing it passed. By Arizona law, the bills will become effective 90-days after Sine Die of the Arizona Legislature. Mrs. Lund in expressing her gratitude said, “Immense thanks are due to Sen. John Kavanagh for his efforts at getting both of these bills through the legislature, to Rep. Alex Kolodin for his strong legal language and commitment to the Constitution, and to Governor Katie Hobbs who recognized the need for reform and signed SB291 and SB1038 into law.”

Asked about her next plans, Mrs. Lund replied, “I’m not stopping. There is much more to do in Arizona to protect children and families. Nationally, I won’t stop until every state is upholding the Constitution in probate matters. Our case led me to meet so many other families, from around the country, with horror stories that cannot be ignored. I have the ability to affect positive change and am determined to do so.”

About 5-14 Protecting Liberty: Founded by Sherry Lund, 5-14 Protecting Liberty is a grassroots coalition of citizens who have experienced abuse, separation from loved ones, the loss of individual liberty, personal property and finances in the probate system. 5-14 Protecting Liberty is dedicated to protecting the rights of all.


Kim Owens
Gordon C. James Public Relations

AZ Governor Signs Probate Reform Laws Inspired by Disney Family Court Battles

Bill to strengthen Michigan's Power of Attorney law advances in Lansing

By: Heather Catallo

(WXYZ) — If you’re put under guardianship or conservatorship by a probate court, you lose the ability to make your own decisions about your finances or even your healthcare.

Now there’s a new effort to make it easier to avoid losing your rights to someone you don’t even know.

A Power Of Attorney gives you the ability to choose someone to make legal and financial decisions for you if you become unable to do that.

There’s a proposed law that just passed out of committee in Lansing Wednesday that will make some important changes to the Power Of Attorney laws. Experts say these changes will allow you to keep your loved ones away from predatory probate practices.

Chandra Drayton knows all too well the pain that can come from losing your loved one to a court-appointed guardian. Chandra had an out-of-state Power Of Attorney for her mother, Ernestine. Drayton says while she was trying to figure out how to get more oversight over her mom’s affairs in Michigan, a professional guardian took over and cut Chandra and her sister out of the decision-making for their mom.

“I'm pleading to the state of Michigan, to the powers that be-- please make these changes immediately. Save these lives. Because my mom-- her life wasn't saved,” said Drayton.

That’s why Drayton is relieved that proposed changes to strengthen Michigan’s Power Of Attorney Law just got passed by the state’s House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Experts say the proposed Uniform Power of Attorney Act can help families avoid having to get guardianship or conservatorship over their loved one and their finances.

“We view that this is kind of the key basic part to reforming that system is having a robust power of attorney statute here in Michigan,” said Christopher W. Smith, a probate lawyer with Chalgian & Tripp. Smith also is a member of the Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Task Force that has worked for years to reform our laws.

Smith says the changes will streamline Power Of Attorney documents which will make it more likely that financial institutions will have to accept them.

Smith says often banks will say you have to go to court to get a conservatorship over your loved one when you don’t actually need to take that extreme step.

“If we finally have a process in place that says, ‘listen you have to do A, B, or C before you reject this Power Of Attorney and if you don’t do that, then we can go to court,’ and we can say – ‘hey you’ve got to enforce this power of attorney,’” said Smith.

Smith says the new legislation would require a financial institution to pay your attorney fees if you do have to take them to court to force them to accept the Power of Attorney. He also says by making a uniform boilerplate Power Of Attorney form it will eliminate the guesswork in creating the Power Of Attorney, especially for people who can’t afford to hire an attorney.

“You've got to have your ducks in a row,” said Drayton. “Without it, you'll be lost, your loved one will be lost in a system somewhere.”

Full Article & Source:
Bill to strengthen Michigan's Power of Attorney law advances in Lansing

Elder Abuse Is In Full Effect: Statistics Show Seniors Are Swindled By People They Know

by Stacy Jackson

A senior man in his 60s paying bills or planning his home finances, sitting at a desk by a window. His adult daughter, a heavyset woman in her 30s is standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. (Getty Images)

Some things are just shameful, and abusing or financially exploiting older adults is one of them.

Americans over 60 lose $28.3 billion yearly from financial exploitation, according to a study by AARP and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Shocking statistics showed that people close to victims, such as family members, friends, and caregivers, steal around three-quarters of that amount, FINURAH reported. Also, just because the elderly victim knows who is exploiting them does not mean they will report it. According to the study, victims are less likely to report financial exploitation by someone they know. Around 88% of cases went unreported because the victim knew the person, according to FINURAH. Saving face for themselves and their family, friends, or caregiver might cause victims to remain quiet about financial exploitation. FINURAH reported shame might be the most significant reason elderly victims don’t report exploitation in instances where they know the person.

BLACK ENTERPRISE reported John Amos, famous for his role in Good Times, was recently said to be a victim of “financial exploitation” and “elder abuse.” Amos’ daughter, Shannon Amos, posted on Instagram on June 8, 2023, saying the 83-year-old actor was in the ICU and his home had been stripped bare. When Amos publicly refuted Shannon’s claims, she responded, “I understand that this is embarrassing and upsetting, and probably not what he would have wanted me to do, but it is in his best interest.”

Later, BLACK ENTERPRISE reported Amos revealed in a video that he believed he was the victim of elderly abuse by his daughter, Shannon. The video was posted by Amos’ son, K.C. Amos. Amos called his daughter a “primary suspect.” He added, “I don’t know if that’s the right term to use or not. But she’s the one that I would attribute my elderly abuse to. It’s definitely a case of elderly abuse.”

According to FINURAH and figures published by the AARP Public Policy Institute, financial exploitation is more than twice what it was in March 2020.

Full Article & Source:
Elder Abuse Is In Full Effect: Statistics Show Seniors Are Swindled By People They Know

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Despite being her conservator, neglect from a state agency delayed health care for a woman with a developmental disability

She’s not alone. An ABC10 investigation into conservatorships, The Price of Care, has uncovered abuse and a lack of response impacting thousands of people.

Author: Andie Judson

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — To say Rani Slater is a San Francisco 49ers fan is an understatement. The walls of her room are plastered in scarlet and gold, her closet stuffed to the brim with customized 49ers gear and her prized possessions include a number of autographed footballs and jerseys.

She hands cards out to everyone she meets. Her title on them? "San Francisco 49ers Biggest Fan."

Ask her about any player, past or present, she'll likely give you his stats and tell you in detail about the best play he ever made.

"Why do you like them?" asked ABC10 Investigative Reporter Andie Judson.

"Because they like winning games!" said Slater.

But those in charge of her life have no idea about her biggest passion. She's conserved by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

Credit: ABC10 / Rory Ward
Rani Slater, surrounded by 49ers memorabilia in her home.

DDS doesn't know a lot of things about Slater, like the fact her teeth are literally rotting.

"I just want to get this taken care of. I want it taken care of," she said. "I don't want to get another one pulled."

Her teeth have decayed so badly it's difficult to eat.

Since she's conserved, every aspect of her life, from what she eats, where she lives and all decisions about her health, including dental, are in the hands of someone else: The Department of Developmental Services.

DDS is a huge state agency with a $14 billion budget, funded by taxpayers. The agency was formed after the Lanterman Act was passed in 1969 and is required, by law, to make sure Californians with developmental disabilities have equal rights and opportunities.

"My daughters were on a defective baby formula when they were born," said Robin Gage, Rani's mother.

Rani and her twin sister, Danielle, were two of thousands of children with developmental disabilities due to the formula, Neo-Mull-Soy, they drank as infants.

"We started having issues with them... they're not holding their heads up, they're not crawling," Robin recalled. "I told my mom, 'Something is wrong.' They didn't walk until they were two years and two months old. So I immediately thought, 'What agency can I go to?' I didn't know what Alta Regional was."

She learned DDS funds and oversees 21 regional centers across California.

These centers fulfill DDS' responsibilities by providing services and supports to those with disabilities as well as their families. These services vary greatly depending on the client's needs, but can range from in-home caregiving to speech therapy and even transportation.

The center in Sacramento is called Alta Regional Center.

"That's how we got started with Alta Regional," Robin recalled.

Alta provided Robin with services to support her in raising her daughters.

"(Rani is over 40) but she's still got the mind of a 15-year-old," said Robin.

As they grew, Robin fought to get her twins justice from the baby formula company, Syntex Corporation.

"Well it took, oh my God, 12 years to get a settlement. They had until their 19th birthday to settle. It wasn't a lot either," said Robin.

By the time they settled, Rani and her sister were 25. The net settlement amount was $34,997.28. Each twin received $17,498.64, court documents show.

But Robin still cared for them, including financially.

"Their lawyer said, 'We can't give you the money. It's going to be put in the bank for them. You're going to need to get conservatorship in order to get access to this money for them,'" said Robin.

Parents are often told to get conservatorship as their child approaches age 18 because many with developmental disabilities are not able to handle aspects of adult life, like medical or financial decisions.

But as Robin took the steps to get conservatorship, she was shocked to find she was not the only one trying to conserve her own daughters.

"All of the sudden, I'm hearing from DDS - the Department of Developmental Services. They start getting conservatorship — once I filed my conservatorship (petition), all the sudden they're on board," said Robin. "I'm like, 'You weren't interested in getting conservatorship when they were 18.'"

ABC10 has investigated conservatorships and the Department of Developmental Services for over three years now as part of our ongoing investigation, The Price of Care. Our investigation is credited for getting first-of-its-kind legislation passed and forcing reform within DDS' conservatorship process.

DDS swooping in to compete against parents for conservatorship is a pattern our reporting has found over and over again.

As of May 2023, DDS conserves 395 individuals, according to data provided from public records requests.

The agency often seeks conservatorship when there's allegations of abuse. For Robin, court documents show DDS claimed she was using her daughter's funds inappropriately. Robin says this is false.

"I had a lawyer. (We) went in and they started bringing up a lot of things that were not true, no evidence," said Robin.

Robin isn't the only one to feel like she was deemed guilty before being proven otherwise. Other parents featured in our ongoing investigation had the same experience.

"Court appointed investigator never interviewed us. Still hasn't in three years," said Deborah Findley, whose son Andrew is conserved by DDS. "We never got due process."

"There is no evidence," said Jill Schutte, whose son Garth is conserved by DDS. "They will not find evidence of abuse of Garth."

DDS pursued and was granted conservatorship for both Findley and Schutte's case, like Robin's, after they sought conservatorship themselves.

In cases our investigation looked at, DDS was not able to prove allegations of abuse they brought up when seeking conservatorship.

"They accused me of spending their SSI money on vacations," said Robin. "I was working. I had money to pay for everything I wanted. What proof do you have?"

Robin asks if she was truly financially abusive, wouldn't DDS have tried to conserve her kids when they turned 18 and not seven years later?

"All of the sudden they have a settlement and you want to jump on this?" asked Robin.

As for how the settlement money was spent, court documents show it was not on Rani or Danielle.

"The probate lawyers kept nickel and diming the account until it was gone," said Robin.

DDS got conservatorship even after Rani and her sister said they wanted their mother to be their conservators, court documents show.

"The judge just said, 'Give it to DDS,'" Robin said. "I was upset. I'm like, 'I don't want them making health care decisions, where they live, all that stuff.' They're capable of telling me what they want."

Today, Rani and her sister have been conserved by DDS for 20 years.

"DDS... I've never heard from them at all since she got conserved," said Robin. "They've never been over here, ever."

"I don't know anybody at DDS," said Rani.

Unlike other cases we've investigated, where DDS moves the person once they obtain conservatorship and often cuts off contact from family members, Rani still lives at home with her mom who handles her day-to-day care.

However, her sister has been moved to a supported living home. Rani and her still have visits, albeit DDS stopped them for over two years during COVID.

Credit: Robin Gage

Even though DDS is legally their conservator, the agency hands the responsibilities of conservatorship down to their regional centers.

Which means Alta Regional Center is in charge of Rani and her sister's care, including medical needs. Their mom says Alta has not been there or taken care of them in any way.

"They just want ultimate control and ultimate power when they don't live here for the everyday stuff," said Robin. "You're not here in this house. You don't know what's going on."

When Rani has medical needs, like an eye surgery in 2017, Alta had an astounding delay in getting her care.

"It took three years to get them to approve the surgery," said Robin.

Credit: Robin Gage

In 2022, her bottom teeth began having issues. When Robin contacted Alta Regional Center for help...

"Nothing. Nothing. I have to keep writing them about every other week, 'What's going on with the dental?'" said Robin.

Emails between Robin and Alta Regional Center staff obtained by ABC10 show Robin asking repeatedly about Rani's teeth for over a year. Emails date back to Feb. 2022.

The following are excerpts from emails she sent to Alta:

  • Feb. 21, 2022: "Rani needs two root canals."
  • April 8, 2022: "Can I get an update on Rani's dental work?"
  • May 24, 2022: "She has already lost one tooth in the front. If she loses these other teeth in the front, she won't be able to bite anything."
  • July 14, 2022: "Rani's teeth are hurting her. When can she get into see the dentist?"

Despite not being her conservator, Robin takes Rani to dentist appointments. Because Alta needs approval from Medi-Cal, they had to go to multiple appointments to get several estimates.

As of the start of May 2023, over a year later, Rani's teeth have not been fixed. Robin's emails and requests for help have been met with red tape and excuses.

In emails obtained by ABC10, Alta said multiple times they're waiting on a response from Medi-Cal, that they "haven't been able to obtain approval," and even admitted they're "not making much headway" in getting funds for the treatment.

"(It's been going on for) 19 months," Robin said during her interview with ABC10 in March.

Because Alta has done nothing, Rani's teeth have gotten much worse.

"They had to pull three teeth on the bottom and she's getting ready to probably lose another one if I don't get her in and get that one fixed," said Robin. "If that tooth gets pulled, it'll be four on the bottom she won't have. How is she going to eat?"

DDS conserved Rani saying it was in her "best interest" and under their mother's care her and her sister were "not reaching" their potential, court documents show. If you ask Rani, she says otherwise.

"Alta Regional is not doing their job," said Rani. "DDS is not doing their job."

Unfortunately, Rani isn't alone.

Our investigation found a number of cases where DDS has failed conservatees and their health has suffered under their care. Yet, year after year, DDS' budget - funded by taxpayer dollars grows.

"It's neglect," said Robin. "I know [DDS] has funds for this."

DDS' 2022-2023 budget is over $12 billion. Their 2023-2024 budget is projected to increase to over $14 billion. A large portion of that money goes to each regional center.

For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, Alta has a budget of $805,256,565, according to public record requests ABC10 filed.

ABC10 requested an on-camera interview with Alta Regional Center as well as DDS multiple times. When they declined, ABC10 sent them a detailed letter of our findings and what we would be reporting, as well as re-requesting an interview.

Alta declined saying "information relating to our client's regional center intake, assessment and services is confidential and protected from disclosure pursuant to the Lanterman Act (and HIPPA)."

They also said as Rani's conservator, Alta "does not believe it would be in the client's best interests to have their private information released to the public."

DDS also responded, declining our interview request, but saying they are "deeply concerned by this situation" and the "described delays in receiving dental care are not acceptable and we are working with our partners to resolve any issues related to accessing care."

Both Alta and DDS' full statements are available at the bottom of this article.

After ABC10 began investigating in mid-May, well over a year after concerns were first expressed about her teeth, Rani finally got root canals. But Robin says because so much time passed before the dental care she needed was given, Rani now needs more work, like a bridge between her teeth that have been pulled.

It's especially frustrating for Rani given when we asked what her favorite part of watching sports is...

"The food!" Rani said, smiling.

It's why her and Robin's message to Rani's conservator is simple: "Do your job."


The Price of Care: Taken by the State | Season 2, Ep. 1 of an ABC10 Originals five-part docuseries=

Full statements:

The Department of Developmental Services:

We are deeply concerned by this situation involving an individual under a DDS limited conservatorship with Alta California Regional Center (Alta). The described delays in receiving dental care are not acceptable and we are working with our partners to resolve any issues related to accessing care.

While we cannot comment on the specifics of a person’s medical or dental treatment due to privacy laws, we have followed up with the regional center to confirm the individual named is getting the care needed.

We are actively looking for opportunities to improve coordination and remove barriers for the individuals we serve. Recognizing the challenges in navigating dental services and coordination with primary medical care, California has invested resources to support a dental coordinator at each regional center. Alta’s current dental coordinator started in March 2023 which was instrumental in navigating access to dental services and coordinated the needed services between both health and dental providers.

During the past year, DDS examined all aspects of its limited conservatorship program. This included convening a panel of national experts to provide recommendations for improved oversight. These recommendations remain a priority and are actively being implemented.

We remain committed to continually examining and improving how services and supports are provided that are person-centered to Californians who have intellectual/developmental disabilities.

Alta Regional Center:

We have received your request for an on-camera interview with Alta California Regional Center (ACRC) regarding allegations concerning an ACRC client who is conserved by the Director of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

ACRC is declining your interview request because information relating to our client's regional center intake, assessment and services is confidential and protected from disclosure pursuant to the Lanterman Act (at Welfare and Institutions Code section 4514), as well as under HIPAA as Protected Health Infonnation. As such, we cannot share information about our client with third pa1iies such as the press or members of the general public without the client's w1itten consent or that of their conservator. And ACRC, acting as the client's conservator, does not believe it would be in the client's best interests to have their p1ivate infonnation released to the public.

We do want to note that all California conservatorships are overseen by the county superior court in which the conservatorship petition was filed, which is required to periodically investigate and review the conservatorship for the protection of the conservatee. (Prob. Code§§ 1850-1853.) Any individual who believes that a conservator is not acting in the best interests of the conservatee may report their concerns to the probate court for potential investigation and review by the comi. (Prob. Code§ 1850(b).)

Full Article & Source:
Despite being her conservator, neglect from a state agency delayed health care for a woman with a developmental disability

See Also:
ABC10's reporting on California's conservatorship system honored with James Madison Freedom of Information Award

Conservatorships can trap families in a web of conflicting interests

ABC10 to release year-long investigation of California's conservatorship industry

ABC10 investigation prompts in-depth review of conservatorships in California

Resource guide for Californians dealing with conservatorships

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

South Carolina Probate Court Issues: ‘A Tale As Old As Time’

by Jenn Wood

When Marvin Lawson was appointed to his role as Darlington County probate judge in July of 1994, he replaced the late probate judge Dennis Lloyd – who died while facing two lawsuits and a state investigation surrounding $841,000 in money missing from probate accounts he was overseeing. Well aware of the challenges he was facing, Lawson told The Associated Press at the time, “somehow, I have to try and restore trust in this office.”

The Darlington County probate court scandal came on the heels of a similar scandal that rocked Dorchester County. There, probate judge Shelton Parker was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1993 on a charge of wire fraud and by a state grand jury of multiple misconduct in office charges related to funds he admitted siphoning from estates during his tenure in office.

Both scandals — which unfolded almost simultaneously — brought about calls for reform. Both were accompanied by promises to rebuild trust within the probate system. But thirty years later – as our audience is well aware – South Carolina is once again facing the same questions and challenges as controversial and/ or corrupt probate rulings and actions are coming to light.

Dorchester County Courthouse (Facebook)

Shelton Parker served in the role of Dorchester County probate judge for fifteen years when news that a criminal investigation surrounding land transactions and business deals he made while in that role began circulating. The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper published its first story on the investigation on February 14, 1993 – reporting that Parker had acquired 32 land parcels in Dorchester County valued at over $1,000,000 while in office. His annual salary during his tenure was $39,200.

The allegations in The State story were damning. Of those 32 properties owned by Parker, at least nine of them were from the estates of deceased individuals he was in charge of settling in his court. Additional research into the allegations against Parker showed he purchased some of the land for much less than the value listed in the county tax rolls. In some instances, the land was subsequently sold for substantially more than what he paid for it only a few months earlier.

Parker also had probate clerks working beneath him notarize and witness the signing of two wills which gave him broad trustee power over two estates. Even more concerning, based on information obtained in his official capacity he offered to invest money on behalf of individuals who had come into money through a large inheritance or life insurance settlement.

Calls for a comprehensive overhaul of the probate court system in South Carolina in the wake of this investigation were resounding, but Louis Rosen — the director of the office of court administration at the time — said the problems did not appear to be widespread. The State reported in the same story that the supreme court was hesitant when it came to reprimanding probate judges. Why? Because probate court judges are elected independently – and are not required to have law degrees.

While ignorance of the law is not a defense for the rest of us, it appeared to be one for probate judges. In fact, when the supreme court had to reprimand a probate judge in 1990, chief justice George T. Gregory Jr. admitted his “reluctance” to impose a harsh sentence.

“The court was reluctant to hold people without formal legal education to the same standard as those who’ve studied law,” Gregory said at the time.

What could possibly go wrong, right?



Darlington County Courthouse (Facebook)

Despite scandals and calls for reform, little has changed within the Palmetto State probate court system – even as the stakes have continued to rise. The assets of the most vulnerable of our population in South Carolina are governed by probate judges elected within each county — some of whom do not even have a bachelor degree.

As noted in our previous coverage, probate judges are the only judges in South Carolina elected by the people. Probate judges are not required to have a law degree. The only education requirement of a probate judge is they must have a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited post-secondary institution — or if they have received no degree, they must have four years’ experience as an employee in a probate judge’s office in South Carolina.

When the issue of requiring probate judges to have a law degree came up during the 1993 investigation of Shelton Parker, Louis Rosen claimed legal training wouldn’t make a difference.

“If you get the wrong person, a dishonest person, training just makes them more capable of finding more ways to be dishonest,” he asserted.

Wait … what?

In 1993, like all judges in South Carolina, probate judges were required to take fifteen hours of continuing legal education each year. Per Rule 504 of the South Carolina rules of court, this requirement remains unchanged.

In other words, fifteen hours of training a year and a bachelor’s degree is all that is required to oversee tens of millions of dollars a year in assets and make determinations on the involuntary commitment of persons suffering from mental illness, intellectual disability, alcoholism, drug addiction, and active pulmonary tuberculosis.



Alex Murdaugh (FITSNews)

More recently, the high-profile criminal case of disbarred attorney and convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh has highlighted systemic issues within South Carolina’s probate courts. Murdaugh admitted during his trial for the murder of his wife and son that he utilized the probate court system to steal money from a number of his clients.

Among them? Hannah Plyler — a former Murdaugh client who – along with her sister, Alania Plyler-Spohn. was represented by Murdaugh after her mother and brother perished in an automobile accident on Interstate 95 seventeen years ago.

The federal criminal trial of Russell Laffitte – the former chief executive officer of Palmetto State Bank (PSB) and convicted co-conspirator of Murdaugh – shed new light on the financial crimes allegedly committed by Murdaugh in the years leading up to the brutal murders of his wife and son on June 7, 2021. Laffitte was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud as well as three counts of misapplying bank funds in U.S. district court in Charleston, South Carolina on November 22, 2022. He faces up to thirty years in prison and millions of dollars in fines in connection with those convictions.

During Laffitte’s trial, prosecutors Emily LimehouseWinston Holliday and Kathleen Stoughton made a compelling case against Laffitte on behalf of the government. In meticulous detail, they documented for jurors how he extended eight loans to himself in the amount of $355,000 from the conservatorship of Hannah Plyler.

Laffitte served as conservator for the Plylers and allegedly repaid money taken from Hannah Plyler’s account with conservator and personal representative fees fraudulently obtained from other clients. In addition to these financial crimes, Laffitte also extended to Murdaugh nearly $1 million in “unsecured loans” from Hannah Plyler’s account. 

In an interview posted to YouTube prior to the start of the trial, Laffitte claimed these loans were “just an investment vehicle … you know … they were earning a lot more than they were earning sitting in an account.”

The conservatorship for the Plyler sisters was filed in Hampton County probate court and overseen by probate judge Sheila Odom. Last August, Lexington, S.C. attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter filed a lawsuit against Laffitte and PSB on behalf of Hannah Plyler and Alania Plyler-Spohn.

As part of this lawsuit, Odom was deposed on December 8, 2022. During her deposition – a copy of which was provided to this news outlet – she finally provided insight into the role of the Hampton County probate court in the financial fleecings allegedly orchestrated by Murdaugh and Laffitte. 

Odom began her career with Hampton County in 1991 as a clerk under former probate judge Bessie P. Cope. She was elected to the post following Cope’s retirement in 1995 and has served seven consecutive terms since then. She retired on January 5, 2023 and was succeeded by Shannon Parker

Hampton County’s probate court is responsible for a variety of cases including estates, conservatorships and guardianships. In her deposition, Odom stated the court typically has an average of 400 cases open at any one time – all of which are handled by her and her clerk.  Approximately 70 percent of these cases are pro se — i.e. individuals filing without an attorney – while the remainder have an attorney of record. Due to the enormous workload and their small staff, Odom said the court relies on the offices and staff of attorneys to supplement resources on those cases.

When asked if the court also relied on the integrity of attorneys handling these cases – and the accuracy of the information they provide – she replied simply, “correct.”

In the Plyler case, the girls’ father – Rickie Plyler – was unable to serve as conservator for reasons unknown to Odom, so Murdaugh put Laffitte forward to serve in this role on behalf of the sisters. Odom’s responses to Richter’s questions indicated a number of flaws in the filing of the Plyler estate documents, including:

  • The listing of Russell Laffitte as the applicant: Typically, petitions are filed by individuals with statutory standing – asking the court to appoint someone as conservator – not by the applicant themselves.
  • An address located outside the court’s jurisdiction: The Columbia, S.C. address listed on the petition for Hannah Plyler is located in Richland County. A conservatorship’s jurisdiction is supposed to be in the county where the ward resides – yet Laffitte’s petition falsely claimed Hannah Plyler lived in Hampton County. A box was checked attesting to this as fact – and was signed by Laffitte on the petition as a sworn verification.

Odom — who does not have a law degree — admitted she heavily relied on what the attorneys told her to do when approving filings and motions. 



Marlboro County Courthouse (Explore SC/ Facebook)

While Murdaugh’s complex web of crimes brought probate court back into the spotlight, it certainly is not the only recent case involving alleged misdeeds within the system. In October 2021, an investigation was opened into Marlboro County deputy probate judge Tammy Bullock after accusations were made that she impersonated a judge – and then rummaged through a dead man’s home and participated in the removal of his property in January 2021.

Hollis Slade of Bennettsville, S.C. passed away on January 23, 2021 at the age of 68 – but his security system lived on. Cameras outside his home captured Bullock and others searching through his home looking for his last will and testament. These cameras also captured discussions between Bullock and the group about keeping financial information discovered inside the man’s home a secret from his family.

In Horry County, 61-year-old Luke Barefoot -a former campaign manager and employee of Horry County council chairman Johnny Gardner’s law firm – was arrested and charged with two counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent (with a value of at least $10,000) in July of 2022. The accusations surround money stolen from the estate of Benjamin Creel, who died in a car wreck in 2016.

Barefoot managed the estate on behalf of Gardner’s law firm.

The arrest warrant in Barefoot’s case indicated that between late 2016 and January 2020, Barefoot set up an account for an estate at Anderson Brothers Bank and removed more than $400,000 from the estate’s checking account and deposited it into his own account at Anderson Brothers.

Barefoot also removed nearly $65,000 from the estate’s account for his own use, according to a second warrant and transferred $35,211 to his business Laurel Street Enterprises and he moved the rest – nearly $29,000 – into another one of his companies, Call The Man LLC. But the beneficiaries of Creel’s estate believe the amount stolen was much higher.

On January 18, 2018, Williamston, South Carolina estate attorney Philip Williams pleaded guilty to mail fraud charges in federal court in Greenville. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Williams used money in his client trust account to pay for living and personal expenses rather than pay devisees and others for estates that he was handling. 

“To try to hide his wrongdoing, (Williams) would wait for another estate’s funds to be deposited and then try to pay off the devisees from the first estate,” a news release from the U.S. attorney noted. “This happened with at least four or five estates and snowballed into something of a pyramid scheme where he depended on estates from new clients to pay off the devisees of previous clients.”

These are just a small sampling of news stories and press releases from across the state clearly indicating the issues in probate courts are widespread – yet there has been very little substantive conversation about what reforms are needed to prevent additional people to be victimized. In the coming weeks, this news outlet will be exploring reforms experts say are needed to protect those most vulnerable to victimization, providing updates to current cases in Darlington and Florence counties, and providing insight into the probate court processes to help our audience understand how to best protect themselves and their loved ones.

Full Article & Source:
South Carolina Probate Court Issues: ‘A Tale As Old As Time’

Louisville nursing homes shut down after reports of neglect, rodent infestation

Two Louisville nursing homes will be shutting down and paying penalties after site visits by Medicare officials showed signs of patient neglect and mistreatment

By Dustin Vogt

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Two Louisville nursing homes will be shutting down and paying penalties after site visits by Medicare officials showed signs of patient neglect, mistreatment, and in the case of one nursing home, rats in plain view.

Hillview Rehab and Care Hillcreek, located at 3116 Breckinridge Lane, and St. Matthews Care and Rehab Center, located at 227 Browns Lane, have dismissed cases seeking injunctive relief and will be shutting down, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The nursing homes are owned and operated by Medical Rehabilitation Centers, LLC, which is headquartered in Lexington. The company agreed to pay a total of $1,026,409 in civil money penalties to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“This office will vigorously defend the actions of CMS when it seeks to hold accountable nursing facilities that fail to comply with Medicare rules and regulations,” U.S. Attorney Michael A. Bennett said in a release. “Nursing homes must meet all federal program requirements and provide their residents, which include some of our most vulnerable citizens, with the quality care and services they deserve. When facilities fail to meet these requirements, CMS is authorized to hold the facilities accountable.”

From September 2022 through May 2023, the Kentucky Division of Health Care performed site visits to the two nursing homes.

The visits found numerous violations of Medicare rules and regulations for each of the two nursing homes.

In the case of Hillview Rehab and Care, findings included using blood glucometers on multiple patients without disinfection, leaving a resident with skin tears in an unheated room covered in urine and feces, finding rats and rat droppings in plain view within various locations and failing to implement care plans for multiple residents who each suffered serious harm.

For the St. Matthews location, findings include failing to protect residents from abuse, failing to complete proper background checks on its employees and failing to ensure that alleged violations of abuse or neglect were reported immediately among others.

On May 24, the two nursing homes filed federal lawsuits in an attempt to remain open, with the United States filing motions to dismiss and dissolve restraining orders entered by the court.

Following a brief hearing on June 1, the nursing homes agreed to terminate provider agreements with Medicare, dissolve temporary restraining orders, dismiss the cases with prejudice and close the facilities within 30 days.

The U.S. DOJ said Hillcreek and Exceptional Living Centers will pay a penalty of $636,752.75 to CMS and St. Matthews and Exceptional Living Centers will pay a penalty of $389,656.25.

Full Article & Source:
Louisville nursing homes shut down after reports of neglect, rodent infestation

Man who saved elderly man after crash turns out to be hospital physical therapist 10 Tam

An 85-year-old Sarasota man was able to say "thank you" to the good Samaritan who helped him after a bad crash – who just so happened to be a physical therapist at the same hospital he was recovering in. 

Alex Strouhal has been a physical therapist at HCA Florida Sarasota Doctors Hospital for more than 20 years, and he is an avid cyclist who rides his bike to and from work multiple times a week.

Man who saved elderly man after crash turns out to be hospital physical therapist

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Strangers move in, make 79-year-old ‘a prisoner in his own home,’ Texas officials say

By Mitchell Willetts

Three people are accused of moving into a 79-year-old man’s Tomball, Texas, home and taking control of his finances, and beating him for money, according to officials. Screengrab from video by KHOU.

A 79-year-old Texas man was made “a prisoner in his own home” for months after a trio of strangers moved in, according to investigators. 

The man had gone to Louisiana for a funeral, and when he returned to his home in Tomball, Texas, in December, it was immediately clear that something wasn’t right, according to a criminal complaint filed June 2 in Harris County. 

His truck was missing from the driveway, and three “brand new” vehicles had taken its place, documents read. They had been financed in his name and without his knowledge, the complaint says. 

He stuck his key in the front door but it wouldn’t open because the locks had been changed. 

Inside were three people, two women and a man, the complaint says.

The homeowner, a disabled veteran, had tried to help one of the suspects, he told TV station KHOU. Now he was paying for his kindness. 

“I wished a thousand times I never helped them, but I did,” he said. 

For several months, the trio controlled his home and his finances, documents say. When they needed money, or cash for gas, they would beat him with a plastic rod until he gave it to them, the complaint says. 

His life continued like this until mid-February, when the man took one of the suspects to get an oil change, documents said. A witness noticed bruises all over his arms and asked where they came from, and the man wouldn’t answer.

Worried, the witness later went to his home and took him to a doctor, where he opened up about what was being done to him, investigators said. She filed for an eviction on his behalf and police cleared the trio out of the home. 

They stole a number of appliances during their stay at the house, the witness and friend, Patti Hallas, told KHOU. 

“They took the TVs, they took the wall oven, they took the refrigerator, they took everything,” she said.

Two of the suspects, women ages 43 and 39, are facing charges of aggravated robbery, court documents show. 

Their male accomplice is charged with injury to the elderly, KHOU reported. 

Tomball is roughly 35 miles northwest of downtown Houston.

Full Article & Source:
Strangers move in, make 79-year-old ‘a prisoner in his own home,’ Texas officials say

How Often Does a Judge Agree with a Guardian ad Litem?

BY: Jacob Maslow 

A guardian ad litem within the legal system is critical in helping judges make informed decisions regarding the best interest of minors or incompetent individuals. However, a question from this partnership is how often a judge agrees with the recommendations provided by a guardian ad litem. Understanding the level of concurrence between the two parties sheds light on the overall effectiveness of the guardian ad litem system.

A guardian ad litem is appointed to primarily represent the interests of the child or incapacitated individual, carefully investigating and reporting their circumstances and needs. Their findings greatly impact the judge’s decision-making process. While both the judge and the guardian ad litem work together to serve the best interests of the party in question, the judge ultimately makes the final determination.

To examine the frequency of judges agreeing with guardian ad litem recommendations, one must consider various factors, including the qualifications of the individual appointed, the nature of the case, and the jurisdiction’s legal guidelines. A judge’s decisions may not solely rely on the advice of the guardian ad litem, but it is undeniable that their input is a significant factor in the legal proceedings.

Role of Guardian Ad Litem

Duties and Responsibilities

Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court-appointed representative who acts in the best interest of a child or incapacitated adult in legal proceedings. Their main goal is to ensure the well-being of the person they represent. Some of their key duties and responsibilities include:

  • Investigating the facts of the case
  • Interviewing the child, parents, and other relevant parties
  • Reviewing relevant documents, such as medical records and school reports
  • Making recommendations to the court regarding custody, visitation, and other matters
  • Monitoring implementation of court orders to ensure compliance

Training and Qualifications

To become a guardian ad litem, one must complete specialized training that varies from state to state but typically includes:

  • Introductory courses on child advocacy, family law, and dependency issues
  • Training in communication skills and interviewing techniques
  • Information on cultural competency and ethical considerations
  • Continuing education courses to maintain qualifications

Some states require that guardians ad litem hold a professional license, such as a law or social work degree. In contrast, others only mandate relevant experience working with children or vulnerable adults.

Difference Between Lawyer and Guardian Ad Litem

Although guardians ad litem and lawyers may have similar training in law, there are key differences between the two roles:

Lawyer Guardian Ad Litem
Represents a client in legal proceedings Represents the best interests of a child or incapacitated adult
Provides legal advice to the client Provides recommendations to the court based on investigation findings
Advocates for client’s wishes Advocates for the child or incapacitated adult’s best interests

In summary, the guardian ad litem plays a crucial role in the legal system, focusing on the well-being of children and incapacitated adults. Their duties and responsibilities involve investigating, interviewing, and making recommendations to the court. To qualify for this role, specialized training and qualifications are required. It’s important to note that the role of a guardian ad litem differs from that of an attorney by representing the child’s or adult’s best interests rather than advocating for a specific client’s wishes.

Appointing a Guardian Ad Litem

Custody Cases

In custody cases, the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child’s best interests. The GAL conducts an independent investigation, interviews all relevant parties, and recommends child custody to the judge. The GAL must maintain a neutral, clear, and knowledgeable tone when presenting its findings.

The judge considers the GAL’s recommendation but is not bound to follow it. However, judges typically give substantial weight to the GAL’s recommendations, as they are considered experts in determining the child’s best interests.

Abuse and Neglect Cases

In abuse and neglect cases, the appointment of a GAL is often mandatory. The GAL advocates for the child involved in the case, ensuring their welfare is prioritized throughout the legal process. The judge relies on the GAL’s assessment to make informed decisions on the child’s placement and any necessary protective measures.

A GAL’s role in these cases includes but is not limited to:

  • Investigating allegations of abuse or neglect
  • Assessing the needs of the child
  • Recommending appropriate services
  • Monitoring the case’s progress

Divorce Proceedings

During a divorce proceeding, a judge may appoint a GAL if the court feels that the parents may not adequately represent the child’s interests. The GAL’s primary responsibility is to provide an impartial perspective on the child’s best interests concerning custody, visitation, and overall well-being.

In divorce proceedings, the GAL may perform the following tasks:

  • Evaluating each parent’s ability and willingness to meet the child’s needs
  • Identifying any potential conflicts of interest
  • Assessing the child’s relationships with each parent
  • Recommending a custody and visitation arrangement

In any case, the judge retains the ultimate authority to make the final determination. However, the GAL’s input significantly influences the court’s decision in the child’s best interest.

Working with the Guardian Ad Litem

Impact on Child Custody Cases

A guardian ad litem plays a crucial role in child custody matters. They are appointed to represent the best interests of the child (ward) in cases involving abuse, neglect, or other contentious matters. Judges often consider the guardian ad litem’s report and recommendations when deciding on a custody case.

Throughout the trial, the guardian ad litem conducts investigations to gather information about the child’s circumstances, such as interviewing the child, parents, teachers, and other adults involved in the child’s life. They also review relevant records to provide a comprehensive assessment.

Cooperating with Investigations

All parties involved in a custody matter must cooperate with the guardian ad litem’s investigation. This includes providing accurate information and access to records and participating in interviews or other required meetings.

By working with the guardian ad litem, the parties can help ensure the most accurate representation of the child’s needs and best interests is presented to the judge. Cooperation may also lead to a smoother and more efficient trial process.

Expressing Concerns and Complaints

If any party has concerns or complaints regarding the guardian ad litem’s work, it is important to address them professionally and respectfully. Parties can:

  • Communicate their concerns directly to the guardian ad litem
  • Seek legal guidance through their attorney
  • If necessary, approach the court with the issue

Maintaining a clear and open line of communication can help address concerns while preserving the integrity of the guardian ad litem’s role in the case.

Guardian Ad Litem’s Report and Recommendations

Factors Influencing the Report

A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is appointed to represent the best interests of a child in cases, including custody cases. In preparing their report and recommendations, a GAL considers various factors such as the child’s needs, the parent’s capacity to meet them, and potential risks or benefits. The GAL will also assess parental cooperation, communication, and history of abuse or neglect.

During the evaluation process, the GAL gathers information from multiple sources, including interviews with the child, parents, teachers, and other relevant parties and reviewing documents such as school and medical records.

Addressing Biases and Objections

To provide an impartial and unbiased report, a GAL must be aware of any potential biases and address them accordingly. Some common biases that may arise include personal beliefs or misconceptions about a particular party, as well as susceptibility to the influence of one party over another. To combat these biases, a GAL should:

  • Use objective, fact-based information in their recommendations
  • Be transparent about their methodology and decision-making process
  • Remain open to feedback and critique from involved parties and the court

If attorneys or parties in the case voice objections to the GAL’s recommendations, they must be considered and addressed. This might include revisiting the evidence, seeking additional input, or clarifying aspects of the report.

Role of Evidence

Evidence plays a crucial role in a GAL’s report and recommendations. They must collect, analyze, and rely on a wide range of evidence to provide accurate and well-informed recommendations. Types of evidence considered include:

  • Testimonies from key witnesses, such as parents, teachers, and medical professionals
  • School and medical records
  • Expert evaluations, including psychological assessments and parenting capacity evaluations
  • Documented history of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence

The GAL must weigh the evidence objectively and use it to guide their recommendations, ensuring the child’s best interests are prioritized. A judge will consider the report and recommendations, along with the strength and quality of the evidence when making their final decision in a case.

Judge’s Consideration of Guardian Ad Litem’s Opinion

Weight Given to Recommendations

In most cases, the court greatly values the opinion of the guardian ad litem (GAL), as they are appointed to represent the child’s best interests. The GAL investigates the situation, interviews all relevant parties, and provides a detailed report, including recommendations based on their findings. While the judge is not required to follow the GAL’s recommendations, they typically carry significant weight, as they are primarily focused on the child’s welfare.

Impact on Decision-Making

The court thoroughly examines the GAL’s report and recommendations, considering factors such as the child’s emotional and physical well-being, the ability of the parents to meet the child’s needs, and any patterns of abuse, neglect, or violence. The impact of the opinions may vary, depending on the case’s specifics and the strength of the other evidence presented. Nevertheless, without valid reasons, the judge would rarely discount the GAL’s input entirely.

Cooperation with Other Professionals

A guardian ad litem often works alongside other professionals, such as therapists, social workers, and school personnel, to gather the necessary information for their report. This multidisciplinary approach ensures a more comprehensive understanding of the child’s circumstances, allowing the judge to make a better-informed decision.

By collaborating with other professionals, the GAL’s recommendations can integrate different perspectives and expertise, thereby enhancing their credibility and weight in the eyes of the court. In many cases, this collaboration might lead to stronger recommendations which, in turn, could influence the judge’s final decision more significantly.

Removing a Guardian Ad Litem

Grounds for Removal

A judge may consider removing a guardian ad litem (GAL) from a case for several reasons. These include conflicts of interest, failure to adequately represent the best interests of the allegedly incapacitated person or child, or any other actions that could damage the integrity of the case. Additionally, if a GAL is found to have violated their ethical or professional responsibilities, they may also be removed from their role.

Process and Consequences

Removing a GAL typically begins with a request to the court by one of the involved parties. This request must outline the specific reasons for the proposed removal, such as neglect, conflict of interest, or unprofessional conduct. The court will then evaluate the claims and determine if removal is warranted. Suppose the court decides to remove the GAL. In that case, a replacement may be appointed, and the removed GAL may face the consequences, including disciplinary action or, in severe cases, compensation claims for damages caused by their actions.

Alternatives to Guardians Ad Litem

In some cases, instead of appointing a new GAL, the court may consider alternatives such as:

  • Conservators: A conservator may be more appropriate if an incapacitated person needs assistance in managing their financial affairs or property. The court appoints conservators and has specific duties related to the incapacitated individual’s assets and financial well-being.
  • Attorneys: In some cases, the court may appoint an attorney to represent the best interests of the individual in question. This may be more appropriate if the individual needs legal representation but not necessarily ongoing protection or advocacy.
  • Mediation: For certain disputes, mediation may be a better option. This is a process in which a neutral third party helps the involved parties arrive at an agreement or resolution, typically without needing a GAL.

By exploring these alternatives, the court may identify a solution that better addresses the specific needs and concerns of the involved parties.

Best Interests of the Child

Mental and Emotional Health

A key aspect in a judge’s decision-making process when considering the recommendations of a guardian ad litem is the mental and emotional health of the child. This includes evaluating the child’s needs for therapy, counseling, and any other necessary interventions or support services. A guardian ad litem may assess various factors such as the child’s temperament, experiences of trauma or neglect, and attachment to caregivers to advocate for the child’s best interest.

Stability and Relationships

Stability in a child’s life is crucial to their overall well-being. A judge may look into the child’s current living environment, the stability of the parents or guardians, and the child’s relationships with their family members. Ensuring a stable home is paramount in determining the child’s best interests. A guardian ad litem may present information about the child’s education, extracurricular activities, and social circles, among other aspects, to support their recommendations.

Visitation Rights

Another factor that a judge may take into account when agreeing or disagreeing with a guardian ad litem’s assessment is visitation rights. Balancing the child’s need for contact with their biological parents and maintaining security is vital. The guardian ad litem may recommend specific visitation schedules or details, such as supervised visits or locations, to facilitate contact. A judge would weigh these suggestions based on the child’s emotional state and relationships with their parents.

Parenting Plan and Evaluators

Parenting Plan Basics

A parenting plan is a legal document that outlines how divorced or separated parents will raise, care for, and make decisions about their minor children. The plan covers physical custody, visitation schedules, holidays, education, medical care, and more. Parents may create the plan together, or a judge may decide the details if an agreement cannot be reached.

Working with Parenting Evaluators

Parenting evaluators, also known as child custody evaluators, are professionals who assess the best interests of a child in divorce or separation cases. The court may appoint them, or the parents may select an evaluator. These evaluators are crucial in helping the court determine the most appropriate parenting plan.

Parenting evaluators consider factors such as:

  • The child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs
  • The ability of each parent to meet these needs
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate in raising the child
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse

Once the evaluation is completed, a report containing the evaluator’s findings and recommendations is submitted to the court. The judge then considers the evaluator’s recommendations when determining the final parenting plan.

In cases where a guardian ad litem (GAL) is involved, they may work closely with the parenting evaluator to ensure the child’s best interests are represented. A GAL is a court-appointed advocate for the child in a divorce or custody case.

It is not uncommon for judges to agree with the recommendations of both GALs and parenting evaluators, as they are considered neutral parties with the child’s best interests as their primary focus. While there is no specific data on the frequency of judges agreeing with GALs or parenting evaluators, their input is highly regarded in the decision-making process.

In conclusion, a parenting plan is an essential document outlining the responsibilities and expectations of divorced or separated parents. Parenting evaluators and guardian ad litems play significant roles in ensuring that the child’s best interests are represented during the creation of these plans.


How often does a judge agree with a guardian ad litem?

While there is no specific percentage or rate at which judges agree with a guardian ad litem (GAL), it is common for judges to give significant weight to their recommendations. This is because a GAL is appointed as an independent investigator to represent a child’s or incapacitated adult’s best interests. They are typically experienced professionals with expertise in assessing the needs and interests of the individuals they represent.

What factors do judges consider when evaluating a GAL’s recommendation?

Judges may consider several factors when evaluating a GAL’s recommendations, including:

  • The GAL’s qualifications and experience
  • The thoroughness of the GAL’s investigation and report
  • The consistency of the GAL’s recommendation with other evidence presented in the case
  • The reasonableness of the GAL’s recommendation based on the facts and circumstances of the case

Are there cases where judges may disagree or not fully adopt a GAL’s recommendation?

There are instances where judges may disagree or not fully adopt a GAL’s recommendation. Some reasons for this include:

  • Finding that the GAL’s recommendation is not supported by the evidence presented in the case
  • Finding that the GAL failed to consider a critical piece of information
  • Believing that the GAL’s recommendation is not in the individual’s best interests based on the specific circumstances of the case

Despite these possibilities, judges often rely on and give significant deference to GAL recommendations due to their unique role and expertise.

How can someone challenge or counter a GAL’s recommendation if they disagree?

If an individual disagrees with a GAL’s recommendation, there are several steps they may take to challenge or counter it:

  • Presenting additional evidence or witnesses to support their position
  • Retaining an independent expert to provide a separate evaluation or opinion
  • Filing a written objection to the GAL’s report, detailing the specific reasons for their disagreement
  • Requesting that the judge require the GAL to provide further explanation or clarification of their recommendation
  • Requesting an opportunity to cross-examine the GAL during a hearing or trial

Regardless of the approach taken, it is important for the individual to present a well-reasoned and supported argument in order to challenge a GAL’s recommendation effectively.

Full Article & Source:
How Often Does a Judge Agree with a Guardian ad Litem?