Saturday, January 20, 2024

Vermont Supreme Court Bars Former Probate Judge From Service

By Liam Elder-Connors

The Vermont Supreme Court has signed off on an order that bars a former probate judge from ever again serving as a judicial officer.

William Cobb had a private law firm in St. Johnsbury and worked part-time for three years as Caledonia County's probate judge — an elected position. William Cobb was suspended from his judicial post in 2022 after he lost his law license for 15 months.

The Professional Responsibility Board, which oversees attorneys, found that Cobb violated five rules of conduct, including disclosing confidential juvenile records and failing to provide competent representation to a client.

The Judicial Conduct Board, which oversees judges, opened their investigation to look into allegations that Cobb misled investigators.

The Judicial Conduct Board also reprimanded Cobb in 2020 for using his judicial position to gain advantages for clients facing criminal charges.

The agreement to bar Cobb from the bench, signed off on by the state's high court on Jan. 4, resolves the conduct board's case.

Cobb did not respond to a request for comment.

Vermont Supreme Court Bars Former Probate Judge From Service

Berks Woman Accused of Financially Exploiting Senior


Berks County detectives have accused a Muhlenberg Township woman of stealing thousands of dollars from an elderly woman after taking possession of the victim’s personal checks and credit card.

Tracy L. Hoffman, 58, of the 3200 block of Garfield Road was taken into custody Wednesday by members of the county detectives office.

She remained free to await a hearing following arraignment before District Judge Dean R. Patton.

Hoffman faces charges of financial exploitation of an older adult or care-dependent person, identity theft, forgery, access device fraud and related counts.

According to investigators:

In mid-November, detectives with the district attorney’s office began an investigation into allegations of financial exploitation of an older person. It was reported that money was diverted from an elderly victim without her knowledge.

The investigation revealed that between 2022 and 2023, Hoffman fraudulently obtained and issued numerous personal checks drawn from a bank account belonging to the victim. The checks totaled over $9,000.

Additionally, it was determined that Hoffman had taken a credit card belonging to the victim without consent. Hoffman used the credit card to make purchases totaling more than $12,000 at various retail businesses.

Full Article and Source:
Berks woman accused of financially exploiting senior

I am an Adult With Autism. I Built a Team to Help Me Make Decisions

by Jonathan Gardner with Sarah Boonin

I am a 21-year-old home school graduate and cancer survivor who happens to have autism. A lot of people like me have a guardian — but I don’t. A guardian is someone like a family member, friend or professional appointed by the court to make decisions about another person’s health, safety and self-care when the court decides that person can’t make their own decisions. Instead of a guardian, I use a tool called supported decision-making or SDM.

When I was 16, the public school system told my mother and me that I would need full guardianship once I turned 18. In that case, my legal guardian would have the final say in all major decisions about my life, including where I would live and what services I would receive, along with all of my financial and medical decisions — likely for the rest of my life. This didn't feel right. I had always been involved in making my own decisions, and it didn’t make sense to take that away from me once I became an adult. Luckily, my mom knew a little about SDM, so we decided to try that instead.

SDM is an alternative to guardianship where a person like me, a “decision-maker,” picks a group of people they trust to help them make their own decisions. SDM enables me to be the CEO of my own life — just like most other people. I have used SDM my entire adult life, including in my fight against cancer. I would not be the person I am today without SDM.

I started by choosing the people I trust most to be my “supporters.” I then chose which supporters would help me with which types of decisions, and how I wanted each of them to help. My supporters include my mom, dad, brother, my mentor, friends, a therapist and others. I entered into an agreement with my supporters, and my plan has evolved as I’ve gotten older. My supporters provide different types of advice and assistance to me so I can live my best life. Thanks to SDM, I am the one in control of my life, not a judge or guardian.

Full Article and Source:
I am an Adult with Autism. I Built a Team to Help Me Make Decisions

Friday, January 19, 2024

San Francisco Turns to Conservatorship in Drug Crisis: A Study of Diana Staros’ Case

By: Sakchi Khandelwal

In the face of an escalating drug crisis, San Francisco city leaders are reconsidering conservatorship as more than a last resort in treating individuals with severe drug addictions. A powerful illustration of the potential efficacy of this approach is the heartbreaking case of Diana Staros. Staros, a young woman who lost her life to the ravages of meth and fentanyl addiction, might have been saved by the forceful intervention that conservatorship provides, according to her grieving mother, Alison Monroe.

California’s Conservatorship Law Expansion
On January 1, California expanded its conservatorship law via Senate Bill 43. Previously, the law only covered individuals suffering from mental illnesses or alcoholism who were incapable of looking after themselves. The recent amendment includes those battling drug addictions. The San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging is in the process of preparing for the implementation of this change, increasing staffing and coordinating with partners.

Response from City Leadership
Mayor London Breed has been vocal in her advocacy for swift action to alleviate the plight of those ensnared in the grip of addiction. “We must act now,” says Breed, a statement reflecting the urgency of the situation. But despite the mayor’s fervent push, the approach has its detractors.
Opposition and Challenges

Critics argue that involuntary treatment is not the answer. In their view, resources would be better directed towards improving mental health services and providing housing. The Bay Area counties of Contra Costa, Marin, and Santa Clara, are either delaying the implementation of the expanded conservatorship law or have yet to establish a clear timetable. These counties face their own unique challenges in grappling with the drug crisis, reflecting the complexity of the issue at hand.

In the midst of these debates, the memory of Diana Staros serves as a stark reminder of what is at stake. As the city gears up to apply the new law, the question remains: Can conservatorship be the lifeline for those teetering on the brink of self-destruction due to drug addiction?

Full Article and Source:
San Francisco Turns to Conservatorship in Drug Crisis: A Study of Diana Staros’ Case

Care Facility Cited for Ignoring Aides' Concerns Prior to Woman's Death

A Clarinda nursing home is facing potential fines for allegedly ignoring the concerns of two nursing assistants about a resident who subsequently died.

On Nov. 27, 2023, two certified nursing assistants at Azria Health informed the home’s on-duty nurse that a female resident had experienced a significant change in her mental and physical condition. The two CNAs had noticed the woman’s oxygen saturation levels had dropped to 63%, well below the 88% level that typically calls for immediate medical intervention. In addition, the woman’s blood pressure had dropped to 79/39 — a dangerously low level.

When the nurse was notified, she told the CNAs to place the woman on bottled oxygen. The CNAs did so but after 20 minutes, the woman’s oxygen saturation was at 92% — still abnormally low — and the woman was confused and appeared to be in pain. The two CNAs reported their concerns to the nurse again but, according to state inspectors, the nurse did not seem worried or concerned and simply replied, “OK.”

Later in the day, when the woman’s oxygen levels dropped to 72%, the nurse asked the CNAs to increase the flow of bottled oxygen to the resident. The aides allegedly did so and then reported the resident’s vital signs never improved for the rest of their shift.

When the overnight nurse came on duty at 10 p.m., one of the CNAs pulled her aside, told her what was happening and stated the woman needed to go to the hospital. According to inspectors, the overnight nurse agreed and the resident was sent to the emergency room at 10:30 p.m., four hours after the aides had first reported their concerns. Within 24 hours, the resident was dead, with the cause of death listed as congestive heart failure.

Later, in talking to state inspectors, the nurse who was alleged to have been dismissive of the aides’ concerns denied being told any such concerns. When asked if anyone on the staff had told her the woman’s blood pressure was low, the nurse said no. Inspectors alleged that when asked if anyone had reported the woman’s oxygen saturation levels were low, the nurse said no, but then said maybe.

Full Article and Source:
Care Facility Cited for Ignoring Aides' Concerns Prior to Woman's Death

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Senator Casey Demands Three of the Largest Assisted Living Facility Owners Answer Concerns About Workforce, Cost and Quality of Care

Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, sent letters to the CEOs of three of the largest corporate owners of American assisted living facilities—Atria Senior Living, Brookdale Senior Living, and Sunrise Senior Living. The letters address significant concerns about workforce shortages and expensive and inadequate care in assisted living facilities raised by recent reporting in the Washington Post and New York Times. In the letters, Chairman Casey requests a series of information from the companies about these concerns.
“The Senate Special Committee on Aging has jurisdiction over the problems older adults face, including matters of maintaining older adults’ health, their ability to secure proper housing, and their ability to obtain care or assistance when needed. Since its formation in the 1960s, the Committee has frequently used its authority to examine private companies when concerns arise about potential health and safety, as well as financial risks posed to older adults. As Chairman, I have an interest in ensuring that older adults and people with disabilities are receiving high-quality care, have access to proper housing, and receive good value for their hard-earned dollars,”
wrote Chairman Casey.

In addition to sending the letters, Chairman Casey will hold an Aging Committee hearing on January 25th entitled “Assisted Living Facilities: Understanding Long-Term Care Options for Older Adults,” where the challenges faced by assisted living facility residents will be examined in further detail.

Full Article and Source:
Casey Demands Three of the Largest Assisted Living Facility Owners Answer Questions About Workforce, Cost and Quality of Care

Florida’s Guardianship System: A Case for Reform

By: Sakchi Khandelwal
Florida’s guardianship system, designed to protect the rights of the elderly and vulnerable, is under fire as reports of exploitation and abuse continue to surface. The latest case, emerging from Polk County, serves as a stark reminder of the system’s potential to undermine the very rights it’s intended to uphold. A woman has come forward, revealing how the court-appointed guardianship system overturned her longtime partner’s estate plan, denying her the right to care for him or even visit him during his final days.

A System Under Scrutiny
The guardianship system in Florida, which appoints professional guardians to oversee the personal and financial affairs of seniors unable to manage on their own, has been under scrutiny for over a decade. An investigative series titled ‘The Price of Protection’ has brought to light numerous instances of isolation, exploitation, and abuse of vulnerable seniors by their court-appointed guardians. This recent case adds to the growing body of evidence pointing to systemic issues within the framework.

The Human Cost
In the Polk County case, the woman’s longtime partner, referred to as Pete, was placed under the care of a guardian who restricted visits, bought a house with Pete’s money, and hired round-the-clock caregivers. In a span of five months, the guardian received over $100,000. Despite her attempts to challenge the trust agreement and regain guardianship, the woman was served a restraining order, rendering her unable to see her partner before he passed away.

Call for Reform
This heart-wrenching incident underscores the urgent need for reform and greater oversight within the guardianship system. Vulnerable seniors and their families are paying the price for a system that seems more protective of the interests of the guardians than those under their care. As calls for change grow louder, the spotlight is on Florida to ensure that its guardianship system truly serves to safeguard the rights and well-being of its elderly residents.

Full Article and Source:
Florida's Guardianship System: A Case for Reform

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Wisconsin Bill Aims to Speed up Criminal Cases With Elderly Victims

 by Sarah Lehr

A Wisconsin bill aims to speed up criminal proceedings when older victims or witnesses are involved. 

The legislation, which advanced to public hearings this month, says courts have a duty to expedite proceedings involving any victim or witness over age 60, and that judges have to take that duty into account when weighing motions for delays. 

And, when a witness is over 60, the bill would allow that person’s testimony to be recorded to be used as evidence at a potential future trial. 


Wisconsin Bill Aims to Speed Up Criminal Cases With Elderly Victims

Former Chicago Citi Vice President Charged With Elder Fraud

By David Jackson, Injustice Watch

A former Chicago banking executive was charged on Friday with swindling her elderly clients out of nearly $1.5 million by using her influence to persuade them to invest in her private movie deals.

Helen Grace Caldwell, 58, who until 2021 was a vice president in the Michigan Avenue offices of Citibank, was charged with one count of wire fraud by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Illinois.

Contacted Friday, Caldwell’s attorney said she intends to plead guilty.

“My client has taken responsibility and we’ve reached an agreement with the government as to a disposition,” said her attorney, Steven Rosenberg. He would not discuss any details, including potential financial restitution or penalties.

Wire fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Caldwell’s case was featured prominently in an Injustice Watch series, Exploited Elders, which in August detailed gaping holes in Illinois’ safety net intended to thwart a skyrocketing number of fraud cases targeting the old and frail.

According to the charging documents filed Friday by acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual, Caldwell persuaded her Citi clients to invest in horror movies being produced and promoted by her private movie company, Canal Productions LLC. According to the charges, each would share in the profits.

“In fact, as defendant knew, those representations were false because defendant intended to misappropriate, and did misappropriate, those proceeds for personal purposes,” the charges allege.

Full Article and Source:
Former Chicago Citi Vice President Charged With Elder Fraud

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Cher's Son Elijah Blue Allman Looks Clean-cut in First Sighting Since Conservatorship Victory

By:Whitney Vasquez

Cher's son Elijah Blue Allman reemerged for the first time since a judge denied his famous mother's conservatorship request, has learned. The 47-year-old broke cover and appeared clean-cut in a recent Instagram picture, posted to his social media just ten days after Cher's petition for sole conservatorship over Elijah was shut down.

Sharing a black and white photo of himself, Cher's child with the late singer Gregg Allman appeared in a dark-colored shirt and light cargo bottoms. Accessorizing with sunglasses and a necklace, Elijah flaunted his signature feathered locks and bare face.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life," Cher's son captioned the picture, quoting author Henry David Thoreau's book Walden.

Elijah looked relaxed in the photo, keeping his hands strategically in his pockets after calling off his divorce from Marieangela King. Cher's petition for immediate temporary conservatorship over Elijah was dismissed earlier this month after the If I Could Turn Back Time singer’s lawyers argued that it was “a life and death decision.”

Elijah argued that he was not adequately served papers and needed additional time to prepare for the January 5 hearing. The judge agreed, moving the temporary hearing to January 29.

Cher urged that Elijah needed a conservator due to his “severe mental health and substance abuse issues." However, he denied her claims, stating he was 90 days sober.

Full Article and Source:
Cher's Son Elijah Blue Allman Looks Clean-cut in First Sighting Since Conservatorship Victory

Monday, January 15, 2024

$100 Million Estate at the Center of Contentious Guardianship Case

by Adam Walser 

The I-Team has been covering Florida’s broken professional guardianship system for more than a decade, uncovering instances of isolation, exploitation and abuse of Florida’s most vulnerable seniors by court-appointed guardians in our ongoing series “The Price of Protection."

Now a Polk County woman is speaking out about how her longtime partner’s estate plan was overturned, taking away her right to care for him and even see him in his final days.

She is now supporting proposed changes to Florida’s guardianship law intended to protect other families.

Pete’s empire

Donald “Pete” Beaty was a simple man who lived an extraordinary life.

“He was such a millionaire and so successful,” Doris Beaty said.

Pete’s empire included a rock quarry, a cattle ranch and an orange grove.

He bought and sold thousands of acres, making millions and inspiring his stepson Rey Contreras along the way.

“Pete taught me that a man with a third-grade education can accomplish anything in this country,” Contreras said.

Pete also won $17.5 in the Florida Lottery in 1990.

But three years later, his first marriage ended, and his winnings went to his wife and children in the divorce settlement.

In 2002, Pete married his second wife, longtime business manager Doris, who immigrated to the US from Cuba in the 1980s.

Her son Contreras was from a previous marriage.

“My life was dedicated to Pete. 24/7 was Pete and the businesses,” Doris said.

But Doris and Pete divorced in 2007.

Doris kept the couple’s lakefront home, but Pete moved back months later.

He lived with Doris there for the next 12 years, even though they never remarried.

Doris named in estate planning documents

In 2016, Pete signed legal documents appointing Doris to manage his affairs and make medical decisions for him if he was no longer able to.

“I was to be trustee, guardian and health care surrogate,” Doris said.

“He hired a lawyer, he had notaries, he had witnesses. He did everything years ago,” Contreras said.

Pete gave $100,000 a year to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and donated money to build a surgical wing at a Plant City hospital.

In his trust agreement, he planned to share his wealth.

“If a man wants to leave 40% of his trust like Pete did to give away to people, that’s his right. My mom was gonna help spread that 40% amongst various causes,” Contreras said.

Pete’s trust agreement said his sons “shall not receive any property” or serve as trustees “for any reason or under any circumstance.”

Pete’s arrest triggers guardianship process

In 2019, Pete showed signs of dementia.

When she tried to stop him from driving, a confused Pete pulled a gun on her.

She called the police.

“Pete was arrested, and I got him out of jail, and then I hired sitters to help me take care of Pete,” Doris said.

Doris petitioned to be his guardian, but his sons filed a counter-petition seeking guardianship.

They described themselves as sons, while Doris was referred to as Pete’s describing “ex-spouse."

A judge removed all of Pete's rights and appointed a professional guardian to oversee his vast estate.

“Pete was removed from the home, isolated, neglected, abandoned,” Doris said.

The guardian restricted Doris’ visitation and bought another house with Pete’s money, hiring round-the-clock caregivers.

She was paid more than $100,000 from his funds in just five months.

Full Article and Source:
$100 Million Estate at the Center of Contentious Guardianship Case

The Passing of Guardianship Reform Advocate Annie McKenna

NASGA mourns the passing of a dear friend and long-time advocate: Annie McKenna.

Annie has been a loyal and dedicated member of NASGA practically since its inception. She was also our very first “Media Liaison” - a volunteer job she took seriously. She was an avid videographer and made many videos of NY victims, giving them a voice and hope that their voice would be heard. Indeed their voices were heard and Annie worked with a prominent reporter back then who did several reports on NY and CT cases.

Annie had a gift for boiling down a complicated case to get to the core which would interest media. She was professional, always positive in her approach and very thorough; her words were measured and concise.

Annie was a real treat to know. She was witty beyond belief and she was inquisitive and interested in just about everything. She was talented and creative and she cared about people trapped in unlawful or abusive guardianships with her whole heart and soul.

We will miss her, her level head and quick wit - and her laugh. Annie McKenna helped NASGA grow; she made us better; and her influence will always be with us.

Godspeed Annie.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

New Law Aims to Make Guardianship a Last Resort in PA, but Some Say It Doesn't Go Far Enough

HARRISBURG — With little fanfare, Gov. Josh Shapiro in December signed into law a bill aimed at fixing long-standing problems within Pennsylvania’s vexing system for safeguarding adults — many of them seniors — whom courts deem incapable of making critical life, health, and financial decisions for themselves.

The bill, now Act 61 of 2023, makes changes to the process of assigning guardians to people who are considered incapacitated, whether due to age-related illnesses, mental health issues, or cognitive disabilities. Those guardians can be family members but are often professionals in the private sector who do such work for a living.

Families who have experienced the system have long complained it is rife with pitfalls: trapping people in guardianship for years, if not a lifetime, with little chance of escape. Spotlight PA last spring highlighted the story of one woman who alleges in a long-running civil case now before a top Pennsylvania court that her late mother’s guardianship (including her legal representation) was rife with conflicts of interest.

And some advocates believe that even the new law won’t solve the many problems associated with guardianship.

The new law, championed by state Sens. Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne) and Art Haywood (D., Montgomery) and signed by Shapiro in mid-December, is at its core an effort to make guardianship a choice of last resort. It requires judges and others involved in the process to first consider less restrictive alternatives, even when individuals are found to be incapacitated or unable to make many decisions for themselves.

In short, the law states, “the court may not use a determination of incapacity alone to justify a guardianship.” If a judge does decide on guardianship of a person, anyone can file a petition with the court to end or modify the oversight. And if there is evidence that a person’s incapacitation is temporary, or that circumstances may change, the court has to schedule a review hearing within a year.

Full Article and Source:
New law aims to make guardianship a last resort in Pa., but some experts say it doesn’t go far enough