Saturday, April 15, 2017

Casey Moreland's law license suspended

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Casey Moreland has now been banned from practicing law.

The Tennessee Supreme Court temporarily suspended Moreland’s law license on Wednesday.

The decision was made “upon finding that Mr. Moreland poses a threat of substantial harm to the public.”

An extensive Channel 4 I-Team investigation exposed how Moreland was doing legal favors for women who claim to have had sexual relations with him.

Moreland was charged with federal crimes last week, including obstruction of justice.

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Casey Moreland's law license suspended

Undercover Recordings At Center Of Moreland Case



NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Undercover FBI video and audio recordings shed light on the charges against Davidson County General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland.

Federal prosecutors played the recordings in Moreland's preliminary hearing on Friday.

He is charged with obstruction of justice through bribery and witness tampering.

The recordings show Moreland talking about planting drugs on his former mistress and reveal his efforts to pay her in exchange for signing an affidavit recanting parts of her story.

Moreland had no idea the man he was meeting in his home on March 16 was helping the FBI.

The man had a video camera and told Moreland about a fictitious discussion he had with a police officer who offered to plant drugs on Moreland's former mistress, Natalie Amos.

Moreland asked, "What does he want?"

The informant responded, "I don't know if he wants anything. He just... I think his thing is as long as it don't come back to him. And I said "Don't worry about that.'"

Moreland asked, "Is he going to be the one to pull her over?"

The informant responded, "He'll be the one to pull her over. But he's just, his main thing is that it don't come back to me."

Judge Moreland then asked if the officer had a drug dog.

He also wanted to know where the officer worked.

"Who does he work for?" Moreland asked.

"He does something for the DEA and he works part time for another agency," the informant said.

Prosecutors emphasized there was never an officer who was going to plant drugs.

Toward the end of their meeting, Moreland asked the informant if he still had Amos' license plate number which Moreland had given him earlier.

The informant said, "I got it written down where nobody could see it. So yeah, I still got the tag number. So I got that."

Moreland said, "You ought to be able to find her with that."

The phone calls deal with Moreland trying to get Amos to sign an affidavit.

Through the same informant, Moreland offered her money if she would sign.

But the FBI pretended that Amos wanted to keep marking out parts of the affidavit.

"Tell her I have to have that," Moreland said on the phone.

The informant responded, "You gotta have that there was no sex in the office?"

"Right," Moreland answered.

Prosecutors say Moreland wound up paying $6,100 in exchange for Natalie Amos signing the affidavit.

They found the affidavit with Amos' fake signature in the possession of Moreland's attorney, Worrick Robinson.

"I can't talk about the affidavit or anything surrounding the affidavit other than what was discussed today in open court," Robinson said after court Friday.

Moreland's other attorney, Peter Strianse, indicated the plan was to leak the affidavit to the media.

He claimed leaking a document to the media would not be obstruction of justice, which is a federal crime.

He said it may just be an example of poor judgment.

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Undercover Recordings At Center Of Moreland Case

Nashville judge faces federal criminal charges

NASHVILLE — The federal government on Tuesday filed criminal charges against a Tennessee judge, alleging he tried to bribe a woman to recant her allegations against him.

General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland, 59, was charged with attempting to obstruct justice through bribery and witness tampering, Acting U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee Jack Smith announced. Moreland was taken into custody Tuesday morning and appeared in court Tuesday afternoon.

The chains around Moreland's ankles, clanking on a tile floor, could be heard even before he was led into the courtroom. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Brown read the possible penalties Moreland is facing, including a maximum 20-year prison term.

"Do you understand what you're charged with and the possible punishment?" Brown asked.

"Yes sir," Moreland replied, seated in a button-down and khakis next to his lawyer, Peter Strianse of Nashville. Asked for comment as he was leaving the courtroom, Moreland did not respond.

Moreland will next appear in court Friday afternoon for a hearing to determine if he will remain in custody pending trial.

Moreland, a judge since 1998, was the subject of an FBI investigation related to allegations that he helped people he knew in exchange for things — including sexual favors, travel and lodging. Among the allegations documented in police reports and accounts were that he intervened in a traffic stop for a woman he had a personal relationship with and waived jail time for his future son-in-law.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Moreland tried to pay a woman thousands of dollars to recant her allegations against him. That occurred after March 1, more than one month after the FBI began an inquiry.

"The allegations set forth in the indictment set forth egregious abuses of power by a judge sitting here in Nashville," Smith said in a statement.

A criminal complaint based on an affidavit of FBI Special Agent Mark Shafer lays out the investigation, which used confidential sources who are unnamed in the complaint.

A man, who initially lied to FBI agents about his role, later said he had schemed with Moreland.

According to the affidavit, that man said the judge was concerned their calls were being monitored, so he purchased for the judge a “burner phone,” a temporary cellphone that is often associated with criminal activity.

On March 11, while the confidential source was working for the FBI, he met with Moreland. In that meeting, the man told the judge he had met with a woman making public allegations against Moreland and that she would sign an affidavit saying she had lied.

The meeting was recorded, according to the FBI, and during it Moreland handed over the draft affidavit, $5,100 cash and an explanation.

“This right here gets me out of trouble,” Moreland said, according to the FBI documents. Federal officials say Moreland instructed the man to get the woman "liquored up real good" before asking her to sign the affidavit.

After being told the woman wanted to make changes to it, Moreland handed over another $1,000 to sign it as-is, federal officials said.

Moreland also discussed a plan to have drugs planted on the woman, and then discovered by police during a traffic stop he would orchestrate, according to the complaint. Federal officials said the goal was to destroy the woman's credibility.

Also Tuesday, as the charges were being announced, Metro Councilman Jeremy Elrod filed a resolution calling for Moreland's resignation. And Mayor Megan Barry said resigning would "seem to be in the best interest" of residents who depend on the integrity of the courts.

"Nashville deserves to have absolute trust in our judiciary, and Casey Moreland, based upon the allegations in the federal complaint, seems to have clearly violated that trust," Barry said in a statement.

Moreland is one of 11 General Sessions judges in Nashville. Each earns $170,000.

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Nashville judge faces federal criminal charges

Friday, April 14, 2017

Guardianship oversight in Texas needs to be strengthened

Imagine a family member or friend unable to make decisions about their healthcare, money, living situation and property. After a hearing, a court names you as the guardian, giving you the duty and power to make decisions on their behalf about money, property, living arrangements and medical decisions, among others.

You would have an awesome responsibility, and you would not be alone.

There are approximately 55,000 active guardianships in Texas today, with $5 billion in assets under the control of guardians and the courts. And the numbers are rising.

In the past five years, guardianships cases in Texas have risen by 66 percent. That’s just the beginning. The population of Texans age 65 and older is projected to double by 2030 to almost 6 million. According to the state demographer, our population age 85 and older will increase more than 500 percent between 2010 and 2050 — from 305,000 to 1.6 million.

The vast majority of guardians are selfless people who do very important work, often out of a sense of love, loyalty or duty. Their jobs aren’t easy. For example, in addition to keeping an eagle eye year-round on personal financial affairs, guardians are required by law to file annual reports of their charge’s well-being as well as an accounting of the financial transactions of the guardianship estate.

As with any other arrangement, not all guardians are fully up to the task, and worse, sometimes a guardian misuses or mismanages guardianship assets. To prevent such bad outcomes, the courts need adequate resources to monitor guardianship cases.

And that’s crux of the problem: There are too many guardianship cases throughout Texas today and not enough supervision. Specialized probate courts with trained monitoring staff are located in the largest metro areas, but many of the cases are not. As a matter of fact, about four of every 10 active guardianships in Texas are in counties with insufficient resources to monitor them.

Two years ago, the Texas Legislature set up a pilot program recommended by the Texas Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the judiciary, to improve compliance and to help courts protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens and their assets by reviewing adult guardianship cases, auditing annual accountings and reporting findings to the court.

In this year’s State of the Judiciary, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht noted that the pilot project has reviewed more than 10,000 cases in 18 courts and 11 counties. In almost half of the reviewed cases, guardians had not complied with the law and the courts did not have the resources to monitor the cases. The Texas Judicial Council, which Hecht chairs, is recommending that the compliance project be extended statewide.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed Senate Bill 667 to do just that, and Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo and chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, filed a companion, House Bill 3631. AARP fully supports their efforts, which would expand the pilot project throughout Texas, including hiring 28 new guardianship compliance specialists/auditors. The project would cost the state $3.2 million a year, a small investment in a high-quality program that oversees $5 billion of Texans’ assets. After stripping the funding for the pilot program from the introduced budget, the Texas Senate fully funded the program’s expansion in its version of the budget; the Texas House has yet to include funding for the program, but may consider it during budget deliberations.

Guardians are essentially financial caregivers. As with other caregivers, they play a critical role in our society, helping preserve individual assets and human dignity while saving taxpayers billions. Just recently, AARP partnered with Texas Appleseed to release five “Managing Someone Else’s Money” guides, a toolkit for financial caregivers in Texas who manage money or property for those unable to do so for themselves. This interactive series of guides, in English and Spanish, is available in print and online.

Texas needs a protective umbrella to ensure proper oversight of guardianships. Today, the system is overwhelmed and needs to be strengthened. SB 667 and HB 3631 would extend a lifeline to some of our most vulnerable citizens — at a very modest cost to our state.

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Guardianship oversight in Texas needs to be strengthened

Assisted living facility fined $15,000 after 'plague' of bed bugs

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Midtown Manor, a 105-bed assisted living facility near downtown Hollywood, has been fined $15,000 after battling a severe bed bug infestation.

A pest control company found 4,000 bed bugs in 20 rooms on May 2016, state records show. The problem has since been remedied.

“I’ve never seen that severity of a bed bug problem,” said Brian Lee, a former eldercare ombudsman for the state. “You literally have a plague of bed bugs. That was deeply disturbing.”

Officials with Midtown Manor could not be reached for comment..

Bed bugs, small insects that live on the blood of animals or people, like to hide in mattresses, box springs and bed frames and then come out at night to feed. Their bites can turn into itchy welts and females can lay hundreds of eggs over a lifetime.

The assisted living facility, at 2001 Polk St., will be allowed to remain open but must hire a consultant to provide oversight every three months.

State officials are also requiring the resignation of Roni Herskovitz, one of the owners.

Coolidge Palms, an assisted living facility in Hollywood with the same owners, was forced to close in April 2016. A state investigation found an aide had hit an 80-year-old woman in the head several times with a water pitcher, drawing blood and forcing a visit to the hospital for stitches.

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Assisted living facility fined $15,000 after 'plague' of bed bugs

Weighted Blankets in Dementia Care Reduce Anxiety and Improve Sleep

Alzheimer’s and dementia often cause older adults to feel agitated, anxious, or have disturbed sleep.

A weighted blanket or lap pad is a simple, non-drug option that can be used day or night. They reduce anxiety, calm nerves, provide comfort, and promote deep sleep.

The heaviness of the blanket provides something called deep pressure therapy. When the body feels the gentle pressure, it produces serotonin. That improves mood and promotes calm.

Source:
Weighted Blankets in Dementia Care Reduce Anxiety and Improve Sleep

Thursday, April 13, 2017

She believed her mom died peacefully. Two years later, a nurse wrote to say what really happened

Family had been kept in the dark about mother's final moments at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land

Manuela Chapa, on her 85th birthday in 2012.

The package came in January: An anonymous letter and a stack of government records, stuffed in a yellow envelope with no return address and mailed to her late mother's home in Damon.

Cris Chapa ripped it open and began to cry.

She thought of the day, March 12, 2015, when medical staff at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land sat her down in a waiting room. They'd said there was nothing anyone could have done. Led her to believe her 87-year-old mother's death had been the inevitable result of her bout with pneumonia.

The stranger's letter told a different story:

Her mother hadn't died peacefully, it said. Instead, a doctor had attempted a procedure without Chapa's knowledge or legal consent, and it had gone badly. Blood poured from a tube in her mother's neck. Soaked her hospital gown. Caused her heart to stop.

Why hadn't anyone told her what happened? Why didn't anyone tell her three months later, when the state sent someone to investigate? Why didn't anyone tell her a few weeks after that, when the federal government cited the hospital for violating her mother's rights?

For nearly two years, Chapa and her family had been kept in the dark. Until now.

She didn't know it then, but the stranger who'd written the letter had mailed duplicates to two of her siblings. Chapa's hands shook as she studied the documents, looking for clues to who'd sent them, but found only an email address.

That night, she logged onto her computer and typed a message: "Can you call me?"

***

Linda Patton read the email twice, unsure how to respond. She'd been hesitant to contact Chapa in the first place, even anonymously. She'd already lost so much.

This wasn't the life she'd hoped for when she accepted a job as a nurse practitioner at Kindred Hospital Sugar Land in September 2014. She knew it had been a risk leaving Houston Methodist Hospital for a less-prestigious facility, but Kindred had offered her a more senior position and an opportunity to mentor young nurses, which was her passion.

Patton noticed problems right away, she said. On daily rounds, she'd quiz nursing staff on what medications patients were taking. What side effects they should be looking for. Basic stuff. Routinely, though, nurses didn't know the answers, and some seemed agitated by her attempts to educate them.

"That just kind of shocked me," Patton said.

She hadn't realized her new hospital had a history of mistakes. In the three years leading up to her first day at Kindred, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had cited the facility for 10 separate violations of state rules governing patient care.

Among the citations, obtained by the Houston Chronicle through a public records request: Kindred nurses weren't adequately trained or supervised. Patients had been unnecessarily restrained. Others had suffered infections after staff mishandled contaminated materials or failed to properly wash hands. Administrative safeguards weren't in place to prevent future mistakes.

In 2012, according to one citation, a patient in Kindred's intensive care unit became disconnected from a breathing machine and was left to die, even as an alarm sounded, alerting staff of the problem. One staffer who heard the beeping said she didn't know what it meant.

J. David Cross, the chief executive officer of Kindred's Houston-area district, defended the hospital's quality of care, noting that the facility exceeds national benchmarks for complication rates.

"We take seriously any issues brought to our attention by regulatory authorities, and work with them to address any concerns," Cross wrote in an email to the Chronicle. "We share the same goal — to provide quality care to our patients."

Patton was troubled by the problems she saw but felt she'd begun to make progress. Some nurses had become receptive to her on-the-job training, she said, and hospital leadership initially seemed to appreciate her efforts to instill a more professional culture.

She'd been there seven months when Cris Chapa brought her mother, Manuela, to the hospital with pneumonia.

Patton checked on her daily and saw her condition grow worse over the course of two weeks. The illness put a strain on her frail heart. Her lungs began to fail. So did her kidneys.

Before leaving for the day on March 12, 2015, Patton checked in on Chapa once more. It seemed clear to her that she might not recover.

Patton assumed doctors would soon be meeting with the woman's family to discuss their options.

***

The next morning, as she arrived at work, a respiratory therapist grabbed Patton by the arm and pulled her aside: "Oh my God, Linda," she said. "It was terrible."

The therapist had been in the room the afternoon before, when Dr. Yassir Sonbol, an interventional cardiologist, tried to insert a catheter in a major vein in Chapa's neck, in the hopes of starting dialysis.

 The treatment might have eased the burden on Chapa's kidneys — but it also came with risks.

On his first attempt at inserting the line, according to medical records and witnesses, Sonbol couldn't get the catheter to stay in the vein. So he tried again on the right side, but this time, the wire got stuck, and Sonbol struggled to get it out.  (Click to Continue)

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She believed her mom died peacefully. Two years later, a nurse wrote to say what really happened

Former Collegeville lawyer charged with stealing from special-needs clients

Patrick J. Bradley
A disbarred lawyer from Montgomery County has been charged with stealing money from clients with special needs.

Patrick J. Bradley, 45, of Collegeville, hired as the trustee for trust accounts or to do legal work on their behalf, allegedly took more than $145,000 from 12 clients. Bradley stole from the accounts or failed to perform work for which he had been paid, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said at a news conference Tuesday in Norristown.

"He used these accounts as his own personal ATM," Steele said.

Bradley used stolen funds to pay his mortgage, cellphone and utility bills, and purchase gas, meals, movie tickets, and sporting goods, Steele said.

The withdrawals from his account, made after depositing funds into it from clients' accounts, included items purchased at Wawa, Walmart, and grocery stores, McDonald's restaurants, and drug stores -- and even a $10 donation to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign for president, according to an arrest affidavit filed in the case.

The state Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel referred the case to prosecutors in August after receiving complaints about Bradley and conducting its own investigation.

Steele said the disciplinary office suspended Bradley's license in 2015, but he continued to practice law without it until he was disbarred in September.

Bradley came "into this role as a guardian for these folks, and has taken advantage and preyed upon them, the most vulnerable," Steele said.

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, treasurer of the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security, said the fund would be used to reimburse some of Bradley's clients. The fund collects money from annual fees Pennsylvania lawyers pay to maintain their law licenses.

“It is my hope that through the fund we can restore the trust in the legal profession," she said at Tuesday's news conference.

Bradley was arraigned Monday and was released on unsecured bail.  He is facing multiple felony charges of theft and other crimes.

There was no answer Tuesday morning at the phone number listed for his home in Collegeville, and he does not yet have a lawyer listed in court documents. The phone line at his former law office has been disconnected.

Steele said there may be more victims, and urged anyone with information to contact investigators.

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Former Collegeville lawyer charged with stealing from special-needs clients

Corrupt judge not enough for new trial

A man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life before a corrupt judge did not provide enough evidence to prove his constitutional rights were violated, a state appeals panel held Friday.

After a jury trial in 1984, defendant Robert Gacho was convicted of murder, armed robbery and aggravated kidnapping for his part in killing Tullio Infelise and Aldo Fratto in 1982.

He was initially sentenced to death but later received a life sentence after the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction but remanded his case for resentencing.

His case was tried separately but simultaneously with co-defendant Dino Titone, who elected to have a bench trial before former Cook County judge Thomas Maloney. Maloney was later indicted on bribery charges in 1991 in connection with a state and federal investigation into claims that judges were “fixing” trials.

Maloney was convicted in April 1993 of “fixing” three murder cases for more than $100,000 in bribe money in the Operation Greylord scandal.

Gacho argued in an evidentiary hearing stage post-conviction petition that he should get a new trial because Maloney’s corruption, among other things, deprived him of initially receiving a fair trial. But a 1st District Appellate Court majority affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss his petition, finding Gacho failed to present evidence outside of affidavits citing hearsay to prove his case.

The defendant first filed a post-conviction petition with his corruption claim in February 1991 on behalf of himself.

After new post-conviction counsel was appointed, Gacho supplemented his petition in July 2008 to include an affidavit from Titone’s father, which described the scheme in which the father paid Maloney $10,000 to find his son not guilty.

He also supplemented his petition with an affidavit from himself, asserting his pretrial attorney had also suggested Gacho bribe Maloney.

Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Gordon Cannon dismissed Gacho’s petition without an evidentiary hearing in May 2009. In 2012, a unanimous 1st District panel affirmed Cannon’s dismissal of one claim but remanded Gacho’s case for an evidentiary hearing on other pleadings, including his judicial corruption claim.

During that hearing, Gacho testified he retained new counsel after his previous attorney, Daniel E. Radakovich, lost interest in his case once he learned Gacho couldn’t come up with the money to bribe Maloney. Radakovich denied Gacho’s statements when he later testified as a witness for the state.

The court also heard testimony from a Menard Correctional Center inmate, who testified Titone told him about paying the $10,000 bribe.

Cannon accepted into evidence the affidavit from Titone’s father as well as other affidavits that supported Gacho’s claims before her on remand.

However, Cannon found Gacho’s testimony unbelievable and dismissed his petition in October 2013, finding he failed to demonstrate that his constitutional rights had been violated.

Gacho contended on appeal that Cannon’s ruling was “manifestly erroneous” in the face of evidence that showed a connection between Maloney’s bribe corruption and his personal interest in the outcome of Gacho’s trial — where a $10,000 bribe to find one co-defendant not guilty meant finding Gacho and other defendants, who were indicted but being tried separately, guilty.

However, the appellate panel’s majority opinion held Gacho failed to present direct evidence that Maloney actually solicited, received or agreed to accept a bribe to influence the rulings in his case, since he eventually found Titone guilty of the crime for which his father allegedly paid the judge for a not guilty verdict.

The panel ruled the evidence upon which Gacho relied wasn’t enough to support a claim that warranted relief pursuant to the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act.

“There is no question that, if Maloney possessed a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the defendant’s trial, the defendant would be entitled to relief under the [a]ct in the form of a new trial,” Justice Thomas E. Hoffman wrote in his 10-page majority opinion. “However, the defendant’s entire argument in this regard rests upon the affidavit of Titone’s father which consists of nothing more than hearsay.”

The fact that Titone’s father allegedly bribed Maloney for Titone’s trial did not inherently mean the judge wasn’t impartial during Gacho’s trial, the panel found.

It held Gacho would have been deprived of due process if Maloney harbored a compensatory bias against him during trial, but Gacho failed to prove a connection between Maloney’s corruption in other cases and any adverse findings in his. It also found Gacho failed to present evidence of any actual bias that resulted from Maloney’s conduct.

“Distilled to its finest, the record in this case establishes only that the defendant was tried simultaneously with a co-defendant who, as we have assumed for purposes of analysis, bribed a corrupt trial judge; thus giving rise to a claim of compensatory bias which we believe is governed by the holding in [People v.] Fair,” Hoffman wrote. “There can be little doubt as to Maloney’s pervasive corruption in other cases … but Maloney’s pattern of bribe taking … cannot alone support an inference that he engaged in compensatory bias to the defendant’s case.”

Justice Mary K. Rochford concurred in the panel’s majority opinion.

However, Justice Mathias W. Delort wrote in his six-page dissent that Gacho shouldn’t need direct evidence to receive a new trial.

“Criminal defendants have the right to an impartial judge no matter how compelling the evidence against them,” he wrote, noting the U.S. Supreme Court has previously held it is not necessary for a defendant claiming judicial bias to show their judge was actually biased.

“Accordingly, Gacho should prevail if the circumstances show that ‘the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge’ was ‘too high to be constitutionally tolerable,’” Delort wrote.

Cannon’s ruling, Delort held, should be reversed because Gacho “clearly” showed a connection between Maloney’s conduct and the outcome of his case as well as an actual bias that arose from the conduct.

He cited the 1st District’s first opinion on Gacho’s case — which Hoffman also authored — that found both Gacho’s and Titone’s trials were both presided over by a man who the state conceded had an interest in the proceedings.

“We cannot view Gacho’s case in isolation, but instead acknowledge that the taint of Titone’s case fatally infected the entire proceeding,” Delort wrote. “The egg, as it were, was irreversibly scrambled when Gacho’s and Titone’s cases were tried simultaneously using the same evidence and the same witnesses, and before the same judge, as a single judicial proceeding. It cannot now be unscrambled to sift Gacho’s case out from Titone’s case.”

Brett Zeeb, an assistant appellate defender in the 1st Judicial District Office who represents Gacho, said he and his client were disappointed in the majority’s ruling.

He said they agree with Delort’s dissent, which provides a good basis upon which they will “definitely” file a petition for leave to appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys Alan J. Spellberg and Jon J. Walters represented the state. A spokesperson in Cook County State’s Attorney Anita M. Alvarez’s office did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

The case is The People of the State of Illinois v. Robert Gacho, 2016 IL App (1st) 133492.

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Corrupt judge not enough for new trial

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

State Supreme Court considers limits on judicial misconduct probes



LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) - A new rule being considered by the state's highest court could limit complaints of misconduct against judges.

Michigan's Supreme Court justices are considering adding a three-year statute of limitations to complaints filed against judges with the Judicial Tenure Commission. According to the proposed rule, “any complaint filed more than three years after the grievant knew…or should have known...shall be dismissed.”

Since 2014, 34 judges across the state have faced some sort of action that began at the Judicial Tenure Commission, which can range from a letter of caution to being removed from the bench entirely.

"There’s just all kind of reasons why trying to defend something three years after the fact is difficult," said Brian Einhorn, an attorney in support of the rule change.

Einhorn has represented dozens of judges accused of misconduct, from former Judge Wade McCree—who carried on an affair with a litigant—to ex-Justice Diane Hathaway, who was sent to prison for bank fraud.

"If a person knows that a judge did something three and a half or four years ago, I don’t think it’s fair to the judge to have to defend himself," Einhorn said.

But not all attorneys agree. Peter Henning is a former federal prosecutor and today is a law professor at Wayne State University.

"You’re talking about an individual who has immense power and can be quite intimidating," Henning said. "If you have certain types of cases, say for example a sexual harassment case, that may take years to surface because the individual who was harassed is going to be intimidated and might not have the strength to come forward for four or five years."

The proposed rule allows for claims outside of the three-year statute of limitations to be considered for "good cause," but critics fear the term is vague and could lead to prolonged legal battles.

"Should the judge be able to get off simply because (misconduct) happened more than three years ago?" asked Chanel 7's Ross Jones.

"But we’re dealing with something that’s probably not going to happen very often," Einhorn responded.

But there have been past examples of misconduct that could have been thrown out with a statute of limitations.

In Wayne County, Judge Bruce Morrow was disciplined for misconduct that happened years before a formal complaint was filed, including giving bond to a man after he was convicted of rape, even though state law didn’t allow it.

Morrow was suspended for two months.

Today in Livingston County, Judge Teresa Brennan is under fire for her affair with a state police officer that testified in a murder trial in her courtroom. His testimony helped to send a man to prison. Their affair happened more than three years before it was finally discovered. It’s unclear if the JTC is investigating Brennan.

Still, attorney Brian Einhorn says judges shouldn’t have to defend themselves from years-old allegations, after memories fade and evidence becomes stale.

"There’s timing for doing everything," Einhorn said. "And there’s nothing different about a judge being accused of misconduct to a lawyer being accused of malpractice to a doctor being accused of malpractice."

Except in Michigan, there is no statute of limitations for complaints against lawyers or doctors, either. Giving judges special protection would be unique and improper, argues Carl Marlinga, who is a judge himself.

"The unintended effect, certainly, is to offer a level of protection for bad judges," Marlinga said. "With the judiciary, maximum integrity is the minimum qualification. Anything that would protect or shield a judge from scrutiny I just think is wrong."

A decision on the proposed statute of limitations and scores of other rules currently being considered by the Michigan Supreme Court could come any day.

"What is the benefit?" asks Wayne State's Peter Henning. "What is the upside, other than what appears to be giving judges added protections?"

Full Article & Source:
State Supreme Court considers limits on judicial misconduct probes

Guardian to protect elderly scam victim from further exploitation


Clare Endicott.

A TRIBUNAL has stepped in to protect an elderly man with dementia who has sent at least $200,000 to an African country after being caught up in international internet scams.

The 83-year-old inpatient at a Queensland regional hospital tried to send more money to the scammers on the day he was admitted after a stroke and a decline in his mental acuity.

A social worker applied to the Queensland Civil and ­Administrative Tribunal for a guardian and administrator to be appointed to help with the man’s personal and financial decisions.

She said the man, who has had two strokes, had mortgaged his house to raise funds to send to the internet scammers, after sending money to an African country over several years.

He also had outstanding debts for loans, and his internet and phone services had been disconnected because of unpaid bills.

The social worker said he had refused to accept advice about his financial decisions, even from his partner.

The tribunal heard the elderly man was involved in two car accidents on the day of his recent stroke, but he had no recollection of them.

The social worker said the man did not understand that he was no longer allowed to drive, and he had regularly tried to abscond from the ­hospital.

Staff were forced to lock doors on occasions to prevent him from leaving, and an occupational therapist said he could have been run over had he not been restricted by hospital staff.

A doctor told the tribunal the man had developed dementia following a previous stroke, while the latest stroke had added to his cognitive and physical problems.

The tribunal heard he struggled with simple tasks, such as using a mobile phone and turning off a television.

Senior member Clare Endicott said the evidence satisfied the tribunal that the man was at an immediate risk of harm from financial exploitation, and that he would not be safe at home.

“He had placed himself at risk of harm by sending large sums of money to internet scams, he had incurred debts, and he had mismanaged his finances,’’ Ms Endicott said.

The Public Guardian was appointed for three months to make decisions about the man’s accommodation, healthcare, contacts, visits and service provision.

Full Article & Source:
Guardian to protect elderly scam victim from further exploitation

Local businessman accused of exploiting elderly

The owner of a home repair business was charged with felony financial exploitation of the elderly in Buchanan County.

Prosecutors allege Michael Anthony Stewart, 43, attempted to deprive a homeowner of the use of her property. Stewart owns a company called Budget Home Repair of St. Joseph.

Stewart told News-Press Now that he is “innocent and will have paperwork to prove it.”

The homeowner had a sump pump failure and the defendant allegedly represented the cost of repairs to be $25,700. Stewart is alleged to have claimed failure to do so would require the homeowner to have to tear the property down, according to court documents.

Richard Shelton, a St. Joseph Police Department detective, stated in court documents that Stewart overcharged for work not needed and did so by making false claims.

Stewart was arraigned Monday before Buchanan County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Robb. He appeared with his attorney, Michael Insco.

Insco waived formal arraignment for his client and asked for a one-month delay to try and work the case out with Ron Holliday, the assistant Buchanan County prosecutor.

Holliday asked that the case be assigned for trial.

Robb set the case for a three-day trial beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 23. The judge also set the case for status review at 9 a.m. Friday, May 26.

Stewart remains free on a $25,000 cash bond.

The company, started in 1976 by Stewart’s uncle, advertises on several Internet sites as a foundation specialist. Home Advisor, an Internet company, shows Budget with four rating comments up until 2014, with a five-star rating.

Full Article & Source:
Local businessman accused of exploiting elderly

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Steve Miller: Jason Hanson's Case May Have Been Compromised

Requests made to move investigation from local police to FBI after mysterious visit by LVMPD Abuse and Neglect Detail officer

"She (the officer) said there was no evidence that (Jared) Shafer did anything underhanded and was just doing his job like he was supposed to." - Jason Hanson, victim of exploitation
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller AmericanMafia.com April 10, 2017 LAS VEGAS - In the highly publicized case of guardianship fraud involving 27 year old cerebral palsy victim Jason Hanson, a cryptic Facebook message posted on Friday, April 7 is causing wide spread concern:

Hanson informed INSIDE VEGAS that the plain clothes officer did not show her badge or credentials during her visit to his workplace at Opportunity Village. She also reportedly gave Hanson her personal private phone number instead of her LVMPD office or cell number which raises the question whether she was visiting Jason on her own time, or Metro's?

Hanson told INSIDE VEGAS, "I did not bring up any names. She accused Steve Miller and Becky Olvera Schultz (daughter of guardianship fraud victim Guadalupe Olvera) of not having the complete story and only using parts to help with their own crusades against Shafer."

"The officer said Steve Miller didn't know how to read court documents or was intentionally misreading them to twist my story around."

"She didn't seem to think Shafer was an upstanding citizen but she seemed to think Miller and Olvera Schultz had some personal grudge against him. She said that Steve and Shafer had once been friends and they had a falling out and since then Steve has wanted to take Shafer down," stated Hanson.

Hanson continued, "I was at my father's home about 2 or 3 weeks prior to his death and the home didn't look bad. It didn't smell."

Jared Shafer and I attended the same high school in the early1960's, but never had a personal friendship. Mrs. Olvera Schultz is reserving comment until after she consults with her attorney. Her family is currently suing Jared Shafer et al in U.S. Federal Court under the Civil RICO Act for violating her father's civil rights and bilking over $430,000 from his estate. I have never met or talked to the police officer who visited Jason, though its obvious she has spoken with Shafer.

Sources at LVMPD have informed INSIDE VEGAS that the female officer who visited Hanson is the same officer who is investigating the Guadalupe Olvera guardianship fraud case against Shafer.

Court Minutes of June 13, 2006 show the names of parties who were court appointed to protect Hanson's person and assets during the nine years when hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from his inheritance.

Court-appointed guardian accused of stealing appears in court

Click to Watch Video
LAS VEGAS - A woman accused of scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars from senior citizens and vulnerable adults appeared in court Monday.

April Parks pleaded not guilty. She faces 212 felony counts of racketeering, theft and exploitation over a five-year period.

Some of her alleged victims say this day couldn't have come soon enough.

April Parks, along with her husband and another business partner, ran a private professional guardian LLC.

Guardians take care of wards of the court -- people who are found unable to no longer care for themselves.

A 270-count indictment from the Clark County District Attorney's Office says Parks and her company did everything but take care of the people.

"It had ruined our life," said Rudy North.

North, 80, says he lost everything after April Parks came to his door in 2013.

"Her and her partner called themselves the officer of the court," North said.

Confused, that's what North says he was, when Parks gave him three choices.

"My wife and I go to a psychiatric ward. Two, go to jail or three, to an assisted living facility."

He and his wife chose the third option.

It took their daughter, Julie Belshe, four frantic days to find out where her parents had disappeared to.

"She actually walked into my parents' home and took them out of their house and said she was an officer of the court and took them without notifying me," Belshe said.

During that time, Parks gained control of the couple's assets. It took Julie Belshe nearly two years to get her parents released from Parks' guardianship.

Parks pleaded "not guilty" to 232 felony charges of racketeering, theft, exploitation, perjury and fraud.

The 123-page indictment alleges she was the ringleader of a scam that bilked $550,000 from the Norths and 148 other victims.

In the indictment, Parks is only one on the hook for exploiting about $1,500 in fees for fraudulent services, but North says she stole a lot more.

"She took over a million dollars of my assets, that's cash, gold, silver, and in furnishings and artwork," North said.

Now, Parks is behind bars after fleeing to Pennsylvania last year.

It's a moment many victims thought they would never see.

"She's where she belongs," North said.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson says he will seek restitution for the victims. But, he cautions there is a low likelihood of regaining any significant portion of these families' assets. He says many, if not most, of the victims outlined in the complaint have died.

Full Article & Source:
Court-appointed guardian accused of stealing appears in court

Hearing reset for former court-appointed guardian in Vegas



LAS VEGAS (AP) - A court hearing was reset in Las Vegas for a former court-appointed financial guardian accused of siphoning more than $550,000 out of accounts of people assigned to her business as wards of the court.

A court official said Monday that April Parks is due to have another lawyer when she appears again in court on Wednesday.

PREVIOUS STORY: Private guardian April Parks behind bars in Las Vegas

Parks is being held at the Clark County jail following her arrest in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on a massive 270-count criminal indictment filed March 8.

It alleges that more than 150 victims lost money to Parks, her employee Mark Simmons, and Parks' friend, Gary Neil Taylor, through overbilling by her business, called A Private Professional Guardian.

They're accused of racketeering, theft and exploitation of a vulnerable person.

Full Article & Source:
Hearing reset for former court-appointed guardian in Vegas

Victims of indicted attorney Robert Graham suffer hardship



Wheelchair bound, with cerebral palsy since birth, Sharona Dagani no longer takes frequent trips to buy groceries and attend church.

The former Las Vegas woman, 29, has no money to fix a broken-down van her caregivers use to take her on errands.

And she can’t afford to pay those caregivers for a large portion of the help she needs to get through each day with a neurological disorder that has left her with an impaired voice and limited use of her hands and legs.
 
It all went away in December after probate attorney Robert Graham abruptly shut down his Lawyers West office in Summerlin, leaving Dagani without the remaining $476,423 in her special needs trust.

Dagani, who now lives in Texas, is one of hundreds of former clients whose funds authorities say were stolen by Graham. In all, he is accused of taking $17.2 million over at least a decade from clients who trusted him to guard their savings.

The victims include three young children who survived a car crash that killed their parents in 2010 and the heirs to an estate that was to be their security in retirement.

In interviews with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Dagani and other victims described their frustration with Graham as they fought, sometimes desperately, to get him to turn over their funds in the years and final months before he closed his law practice.

“He stole millions of dollars to feed his ego and desires for wealth and power, and he used his law license to do it,” Janeen Isaacson, a prosecutor for the State Bar of Nevada, said at a disciplinary hearing for Graham last month. “He projected his image through advertisements, expensive houses, nice suits and other trappings of success, but he didn’t get those things through talent and hard work. He got them off the backs of his clients.”

Clark County prosecutors charged Graham, 52, in January with the theft of $2.1 million in three of his cases, with more potential charges on the horizon. He remains in custody on $5 million bail and faces disbarment.

Until Graham walked away from his law practice, Dagani said, she was using about $300 a month from her trust fund to pay an array of personal expenses. The fund also paid for her auto insurance and maintenance for the van and powered wheelchair.

The extra cash helped her maintain control of her life, control she said she is losing.

“Instead of being the boss, I’m now at the caregivers’ mercy,” said Dagani, who corresponded with the Review-Journal in emails and telephone calls.

Cutting back care

Dagani said she relies on her caregivers from the time she wakes up until she goes to sleep.

On a typical day at her rented home in San Antonio, she needs help getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, brushing her teeth, combing her hair and making meals. Caregivers also do her housekeeping and laundry and help with her online business selling decorative fingernail wraps.

Medicaid covers 51 hours a week in home care for Dagani, about 20 hours less than what she needs.

She has no money to pay her three caregivers for the additional time. She has had to cut back on the more pleasurable things in her life, such as shopping for clothes, attending concerts, and taking vacations.

Dagani said she relies on $155 a month in food stamps when she’s able to buy groceries at a store near her home, but doesn’t have money for basic items such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. She has a 51-inch flat screen television but can’t watch it because she has no money to pay her cable bill.

Her mother, Joan Albstein, who lives in New York where Dagani was born, said she has been trying to help fill the financial void, but doesn’t have the money to pitch in much longer.

Albstein, 62, an elementary school teacher, said she paid for a scaled-down version of her daughter’s auto insurance and has supplemented the salary of her caretakers.

“I was determined not to see her lose what she had become used to,” Albstein said.

She said her daughter had a series of setbacks after she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her father abandoned the family when she was 1. At age 3, she had surgery to correct a cross-eyed condition.

And when she was 11, Dagani had a cancerous tumor removed from her lower intestine.

“Despite everything she’s been through, she always wakes up with a smile on her face,” Albstein said.

This time, Dagani is counting on her religious faith to get her through her growing financial difficulties.

“I have to believe that God will take care of my needs,” she said.

But she may need more than faith.  (Click to Continue)

Full Article & Source:
Victims of indicted attorney Robert Graham suffer hardship

Monday, April 10, 2017

High court names guardianship panel

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday appointed a 16-member commission to study the system in which guardians and conservators are appointed in hundreds of cases each year to handle the affairs of incapacitated adults.

The commission includes judges, current and former lawmakers, governor’s representatives, industry officials and family members.

The Supreme Court also directed the commission to hold hearings to gather public input. Retired state District Judge Wendy York of Albuquerque will chair the commission, which is charged with recommending system improvements if needed.

The mostly secret court process of appointing guardians and conservators – who are family members in some cases and for-profit companies in others – has moved into the public arena in recent months with an ongoing investigation by the Journal and a two-hour town hall in Albuquerque last month that drew a capacity live audience of about 90 people with the discussion broadcast live over KANW-FM, 89.1.

An estimated 6,000 guardianship or conservatorship cases, some decades old, are pending in Bernalillo County District Court alone. Statewide, there are no firm totals of the number of pending cases, but some court officials have estimated there could be another 6,000 people under a guardianship or conservatorship around the state.

Critics say the system is excessively secretive and there are inadequate checks on potential abuse by guardians and conservators, some of whom are for-profit companies appointed by the court. The guardian industry generally attributes those complaints to disgruntled family members.

After an initial hearing, judges who appoint guardians or conservators at the request of a petitioner rely mostly on annual reports from the guardians and conservators themselves to decide whether the arrangement is still needed and to ensure abuses aren’t occurring. The public isn’t allowed to view those reports.

The Supreme Court, in its order signed Thursday, tasked the commission with studying the “operation and structure” of the adult guardianship system,” while gathering information from the public “as it determines helpful.” The group is also to review the facts and law relating to the operation of the current system.

The commission has until Oct. 1 to make an initial status report to the Supreme Court and submit other interim and final reports as needed.

But the order says the commission shall submit its findings and recommendations to the Supreme Court “without undue delay,” including any recommendations for changes in court rules, statutes, administrative practices, additional resources “or any other proposals that may reasonably improve the guardianship system in New Mexico.”

Commission members are:
  • York, who served as a state district judge in Albuquerque from 1997 to 2005 and has worked for the past 12 years as a mediator in cases that include disputes involving family members, protected persons and guardianship organizations.
  • State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, a longtime advocate of guardianship reform.
  • Former state Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored legislation last year for changes in the guardianship system.
  • Second Judicial District Judge Nancy J. Franchini, who has participated in the Bernalillo County-based court’s elder and disability initiative, which for the past two years has been performing spot checks to ensure the welfare of those under guardianships in the county.
  • Patricia Galindo, commission vice chairwoman, a staff attorney for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, specializing in issues involving guardians and conservators.
  • District Judge Dustin Hunter of Roswell, who before joining the court in 2016 had a law practice that involved guardianship and domestic relations cases.
  • District Judge Jarod Hofacket of Deming, who previously had a law practice in which he represented family members who have petitioned courts to become guardians or conservators. He has also served as a guardian ad litem in such cases.
  • Attorneys Jill Johnson Vigil of Las Cruces and Gaelle McConnell of Albuquerque, who have law practices that include guardianship and guardian ad litem representation.
  • Patricia Stelzner, a retired attorney who co-founded the Senior Citizens’ Law Office, and who has represented clients in guardianship cases.
  • Tim Gardner, legal director of Disability Rights New Mexico, a nonprofit group that promotes and protects the rights of people with disabilities.
  • Dr. Samuel Roll, professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico, who has been a professor of psychiatry off and on since 1980.
  • Jorja Armijo-Brasher, director of the city of Albuquerque’s Department of Senior Affairs.
  • Leslie Porter, deputy director of policy for Gov. Susana Martinez who oversees legislation and policy issues involving the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department.
  • Stephen Clampett, assistant general counsel to Martinez who works on legal issues and legislation affecting the state aging department.
  • Emily Darnell-Nuñez, a Corrales early childhood education training and development consultant whose mother was involved in a contested guardianship.

Full Article & Source:
High court names guardianship panel

State Senators Move Bills To Protect Elderly And Vulnerable Adults From Financial Exploitation

Two bills to protect elderly and vulnerable adults from financial exploitation are headed to the Senate floor for a final vote after being approved in Senate committees this week. Senate Bill 1192, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), and Senate Bill 1267, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), gives securities officials and financial institutions the tools they need to help detect and prevent financial exploitation of those age 65 and older and vulnerable adults with diminished capacity.

The legislation comes from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force, which worked with Tennessee’s financial community to recommend the changes.

“Roughly one in five seniors has been a victim of financial exploitation at a cost of approximately $2.9 billion annually,” said Senator Gardenhire. “Moreover, these numbers are likely low as it is also estimated that only one out of every 44 instances of financial abuse is actually reported.”

Called the Senior Financial Protection and Securities Modernization Act, Senate Bill 1192:

·Provides a pathway for voluntary reporting by giving civil and administrative immunity to broker-dealers, investment advisers, agents, representatives and other qualified individuals for reporting the suspected abuse or exploitation;

· Allows those individuals to delay disbursements from an account for up to 15 days if financial abuse or exploitation is suspected (that delay could be extended to up to 25 days upon request by the commissioner and by court order);

·Grants the Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance authority to create additional guidelines by rule for delayed-disbursement when fraudulent activities are suspected;

·Authorizes notification to third parties previously designated by the elderly or vulnerable adult regarding any suspected fraudulent transactions; and,

·Gives the Commissioner authority, under the state’s Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, to double current civil penalties to up to $10,000 to $20,000 per violation against offenders who victimize a vulnerable or senior adult.

“Financial exploitation robs elderly victims of their money and their dignity,” said Senator Gardenhire, who is a retired financial advisor. “It also can rob them of their independence and can even force them into depending on government assistance despite their best efforts to save for their golden years.”

It has been estimated that 41.4 percent of the offenses of financial exploitation were committed by a family member and another 13.3 percent of victims were described by law enforcement as having close relationships with the perpetrator.

Likewise, Senate Bill 1267 adds tools and greater flexibility as to how financial institutions can best protect their customers when they have reason to suspect financial exploitation of elderly or vulnerable adults is occurring or being attempted. The legislation:

· Provides new authority for financial institutions to delay or refuse to conduct transactions which permit the disbursement of funds from the account of an elderly customer or vulnerable adult when exploitation is suspected;

· Permits, but doesn’t require, the financial institution to establish a list of persons the customer would like to have contacted if the institution suspects the customer is a victim of financial exploitation or theft;

· Allows financial institutions to refuse to accept an authorized power of attorney if they believe the person is conducting financial exploitation; and,

· Requires the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions to consult with financial service providers, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the Department of Human Services to develop a public education campaign to alert the public to the dangers of vulnerable adults from financial exploitation.

“Bankers are often on the frontlines of witnessing attempted exploitation and these tools will give them greater flexibility to protect vulnerable Tennesseans,” said Sen. Norris.

The proposals build on a new law, sponsored by Norris and passed by the General Assembly last year, which set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.

Full Article & Source:
State Senators Move Bills To Protect Elderly And Vulnerable Adults From Financial Exploitation

Palermo woman arrested for elder abuse in Chico

CHICO, Calif. - A Palermo woman was arrested March 15 for elder abuse and other charges after evidence was found in her home linking her to two different financial exploitation's of elderly residents.

In December 2016, Chico Police Officer Marcelo Escobedo responded to a report of the financial exploitation of a disabled elderly Chico resident. The victim's son suspected a former caregiver, Deidra Plaster-Egger, 33, of stealing his father's wallet and making numerous charges at businesses in the Chico and Oroville areas.

Officer Escobedo was able to retrieve surveillance video from multiple businesses showing Plaster-Egger using the victim's credit cards.

The case was subsequently assigned to the Chico Police Departments Detective Bureau. In March 2017, detectives obtained information that Plaster-Egger was staying in a home on Country Club Road in Palermo. A warrant was issued for Plaster-Egger's arrest.

On March 15, detectives from the Chico Police Department and the Butte County Sheriff's Office stopped a vehicle driven by Plaster-Egger. Plaster-Egger was arrested without incident.

A search warrant was served at the home on Country Club Road where evidence was recovered linking Plaster-Egger to the Chico case. Police said additional evidence related to the financial exploitation of a second elderly victim was also located at the home.

Plaster-Egger was booked into the Butte County Jail for elder abuse, residential burglary, identity theft, and commercial burglary. She is being held on $290,000 bail. 

Full Article & Source:
Palermo woman arrested for elder abuse in Chico

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Full Measure Airs "My Parents' Keeper" with Sharyl Attkisson

04/09/2017 — Sharyl: Court-appointed guardianships for incapacitated adults can do a tremendous service protecting their assets, fielding family feuds, and making difficult decisions. But some elderly feel victimized by the very system tasked with protecting them. One estimate in 2013 found 1.5 million adults were under court-ordered guardianships controlling $273 billion in personal assets. Complaints appear to be growing but it's impossible to know for sure because there are no reliable statistics. Our cover story looks at a family claiming the guardianship system did more to hurt than help.

Source:
My Parent's Keeper

Attorney for judge’s wife tried to change new rules for guardians

Elizabeth Savitt, left, and her attorney Ellen Morris
After years of lobbying state legislators, peppering them with horror stories about incapacitated seniors trapped in court-ordered guardianships, advocates thought they had a solution in hand.

Lawmakers passed a bill in the 2016 session that would for the first time give Florida the power to regulate professional guardians appointed by judges to control the finances and the medical care of some of the state’s most vulnerable people.

No longer would families watch in turmoil from the sidelines as unethical guardians with attorneys as hired guns drained their loved one’s life savings through frivolous legal actions. They wouldn’t have to fight guardians over getting simple adequate medical care for mom or dad or keeping them in their homes.

Now the grass-roots advocacy group behind the law says their efforts ultimately were undone during the process of setting up the state’s new Office of Public and Professional Guardianship. The rules that would carry out the new law were overhauled in the past six months after those who stand to make the most money off guardianship — professional guardians and their lawyers — complained and suggested numerous changes.

The director of the new office —who helped draft initial rule language — says the new guidelines walk the fine line between holding guardians accountable for the first time in Florida while not being overly burdensome. The office is fully operational — though the part of the rules that establish the standard of conduct and disciplinary action for guardians is pending final legislative approval.

Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship is upset about changes to the rights of families to hold a bad guardian answerable, saying the law as envisioned by the Legislature required families be involved. But the guardianship office says it had to amend the rules to make sure that abusive family members could be kept at bay by the courts.

“It is like the Legislature is almost irrelevant because every law they pass, the people who run the guardianship system find a way to subvert it, twist it, so it won’t work,” said Sam Sugar, the co-founder of the group that worked for years to get lawmakers to pay attention to guardianship.

“The real story here is how a small group of judges, guardians and their lawyers have hijacked a system designed to protect folks and exploited it to enrich themselves in so many different ways.”

Fees prior to approval?

Among those who complained about the original proposed rules was Ellen Morris, chair of the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar. Morris also represents Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, a guardian whose actions sparked numerous complaints from families.

Savitt took tens of thousands of dollars in fees before any approval by a judge — money that came directly from the savings of her incapacitated wards.

Savitt’s husband, Circuit Judge Martin Colin who presided over guardianship cases, retired last year after The Palm Beach Post in its series, Guardianships: A Broken Trust, reported that he had a conflict of interest with his wife as a guardian.

Though he never presided over Savitt’s cases, her attorneys appeared in front of him in other cases. Colin’s judicial colleagues presided over Savitt’s cases. No judge ever found wrongdoing by Savitt.

In October, Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath handed down sweeping guardianship reforms for the county, addressing many of the complaints made about Savitt. Among them was a prohibition of taking fees before a judge OK’d them. The chief auditor of guardianship cases in the county said Savitt was the only guardian doing that.

Morris argued in favor of the practice when, in August, she sent a six-page letter detailing her concerns about the rules to the director of the new state guardianship office. Morris insisted state law allowed it and that the rules shouldn’t prohibit it.

The new guardianship office rejected Morris’ advice.

“We ultimately determined that requiring court approval of guardianship fees is necessary to prevent fraud and excessive guardianship fees,” said Jason Nelson, director of the new guardianship office.

Morris’ criticism wasn’t limited to judicial approval of fees, though. She said that the initial draft of the rules instituted “aspirational standards” for a trade group without considering statutory limitations and “the erratic nature of human interaction.

She wrote that the proposed language of the rules was too vague in mandating guardians to allow contact with family members and friends unless it causes “substantial harm” to the incapacitated ward. She said the language could lead to “significant litigation.”

Morris’ criticisms were echoed by a Tampa Bay guardian who filed a formal challenge to the rules in court, the South Florida Guardianship Association and the Florida Bar’s Real Property & Trust Law Section.

‘Massive pushback’

Sugar says there is a tight affiliation of lawyers, judges and guardians who he believes work together to maximize fees.

The advocate is disappointed that a task force appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, who is from Wellington, to “re-evaluate” the guardianship system does not include any members of the public who have challenged the status quo.

“There’s so much going on behind the scenes and in secret and behind closed doors with regards to anything that affects the money flow in guardianship,” Sugar said. “Clearly, there has been massive pushback to the laws that our group had advocated for and successfully got through the legislature.”

Morris did not respond to questions from The Post sent to her by phone or e-mail.

Nelson, however, said he disagreed with Sugar and that the new guardianship office will be a vast improvement over the old system where the state did not have any regulatory authority to weed out bad professional guardians.

“The rules provide a level of accountability for professional guardians, while at the same time avoiding the imposition of overly burdensome regulations on an industry that serves the state’s growing elder and vulnerable adult population,” Nelson said.

Privacy issues

He said rules regarding the interaction between professional guardians and family members of incapacitated individuals were changed because some of the provisions would have violated the wards’ privacy rights protected under Florida’s Constitution. It also would have required guardians to share information even with abusive family members.

Under the current revisions, a judge would decide which family members are kept in the loop, Nelson said. The amended rules allow the state to discipline professional guardians who fail to follow the court’s directives.
 
Sugar has little faith that judges will side with a family over a corrupt guardian. He said his group has found numerous incidents where family members were prohibited from seeing their loved ones after complaining about inadequate medical care. Guardians have succeeded even in annulling marriages — an issue currently at the Florida Supreme Court.

The new guardianship office also settled a formal rule challenge filed in court by Tampa Bay guardian Darby Jones. Her Tallahassee attorney, Sarah Butters, said Jones in many instances wanted more stringent guidelines because she felt her profession had been maligned by a few unethical guardians.
 
Butters said the new rules are an improvement over the old system where the state had little oversight over guardians except to check their credit history and to register them.

“They didn’t give us everything we wanted but they gave us enough that we’re willing to drop it (the court challenge),” Butters said. “The big highlights are the background check sections for guardians would be beefed up significantly.”

Full Article & Source:
Attorney for judge’s wife tried to change new rules for guardians 

See Also:
Judge’s wife facing more complaints about guardianship fees

It’s all about the money in probate

by  Kelley Smoot Garrett

Who makes money when a judge orders a person – usually an older woman – into professional guardianship?

Who makes money when the judge makes the discretionary, and radical, decision to revoke and not honor a ward’s perfectly executed existing legal documents including powers of attorney, trusts, property ownership that were written and signed while the ward still had mental capacity?

According to research conducted by Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, 95 percent of the time existing valid, legal documents – created by the wards in case they are put under guardianship – are ignored by judges when ordering another life into their overly secret court system.

In so doing, the judge instantly transforms that guardianship case from being one of short, inexpensive, brief judicial administration, which follows the wishes of the incapacitated or deceased, into the much more lucrative, lengthy, expensive, adversarial litigation, denying the ward due process by failing to honor their legal documents. It is not uncommon for such court-sanctioned litigation to last for years, sometimes decades, as families desperately seek justice and due process for their elders, generating wealth for the court insiders.

Often, in order to receive their inheritances after the ward is dead, parties are forced by court-appointed attorneys to sign legal releases, denying heirs their right to appeal. Most AAAPG complaints in New Mexico record the use of judicially compelled “hold blameless” agreements for the court appointees before the District Court judge will agree to release inheritances to the heirs. Because the cases are overly sequestered, the public is unaware of the serious risk that guardianship creates, endangering all New Mexicans’ transference of their family assets to their chosen heirs.

Who makes money when the adult children of the ward are forced go to court to contest the judge’s decision to give complete – financial, medical, emotional, physical – power over their loved one to a stranger, denying the ward’s wishes? The insiders.

Who pays? Everyone else, including taxpayers.

Given the dire straits of New Mexico’s judicial budget it would behoove all New Mexicans to rein in the vast amounts of court time and money guardianship cases cost us all.

At a March 22 town hall meeting, panel member and retired Judge Ted Baca announced that 35 percent of the guardianship cases in the 2nd Judicial District (Bernalillo County) were “problem cases.” AAAPG statistics indicate that nationally 7 percent of the total guardianship cases are estimated to be fraudulent and thus prone to looting by insiders. The fact that New Mexico has five times the amount of problematic guardianship cases as the national average could potentially indicate that an estimated $150 million annually in New Mexico can be converted from family assets to third-party professionals who make a handsome living off the way guardianship is currently conducted here.

It also means that each of New Mexico’s 13 District Courts – which receive a single budget each year to handle criminal, civil, family and children’s courts – might do well to review the amount of time their civil divisions spend on guardianship cases.

When civil court guardianship cases become problematic, they go from judicial administration – the original intent of guardianship statutes and rules – to lengthy, time-consuming adversarial litigation.

The courts themselves could potentially solve much of their budget shortfall by ordering their judges to honor the incapacitated or deceased individuals’ wishes as expressed in their legal documents.

District Court judges must not let these cases disintegrate into what often amounts to gratuitous – and lucrative – litigation that profits only the court insiders at the complete financial, medical, emotional and physical expense of the family the court is allegedly “protecting.”

Full Article & Source:
It’s all about the money in probate

Lawmakers Advance Bill to Prevent Financial Exploitation of Seniors

Click to Watch Video
A legislative committee advanced a bill aimed at preventing the financial exploitation of seniors.

It would clarify the intent of older Mainers when opening a joint financial account.

Often times, a caretaker or family member will help control finances for the elderly.

This bill would require each owner of the joint account to answer in writing whether they intend to leave the account to the surviving party in the event of his or her death.

“They just don’t realize that when they do that any funds in those accounts become the property of the survivor no matter what their will says. And this is a very simple bill that says when you open the joint account, each party needs to say that it is my intent that upon my demise these funds belong to the survivor, which means at least they know there’s another option,” said Rep. Thomas Longstaff, (D) the bill’s sponsor.

The bill now heads to the full legislature for a vote.

Full Article & Source:
Lawmakers Advance Bill to Prevent Financial Exploitation of Seniors