Archive for December, 2009

Fighting Malnutrition and Dehydration

December 31, 2009

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County Judge With Everyman Touch Retiring

December 31, 2009

Hennepin County Judge Peter Albrecht, known for his humor and compassion, says he will miss people, not cases.

Two lines snake through separate security checkpoints every day in the Hennepin County Government Center. One is for employees who flash badges and breeze through. The longer, slower line is for the public.

District Judge Peter Albrecht made a habit of getting in the public line, pocketing his badge and patiently enduring the wait. Albrecht says he believes employees should be subject to the same weapons screening as everyone else.

The 65-year-old judge, who formally retires at the end of the month, brought that same sense of equality to his courtroom. Since first handling misdemeanors after he was elected at 32 in 1976 to what was then the municipal court, Albrecht has earned a reputation for two things: an unfailingly gentle demeanor in the courtroom and unrelenting practical jokes outside of it.

His neighbor on the 16th floor and best friend, Judge Gary Larson, has been a frequent target.

Albrecht once sneaked fake ants into Larson’s mouthwash bottle in the judicial bathroom. He secreted a Halloween “mummy” into Larson’s office to scare him (it worked — twice in a day).

He repeatedly crept into Larson’s courtroom when it was empty and ever so gradually moved the piece of duct tape on the floor closer and closer to the judge’s bench. The tape marks the place Larson tells defendants to stand.

Newer Judge Robert Small said that when he moved onto the 16th floor, he “knew there would be something. The place has a reputation.”

There was. Albrecht placed Small’s nameplate on his door — a foot off the floor. Small is considerably shorter than Albrecht.

Full Article and Source:
Hennepin County Judge With Everyman Touch Calls It a Career

Fmr. Luzerne Co. Judge Accepts Punishment

December 31, 2009

Michael T. Toole walked into the federal courthouse a judge on Tuesday morning. He walked out four-and-a-half hours later an admitted case-fixer and tax cheat facing more than three years in prison.

One of the U.S. marshals who passed the contents of Toole’s pockets through an X-ray machine as the judge arrived at the courthouse Tuesday morning apologized sheepishly after asking for Toole’s ID and realizing he was dealing with a judge.

“We don’t see you up here enough,” he said, smiling weakly.

Toole did not return the smile as he plodded toward his appearance in a fourth-floor courtroom to plead guilty to fraud and filing a false tax return.

The judge, who had kept up a cheerful and amiable front for months as rumors of impending federal charges swept the county courthouse, wore a grim and stoic visage all through his plea hearing Tuesday, telling U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy:

“With the strength of my faith and the support of my family and friends, I am here to accept responsibility for what I’ve done and accept whatever punishment the court imposes.”

Only after the hearing concluded did Toole break into a broad grin, turning toward his brother, Patrick, in the gallery, and saying: “I have to go get my mug shot now” as federal marshals and probation officials led him away for processing before releasing him on his own recognizance.

Full Article and Source:
Toole Accepts “Whatever Punishment the Court Imposes”

See Also:
Judge’s Beaches Made of Quicksand

The Secrecy Behind the Judicial Conduct Board

December 30, 2009

The Judicial Conduct Board, created to protect citizens from errant judges, is criticized as doing just the opposite.

One of state government’s most secretive agencies is housed near the end of a hallway on the third floor of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, just across Commonwealth Avenue from the Capitol.
A piece of ordinary white bond paper, tucked into a protective plastic sleeve and taped to a window at the entrance, says “Judicial Conduct Board” in half-inch letters.

There is a small waiting room in Suite 3500, but the door leading to the inner offices is marked with two signs: “Confidential Area. Do Not Enter Beyond This Point” and “The Procedures of the JCB Are Confidential. The Use of Cameras and All Recording Devices Is Prohibited.”

The board was created in 1993 to protect Pennsylvania citizens from judges who abuse their power, either ethically or criminally. But recent revelations about its procedures and activities have led some critics to suggest a role reversal in which the JCB’s focus is to look after the interests of Pennsylvania’s 1,200 judges.

“The outrage is that the JCB believes it is more important to protect members of the judiciary than to protect the citizens the judiciary is supposed to serve,” says Tim Potts, executive director of Democracy Rising PA, a nonprofit governmental-reform group.

“The judges don’t need protection,” adds Robert L. Byer, a former Commonwealth Court judge. “They already have lots of that. They’re even immune from being sued for almost anything they do in the courtroom. It’s the public that needs protection from rogue judges.”

Full Article and Source:
Oversight of PA Judges is Wrapped in Secrecy

OH: Judge Seeks Standards for Court Guardians

December 29, 2009

Attorneys who hold in their hands the lives of the addled, elderly and disabled soon will get a set of common-sense rules, partly inspired by a man wrongly stripped of his freedom and property.

Franklin County Probate Judge Eric Brown is asking for public comment on 46 standards to govern attorneys who serve as guardians to wards of his court.

“These are the most vulnerable citizens in our community,” Brown said. “We can do better.”

Brown was the Common Pleas judge appointed to hear the case of Milous Keith after the previous Franklin County Probate judge recused himself. Keith, then 76, fought a court-appointed guardian for two years to regain control of his life.

“My learning experience with the handling of that case certainly caused me to be concerned about the issues that arose,” Brown said.

Keith still lives in fear “at an undisclosed location,” said his sister, Etta Brown. “They took Milous out of his house in handcuffs and put him in a police car and locked him in an Alzheimer’s ward for nearly two years.”

The former city housing administrator had assets of more than $600,000, court records say. Today, Etta Brown figures, her brother has less than $150,000. Keith is suing his former guardian’s law firm, alleging that guardian Jim Hughes sold assets at a loss, hired his father-in-law as a real-estate agent and failed to inventory safe-deposit boxes.

Brown found Keith competent in February 2006. He removed the guardianship.

Brown’s standards will apply only to attorneys, but he hopes family, volunteer and other guardians will find them helpful. He’s sending his draft to attorneys, other guardians, nursing homes and fellow probate judges, among others.

Proposed rules include requiring attorneys to attend training, visit wards personally at least quarterly, not hire relatives without permission, and designate someone to take over if the guardian dies or quits.

“There are some guardians who have one or two or three wards,” Brown said. “Some have hundreds. Those may have trouble meeting the standards.”

But the rules, he said, are to protect wards.

Full Article and Source:
Judge Seeks Standards for Court Guardians

See Also:
Proposed Standards for Attorney Guardians

Investigating "Serious Financial Irregularities"

December 29, 2009

Police are investigating the handling of $4 million during 18 years at a Lafayette agency that serves the mentally disabled.

One subject of the probe is the Wabash Center Inc.’s former chief financial officer, who died this fall during the audit.

Lafayette police Detective B.T. Brown said the name of Stephen McAninch “has come up during our investigation multiple times. We have not ruled out other suspects.”

Tippecanoe County Sheriff Tracy Brown said his department was called to investigate McAninch’s death Oct. 30. Police did not say how McAninch died.

A statement released by Wabash Center said he died “suddenly during the financial audit.”

McAninch had worked at the nonprofit center as CFO since 1986, the Journal & Courier of Lafayette reported.

The center said in its statement that “serious financial irregularities” involving improper payments to vendors had been detected during the facility’s annual audit in October. The improper payments totaling more than $4 million allegedly occurred between 1991 and 2009, the statement said.

The most recent audit, filed by an outside accounting firm approved by the State Board of Accounts, did not refer to missing money but noted a lack of documentation for certain billing and “significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting.”

Full Article and Source:
Police Review Handling of $4M at Lafayette Agency

Former NYS Supreme Court Justice Sentenced

December 28, 2009

A former state Supreme Court justice was sentenced to 27 months in prison after being convicted of attempted extortion and bribery charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe handed down the sentence to Thomas Spargo following his conviction on the charges in August.

At the sentencing, Sharpe told Spargo that “for a judge there is nothing more reprehensible,” according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Fair and impartial judgment by those entrusted to carry out the laws is the bedrock of our legal system,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “When those sworn to uphold the law violate it, they will be held accountable.”

“We cannot and will not allow the public’s faith in our legal system to be shaken by judicial corruption,” Breuer added.

Full Article and Source:
Ex-Judge Gets 27 Months in Prison

Rothstein’s Firm Gave Over $6M to Charities and Nonprofits

December 28, 2009

A defunct South Florida law firm run by an attorney now charged with operating a huge Ponzi scheme gave more than $6 million in the past year to charities and nonprofit groups.

A federal bankruptcy court filing details contributions by the firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler to more than 100 organizations.

The biggest amount was more than $2.5 million to Rothstein’s own Rothstein Family Foundation. Big donations also went to Boys and Girls Clubs, arts groups, Jewish organizations and several groups affiliated with professional athletes.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyer Charged in Fraud Gave $6M to Nonprofits

See Also:
Editorial: Charities Will Suffer

Lawyer Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Facility

December 27, 2009

A lawyer representing AAA Warmcare, a Potomac assisted living facility shut down by the state after allegations of resident abuse, has moved to dismiss a lawsuit against the facility.

Among other points of contention, at issue is whether former AAA Warmcare resident and plaintiff Elizabeth Tully — who has been described by her lawyer as someone in the advanced stages of dementia — is competent to sue.

The lawyer, Alexander Vincent of the Potomac firm Shulman Rogers, appeared in Montgomery County Circuit Court for a scheduling hearing. William Askinazi of Germantown, who is representing Tully and her husband Raymond, who both alleged to have been abused while living at the facility, also appeared at [the] hearing. In court, Judge David Boynton set a hearing date of Jan. 19 to address the motion to dismiss the Tullys’ claims.

Askinazi filed the $10 million suit for the Potomac residents, both in their 80s, Sept. 25. The move followed the August closure of the Gainsborough Road facility by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene after an unannounced investigation. Residents were removed from the eight-bed facility and Montgomery County police launched an elder abuse investigation.

The lawsuit was filed for Raymond and Elizabeth Tully along with Tully’s daughter, Mary Ann Shanesy. The lawsuit alleged that Elizabeth Tully had tape and a rag tied over her mouth and was tied to her wheelchair numerous times; she was belted and gagged “with food on her plate at the dinner table but was not allowed to eat,” was “often allowed to wallow in her fecal waste” and was “slapped and pummeled” by a caregiver. The lawsuit also alleged that Raymond Tully was “scorned and ridiculed” by staff and forced to urinate in his pants on several occasions.

The suit alleges that the abuse came from a caregiver who was hired after being improperly screened by the facility’s owner, Sreedevi Datla. The lawsuit claims the caregiver was illiterate, gave medication to the couple without knowing the prescription and had “a violent background.” The suit also alleges that the caregiver called for decreasing food rations to residents.

Datla, according to the suit, knew about cases of physical and emotional abuse but didn’t move to correct or better the circumstances. Some of the alleged violations were captured in photographs by concerned staff members who reported the situation, Askinazi said.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyer Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Potomac Closed Assisted Living Facility

Legislator Calls on AG to Investigate Division of Developmental Disabilities

December 27, 2009

State Sen. Jennifer Beck is calling on the state attorney general to investigate the state Division of Developmental Disabilities’ oversight of disabled individuals who are placed with caretakers in the community.

In a letter to New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram dated Dec. 9, Beck called for a “complete and thorough investigation into the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) by your office.”

Beck said there are some 1,200 individuals currently in Community Care Residences (CCRs) and that she has good reason to believe these problems pervade the system and are not unique to a case in which two caregivers of a developmentally disabled woman were arraigned after a woman died from neglect in a state-licensed sponsor home.

Tara O’Leary, a 29-year-old developmentally disabled woman who had been living in a sponsor home run by Debra Sloan, of Bloomsbury, Hunterdon County, for several years weighed just 43 pounds when she died in November 2008.

Sloan, the sponsor responsible for O’Leary’s daily care, and Bridget Grimes, of Phillipsburg, O’Leary’s habilitation coordinator with the Division of the Developmentally Disabled (DDD), a section of the New Jersey Department of Human Services DHS) tasked with ensuring that O’Leary received appropriate care, were arraigned at the Warren County Courthouse on Dec. 11.

Beck attended the Dec. 11 arraignment in the courtroom of Judge John J. Coyle in Warren County.

“Today’s arraignment of Bridget Grimes and Debra Sloan is a call to action for the entire state of New Jersey to make sure that no one else suffers Tara’s fate,” Beck said. “I do believe that these two women should be held accountable for the role they [allegedly] played in allowing Tara O’Leary to starve to death under the care of a state caseworker and a state-sanctioned sponsor home, and the state must investigate deeper to assure that this is never permitted to happen again.”

Full Article and Source:
Beck Faults State Oversight of Caretakers of Disabled

See Also:
Two Indicted for Neglect of Tara O’Leary