Archive for October, 2010

TN: Senate Committee Completed Review of Judicial Discipline Process

October 31, 2010

Lawmakers are poised to consider sweeping changes to the Court of the Judiciary, the 16-member body that investigates and disciplines Tennessee judges.

Members of a state Senate committee appointed to study the Court of the Judiciary want more of the disciplinary panel’s work made public.

Of 344 complaints leveled against Tennessee judges last year, only one resulted in a public reprimand, according to the court’s most recent annual report. Most of the Court of the Judiciary’s work is conducted in private.

Some lawmakers also want the Tennessee Supreme Court stripped of its authority to appoint 10 of the Court of the Judiciary’s members. Three other members are appointed by the Tennessee Bar Association, and the remaining three are chosen by the governor, speaker of the House and speaker of the Senate.

The Senate committee completed its review Thursday. Legislation is expected to be submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee when the General Assembly meets in 2011.
Tennessee is not alone in handling judicial complaints privately. Thirty-three other states keep complaints against judges private unless formal charges are filed after an investigation, according to the American Judicature Society.

Oregon is the only state that makes judicial complaints and investigations public from start to finish.

Full Article and Source:
TN Lawmakers Consider Making Discipline of Judges Public

See Also:
TN: Judicial Dicipline Walks Tight Line

UnCivil Committment

October 31, 2010

Danny Tate was led away in handcuffs and committed to the lockdown unit at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital the first time he ever set foot in Randy Kennedy’s court. No crime, no proof of danger to himself or anyone else, no evidence of an emergency, no “clear and convincing evidence”, an “expert witness”, Dr. William Kenner, who is a child psychiatrist and unqualified to testify, yet his completely deficient medical report led to the involuntary commitment. It defied reason by observers. It defied sanity.

Though Tate requested an attorney, Kennedy denied this request and ordered the “trial by surprise” to proceed. It was a rigged court, a booby trap. The law was ignored which is often the case in the 7th Circuit Court. Due process was trampled upon. It was the condensed version of Kafka meets “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

It makes any reasonable person wonder how many wards are out there, locked away, far away, stripped of all rights, with no chance of ever escaping the conservatorship prison and never to be heard from again. Judge Kennedy regularly announces “there are more conservatorships in this court than any other court in the state”. No doubt, this could easily be true considering the ease that an unsuspecting individual can be thrown into this hell hole in this court. It’s madness turned inside out.

Impeach Randy Kennedy’s Blog – UnCivil Committment

Victim Allegedly Joins Scammers

October 31, 2010

They preyed on the elderly — often by trolling obituaries for new widows or widowers — and enticed them into believing they’d won a lottery but needed to pay the tax on their winnings to claim them.

Thomas Murphy, 68, a retired principal, teacher and coach from Henderson, Minn., started as a victim. Then, police say, he joined the scam in a failed attempt to try to recoup his losses.

Authorities allege that Murphy, a widower with two master’s degrees and no criminal record, eventually helped bilk elderly strangers out of more than $800,000. He worked at it for more than a year, and when police came to arrest him, he had $10,000 in his freezer, according to case documents.

Bill White, a special agent with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said Murphy’s own victimization is thin justification for what he is alleged to have done.

“You’re a criminal now. You’re not a schmuck,” White said. “Just because you feel like you’re a victim, you can’t victimize other people.”

Full Article and Source:
Once a Victim, Retiree Allegedly Joins Scammers to Bilk Others

Mental Health Association of Connecticut Weighs In on Gross v. Rell

October 30, 2010

At the recommendation of its Public Policy Committee, on May 12, 2010, the MHAC board of directors unanimously passed a resolution to sign on as a friend of the court in the case of Gross v. Rell.

In a striking miscarriage of justice, Daniel Gross, an 86 year old New York man, hospitalized with cellulitis while visiting his daughter in Waterbury, was appointed a conservator by the probate court, without his permission, or even his presence in the courtroom. Mr. Gross was locked in a nursing home for ten months by this court-appointed conservator while his family bickered over who should have control over his assets.

This case is important for all persons with disabilities, especially psychiatric disabilities, because the duty owed by the attorney to the person represented, including those being subjected to a competency hearing, is the same as it would be to any other client. It appears not all officers of the court are quite on board with this concept yet.

Under Connecticut practice, lawyers should abide by their clients’ decisions concerning the objectives of representation, yet right now lawyers, court-appointed conservators, and even nursing homes have immunity from this practice. The purpose of this lawsuit is to hold the people with such great power and authority over other people’s lives accountable for their actions and put an end to that immunity. Court appointed conservators and/or attorneys will have to represent their clients with disabilities with the same amount of enthusiasm and responsibility as their clients without disabilities.

The conservatorship was eventually overturned and Mr. Gross went home to live in New York, but the slipshod, under-regulated probate court system is still exactly as it was when Mr. Gross was unwillingly dragged into it. This must not continue.

Rock the Boat

See Also:
Read Gross v. Rell, No. 08-2626

Rhode Island Lawyer Charged With Professional Misconduct

October 30, 2010

The state official who investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers has charged former Johnston Town Solicitor Milan T. Azar with violating three rules of professional conduct.

Azar is accused of deliberately overbilling the state Department of Children, Youth and Families for a guardianship, lying about it to the DCYF and to the chief disciplinary counsel of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and improperly soliciting clients.

Azar has denied the bulk of the case. But in a formal answer to the charges, he admitted that he submitted to the DCYF the bills that are under scrutiny, and that he falsely blamed a helper for the initial submission.

The charge has been made by David D. Curtin, chief disciplinary counsel, and will be considered at a hearing by a three-member subcommittee of the Supreme Court’s disciplinary hearing board, composed of two lawyers and one public member who is not a lawyer. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Full Article and Source:
Johnston Lawyer Accused of Professional Misconduct

NASGA Advocate Tom Fields Comments on Ohio Aging Summit

October 29, 2010

The goal of the Aging Summit held last week in Columbus was to foster more interagency collaboration to enhance the safety and well-being of older Ohioans.

The topic of elder abuse, growing across the nation, is close to the heart of one Ohio advocate from Mentor who spoke to CGE on it.

Tom Fields has become an outspoken advocate for a protocol he says would do much to stop the growing scourge of abusing the elder when they are at their weakest. Fields’ interest in helping the elder fend away lawyers and others who are more like vultures than angels came about through a sequence of events related to his father. Fueled by his experience with his father, Fields offered an ABC News 20/20 video that shows what can happen when a lawyer and beneficiaries present a new will to a sick, elderly women in her hospital bed and ask her to “make her mark.”

The short video shows Mary Ellen Bendtsen, 88, a wealthy elderly woman in Dallas who was not mentally competent to sign a new will presented to her, sign it anyway.

Fields argues that the video demonstrates a need for a good protocol that not only makes clear what questions need to be asked but who should ask these questions, how and when an interview should be conducted and how the answers to these questions should decide the validity of the document in question.

If a protocol he has asked the Ohio Elder Abuse Commission (OEC) to consider with regard to wills, deeds, trusts, power of attorney and other financial and legal documents existed, Fields says the attorney in the ABC video could have used it as an argument for why he shouldn’t have been disbarred and indicted on criminal charges, as happened.

“It is in the interest of all legitimate parties that such a protocol be required under circumstances like that captured in this video report,” Fields wrote in an email to CGE about a public comment he made to OEC a year ago September that asked the OEC and others “to develop and require a reliable protocol for use in circumstances like that confronted by the 20/20 report.”

Fields told CGE that such a protocol would provide safeguards against attempts by person who exert undue influence over a testator to incorporate professionals such as doctors, lawyers, or accountants into their efforts to control the individual.

Fields points to reports by the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse as proof of the growing scope of the problem. He report that he has received “promising initial responses from some lawmakers to my phone calls and e-mails,” but cautions that “I understand that these responses are only preliminary and at this point do little more than demonstrate good intentions.”

Full Article and Source:
Ohio Aging Summit Speaks to Elder Abuse, Advocates Call for New Protocol

See Also:
NASGA Affiliate Tom Fields Addresses Ohio Elder Abuse Commission

OH: Screening for Judicial Posts Under Fire

October 29, 2010

One of the judges Gov. Ted Strickland appointed to the Cuyahoga County bench was arrested in September as part of a federal probe into wide-ranging political corruption among Cleveland-area officials.

Another Strickland-appointed judge, in Franklin County, is confronting tough ethics questions about appointing family members to jobs despite rules against nepotism.

Both Judge Steven J. Terry of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and Judge Alan S. Acker of Franklin County Probate Court were vetted by a panel that Strickland established shortly after taking office in January 2007. The Ohio Judicial Appointments Recommendation Panel was one of Strickland’s signature initiatives “to restore trust and integrity in Ohio’s government” when the Democratic governor took office after Republican scandals.

Strickland’s aides say Terry and Acker are isolated cases among the dozens of judges the governor has appointed to vacancies since 2007. The vetting panel is doing its job, Strickland’s office insists.

“With only two of the nearly 50 appointments generating headlines beyond their cases, it seems unwarranted to blame a system that has worked well and is far better than the Republican patronage selection process,” Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said in a statement.

Full Article and Source:
Screening for Judicial Posts Under Fire

GAO Releases Guardianship Study Report

October 28, 2010

Some court-appointed guardians for incapacitated seniors are not screened before they’re appointed, and many are not monitored by the courts after they’ve taken over the affairs of their charges, resulting in hundreds of allegations of abuse, a federal probe found.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found allegations of abuse by legal guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to an advance copy of the report obtained by CNN. The report is scheduled to be released Wednesday.

In 20 cases studied by the office in which criminal or civil penalties resulted, investigators found that guardians stole at least $5.4 million in assets from 158 victims, the report said. In some instances, these same guardians abused or physically neglected the people they were supposed to help and protect.

In six of the 20 cases examined, the courts failed to screen guardians before giving them control over the financial affairs and care of their wards, the federal agency found. In one case in Missouri, a former taxi driver and convicted bank robber was appointed the legal guardian of a wealthy customer who had no family. As the elderly man developed Alzheimer’s disease, his guardian stole more than $640,000 from him, writing checks out of the victim’s estate to pay for exotic dancers and a new Hummer, court records show.

In Arizona, an 80-year-old woman’s niece was appointed guardian of her wealth and well-being, despite having declared bankruptcy twice and being arrested numerous times for writing bad checks, according to court documents cited in the GAO probe. The elderly woman’s attorney had objected to the appointment, saying the two were not close, but the court disregarded the protest. In the end, the niece misappropriated more than $150,000 from her aunt’s estate, court records show.

A certified professional guardian failed to visit one of her wards for eight months, according to documents from a case in the state of Washington. The same guardian was then appointed to oversee another elderly person’s estate, despite having $87,000 in tax liens filed against her.

Courts failed to oversee the conduct of appointed guardians in 12 of the 20 cases studied in the federal investigation, therefore allowing the abuse and financial exploitation to continue unobserved, sometimes for years, the federal report said.

It cited the case of a couple in Kansas who ran an unlicensed group home for mentally ill adults. The husband became the guardian of a 50-year-old female patient, allowing the couple to steal $250,000 from the woman, court documents show.

“In addition, they forced her and other residents to perform sexual acts for almost two decades as part of the fraudulent therapy treatment that they billed to Medicare, a federal court and jury found,” according to the federal report.

The abuse was discovered when children on a school bus reported seeing naked people working on the farm, the GAO report said.

“At the husband’s sentencing, the judge compared conditions at the house to those of a third world prison, and concluded at the wife’s sentencing that ‘…but for the sighting by the children on the school bus, I am firmly convinced that [the group home] would be in business today,'” the report said.

Federal investigators also tested guardian certification required in a handful of states. To test to see whether this certification process would deter criminal-minded guardians from entering the system, investigators applied for the certification in Illinois, Nevada, New York and North Carolina. None of these states checked the undercover investigators’ credit, nor did they validate their Social Security numbers to confirm their identities.

The GAO report was requested by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin. The committee says its next steps will be to consider federal legislation that will help state court systems improve their training of guardians, judges and legal personnel who handle adult guardianship cases.

The committee is also considering legislation that would help reduce fraud by unscrupulous guardians who receive the Social Security and veterans’ benefits of incapacitated beneficiaries.

Note: This article is shown in its entirety:
Probe Shows Court-Appointed Guardians Often Not Screened or Monitored,by Jen Christensen, CNN

See Also:
Read the GAO Report: GUARDIANSHIPS: Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors

Judge Rules Lindsay Ellis Unbiased in Probate Case

October 28, 2010

A Superior Court judge has ruled that a probate commissioner acted unethically but there’s no evidence she was biased — not even when she communicated with only one set of lawyers in the Marie Long case, the side that wound up with most of the old lady’s money.

However, the judge also found that the supposedly unbiased commissioner, Lindsay Ellis, deprived Marie of a fair trial when she improperly came out of retirement and approved a $233,000 legal bill submitted by one of her forbidden e-mail buddies, attorney Brenda Church.

If you just said, huh?, you’re not alone.

Full Article and Source:
Judge: Ellis Unbiased in Probate Case

See Also:
Read the Ruling of 10/25/10

Iowa: 87-Year-Old Judge Ruth Klotz

October 27, 2010

My mom isn’t allowed to vote. Judge Klotz took that right away from her on November 4, 2008.

NOW, it is YOUR turn to speak for her and tell Judge Klotz to go and seek employment elsewhere!

Facebook: Vote NO on Judge Ruth Klotz


At age 87, Ruth Klotz is the oldest judge in Iowa — and the only one who wasn’t required to retire in her 70s.

She’s on this fall’s general election ballot for another six-year term, which would allow her to serve until age 94. As an associate probate judge, she rules on children’s guardianships, elderly affairs, contested wills and other probate cases.

Klotz is almost universally well-liked and respected by the lawyers who appear regularly in her Polk County courtroom. But some Iowans question whether the state lawmakers who exempted her from mandatory retirement laws meant for her to be on the bench this long.

A small but vocal set of Iowans is campaigning against Klotz, mainly on the Internet. A “Vote No on Judge Ruth Klotz” Facebook page has 62 supporters. Most cite concerns that Klotz is too quick to strip elderly or disabled Iowans of their civil rights by granting emergency orders that give state officials all authority over their lives.

Full Article and Source:
87-Year-Old Judge is on Ballot, How Old is Too Old for the Job?