Archive for February, 2011

>Probate Court to Limit Fees Paid to Lawyers, Guardians

February 28, 2011

>The Berkeley County Probate Court has joined Charleston County in an effort to limit court-approved fees that can drain the estates of incapacitated elderly persons taken under the court’s protection.

Keith W. Kornahrens, chief judge of the Berkeley County Probate Court, said he is going to go along with the fee restrictions set in place last year by the Charleston County Probate Court.

“I do think guardian fees are too high, even at the reduced rate,” Kornahrens said.

He said he will issue an order this week limiting the fees for lawyers and guardians who handle cases involving incapacitated adults. He said he would adopt the same limitations issued last year by Irvin G. Condon, Charleston’s chief probate judge.

In Dorchester County, Chief Probate Judge Mary Blunt said she will take a look at what Charleston and Berkeley counties have done because “it’s nice when counties get in line.” But, she said, she doesn’t know if there is really any point because her court rarely uses professional guardians, preferring instead to search as hard as necessary to find a relative, friend or someone else to serve in that position. And that service generally is for free.

In addition, she said, the Dorchester County Probate Court has long limited attorneys in incapacitated adult cases to fees of no more than $125 an hour, half of what many normally charge. She said she views it as a form of community service for many of the elderly people who find themselves before the court and have little income or savings.

Condon limited certain fees after The Post and Courier’s Watchdog began a review of court-approved charges made by lawyers, guardians and conservators, and questioned him about the rationale for some of them. Watchdog revealed in a series called “The Price of Living” that the Probate Court, which is supposed to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation, approved fees that in many cases drained tens of thousands of dollars a year from some of the adult wards’ savings, leaving them broke within a year or two.

In [one] case, the Probate Court approved a guardian’s $100-per-hour fee for taking his elderly ward a birthday card and flowers.

Shortly after that series ran in November, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal told the newspaper, “I will be taking action to move this issue forward.”

Rosalyn W. Frierson, director of Court Administration for the Supreme Court, said the high court probably wouldn’t take any unilateral action until after they receive a report from a working group on the guardian issue. That working group has not been named at this time.

Frierson said she did not know if any other probate courts had limited fees other than those in Charleston and Berkeley counties.

Kornahrens’ order will:
–Limit attorneys to no more than $200 an hour. Some had been charging as much as $270.
–Guardians will be placed on a scale of $45 an hour to $75 an hour based on experience and training. Some previously charged as much as $140 an hour.
–Certified professional guardians will be allowed to charge $80 an hour. Some higher or lower charges might be allowed at the court’s discretion.

Full Article & Source:
Probate Court to Limit Fees Paid to Lawyers, Guardians

See Also:
The Price of Living

Is System Draining Our Seniors’ Assets?

>Woman Who Defrauded Elderly Man Sentenced

February 28, 2011

>A woman who pretended to be a licensed vocational nurse has been sentenced to nine months in Placer County Jail and ordered to pay back $240,000 to an 85-year-old man whom she defrauded over a period of years.

Debra Leigh Kelly, 55, of Foresthill was sentenced Wednesday by County Superior Court Judge Frances Kearney after pleading guilty to a felony count of theft or embezzlement from an elder. Judge Kearney also placed Kelly on four years probation.

Kelly had also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of impersonating a licensed vocational nurse and practicing a trade without a valid license, according to a Placer County District Attorney’s Office news release.

In a court hearing earlier this month, Kelly repaid $30,400 to the victim, leaving a balance of $209,600 that she must repay.

Kearney also banned Kelly from being in the presence of elderly adults unless a legal guardian or licensed caregiver is there to supervise.

According to prosecutor Jim Deslaurier, the case began in early 2005 when the victim hired Kelly to help care for his ailing wife. Kelly had falsely advertised herself as a licensed vocational nurse.

The victim’s wife died a few months later, but Kelly befriended the man, telling him she was owed a significant amount of money from a civil lawsuit stemming from a horse-training accident.

Full Article and Source:
Woman Who Defrauded Elderly Man Sentenced to Placer County Jail

>’Kennedy Lied, But What’s New?’

February 27, 2011

>We’ll get to the point.

When Kennedy announced from the bench in open court that the Danny Tate conservatorship was terminated nunc pro tunc (now for then), it was a calculated lie. He had no intention of terminating the conservatorship, he just wanted the bad press and supporters to go away.

The Temporary Letters of Conservator have yet to be dissolved. In other words, the Tate conservatorship was NEVER terminated.

Kennedy’s robes are almost laughable except for the horrific results forced upon the citizens he’s supposed to serve. Kennedy does not serve the people, he serves attorneys and politicians. He’s been given control of quite a deep purse of other people’s money and has no problem giving it away.


>2010 State Judicial Discipline

February 27, 2011

>In 2010, as a result of state judicial discipline proceedings, seven judges or former judges were removed from office. In addition, 18 judges resigned or retired in lieu of discipline, pursuant to agreements with judicial conduct commissions that were made public, and agreed not to serve in judicial office again. One former judge was barred from serving in judicial office in the state again.

100 additional judges (or former judges in approximately six cases) received other public sanctions in 2010. (Two judges are counted twice because they were disciplined twice). In approximately half of those cases, the discipline was imposed pursuant to the consent of the judge.

Seventeen judge were suspended without pay, ranging from five days to one year, two of which were stayed in whole or in part with conditions. Nine of those suspensions included a censure, reprimand, fine, or probation. In addition, 17 judges were publicly censured; one of the censures was “severe,” one censured former judge also agreed not to serve again, one censure was based on the judge’s agreement to resign, and one censure also barred a former judge from serving in judicial office again.

Conduct commissions publicly reprimanded 42 judges (one reprimand also included a $5,000 fine, and one included a $6,000 fine), publicly admonished 19 judges, and publicly warned one judge. Three former judges were sanctioned in attorney discipline proceedings for conduct while they were judges. One judge was ordered to pay a $2,400 civil penalty.

Those figures do not include pending recommendations or decisions that were pending on appeal at the end of 2010, two of which have been decided in 2011.

Article and Source:
2010 State Judicial Discipline

>’Granny Snatching’

February 26, 2011

> I became involved in elder law when my mother, then aged 91, moved from her apartment near Albany, New York, to my home in Connecticut on December 22, 2008. She had lived alone for nearly a decade after my father died, most of that time capable of handling herself and her affairs, but she was hospitalized in December 2008 suffering from dehydration and potassium deficiency.

As a result my siblings attempted to force her into a nursing home against her will –personnel from the nursing home were in the hospital preparing to move her out when I was notified.

I intervened, offering my home as an alternative, which was fine with everyone until my mother realized that my sister had kept her checkbook, which didn’t go over well with Mom.

With proper nutrition and some much needed sleep Mom rebounded quickly after her hospitalization and spent the week after Christmas 2008 in a series of fruitless attempts to convince my sister to relinquish the checkbook. My sister refused so ultimately Mom rescinded the limited power of attorney she had given my sister, and moved her finances to new accounts in Connecticut.

After which my sister, brother and some of their offspring joined in a lawsuit against Mom, the aim of which was to force her to return to New York, to be placed in an Alzheimer’s ward, even though she was not suffering from that disease, and to give my sister guardianship over my mother’s body, property, social life, and her money; all of it.

Full Article and Source:
Granny Snatching T-Day Tomorrow; New Laws for CT Elderly?


It’s safe to believe in the American Dream … isn’t it? We live in a country where we take quality education, careers, nice homes, and the wherewithal to raise a family for granted.

We are well fed. We’re warm. We keep up with the latest fashions. Our legal system provides swift justice and righteousness prevails. We solve problems, not create them! Right?

We anticipate a safe and secure retirement where we hold hands with our life’s partner during leisurely strolls on golden sands – waving palms overhead and perfectly sized waves breaking on the shore beneath a glowing sunset. Each evening we are submerged in the warmth of a life lived long and well, and the promise that tomorrow will be just like today.

And then … KA-POW! A giant wrecking ball tears in from stage right, smashing the palm trees, digging huge furrows in the perfect sand, and dumping the gently setting sun into a black sea of hissing steam. Darkness falls upon us and our world is turned upside down as family members appear from nowhere, seizing us, dragging us toward an unanticipated and unwanted future, penniless, powerless, confined in the clutches of “elder care.”


>Pearl Harbor Survivor Allegedly Victimized by Caregiver

February 26, 2011

>Arnold Bauer, a 93-year-old resident of San Diego who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, has been moved to a nursing home after suffering neglect at the hands of his caregiver, reports The Associated Press.

Bauer served on board the USS Vestal, a coal ship that was damaged during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. Long after he survived the war, Bauer developed dementia and prostate cancer, leaving him reliant on a caregiver.

Last month, however, authorities found Bauer in poor condition in his El Cajon house, which was reportedly filled with decomposing garbage and rat droppings.

Stephanie Le Chevalier, Bauer’s daughter, told the source that her father has since moved to a San Diego-area nursing home, where he continues to receive treatment for the abuse he suffered. Meanwhile, his caregiver, Milagros Angeles, pleaded not guilty after she was charged with elder abuse, theft and false imprisonment.

Full Article and Source:
Pearl Harbor Survivor Arnold Bauer Moves to Nursing Home After Suffering Abuse

>Rogue Lawyer Makes Smoron Probate Mess Even Messier

February 25, 2011

>It would be difficult to find a more dubious lawyer to represent you than Jacek Smigelski.

He’s been caught overcharging clients. He lied to a judge. He often fails to show up in court. There’s a long record of his habit of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. He is facing a 15-month suspension of his law license.

Earlier this week a judge ordered him to come up with the nearly $300,000 he owes in connection with one of his client-scams — or face arrest on Feb. 28.

How does this rogue lawyer keep getting clients? How does he still have a law license?
Which might be the story, were it not for the fact that Smigelski is closely involved with the infamous Smoron Farm case in Southington, a tale that has taken another turn for the weird: Smigelski is now messing up a solution to this probate court outrage.

The Smoron Farm, you will recall, was given to longtime farmhand Sam Manzo under the will of Josephine Smoron, who died in 2009. But under the questionable oversight of former Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello, Smoron’s estate was dramatically altered and a plan devised to funnel the coveted property into the hands of a local developer, Carl Verderame. Local planning officials even approved Verderame’s proposed sports center development, despite the fact that the land is still tied up in court.

Meccariello — who left office in disgrace to form (what else?) a probate consulting service — was censured by a state oversight panel for removing Manzo from the will. The lawyer who changed Smoron’s will, John Nugent, hired Smigelski to represent him in court and in mediation proceedings designed to clean up the mess that Meccariello created.

Instead, Smigelski has assisted Nugent in blocking a resolution that would allow Manzo to inherit the farm.

“I’m trying to figure out what he’s doing. I want to get this resolved,” said Hartford lawyer Elliot Gersten, who is representing Manzo.

Most observers agree that Smoron’s original will, which gives the farm to Manzo, should be adhered to. But Nugent and Smigelski are balking, using delaying tactics, filing motions and wasting court time, to block this sensible solution. Nugent, meanwhile, also faces disbarment proceedings for his role in the Manzo case.

Smigelski “knows he has certain rights within the system,” said William Sweeney, who represents Stanley and Kazimierz Kosiorek, two brothers who were charged outrageous fees by Smigelski in a case that dates to 2006. “He pushes those rights until the very end.”

Full Article and Source:
Rogue Lawyer Makes Probate Mess Even Messier

See Also:
CT: Probate Stench

>Financial Elder Abuse Caught on Tape

February 25, 2011

>In October, a trio of thieves took a senior citizen suffering from dementia from store to store and tricked her into opening up credit card accounts. Store surveillance video shows the suspect standing right next to the victim as she fills out credit applications. After the stores granted her thousands of dollars in credit, the suspects went on a spending spree. Family members say what happened in the stores ruined the victim’s life “they got away with more than $10,000 worth of goods and haven’t been caught,” the victim’s brother said.

Disturbing Elder Abuse Case – “Part of Growing Trend”

>Texas Guardianship Abuse

February 24, 2011

>Probate courts are supposed to oversee guardians. Yet oversight is erratic and superficial. Absence of constant oversight and no accountability…

Incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation of incapacitated adults by their guardians have raised a number of controversial issues regarding the courts’ administration and oversight of guardianship’s.


>State Moves to Suspend Lawyer

February 24, 2011

>The Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission filed an emergency petition to suspend the law license of local attorney Daniel E. Serban, citing criminal charges filed against him.

Serban, of Roanoke, faces charges of corrupt business influence, forgery, and two counts of theft. Charged last September, he is accused of failing to distribute money paid into the Serban Law Office’s Trust Account to clients or to those entitled by court order to receive it.

After his arrest, Serban told police some of the money he used to pay off the original client, after he was confronted, had been taken from money put into the trust account for an estate. He told investigators he forged the name of the estate’s personal representative on the check.

Attorneys are required to keep escrow-type accounts where money either coming from or going to their clients will be kept. Those accounts are to be treated with extreme fiduciary care, and attorneys have a strong ethical responsibility to protect that money.

Full Article and Source:
State Moves to Suspend Accused Roanoke Lawyer