Papers leaked to this reporter in a secret conservatorship matter reveal that a judge pro tem appointed to hear a San Bernardino County conservatorship case was a member of the same law firm which also represented both the conservator and the conservatee.
Walter Moore, an attorney with Hartnell, Lister and Moore (HLM), was appointed by sitting probate judge James Michael Welch on March 16, 2012 to hear the conservatorship of Charles Castle.
Mr. Moore recently joined the firm of Brown, White and Newhouse. He responded to a telephone query as to the date he left HLM and joined Brown, White and Newhouse by hanging up on this reporter.
In a brazen violation of ethics, attorney Bryan Hartnell represented both the conservator Melodie Scott and also the conservatee, Mr. Castle. In September, after Hartnell’s conflict of interest was reported, Hartnell stepped down from the case and Judge Welch appointed Redlands attorney Mark Flory.
But the judicial hanky-panky did not start or stop with the appointment of a HLM attorney to hear a HLM case.
On October 7, 2011, Judge Welch also appointed Redlands attorney J. David Horspool to hear the case as a judge pro tem. There is some concern that Horspool, a former partner of Hartnell’s, may also have represented Charles Castle in this matter, however. The file leaked to this reporter also contained a letter from attorney Flory to attorney Horspool, dated October 16, 2012, in which Flory wrote: “It is my understanding from you that you represent Melodie Scott as Conservator of Charles Castle.”
Documentation on the Castle case is considered secret and is not open to public oversight, due to the fact that Charles Castle is under a mental health conservatorship and therefore all information about his case is protected by federal law under HIPPA. After Castle filed a writ of habeas corpus in late August with the help of some local activists, conservator Melodie Scott attempted to block him from all contact with the outside world, directing the locked facility in which she had placed him, Braswell’s Desert Manor, to refuse him phone calls and visits. The right to phone calls and visits for psychiatric detainees is assured by both federal and state law. The California Department of Public Health subsequently cited Desert Manor for this violation and Castle was then permitted to make phone calls.
The writ also alleged that the conservatorship is now void due to the court’s failure to conform to legal requirements. Mental health conservatorships must be reviewed and renewed annually and Castle maintains he was never served with notice of such a rehearing.
Charles Castle has been locked up for a year and a half and is currently being incarcerated in Community Convalescent Care in Yucaipa, California. Castle alleges he has never been brought in front of a judge throughout the longevity of this matter.
Under California law, a decision must be tendered on a writ of habeas corpus within sixty days. At the time of going to press, over seventy-five days have elapsed and Charles Castle, who has been shuffled from facility to facility four times by conservator Melodie Scott since the filing of his writ, states he has not received a reply from the court.
Serious concerns have been raised nationwide about civil rights violations and theft of assets by conservators for the elderly and disabled. A number of grassroots groups, such as elderabuseexposed.com in California and www.guardianshipreform.org in Texas, have sprung up to address the growing perception that conservators are abusing and stealing from their wards.
Judge Welch will be retiring from the bench on November 21. A local attorney, speaking on conditions of anonymity, stated that Welch is attempting to escape the “taint” relating to his actions as probate judge in San Bernardino County. A farewell party for Welch will be held on November 27 at Redlands Country Club, hosted by the San Bernardino County Bar Association.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad. You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com