Book Review: GUARDIANSHIP: How Judges and Lawyers Steal Your Money M. Larsen, Ed., 2016; Pub: Janet Pipes; ISBN: 9780692586211. Price: $13.38. Available HERE
Setting the stage for Michael Larsen’s collection of personal accounts of escalating crimes against the elderly in probate courts, one typical story from the reference manual, GUARDIANSHIP, describes the techniques probate judges, attorneys and predatory guardians use to plunder the wealth of the elderly, destroying their remaining years:
Kevin Gallagher had a trusted, long-standing pact with his beloved parents. When the time was “right” he would make arrangements for their safe return to Maine where they would reside in assisted living. That “right time” came unexpectedly one day after Sunday services when Robert and Elsa Gallagher became slightly disoriented in traffic when they happen chanced upon orange cones in a road detour. Kevin and Lisa, delighted to hear that their parents were ready to journey home, began making all the necessary arrangements. Kevin even phoned his estranged Orlando-based sister, Lori, and asked if she would simply “telephone” Mom and Dad during the interim. The sister, however, consulted the Yellow Pages and telephoned a company, Geriatric Care Management, that specializes in elder care. . . . [p. 31]
Within 48 hours, a woman armed with a court order and accompanied by law enforcement, announced she was the “emergency temporary guardian” while she and her crew forcibly removed Kevin’s parents from their home and placed them in separate nursing facilities. Kevin’s first notification of this was a phone call from his mother, crying, her speech slurred from forced drugging. The time had become ripe for quick psychiatric evaluations of both parents. Suddenly the “emergency temporary guardian” was the “permanent, plenary guardian” – over both Elsa and Robert. The fleecing and the feasting began. Instead of having his parents closer to him, Kevin’s next 3 years were filled with frantic scrambles to find Florida attorneys who would or could make the nightmare stop. The guardian hotly contested the Gallaghers’ desires to be together and was rewarded with generous attorney fees from the Gallaghers’ assets, courtesy of the probate judge. Eventually, once the assets were gone, the nightmare did stop. When his parents finally arrived in Maine with a single suitcase, Kevin found that inside it were “tattered clothes with the names of other people in Magic Marker inside the clothes. Everything they had owned – even their clothes – had been sold or trashed by the guardian.” Elsa and Robert died soon after their move to Maine. [pp. 31-32]
Larsen, the editor of GUARDIANSHIP, is a businessman whose family experienced similar frustration and despair in probate court. He states that “elder cleansing,” a term coined by attorney Kenneth Ditkowsky, “has escalated since the last Governmental Accountability Office’s report published in 2010.” With additional inspiration from Charles Pascal’s interview on View From the Bunker, Larsen organized contributors to address the GAO’s request for a summary, resulting in this unique resource book for families, citizen activists and the general public, not to mention journalists and attorneys. It is written from the point of view of family members who have given their all to stop the torture, thievery, and often the killing of their elderly. This important reference work adds to what is already known about the greed of corrupt judges, attorneys, guardians and psycho-social hucksters on display in other judicial venues.
Stories included in the book follow the same basic sequence of events: (1) allege that the target is in imminent danger – to justify emergency temporary guardianship and the isolation of the target from his or her family – all without even a pretense of a due process hearing; (2) employ a willing psychiatrist or other MD to prescribe the contra-indicated psychotropic drugs to propel the ward into a stupor just in time for the “competence evaluation;” (3) begin the feast by liquidating the target’s non-liquid assets and looting everything in sight; and (4) continue looting until the target is killed by the premeditated over-drugging topped off with opiates. On occasion guardians can and do continue looting even after their victim’s death.
Many of the contributors are also attorneys, professional journalists, and various other professionals, most of whom were powerless to stop the devastation in their own families. All seem to be deeply committed activists. Investigative journalist Janet Phelan describes the retaliation against attorneys Joanne Denison and Kenneth Ditkowsky – both having been suspended from the practice of law for their truthful disclosures. Both had advocated for Mary Sykes and Alice Gore and exposed the fact that a guardian was even allowed to order Alice’s teeth to be mined for gold. [pp. 16-17] When another activist, Rebecca Schultz, helped her father move from the state where the guardian had been victimizing him, a bench warrant was reportedly issued for her arrest for not attending a court hearing in the matter, but she was never arrested. [p. 73]
I found an unmistakable ring of truth in the horror stories, particularly the retaliations and judicial disregard of law. The experience of watching judges refuse to even read the pleadings or the statutes in black and white in front them resonated with my own experiences. As one contributor explained, when she questioned 5 separate instances of double charging during a California guardianship proceeding, Commissioner Carlos Velategui, a judicial officer, would not acknowledge the double charges existed, although they were
right in front of him, undeniably so. In the absence of any kind of explanation from the guardians, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to be bothered with details. [p. 145]
The accounts in the book portray a certain inevitability as each contributor takes the reader through the formula that enables judges, lawyers, and guardians to “isolate, medicate, take the estate”– often killing the “ward” in the process – a seemingly additionally desired outcome. Some readers may find the steady drumbeat of outrage upon outrage repetitious – certainly depressing, but I also found the commonalities to be essential to include in this work in order to drive home the enormity of the $36.48 billion dollar yearly “tragedy for Americans individually, as families and for us as a country in that the [now destroyed] intergenerational transfer of assets has historically helped to strengthen our social and economic fabric.” [p. 52]
Each contributor’s story reveals through its personal, state-specific details that what we are seeing in guardianship court is no anomaly created by a “few bad apples.” Some 64% of probate courts responding to a federal agency survey indicated that guardianship abuse had become so flagrant they admitted having taken action against at least one guardian for misconduct in the previous three years. [p. 156] The National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse [NASGA] estimates that some five million elders lose their life savings to the financial crimes of guardianship every year, a national tragedy that translates to an annual theft of some 2.6 billion. [p. 142].
The federal government has known about guardianship abuse at least since its “1987 report by a House subcommittee of the Select Committee on Aging.” [p. 166] Yet to this day the problem seems to be barely studied. The statistics continue to not be kept consistently– thus providing a further excuse for a “court system that provides no oversight.” [p. 166]
A very few times a contributor’s style of writing yields a less than clear understanding of who did what and when. But in those instances a careful re-read usually resolves the confusion. Overall the impression that stuck with me after reading the book in two sittings was a sense of oppression and futility, but also hope that the enormity of the losses is such that more of the public will finally wake up, get off the couch, and get organized.
The only inaccuracy or slight misinterpretation I found was the reference to the belief that ethics rules for lawyers require that they cover for each others’ crimes. [P. 129] Certainly this is the conduct that usually occurs, in the experience of this reviewer. Lawyers, like corrupt judges and police officers, do not usually report on each other’s misconduct. Indeed, there is nobody to report to in any meaningful way. Judicial complaint tribunals are secret, self-policing travesties, as are bar disciplinary entities and police department internal affairs departments. In light of this exposé and others, including a recent 60 Minutes expose of Wall Street lawyers, more citizens are waking up to the alarming reality that the justice system itself may not be designed to dispense justice to the American public. Nevertheless, Rule 8.3 of the Model ABA Rules of Professional Conduct does technically require the reporting of “substantial” ethical breaches.
From the courts of Florida, a state once thought to be a refuge for the elderly, to those in California, Nevada, Texas and other states, the “isolate, medicate, take the estate” m.o. repeats. The style of each story reflects a continuum from angry outrage, through informative warnings. Included throughout are references to websites, telephone numbers of activists, and citations to other reference books, websites, and media contacts. There is definitely information and inspiration enough for any reader looking for answers and direction.
Some of GUARDIANSHIP’s contributors comment that those without money are safe from predatory guardians. Certainly the super-wealthy, such as the unfortunate Brooke Astor, betrayed by her son, are not shielded by their millions. [pp. 132-133] Some contributors remark that even the poor and those who are not elderly can be targeted, locked up, and plundered for their social security checks – while the guardian foists the substandard “care” of the “ward” on the public in underfunded human warehouses. Often a relative could and would have cared for the elderly person personally if they only had the use of the person’s meager income to buy his or food.
The final chapter provides us with no real solutions. There are no advance directives, living wills, trusts or other more creative legal instruments that cannot easily be ignored or undone by a corrupt judge or attorney. What remains is a stark reminder that the probate court oppressors’ schemes to steal from us and lay waste our families and our heritage, all constitute criminal acts. GUARDIANSHIP may well be a warning to the public that half-way measures failing to address the overarching criminality will be useless. The challenge is to find effective means of bringing these high-placed criminals to justice before we pay them any more of our tax dollars to plunder and then murder those we love.
RETRACTION: The statement in Katherine Hine’s originally posted book review of GUARDIANSHIP: How Judges and Lawyers Steal Your Money that Rebecca Schultz was arrested was incorrect. The situation was reported correctly in the cited Las Vegas Review-Journal article by Colton Lochhead. Lochhead’s article had stated that the guardian’s lawyers accused Schultz of kidnapping her father but that no such charges were ever filed. A bench warrant was reportedly issued for her arrest for not attending a court hearing in the case about her father. but she was never arrested [p. 73]. We apologize for the error.
An inactive attorney who practiced over 30 years in the courts of Oklahoma and Ohio, Katherine is now with WLJA radio: www.wljaradio.net, hosting a weekly broadcast exposing illegalities of forced psychiatry in Ohio, and another exposing the consequences of our current lack of judicial accountability. She is the executive director of the Ross County Network for Children in Ohio, was instrumental in 2008-2009 in ridding the City of Chillicothe, Ohio of its traffic cameras through citizen initiative, and has authored articles in the Columbus Free Press and one in the treatise: Expose: The Failure of Family Courts to Protect Children. She can be reached at email@example.com.