I stood at the Probate clerk’s window at Redlands court, craning my neck to read the top sheet of a thick stack of papers which faced away from me. The page was stamped in large, bold letters “CONFIDENTIAL.” That alone was enough to get my attention.
And the clerk was in the back, digging through boxes to find a file I had requested, and had left me alone with the documents, albeit somewhat out of my reach. As I read upside down, I realized that this was a police notification concerning escaped “human property,” a conservatee. A conservatee is someone with no legal rights, and one had just escaped the confines of his genteel prison and was on the loose.
I read on. The conservatee in question was fifty seven years old, a bit young for dementia, I thought, and was described as wearing a baseball cap, T-shirt and shorts. An APB had been put out on the escapee.
For those who are unaware of the gaping legal loophole in “equality and justice for all,” a conservatee (in some states referred to as a ward) is someone who has been stripped of all his rights and all his assets through a legal proceeding.
Conservatorships are generally launched through an action in probate court, when there are allegations that a person may be becoming forgetful or otherwise demonstrating that they are lacking capacity. Often these are ex parte hearings and the person under scrutiny may not even be in the courtroom.
Upon the initiation of a conservatorship of estate, all the person’s assets are transferred to the care and protection of the conservator or guardian. A conservatorship of person transfers the personal decisions of the alleged incapacitated person to the conservator.
As many conservators have both powers delegated to them, the potential for financial exploitation becomes of grave concern. In many cases, a capacity hearing never takes place and a conservatorship is established on allegations alone. Conservatorships are very expensive, often requiring the services of multiple lawyers as well as mandating a high rate of recompense for the conservator.
Police intervention in conservatorships is not only restricted to capturing a runaway ward.
Increasingly,the police are becoming involved in restraining or incarcerating a family member who is trying to contact or protect a ward. Upping the ante, the police have now involved themselves in jailing someone who was speaking out critically against probate judges.
Robert Gettinger was nearly asleep, he recalls, when a light illuminated his bedroom and he heard a police bullhorn ordering him to come out with his hands up. It was winter in Frazier Park, California and Gettinger, a former police officer himself, came out of his house dressed only in a T-shirt and underwear. It was just before midnight on February 7, 2011.
Gettinger recalls at least ten officers in tactical gear, with guns drawn surrounded his house that night, including Sheriff’s officers and Pasadena Police. He put up no resistance and was taken into custody and transported to the Pasadena Jail, where he was booked.
It was not until he was taken from his cell for the initial interrogation, several hours later, that he discovered what he had done to receive this elevated level of attention.
A few months back, when Katie Couric ran a special report on national television revealing problems in the guardianship system, Robert Gettinger had posted a number of criticisms of local judges on the CBS website.
Couric’s report focused on the plight of Marie Long, a conservatee in Arizona and revealed that the Government Accountability Office had recently released a report stating that there were reports coming in from across the U.S. alleging criminal misconduct by conservators.
While a Los Angeles Superior court judge, Terry Smerling, had reviewed the posts made by Gettinger on the internet and had signed a search warrant, the District Attorney did not find that the evidence against Gettinger was sufficient to file criminal charges against him and after a couple of days in jail, Gettinger was released from custody.
He states that he had waived his Miranda rights and was cooperating with the police as he did not believe he had committed any crime. His certificate of release, which was obtained by Salem News, states that he was never arrested, only “detained.” The release papers cite California Penal Code 849, stating that the police may release an individual from custody and term his arrest to be a detention when the police are “satisfied that there is no ground for making a criminal complaint against the person arrested.”
A review of the comments made by Gettinger on the CBS website has left this reporter baffled. An obviously passionate Gettinger was highly critical of a number of local judges, including Candace Beason, Aviva K. Bobb and David Yaffe, and made repeated pleas that they be brought to justice and punished for their crimes against U.S. citizens. The expression of such opinions is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and does not violate the law.
In an attempt to ascertain the cause of action against Gettinger, this reporter obtained the initial police report. No crime or penal code number was indicated, and the report only stated that there were “suspicious circumstances.” A section which presumably contained a written complaint about Gettinger was completely blacked out.
According to Gettinger, his mother, Gertrude Gettinger, was placed into a conservatorship without notice to the family and on false statements by his sister, Sylvia Schmidt. Gettinger alleges that Schmidt had been estranged from both of their parents and is solely motivated by greed.
Gertrude had accumulated property and assets in excess of two million dollars which are now under the control of Schmidt, who, according to Robert Gettinger, has hidden numerous bank accounts and stolen property belonging to Gertrude.
He alleges that Sylvia has exaggerated, if not completely confabulated, reports of Gertrude’s “mental illness” and provided evidence to this reporter that Schmidt was coaching doctors as to what kind of letters to produce to substantiate Schmidt’s statements of Gertrude’s diminished capacity. Per records reviewed by this reporter, Gertrude Gettinger has been drugged with powerful mind altering drugs without her agreement.
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