A San Bernardino probate judge recently denied a highly unusual petition to revoke a 28-year-old notarized and recorded deed of sale and to return the property into the estate of the seller. In a stunningly bold move, the petitioner, conservator Melodie Scott, has moved for another trial on this matter.
This case potentially redefines the very concept of property ownership and as such may be seen as a precedent setting case.
The revocation of the deed of sale was sought by the conservator of an elderly woman, Lois Risse, who after nearly three decades sold her home to a friend of hers, Glenn Neff, with the understanding that she could live in the house—rent free—for the rest of her life. Lois Risse was in her early seventies at the time of the sale.
Fast forward to 2012. Risse, then 101 years old, was being preyed on financially by a bevy of individuals who were accessing her bank accounts, buying vehicles with her money and apparently even living in her house, robbing her under the pretext of caring for her.
This reporter has reviewed papers from Melodie Scott’s own files which indicate that several individuals withdrew tens of thousands of dollars from Risse’s bank accounts in fall of 2011 as well as cashed checks from her accounts for thousands of dollars for inexplicable expenses. Apparently, one of these individuals purchased a couple of vehicles with Risse’s money.
In her quest to make a case that Neff had committed financial elder abuse, Scott had to go back nearly thirty years. She found some checks that Risse had written to Neff back in the early eighties and ponied up these checks as evidence that three decades ago, Neff financially abused Lois Risse.
Neff has claimed that he took these checks to the bank and cashed them for Lois. Scott also claims that, nearly thirty years ago, Neff stole a gun collection belonging to Lois Risse. Both Risse and Neff have asserted that Risse sold her guns to someone else years ago.
In January, after depositions and a trial, Judge Raymond Haight decided that the deed of sale was legal and that Neff would be allowed to keep his house.
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In an odd misattribution of responsibility, a distraught Melodie Scott subsequently emailed this reporter:
Hey you have another notch for your belt. We lost our trial to keep Mrs. Risse’s home and she has to go to a convalescent home. And no I was never paid in this file. Go see who else’s life you can ruin.
After the judge ruled against giving Melodie Scott the house belonging to Glenn Neff, an outburst from Melodie Scott was overheard in the courtroom in which she cried, “What am I gonna do now? She’s out of money and she’s gotta go! She’s gotta go!”
It was unclear to those overhearing this where exactly Lois Risse had to go. Glenn Neff is honoring his promise that Lois can live in the house and is still carrying the financial burden of the insurance and taxes on the property. Given Melodie Scott’s propensity to withhold medical care from her clients when they run out of money, one might wonder if Risse might soon be scheduled for a trip to the Big Retirement Home in the sky.
Not content with the judge’s ruling, Scott turned around and has filed for a new trial. In her application for this trial, she alleges that the initial agreement between Neff and Risse stated that the deed would not be recorded until Risse died and therefore when Neff recorded the deed in 2012 he breached the contract and thus de facto nullified the original deed of sale. The crux of her motion for a new trial lies in a legal dispute as to whether the early recording of this document is an incidental or material breach of contract.
Neff has stated that when he realized that Lois’s assets were under attack, he recorded the deed.
“My lawyers are already into me for thirty thousand dollars,” states a battle-weary Glenn Neff. According to Neff, he asked attorney Jack Osborn, who is the lawyer he initially hired to defend his house against conservator Scott’s petition, whether he could redeem his attorney’s fees if he is successful in derailing Scott’s efforts to take the house away from him. Curiously, Neff reports that Osborn has told him he will be stuck with the bill no matter who wins in court. In fact, this is not necessarily true.
Osborn’s affiliations have already been questioned in this matter. When Neff learned that Osborn had previously represented Melodie Scott, he confronted the lawyer with this potential conflict of interest. At that point, a new lawyer was substituted in from the same firm of Brown, White and Newhouse. Neff states that Osborn never explained the change of lawyers to him and he suspects that Osborn’s failure to disclose the conflict of interest resulted in Osborn bolting from the case.
Oddly, his lawyers are also billing Mr. Neff for reading the articles being published about this case. An entry on the attorney’s bill for December 10, 2012, notes that Neff was charged for the following: “received and analyzed article …regarding conservatorship of Lois Risse.”
“I think I am getting screwed every time I turn around here,” stated Neff in a recent interview. His lawyers have also billed him over $1500 for a deposition of Lois Risse. There is scant legal precedent which allows for deposing a mentally incapacitated party and the centenarian Risse has been medically deemed to be what us normal folks would call “deeply confused.”
On March 6, the motion for a new trial will be heard at 9 a.m. in Dept. S15P of San Bernardino Superior Court. The underlying implications of this protracted effort to reverse a decades-old deed of sale has reverberations for the whole concept of property ownership and levitates the common understanding of “who owns what” into a stratospheric legal grey zone. Conservatorships constitute a Constitutional loophole whereby simply the assertion made before a judge that someone has mental incapacity may result in his losing most of his civil rights and all access to his property and funds.
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