CONFIRMED BY ILL. SUPREME COURT– YOU ARE VIEWING THE MOST DANGEROUS BLOG IN ILLINOIS. This blog warranted a 3 year suspension by the ARDC/Jerome Larkin! Mottos: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant". Justice Louis Brandeis ; "If the truth can destroy something, then it deserves to be destroyed" Carl Sagan; "Justice is Truth in Action" Benjamin Disraeli. Illinois uses the ARDC to quash dissenting attorney activist blogs ; "The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments" — (1776-First Amendment preamble adopted by 8 US colonies)
After she had some health issues in February, Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George appointed Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. as Piera’s temporary guardian and conservator. That means Caring Hearts had total legal control of Piera. As her conservator, they also had total control of her money.
Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. is owned by Cathy Kirk. Court records show, Kirk used her husband’s law firm to bill the estate. Kirk also used one of her companies, Executive Care, to provide 24/7 in-home care for Piera.
Please note: Caring Hearts Homecare of Southfield is not affiliated in any way with Cathy Kirk’s Caring Hearts Michigan Inc.
Piera said that she didn’t need that. She cooks, cleans, washes her clothes and didn’t want that kind of 24/7 help.
In May, the 7 Investigators were in the courtroom when the judge took Caring Hearts off the case and granted guardianship and conservatorship of Piera to her son , John. But the Franklin family was stunned when they recently got the final accounting from Caring Hearts.
For only 91 days of care, Caring Hearts wants the court to approve:
$10,5224.37 for guardianship services
$19,369.90 in legal fees for Cathy Kirk’s husband’s law firm
“Is more than $86,000 for 91 days of care reasonable,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
“Not in my opinion,” said John Perrin, an attorney hired by Piera’s son, John Franklin. “Based on the invoices themselves, there’s clearly overcharges here.”
“Do you feel like they earned that money?” Catallo asked Piera.
“No! No way no way! Because they didn’t do anything. No help for me, no bath, nothing, nothing,” Piera responded. “I make my own bed. I clean up the house. I did everything! Was nothing done. They sit there with their book and watching TV. That’s it!”
This is 90-year-old Piera Franklin talking about the caregivers from Caring Hearts MI Inc. On @wxyzdetroit at 6, I’ll show you why her family is objecting to $123k in legal, guardianship, & care fees for 91 days. @MIAttyGen @MISupremeCourt #probate
Piera said she did like some of the home aides, but she says one caregiver had a fight with her boyfriend in the driveway of Piera’s home. She said it made her feel scared, like she did during the war in her childhood in Italy.
“I was raised in the war time, and I remember when the bombs coming, I would get stomach problem, and I felt the same anxiety in my stomach,” said Piera.
In court filings, Perrin argues Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. “engaged in serious conflicts of interest that resulted in waste and dissipation of Ms. Franklin’s savings.”
“There’s one particular occasion where I see 48 hours billed for one caregiver in a single day,” Perrin said. “The cumulative time in that single day wound up being almost $2,500.”
Other fees include:
Hours of overtime for what Perrin says are non-skilled caregivers charging above-market rates of $45 per hour;
$1,760.50 to change the locks on Piera’s home (family members say they don’t know why the locks needed to be changed);
$1,129.81 for correspondence with banks and closing Piera’s accounts so they could be moved to First State Bank where Cathy Kirk’s husband, Robert, is a board member.
Now, Piera has less expensive caregivers for fewer hours in the day. She says now she is worried about how much money she was charged by caring hearts.
“I worked hard to save, 10 hours a day,” said the mother of five.
The 7 Investigators spoke with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and they say their financial crimes unit is aware of this case, but they can’t confirm or deny if they are investigating.
The Attorney General is investigating a different probate case first exposed by the 7 Investigators that also involves Caring Hearts Michigan Inc.
Lawyers for Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. deny any wrongdoing, and they have told the court they will review some of the billings. They say the relationship between Kirk’s companies while serving Piera did not violate any law or court rule.
Kemp Klein Attorney Ed Nahhat sent the 7 Investigators this statement late Tuesday:
“Caring Hearts disclosed in writing to Court Administrator John Brennan on April 4, 2018, its common ownership of Executive Care. This was many months before the Court’s “related persons” policy was issued. The policy assures disclosure upon the annual account.
In these cases, all interested persons, and the court, had disclosure; they knew that the companies had common ownership as intended by the policy.
Neither Caring Hearts nor Executive Care did anything wrong when doing what the court ordered them to do: care for someone according to their needs and preferences. Mrs. Franklin was very grateful to Caring Hearts, as she wanted her care to be at home, extensive and high quality, and she wanted only certain persons to take care of her. In fact our Executive Care’s service was so valued that her son rehired them at one point, and his mother specifically asked for their employees to continue serving her, even after Caring Hearts was replaced. Simply put, she liked her care at home, and that is always more expensive.
Caring Hearts and Executive Care are ready and willing to be examined for all that they did and the fees they charged. That’s what trials are for.
It’s about money.
While family are entitled to challenge fees, we fear Mrs. Franklin is now being scripted to create an inaccurate public image of Caring Hearts. It’s sad to see a good company get publicly attacked when the family already has a court of law available to them, where both parties have a fair chance to present their case.”
If you have a story for Heather Catallo please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org call 248-827-4473.
As evidenced by the numerous attorney employment acts, efiling Illinois is only allowing attorneys to access full court documents filed online.
The public still has to go to the courthouse, search for and pull up documents and then pay 50 cents to $2 per pay for access, despite the fact the taxpayers own the documents, and not attorneys, not judges or court personnel.
Dorothy Brown is still the clerk of court. She should be fighting for access by taxpayers and not just attorneys or judges.
Read on below.
How to Access Case Documents Online With re:SearchIL
A recent post from the Chicago Bar Association discusses the new re:SearchIL platform, a much-needed solution for attorneys eFiling throughout Illinois. CourtFiling.net happily sponsors this article by Tisha Delgado.
Since the Illinois Supreme Court announced the mandatory switch from traditional paper filing to eFiling, the legal industry has hoped for an efficient way to access those eFiled documents online.
re:SearchIL allows attorneys to search for all filings and activity in their cases, study opposing counsel, and know the other parties in their case. They do this simply by logging into re:SearchIL using their CourtFiling.net credentials. There is an easy to navigate dashboard that contains a “My Cases” section where the attorney can easily see a list of all their pending cases in any of Illinois’ 102 counties, in which their ADRC number appears.
With any new system, re:SearchIL has a few issues to work through. Only attorneys of record and parties to the case are able to access these court records. The system leaves out other legal support staff who are often involved in the eFilings including paralegals, legal secretaries, and law clerks. This lack of access for legal support staff is only temporary, as some rules and policies are still being discussed.
Another hiccup is that two of the biggest counties, Cook and DuPage use Firm/Attorney numbers instead of ADRC numbers so cases in those courts are not yet available via re:SearchIL. However, Tyler Technologies has contacted Cook and DuPage courts to implement a change to include the attorney’s ADRC number in these cases so they are accessible via re:SearchIL.
CourtFiling.net will keep you updated on any changes that occur within the re:SearchIL platform.
‘I would see him sitting in urine with no shoes on’
By TODAY|13 hours ago
A Sydney nursing home found to have failed 24 counts of care standards has been allowed to continue operating.
Carino Care in the Sydney suburb of Russell Lea failed to manage residents’ medication, and has had people in its care die in pain and distress, as well as from malnourishment.
However, the new government watchdog has ruled the facility can stay open until November.
The family of former resident Luigi Cantali is outraged by the decision, saying the facility’s neglect “definitely” played a part in the 80-year-old’s death.
Speaking to Today, Cantali’s daughter Eva Rinaldi said she witnessed the mistreatment of her father when visiting him at the facility.
“I would rock up late at night, about 10pm, and I would see him sitting in urine with no shoes on, on the floor,” Rinaldi told Today. “The door would be shut and he would be wrapped up in a sheet, just shivering. That was when he caught bronchitis”
Rinaldi was made aware of her father’s mistreatment at the facility after the 80-year-old raised the alarm. Despite having dementia and being blind, Rinaldi said her late father was very aware of what was happening.
She also noticed bruising “all over [Cantali’s] body” while he was living in the facility. The alarming photographs she captured of her father’s body are documented below.
“I was very, very surprised. I knew something was wrong. Even to the point they wouldn’t shower him and they would roll him into the bathroom and then just leave him in there for an hour and change his shirt,” Rinaldi added.
“He would tell me every single thing.” Rinaldi complained to Carino Care but was told by her father that nothing had changed.
Compelled to take drastic measures, Rinaldi put a video camera in her father’s room. He later told the nurses about the camera and they went looking for the device. When it was discovered, Rinaldi claims she was banned from visiting the facility.
“I saw a big decline in my father, especially in the time when they banned me. He just went from being normal to just so sick,” she added.
“They [Carino Care] said that he got the best care and that was simply not the case. We were paying all this money to this organisation and they are just not following through with they are supposed to be offering.”
After being banned, Rinaldi said she contacted the aged commission for assistance. “They just basically sent me a letter then closed off the complaint and said they wouldn’t investigate any further. That was in January,” she said.
Since then, the facility has been charged with 24 counts of neglect yet has been allowed to remain open. Carino Care has also expressed they plan to retrain staff from the facility.
“It’s disgusting. It’s a big slap in the face,” Rinaldi said about the ruling.
The Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, declined requests to be interviewed by Today. His office did, however, issue the below statement.
Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians
The terrible things that have come to light are heartbreaking and completely unacceptable.
Stories like Mr Luigi Cantali’s has been front and centre my mind in taking on the responsibility of Aged Care Minister. Mr Cantali deserved better care. I have been advised that the Department of Health issued a notice of non-compliance to Carino Care on 24 May 2019 in relation to 28 expected outcomes not met.
I am advised Carino Care is working closely with the Department of Health and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to remedy this non-compliance.
The service has engaged a Nurse Advisor and clinical consultant to support the service to meet the timeframe for improvement set by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission ahead of applying for reaccreditation.
The Government is committed to driving high quality care across the sector which is demonstrated by the introduction of new resident focused quality standards, a charter of rights which came into effect on 1 July 2019, and of course that is why we called the Royal Commission.
Our whole focus is to improve the delivery of Aged Care for Senior Australians.
Ken Ditkowsky and I have fought tirelessy for the rights of the disabled and senior citizens. For speaking out the Illinois ARDC Atty Disciplianary Commission has suspended our licenses for 3 and 4 years respectively. Please write, fax or call Jerome Larkin that our work is blessed and that we will protect the seniors or disableds no matter what and our licenses must be restored.
One Prudential Plaza
130 East Randolph Drive
Chicago, IL 60601-6219
Phone (312) 565-2600
Phone (800) 826-8625 (within IL)
Main Fax (312) 565-2320
Nurse Caught On Video Laughing As Elderly Veteran Died Has Been Charged With Murder
By All That’s Interesting
Published February 22, 2018
See the video that will now likely put this nurse behind bars.
As 89-year-old World War II veteran James Dempsey lay dying in a Georgia nursing home, his nurses both ignored his cries and laughed as they failed to take critical measures that could have prevented his death.
We know this because the entire incident was caught on a hidden camera placed in the man’s room by his family. Now, that footage has led to indictments for the nurses involved.
According to local NBC affiliate 11Alive, certified nurse assistant Mable Turman faces a charge of neglect to an elder person while former licensed practical nurse (LPN) Wanda Nuckles faces a charge of depriving an elder person of essential services. Finally, former LPN Loyce Pickquet Agyeman faces charges of both neglect and felony murder.
These charges come nearly four years after the 2014 incident in which the nurses ignored Dempsey as he cried out for help, saying that he couldn’t breathe. Eventually, he became unresponsive, at which point the nurses failed to perform CPR immediately and didn’t call 911 until 57 minutes after he became unresponsive, according to 11Alive. In the meantime, Nuckles even started laughing while trying to start up an oxygen machine.
The nursing home wasn’t made aware of the video that captured these events until 2015, and the nurses weren’t fired until an additional ten months after that. Finally, the video only became public after 11Alive got approval from a judge to release it this past November as part of a lawsuit filed by Dempsey’s family.
The lawsuit and the 11Alive investigation then prompted local authorities to re-open the case, leading to the new indictments for the three nurses. Arrest warrants have since been issued for all three as well, although no trial date has yet been set.
At trial, the nurses will obviously have to account for their response. The first time around, during deposition testimony (see above) recorded before the nurses knew that the hidden camera footage existed, Nuckles can be seen lying about her response by indicating that she began performing CPR right away and kept it up continuously until paramedics arrived.
The truth, of course, is that Nuckles did not take action and that James Dempsey soon died as a result.
While Nuckles, during her deposition, was clearly lying about her actions that night, perhaps she was telling the truth when attorneys asked her why she was laughing — doubled over, in fact, onto Dempsey’s deathbed. She said she didn’t remember.
I’m not sure that POA’s a trust and will could have protected the Daughter in gship.
A better route would have been to do a POA, trust and will and then put the trust and property into an offshore account which does not respond to US court orders.
I believe Barclay bank, which has branches in the US and other banks might have been better. But the reality is, every adult 18 and up should have POAs for property and health care and a will at the basic minimum. If finances are intertwined, get a lawyer to draft up a real contract. Do this well before any signs of dementia.
A trust is a great vehicle to protect assets in a bank account, valuable jewelry, paintings and paid up autos and homes. If the trust is offshore, many will not respond to US court orders. Protect your loved one’s property. Trusts do cost more money and have a lot more rules, but often they are well worth it.
Credit: Courtesy of Gary WeissFamily in happier times (Ada Vocino, Patricia Femia and Patricia’s kids)
The last time Patricia Femia saw her mother, Ada Vocino, was February 14, 2013 — Valentine’s Day. But this was anything but a heartfelt meeting. The two women were in the Morris County Courthouse in Morristown, N.J. and were there for war.
Credit: Courtesy of Gary Weiss
Patricia was Ada’s only child. Until a few months before that day in court, Ada’s life had revolved around Patricia and her family. They’d lived together in an apartment Patricia built into her home in 2007, as Ada — a wartime immigrant — wanted. Previously, Ada helped raise Patricia’s sons and daughter.
The two women confronted each other in the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey because Patricia had petitioned to become Ada’s guardian, believing her mother was incapable of managing her affairs. They would’ve become among the estimated 1.5 million active guardianship cases in America.
When Guardianship Goes Awry
Sadly, guardianship often goes awry. It did for Patricia and Ada.
Patricia says her mother’s last words to her, spoken in that courtroom: ‘My lawyers promised me that they would destroy your family.’
Patricia wanted to be appointed Ada’s guardian because she’d been growing increasingly anxious about signs of her mother’s decline, including apparent dementia and numerous auto accidents. In 2011, Ada failed a written test and lost her license. In February 2012, when Ada was taken to Chilton Medical Center due to dizziness and fainting, she threatened to kill herself and her family and was then committed to Ramapo Ridge Psychiatric Hospital for observation. She was returned to Chilton and later voluntarily readmitted to Ramapo Ridge. While there, a doctor diagnosed her as suffering from bipolar disorder and “senile dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.”
Patricia was especially worried about Ada’s depression and suicide threats. Once, Patricia found an ice pick in Ada’s room. Her mother also kept a rope under her bed and had threatened to hang herself. Her bouts of paranoia terrified Patricia. On top of that, Ada resisted medical care for serious cardiac and respiratory issues.
But Patricia recalls “frequent temper tantrums and constant mistrust” eroding their relationship. They were the reason Ada refused to relinquish control over her affairs to Patricia and deeply resented the guardianship proceeding.
Her Mother’s Last Words to Her
Patricia says her mother’s last words to her, spoken in that courtroom: “My lawyers promised me that they would destroy your family.”
In a decision handed down from the bench the next day, Patricia lost the case in every possible way. Judge Donald Coburn not only denied her guardianship petition, he slapped Patricia with a $675,000 judgment, payable to her mom, to unravel years of intermingled finances and jointly owned assets. An appeal of the judgment was dropped as part of a settlement. Patricia wound up owing about $310,000 in legal bills.
Ada died, alone and despondent several years later, on October 29, 2016, at 92, weighing only 70 pounds.
Since the trial they hadn’t been in touch; Patricia says her letters went unanswered, her phone messages weren’t delivered and her visitation attempts were rebuffed. She learned about her mom’s death in a call from the funeral home.
Cleaning out her mom’s room after her passing, Patricia didn’t find a single photo of Ada with her family, just pictures of her mother with the people who evidently had come to mean most to her at the end of her life: her lawyers and their families.
‘My Mother Was Stolen Away From My Family’
Patricia sums up what happened this way: “My mother was stolen away from my family.” Even Patricia’s husband, Bob, — though not a party to the case — lost his job after a mangled version of the legal warfare hit the web. “We hit rock bottom at that point,” he recalls.
The question isn’t whether the judge made a right or wrong decision, but what can the rest of us learn from this family’s nightmare, which could have happened anywhere.
What advance planning can prevent the kind of torment Patricia and Ada experienced? What do you do when a strong-willed parent insists on managing her own affairs even when signs of dementia begin to surface? How do you prevent disputes over money and health care from escalating into a family-severing nuclear war? If advance planning hasn’t been done and mistakes have been made, how do you prevent family relationships from disintegrating?
The agony inflicted on both sides of this family saga could have been thwarted by rudimentary advance planning, according to experts in elder law. Yet many people fail to prepare adequately for family care and estate issues and then are forced to endure the consequences.
A Landmark Guardianship Case for the Pain It Caused
Even five years after the legal battle ended, the Ada Vocino case is still considered something of a landmark among guardianship professionals —not for establishing any great legal precedents, but for the pain it caused.
Credit: Courtesy of Gary Weiss
“You sit there and shake your head how things can go that bad that fast,” says Frederick Paugh, a field investigator with the New Jersey Long Term Care Ombudsman who examined some of the financial aspects of the case at the request of Ada’s assisted living facility. “But you know what? It happens.”
What ended as a descent into legal hell began in Italy as a love story.
When Ada Miniussi was 20 in 1944, she was staying in Rome with an aunt. She met a staff sergeant with Army Air Force, an Italian-American from New Jersey named Lawrence Vocino. They were wed in Italy in September 1945 and settled in Clifton, N.J. He worked for the Veterans Administration for 42 years. She started out as a seamstress, and then became a stay-at-home mom after Patricia was born. When Lawrence died in 1988, Ada was 64 and on her own for the first time since Italy.
Patricia was then 28 and lived about a half hour away. She filled in for her dad by handling her mom’s finances, paying her bills and helping her find doctors. To keep her mom active, Patricia set Ada up in a little seamstress business doing alterations from home, helping her with marketing and pricing. Patricia worked full-time and was starting a family, so her mom helped with child care, something she loved.
Then, things started to get messy.
Home, Not Sweet, Home
Their relationship was so close that in 1994, Ada decided to move near Patricia in Kinnelon. Patricia found a lot near the Femia residence and made sure a house was built to Ada’s specifications. Patricia financed the purchase of the land and construction of the home (which cost $207,300) with a home equity loan on the Femia house. The house was initially bought in the name of Patricia and her husband; it was subsequently deeded to Ada.
Shortly before completion of the home, Ada put up for sale her condo in Clifton. At that time, as one of Patricia’s lawyers said in a brief filed years later, “a verbal agreement existed between Patricia and [Ada] that upon completion of the [Kinnelon] property and sale of [Ada’s] condominium, [Ada] would reimburse Patricia and Robert for the purchase and construction.” The condo sold for $199,000. Ada’s new home was then transferred to Ada, who wrote checks to Patricia totaling $190,000.
Ada lived in the home until 2007 and then sold it. Patricia says her mom promised to use the proceeds to reimburse the Femias for the cost of constructing her apartment in the “mother/daughter” home the Femias built.
As Patricia puts it, “We had verbal familial agreements and commitments, which had been in place for decades because there was complete trust between us.”
The 5 Financial Mistakes This Family Made
That’s commonplace among families, but also a recipe for disaster if the arrangements become subjected to court scrutiny.
Mistake No. 1 for the family: an oral real estate agreement.
“One of the first things a law student learns in Property 101 is that oral contracts are void,” says Sally Hurme, an elder law attorney who has served on the board of the National Guardianship Association.
Whatever you do that involves real estate, experts say, put it in writing. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or legalistic, just a letter from mom to adult child, or vice versa, signed and dated by both.
Mistake No. 2 for the family:Parents and adult children should have their own legal advisers for financial transactions, but that didn’t happen here.
There’s a basic reason for this — fairness. Also, if the transactions come under legal scrutiny, legal representation of all parties will help everything pass the smell test.
Joseph K. Jones, whose firm Jones, Wolf & Kapas provides estate planning in New York and New Jersey, points out that legal advice to both parties, each with a lawyer, reduces any potential future concerns that the elderly parent was pressured into doing anything — what’s known as “undue influence.”
Mistake No. 3 for the family: joint ownership of real estate between mother and daughter. When Ada’s house sold, the $470,000 proceeds were deposited into a bank account owned jointly by Ada and Patricia with right of survivorship. If one co-owner died, the other would get the money.
Lawyers take a dim view of joint accounts held by parents and their adult children. It’s a “really really dangerous maneuver,” says Jones.
For one reason, no matter how innocent the motive in establishing a joint account, it will be viewed with skepticism if the finances are called into question, as they were here. Ronald A. Fatoullah, a New York elder law attorney who is co-chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association Long Island Chapter, says such arrangements are common, but “in many of these cases there’s a little bit of undue influence.” (That wasn’t alleged in the Vocino case.)
Also, a joint account can be jeopardized by poor financial decisions of either party, and the money is vulnerable to potentially malicious actions of the other joint owner. If a parent or child grows alienated from the other, either can empty out the account.
Even if there is no undue influence, a judge may someday decide that in a case like the Femias, the account belongs to the parent. Jones, who was asked to review the judge’s ruling and other legal papers in the Femia case, says that in such situations, “what the law looks at, and what the judge did correctly, is he looked at who contributed the money.” Judge Coburn’s ruling was blunt. Addressing Patricia, he said: “The money is not yours. It’s hers.”
In Spring, 2012, Patricia was looking for an assisted living facility for Ada and decided on Paragon Village in Hackettstown, N.J. While filling out the paperwork, it became apparent that Patricia had two problems: she had no power of attorney to allow her to act on her mom’s behalf, nor a medical proxy that would have given her the authority to make medical decisions for Ada. By then, it seemed too late to ask Ada to sign such legal papers since she had been diagnosed as suffering from dementia.
Patricia felt she had one alternative route to take care of her mother: guardianship proceedings. A petition for guardianship was filed on April 13, 2012, the day Ada was released from Ramapo Ridge and admitted into Paragon.
The guardianship proceedings turned into an ugly battle. Ada retained a local lawyer, Robert A. Scirocco, who was later joined by a court-appointed lawyer, Richard P. Diegnan Jr. (Neither Scirocco, Diegnan, Patricia’s appellate law firm nor her lawyer at the trial, Adrienne J. Burke, responded to requests for interviews for this article.)
Patricia’s attorney had the burden of proof to show that Ada lacked “capacity” to handle her own affairs. If a person is found to lack capacity, he or she is declared “incompetent.” The potential for hurt feelings is obvious.
Patricia testified about her mother’s declining mental state. Two psychiatrists were called by Patricia’s lawyer and testified that Ada did not have capacity and needed a guardian. But the judge was openly skeptical of the testimony of one of the doctors and subjected him to harsh questioning. He did believe the testimony of witnesses called by Ada’s lawyers, who said Ada didn’t need a guardian.
The testimony of a psychiatrist at Ramapo, called by Patricia’s lawyer, was also damaging to Patricia’s case. Although he had diagnosed Ada as suffering from dementia, he testified that he didn’t believe she needed a guardian to handle her affairs.
But perhaps the most persuasive witness for the judge was Ada herself.
In a pretrial deposition before the trial, Ada had been composed, articulate and clearly antagonistic to her daughter. The judge called Ada “a lovely woman, proud, and clear minded about what she likes and what she doesn’t like.” The judge accepted Ada’s explanation for her suicide threats: she didn’t mean to kill herself or harm others. He concluded that while she was “a little histrionic at times as she fought for control of her own life,” she was not a danger to herself or others.
Ada’s lawyer filed a counterclaim, contending that Patricia had engaged in “conversion” — improper use of funds that belonged to Ada. The judge agreed.
Although the judge had some kind words about Patricia, he noted, “Ada wants her independence. And we have a Constitution in this state and this country and it says, you know, unless there’s a reason, you’re free even to be foolish. And there is no reason here.”
Mistake No. 5 for the family: Patricia’s bringing the guardianship case.
The videotaped deposition showed that Ada held considerable animus against Patricia, and that she’d do everything she could to undermine her daughter’s case. Seething with rage, her eyes narrowing with anger, she said: “My daughter wanted me to be declared insane and be my custodian so she can take care of me and do whatever she wants with me.” Ada went on to deny every aspect of her daughter’s case, from her own behavior to their intermingled finances.
Also, though there was a diagnosis of dementia, that didn’t make guardianship a slam dunk. “Just because somebody is in the early stages of that disease doesn’t mean that they don’t have capacity,” says Fatoullah.
Kezeli Wold, associate commissioner for Adult Protective Services at the Texas Department of Children and Family Services, says “one of the complexities of the whole concept of capacity or competency is that it’s on a scale. A person can experience early dementia and experience some memory loss and maybe some mild confusion during certain times of the day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t able to comprehend the situation they’re in, the decisions that they’re making and the choices that they’re making.”
The weakness of one of Patricia’s experts, the doctor cross-examined by the judge, didn’t help her, either.
Guardianship: A Last Resort
The bottom line that a guardianship proceeding is a nuclear weapon, only to be used as a last resort. And it can blow up in the face of the person seeking it.
“Guardianship is not something to be entered into lightly by any stretch of the imagination,” says Stephanie Hunsinger, AARP’s New Jersey state director.
The end of the guardianship case didn’t end the family’s legal skirmishing. Patricia filed an appeal but later dropped it, instead settling with Ada in August 2013. Under the terms of the settlement, Patricia funded an escrow account for $525,000, from which Ada was to withdraw $10,000 a month. At the time of her death, the remaining money was to go to Patricia’s three children.
But the cost of the case can be measured in more than just dollars. The family was, in essence, shattered.
In April 2013, after the trial, a small-town newspaper ran an article with the fallacious headline, “Kinnelon Couple Faked Alzheimer’s and Stole $980k From Elderly Mother .” In reality, there was no finding of theft and the judge didn’t say Patricia made a false claim of Alzheimer’s. The article also mistakenly said the trial “involved” Patricia’s husband Robert, and gratuitously mentioned his employer.
The article, distributed statewide on NJ.com, was later retracted and taken off the web, but by then, the damage had been done. Bob Femia was fired by his employer, Glatt Air Techniques, the local affiliate of a multinational company. His former employer’s attorney wrote that Bob was fired “based upon the potential damage to [the company’s] reputation” as a result of the publicity generated by the litigation. Says Femia: “You really have no idea how far south things can go with these types of situations.”
Although the false article came out of left field, the family animosity was predictable and is hard to prevent in such situations.
Family Relationships Destroyed
“Guardianship can go very well, in certain circumstances. But I have seen family relationships destroyed as a result of guardianship proceedings,” says E. Elizabeth Loewy, formerly chief of the Elder Abuse Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and co-founder of the EverSafe financial monitoring service.
That’s precisely what happened with Patricia Femia and her mom.
Ada’s relationship with her daughter pretty much evaporated after the guardianship case commenced, and Ada’s lawyers then became a kind of substitute family, angering the Femias.
Ada’s last months were spent depressed, seriously ill from multiple ailments and alone. Her “support network,” Diegnan reported at the time, consisted of her lawyers and their staffs and families. Patricia says she tried to visit her mother at Paragon a few times after the trial, and was told “that she was getting a test done or participating in an activity or they rang her phone in her room and no one answered or they would say that she did not want to see any of us (grandkids included).”
An Attempt to Appoint a Temporary Guardian
In July 2016, three months before Ada died from congestive heart failure, Diegnan applied to the court for appointment of a temporary guardian. Two psychiatrists found her to have dementia, one describing it as advanced and accompanied by “progressive neuro cognitive decline.” Another lawyer appointed by the court interviewed Ada and found her to be alert and following the news. But she couldn’t remember the name of one of her grandchildren.
Ada was asked by her new lawyer if she wanted to take care of her own finances. Possibly, she said. But “she really didn’t want to have to do it, because she didn’t care. . . . she really didn’t care what happened to her.”
Moral of the Story
The moral of this story? “It’s hard to repair relationships when things have gone so far as to go to court,” says Camille Payne, director of field operations of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
She suggests that adult children in such situations maintain communications as best as possible; explain that the legal proceedings were brought with the best of intentions and try to get friends or relatives to play peacemaker.
If the adult child feels that the guardianship proceeding was a mistake, an admission of error may help. But, Payne says, “if the elderly parent has mental illness, there may be nothing that you can do to repair whatever their mind thinks you have done to them.”
There were no winners in the “Matter of Ada Vocino, an Alleged Incapacitated Person,” as it is officially called in New Jersey court records. Ada may have come out on top, but what she lost — her family — could not be replaced by her lawyers or the money they were able to get for her.