NB: This happens all the time in Cook County Probate. There is no oversight as to the companies and 3rd party vendors the judges appoint, and no one cares that a family member would do the same job cheaper and better (Gloria Sykes and the Mary Sykes case)
A Macomb County judge violated state law when she appointed a guardian-and-conservator company that reaped financial benefits from the appointment, according to Attorney General Dana Nessel.
State Public Administrator Michael Moody, on Nessel’s behalf, argues in a legal document Friday that Probate Judge Kathryn George created a law violation by appointing Clinton township-based Caring Hearts of Michigan Inc. as guardian and conservator for Robert Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge last November, over a daughter and stepdaughter of the couple.
Caring Hearts hired Executive Care to perform the care for the couple, according to the state. Both companies are owned by Cathy Kirk. In addition, Caring Hearts employed the firm of her husband Robert Kirk — Kirk, Huth, Lange and Badalamenti — for legal services. The trio of companies share the same address on Hall Road, east of Romeo Plank Road.
Caring Hearts charged more than $250,000 for about six months of care.
George through a spokeswoman declined to comment Monday, referring the matter to court officials.
The Attorney General in the filing Friday seeks to intervene in the Probate case, saying that all prior transactions are “voidable” due to the arrangement.
The law in question says, the “Court shall not appoint as guard an agency, public or private, that financially benefits from directly providing housing, medical, mental health or social services to the legally incapacitated individual.”
Moody comments in the brief, “The intention behind this provision is to prevent conflicts of interest.”
“All of these financial transactions set forth in Caring Hearts’ Final Account are presume to be affected by a conflict between personal and fiduciary interests, and therefore voidable,” Moody adds.
Caring Hearts attorney Edward Nahat disputed Nessel’s claims Monday, saying state attorneys misapplied the law and should not have sought to enter the case.
“The Attorney General’s petition … misapplied the statute to these circumstances and is over-reaching by trying to intervene in a case she shouldn’t be involved in,” Nahat said.
He said the law quoted by state lawyers applies to investments and housing transactions, neither of which Caring Hearts and Executive Services were involved.
He said George knew of the arrangement.
Nahat called Nessel’s involvement “heavy handed,” noting that it has drawn publicity.
He said Caring Hearts supports a review of the accounting and charges in the case.
“A remedy is already available to the family,” he said. “They can get their own day in court. They don’t need the Attorney General’s help.”
Probate Court in September 2018 instituted a policy that requires a company or fudiciary must reveal whether a person related to the company or fudiciary is performing a service for the fudiciary or company, according to John Brennan, deputy court administrator.
Brennan said he does not believe the relationships were disclosed in the Mitchell and Delbridge cases.
Expenditures will be reviewed over the next several months. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 10.
Nessel issued a news release on the matter Monday.
“It is absolutely incumbent on the courts to ensure that the state’s guardianship system is providing properly for the vulnerable and that the court-appointed conservators fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to those in their custody,” she said. “That does not appear to be happening in the case of Caring Hearts, which was appointed by Judge Kathryn George as guardian and conservator for Robert Lee Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge.”
Nessel added that the “Estates and Protected Individuals Code specifically prohibits certain financial self-dealing by the guardian with respect to the ward.”
Nessel announced in May that George was under investigation for her role in the case involving the couple following reports initiated by WXYZ-TV (Channel 7).
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Macomb Chief Judge James Biernat Jr. at that time of the announcement released a joint statement in support of the probe.
Family members of the couple said George should have appointed them as guardians and conservators to watch over the care and finances of the couple, both 70 or older and in declining health.
Mitchell’s daughter, Marcie, and other family members complained their visits were limited and that caregivers installed a 6-foot fence around the property near Hall Road and Van Dyke Avenue that blocked the vision of family members who resided next door. The said the couple were virtual prisoners in their home.
They also raised questions about the guardian and conservator company’s spending from the couple’s more than $2.5 million in assets.
Caring Hearts and Executive Services in early June withdrew from serving as guardian and conservator. Attorney Terry Gilsenan was named temporary guardian, and attorney Martin Brosnan was name temporary conservator.
On June 26, Judge Biernat, who had taken over the case, granted Marcie Mitchell guardianship over her father, Robert, and Anita Little gained guardianship over her sister, Delbridge.
The pair on Friday also were named conservators, although each has to file a bond and paperwork in order to take over.
Attorney Frank Cusumano said Monday he plans to file a legal action on Little’s behalf “to unwind the transactions” involving Caring Hearts, Executive Services and the law firm.
“Anita Little wants to do her part to make sure that this activity does not occur and injure another family,” Cusumano said.
The older couple are currently residing in a facility in Genesee County, closer Marcie Mitchell’s Clarkston home.
The case developed as Nessel has been vowing to crack down on elder abuse. She formed Michigan Elder Abuse Task Force earlier this year shortly after she took office. This summer, she conducted a statewide “listening tour” to hear complaints about elder abuse and complaints about Probate Court, which oversees will and estates of incapacitated and deceased individuals.
Robert Kirk last month was removed as a state Public Administrator for appointment to certain Probate cases.
George has served as a Macomb Probate Judge since 2003. More than a decade ago, George came under the scrutiny of state officials and removed as chief probate judge for her relationship with a now-defunct guardianship company, conflict with the second probate judge and dysfunction at the court.