By Christopher Ketcham email@example.com
ON JUNE 17, an oppressively hot day, a knot of protestors converged in the plaza near Brooklyn State Supreme Court. They were mostly black, mostly women, middle-aged or elderly, well-dressed and solemn. Underneath the quiet demeanor, however, they appeared to be seething. The homemade signs in their hands expressed their anger.
"Judge Phillips ran for District Attorney.
Now he's homeless."
"Bring Judge Phillips home now!"
"What happened to Judge Phillips' multi-million dollar estate?"
The tragic figure in their complaint, retired Judge John L. Phillips, Jr., had a date in the courthouse, so when he arrived, the protest broke up and the group followed him into the building and up to the 9th floor.
John Phillips had been returning to these halls since early 2001, the year he was planning to run for Brooklyn district attorney. That was also the year he was placed under a guardianship program overseen by a county judge, which wrested from Phillips' legal control an estimated $10 million in real estate holdings, including at least 10 buildings and two movie theaters. Now the 80-year-old was back in the same courtroom, battling to regain his estate.
How Phillips came to this impasse depends on whom you talk to. Phillips' guardians and the judge in the matter claimed he was "mentally incapacitated"; they say he had Alzheimer's and was a bit crazy. But when I met him for the first time that June morning, he appeared normal and fit, if a little slow in his step, a handsome old man in a brown suit, tall and gaunt, with silvering hair and huge gnarled hands like pieces of root.
"These sonsabitches are stealing my buildings," he said.
"These people have been playing so many monkey games," said Emani P. Taylor, Phillips' lawyer at the time.
Indeed, there's good reason to believe the powers that be in Brooklyn want the Phillips case adjourned forever, fearing what it will uncover.
Naturally, his campaign posters touted him as the "Kung-Fu Judge."
On the bench he was known to sweep his robes out, assume the warrior stance and announce that "kung-fu law" was about to be practiced. He dressed well, wore a pencil moustache and bore a charming resemblance to Duke Ellington. He served on the bench with distinction: In 13 years, he was reversed only once in the appellates—a possible Brooklyn record. By his early 50s, he had become a successful landowner as well, with vast property holdings that he used to fund his rebel campaigns.
MUCH OF THE LEGAL FILE in the John Phillips matter is sealed to the public (why it was sealed has never been adequately explained by the court), but I got my hands on portions. The record shows that in November 2000, investigators with Hynes' office claim to have met with Phillips and concluded he was unfit to direct his finances. Describing the meeting, Joe Hynes told the New York Post, "It was clear [Phillips] was suffering from dementia."
A month later, in December 2000, a former assistant prosecutor from Queens named Frank J. Livoti filed a motion saying that John Phillips, "an alleged incapacitated person," had "requested that [Livoti] be appointed as Guardian" to oversee Phillips' "personal needs and property."
This was news to John Phillips, who claims he made no such request.
In New York State, anyone can file a motion to declare a person incompetent. The "alleged incapacitated person" must then defend himself before a judge, proving that he is sane and healthy enough to manage his assets. The county government, if it chooses, can then intervene to appoint a guardian.
The case against Phillips was vetted by an assistant prosecutor in Joe Hynes' senior citizen's fraud unit named Steven Kramer. According to court papers, Kramer alleged that portions of Phillips' vast holdings were being mis-deeded and that illegal mortgages valued at "hundreds of thousands of dollars" had been "fraudulently obtained." In other words, property was being sold off without Phillips' consent.
Kramer visited the old judge several times at his home during the spring of 2001, in one instance entering the house with a pair of detectives who allegedly held Phillips down while Kramer rifled through Phillips' banking and real estate records, eventually boxing them up and removing them to the D.A.'s office.
Sometime between November and December of 2000, Greenberg was appointed "temporary guardian" of the "mentally incapacitated" Phillips.
Joe Hynes' friend Harvey Greenberg now had control of Phillips' $10 million estate. Though he was guardian for only a few months—soon replaced by the silk-suited Ray Jones, who would allegedly go on to plunder Phillips' properties—Greenberg in February 2001 was effusive to the court about his accomplishment.
The following winter, Phillips' heat was cut off, and neighbors found him living in squalor and poor health, wearing an overcoat and hat. As one acquaintance of Phillips' put it, "They wanted him to die."
FRAUD, ABUSE AND CORRUPTION are common among guardianship appointments in every county in the United States.
AARP Magazine reports there are at least 600,000 elderly Americans under guardianships, bound in a system "rife with opportunities for financial exploitation, medical neglect, and the wrongful usurping of a competent person's freedom." The keystone witnesses in these usurpations are often court-appointed medical examiners who make cursory, sweeping pronouncements of senility, incompetence, dementia, or, as an Associated Press investigation put it, "of being old and spending money foolishly."
Phillips visited a non-court-appointed doctor at the Family Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant. This examiner came to a far rosier diagnosis: Phillips, despite a "mild deficiency in short-term memory," showed "no signs of dementia" and no "evidence of perceptual distortion," scoring 27 out of 30 on the definitive Mini Mental State Examination.
"The evaluation," concluded the examiner, "shows [an] intelligent, coherent, well-articulated male… He has never been a danger to himself or others."
He was less feisty than when I saw him in court in June. His friends say the ordeal of the last four years has weakened his heart; he has more bad days than good.
Meanwhile, Phillips' social security and pension checks, totaling more than $2000 a month, were disappearing into an unknown account.
Meanwhile, Phillips, once a millionaire, is effectively penniless.
At this writing, he's been moved out of his offices at the Slave Theatre and sent by one of his guardians to a room at the Bronx VA Medical Center, where the government can put him up for free.
The Guardianship program, the Judges, the attorneys that bulldoze over the laws in place to protect older citizens, and force guardianships/Conservatorships down the throats of unsuspecting elders and their families under the guise of "protecting them." Are they making a mockery of probate laws that clearly state that a Guardianship is to be used as a last resort, and only when the elder has no advance directives and only when there is no one to care of the elder?Laws like : "The holder of a family durable power of attorney is appointed by the donor of the power, and essentially performs the same functions as would a court appointed guardian." Id. at 1107.
In Smith v. Lynch, 821 So.2d 1197(Fla.4th DCA 2002), the court recognized that a DPOA is intended to be a less restrictive alternative to a guardianship. In Smith, the court refused to impose a guardianship on a person who was judicially determined to be incapacitated. The Court held that the previously executed DPOA was an appropriate alternative to guardianship, and stated "the appointment of a guardian would serve no useful purpose and would unnecessarily interfere with the family." Id. at 1199.
§744.344, which provides that an "order appointing a guardian must be consistent with the incapacitated person's welfare and safety, must be the least restrictive appropriate alternative, and must reserve to the incapacitated person the right to make decision in matters commensurate with the person's ability to do so." Id. at 1198.
Guardianships are used as a last resort for persons who did not plan ahead for incompetence. 14 Fla.Prac., Elder Law § 9:16 (2007 ed.). Fla.Stat. § 744.331(6)(b) requires a court to determine if less restrictive means are available.
The statute governing durable powers of attorneys, section 709.08(7)(a) makes clear that the Florida Legislature intended for for DPOA's to be a less restrictive alternative to guardianship's:
Fla.Stat. § 744.462 provides that "[i]f, after the appointment of a guardian, a petition is filed alleging that there is an alternative to guardianship which will sufficiently address the problems of the ward, the court shall review the continued need for a guardian and the extent of the need for delegation of the ward's rights."
Guardians and Attorneys, these officials appointed by the court are way too smart and by calling for Emergency Guardianship hearings, they get around the requirement to notify family members before the appointments of a guardianship is made, they file motions exempting themselves from Guardianship's Educational Requirements and laws governing how Guardianship's are to be initiated or terminated are simply "Not worth the paper they are written on" because these people seem to be "ABOVE THE LAW" and untouchable.
John L. Phillips Jr., 83, Civil Court Judge died February 16, 2008 .
A common denominator that "Wards" of the court don't usually last very long -
The stress of never ending probate court hearings, a situation where even the Social Security income of the "Ward" is used to pay for attorneys fees and the family of the ward is totally discredited and destroyed the stress is enormous on a normal young person, now can you imagine the stress brought on an elder person whose civil rights are terminated and their income withheld!
What has happened to mankind?