Saturday, January 10, 2009

Some Guardians Can Bankrupt The 'Wards' And Subject Their Families to Extreme Stress

Lou Kilzer and Sue Lindsay, News Staff Writers
The Rocky Mountain News as Reported in Estate of Denial

At first his professional guardian seemed like “a savior” to David Kleck.

His family was struggling with the upheaval of relocating to Denver at the same time he was entering a nursing home. But when the crisis passed and the Klecks decided David no longer needed an outsider’s help, the guardian disagreed.

Only after a costly legal battle did she resign. Then she went back to court to try to force the Klecks to pay the legal bills she had run up in her fight against them.

David Kleck was a powerhouse in Louisiana public life for more than 35, a man whose public relations firm brought the Saints expansion football team to New Orleans and helped elect politicians, including New Orleans’ first black mayor.

His sharp mind betrayed him, though, and in 1993 at age 72 he was diagnosed with “mild to moderate dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.” His condition slowly worsened over the next two years until his wife, Cynthia, felt she could no longer care for him.

The crisis came just as the family was planning a move to Colorado, where daughter Suzie was to attend graduate school.

Rather than settling David in one facility and then uprooting him a few months later, Cynthia placed her husband in a Lakewood nursing home in November 1995 intending to join him in the Denver area as soon as the family’s house sold. But David resented the move.

“Here was a man who had always been able to live and do exactly as he wanted, and all of a sudden doctors were saying he had to stay in this care facility,” daughter Suzie told the News. “He was not happy.”

Being in a nursing home was “agony,” said another daughter, Nancy Kleck. He felt lonely over the holidays. Cynthia and Suzie Kleck relocated to Colorado in March 1996, and Cynthia moved to take full control of her husband’s affairs. She hired Susan Haines’ law firm, petitioned probate court in Jefferson County and was appointed temporary guardian and conservator for David on June 20, 1996.

Things went downhill from there.

David hired his own lawyer, Steve Warden, and when Cynthia petitioned the court to make her appointment permanent, Warden objected.
The parties turned to Stephanie Conrardy to assist.

Both lawyers had, in the past, worked with Conrardy, whose company, Conrardy Case Management, provided professional services in probate cases. Conrardy was hired to manage David’s case.

“I looked upon her as sort of a savior at first,” said David, who was lucid and articulate during a recent interview with the News. “My wife was the first to come across the friction that eventually ensued.”

Beginning with her first report that August, Conrardy was critical of Cynthia’s treatment of David.

“It is unfortunate that now that David has needs, his lifetime companion is no longer available for him,” Conrardy wrote. “David is extremely sad about the loss of companionship and the intimate relationship he once shared with his wife, his mental and physical deterioration and loss of independence and autonomy.”

Conrardy remained critical of Cynthia Kleck in the case summaries that followed.

But none of the Klecks saw the reports until many months later.
So in October 1996, David and Cynthia agreed that Conrardy should be appointed David’s guardian to “serve as a buffer” between family members and to oversee his care. Jefferson County District Judge Michael Villano made the appointment official on Nov. 4, 1996.A few months later, David’s longtime friend in Louisiana, accountant Allen Ritchey, was appointed conservator.
He soon expressed concern over the state of affairs.
In a financial plan filed in March 1997, he said he was troubled by duplication of services to David and confusion over duties:
“There is much resentment and tension between Mrs. Kleck, Mr. Kleck and Ms. Conrardy concerning who is to do what. Mrs. Kleck wants to take her husband to the doctor, . . . and take him out for social occasions. The court has ordered Ms. Conrardy to also provide these services.”
He said the staff of Myrick House, David’s nursing home, also could perform many of the services Conrardy was providing.
He suggested that “one of the children could act as guardian and conservator with proper court supervision.”
Conrardy objected vigorously to that idea.

“It is important for you to know that . . . David’s wife, Mrs. Kleck, and his daughter Suzie Kleck, have not advocated in his best interest and they are preoccupied with his money, and quite frankly rarely visit him. Neither of these women have made any positive comments to me about David, only angry and bitter comments which seem to distort their ability to treat David with dignity,” she wrote Ritchey.

But as the Klecks became more established in Colorado and David grew to like Myrick House, family discord eased, while the “friction” with Conrardy mounted.

Then in March 1998 — when the Klecks say the conservator first gave them copies of Conrardy’s bills — the tension burst into the open.
Daughter Nancy, who lived in Kentucky, wrote the court saying she was shocked to learn that Conrardy’s charges totaled $17,000 as of February 1998:

“For what? What does $17,000 buy a person who is generally confined to a house? What does Ms. Conrardy or her staff do to warrant these obscenely excessive charges?”

She expressed particular outrage that after Conrardy had brought holiday treats to David and taken him to a Christmas party, Conrardy charged him for the treats and the time involved in taking him to the party.
David recalled the issue saying, “For someone who came from Louisiana, I shouldn’t be shocked, but I was.”

The family decided that Suzie, who had a master’s degree in family counseling, should take over as guardian.

David hired attorney Debra Knapp to petition the court for Conrardy’s removal. Conrardy hired attorney Laura Vogelgesang to respond.

The guardian said she did not believe David understood his situation and she thought it would be inappropriate for her to resign unless a guardian ad litem were appointed to ensure his well-being.

A bitter legal fight ensued.Conrardy contended that David was concerned that his daughter might drug him and take him to Mexico.
The Klecks’ attorney argued that the guardian was using unjustified personal attacks in a campaign to hold on to the job.
Finally, on June 9, 1998 — just before a hearing on her removal was set to begin — Conrardy asked the court to accept her resignation, which it did.
The fight over fees continued.

In motions and hearings through the rest of 1998, Knapp and co-counsel Benjamin Sachs outlined the family’s objections to Conrardy’s fees during her guardianship, alleging that:

David rarely saw Conrardy during the year and a half in which she acted as his guardian. Instead, Conrardy sent her employee, Karen Buchanan. Still, David was billed at Conrardy’s own rate of pay — $75 to $85 an hour — while Buchanan was paid $25 to $35 an hour. Then Conrardy billed $85 an hour for the time they spent talking to each other about the case.
Conrardy assigned management of the case to her own employee without telling the Klecks that the same services were available elsewhere at lower prices. In effect, she used her public appointment to hire her own for-profit company instead of less expensive, competent alternatives.

Conrardy “over-guardianed” the case, charging unnecessary fees — such as $180 to manage a checking account with $200 in it — and running up $18,416 in fees for services plus $46,000 in legal fees in her fight to stay on.

“This case presents a classic example of the depletion of funds of an elderly and disabled man by a professional guardian who derives personal financial benefits from selling case management and other services to her wards at top-dollar prices,” attorney Knapp said.

Conrardy — who would not speak to the News about this story or others — defended her fees in the court record as reasonable for the high quality service she provided.

She said it was standard for case managers to conduct, on behalf of guardians, the routine visits with wards.
She also said in a deposition that her business did not make a profit, although Knapp obtained tax records showing Conrardy earned $250,000 a year and more from it.
Conrardy’s lawyers accused Knapp and co-counsel Sachs of targeting her for a “personal witch hunt” to put her out of business.
“Neither Sachs nor Knapp have ever threatened to put Ms. Conrardy out of business,” Knapp answered in a Dec. 10, 1998, motion. “They have done nothing except act as zealous advocates for their client, within the bounds of the law.”

In an order on Feb. 3, 1999, Senior District Judge William Jones refused to order Kleck’s estate to pay for Conrardy’s attorney’s fees, saying her “refusal to resign when requested was unreasonable, unjustified and inappropriate.”

But Jones let most of Conrardy’s guardianship fees stand, noting that “although the fees were higher than average in the area,” formal objections to them weren’t filed until Knapp got on the case in March 1998.
The judge also chided Knapp for being “unnecessarily aggressive” in pursuing David’s interests.

After the ruling, Conrardy filed further petitions to force the Klecks to pay her attorney’s fees. But on April 15, 1999, Conrardy was again turned down, this time by Jefferson County District Judge James Zimmerman.
As the fight drew to a close, the family found itself at odds with David’s conservator as well. That dispute — which included another battle other legal bills — continued into this year and resulted in conservator Ritchey’s resignation.

Today, David still lives in Myrick House, his care overseen by his daughter and wife. Dolly Stuart, manager of the nursing home, told the News she believed the concerns Conrardy expressed about David’s family were unjustified.

“I’ve seen families where all they care about is the money, and this is not the family. They have always been right there, visiting him, bringing him things, taking him to doctors’ appointments and to dinner,” she said. “If this isn’t an involved family, I don’t know who is.”

In a recent interview, David’s lawyer, Knapp, said the system should have recognized the Klecks as a family in crisis and offered help, not divisive legal tactics.

“This case cried out for family reconciliation and support, but instead got over-lawyered and over- case-managed,” she said.
Cynthia Kleck describes the ordeal as “a living, breathing nightmare.”

“We thought we were doing the best thing for Dad,” daughter Suzie said.

“But through our best intentions we created this monster and couldn’t get out of the system. Once you get into the system, we had to pay thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to get out.”

David, himself, seems stunned by the process.

“I haven’t seen this kind of skulduggery since I left Louisiana,” he said. “Every time I turned around, someone else was coming around doing something I didn’t want them to do and expecting me to foot the bill.”

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