Monday, June 6, 2011

"I Want Your House! "

By Janet C. Phelan

It seemed that the struggle over the conservatorship of Jean Tanaka couldn’t get more bizarre. Well, it just did.

On June 2, 2011, Tanaka conservator Linda Cotterman asked the court to have Mrs. Tanaka’s daughter, Jeannie, declared to be in contempt of court, an action which may involve jail time and will most likely cost Jeannie her job (Jeannie is an attorney with the State).

Cotterman is apparently steaming that Jeannie Tanaka, who is the Trustee for the Tanaka Trust, has asserted her rights as Trustee and is cleaning up the Westwood house which was left vacant when her mother, Jean Tanaka, was forcibly removed in the summer of 2010.

Jean Tanaka is under a conservatorship and Linda Cotterman is, peculiarly, the conservator, even though the Tanaka Trust documents clearly list Jeannie Tanaka as the person to assume that position.

The fact that Jeannie Tanaka was adhering to advice of her counsel, Robert Canny, in asserting her rights to clean up the property does not seem to concern Linda Cotterman. Jeannie and Jean had been residing together in Mrs. Tanaka's large Westwood home until Cotterman went to court to have Jeannie evicted and her mother taken forcibly from the house. Per the court orders, Jeannie was given three hours to remove her belongings. She moved out in February of 2010.

Upon her return to the house in May of this year, Jeannie found a terrible disarray, which she alleges was the result of Cotterman sacking the house. This is how she describes what she found:

“All of parent’s dresser drawers were emptied! Pictures torn off the walls, paint torn off, many damaged areas requiring painting of especially kitchen and stairway walls. Curtains in bedroom drawn, refrigerator light bulb was put in the ceiling, replacing the 100 watt bulb Mama’s large bathroom trashed clothes, papers, trash thrown all over the counter and floor. All of her expensive perfumes, colognes,cosmetics, toiletries, etc. removed.

Dining room trashed: parents personal belongings pulled from all over the house and piled in the dining room. When attorneys had a meeting in fall 2009 (creutz, reed, lodise, carol white) the room was of course neat and clean.

2 cabinet doors torn off hinges: one in kitchen, one in laundry room.
Expensive carpets in kitchen and laundry room removed and replaced with tile. Told the carpets were dirty and instead of cleaning, were removed. Flooring under the sink had been ripped out and I had to have it replaced. All kitchen pots and pans missing, cabinet shelves emptied, pantry emptied, all recipe books removed. Boxes and boxes of photo albums pulled into the kitchen and stacked All of Mama’s nick knacks removed from the living room. Mama’s 3 mink coats missing, chinchilla coat missing.

Large box of Japanese swords, including numerous national treasures worth millions missing. Upstairs bathroom door frame pulled off wall by someone who locked themselves out of the bathroom. Garage piled high with black trash bags of parents’ personal belongings,
unprotected clothes-moth eaten. Garage trashed: once neatly packed and stacked boxes were rummaged through contents thrown in heaps. Piles and piles of unwashed sheets and clothing found thrown in piles upstairs closet and living room.

Up until Mama was taken to the basement unit, I was not allowed to enter other rooms when I visited Mama. It was when we changed the locks and went in beginning May that I could see the full extent of what the temporary conservators and christine (ed. note—Christine Tanaka, Jeannie’s sister) were doing.”

Jeannie Tanaka then hired a couple of helpers and began spending her weekends trying to clean up the mess. The contempt of court pleadings claim that Jeannie is now living on the property, which a court order last year denied her from doing. Jeannie maintains she lives in her condo in West L.A.

The conservatorship of Jean Tanaka will probably go down in the annals of legal abuse of the elderly in pursuit of their money with the apparent goal here being the Westwood house, valued at several million dollars. The elderly Tanaka, a Japanese American, was detained during WWII in the Death Valley detention center, along with her then infant daughter, Jeannie. The conservatorship was launched in a hearing wherein Tanaka siblings made allegations demonizing Jeannie’s care of her mother, with whom she had been residing for eight years. The court ignored evidence to the contrary and discounted the legal documents, which named Jeannie as conservator and Trustee.

This reporter has reviewed letters and cards previously sent to Jeannie Tanaka by her sister, Christine, congratulating her on the wonderful care she was giving her mother. But things changed abruptly when Mr. Tanaka passed on, leaving the mother more vulnerable. Almost immediately upon his demise, Christine Tanaka filed for conservatorship, attacking her sister Jeannie for the very efforts she had so highly praised her for.

Jeannie must now pay $100 an hour in monitoring fees to see her mother and is restricted to three visits a week. Ironically, one of the allegations hurled at Jeannie in an attempt to wrest the conservatorship from her was that she was isolating her mother.

A medical doctor, Dr. Laura Moire, became concerned that medical care was being withheld Jean Tanaka by her conservator. The doctor then called Adult Protective Services and the police to make a complaint.

In a Kafkaesque maneuver, Judge Reva Goetz then slapped Dr. Moire with a restraining order, prohibiting her from making further reports about the welfare of Jean Tanaka. The fact that Dr. Moire is, as a physician, a mandated reporter of elder abuse didn’t seem to bother Judge Goetz, who seems intent on isolating Mrs. Tanaka from anyone and everyone who might be concerned for her welfare.

Dr. Moire’s report detailed numerous concerns that Mrs. Tanaka’s health was being negatively impacted by Cotterman’s care. Of special note was the discontinuation of physician prescribed supplements which had previously stabilized Mrs. Tanaka’s blood pressure, normalized her cholesterol levels, built bone density, and strengthened her immune system and cognitive functioning. Dr. Moire noted that this discontinuance has been followed by several back -to- back urinary infections, at least four collapses and several hospitalizations where she was transported unconscious by ambulances none of which were brought to the attention of a cardiologist. Mrs. Tanaka has reportedly further suffered weight loss, lack of basic dental care, isolation and restrictive monitoring of highly limited visits with her daughter, Jeannie.

Dr. Moire was also concerned about the apparent placement of Mrs. Tanaka on “comfort care” in the absence of any terminal condition or diagnosis, which has resulted in not only the continued withdrawal of care (such as supplements) which were deemed beneficial to the ninety-five year old woman but the denial of care for other medical problems, including her now painfully swollen hands, extreme fatigue, and erratic blood pressure.

The Tanaka Will and Trust had left all the property to Jeannie, including the Westwood home, located in a prime real estate location. The actions by Cotterman, supported and endorsed by Judge Goetz, have effectively nullified the Will and the Trust.

According to a couple of the helpers who have been assisting in cleaning up the Tanaka residence, Cotterman has lately been hanging around the house, showing up early in the morning and late at night, taking pictures and verbally accosting the helpers. One of the helpers, Nahid , quit the job this past weekend. She told this reporter that Cotterman confronted her on a couple of occasions recently outside the house, demanding information from her and snapping her picture and pictures of her vehicle. Nahid reported she was “frightened” by Cotterman.

In the pleadings to the court to have Jeannie deemed in contempt of court, Cotterman’s attorney made a statement which may reveal Cotterman’s real interest in this case.

Attorney Scott Schomer writes; “If respondent’s position (that all conservatee’s assets belong to the Trust) is correct, then there are no assets in the conservatorship and there is no conservatorship of estate.”

And if that were true, Cotterman and Schomer wouldn’t be able to charge a dime. Conservatorships are very expensive, with legal bills running in the tens of thousands a year and conservatorship fees running a close second.

Calls to Mr. Schomer were not returned.

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

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