Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Cover Up Continues : Melodie Scott

by Janet Phelan as published in the San Bernardino County Sentinel on Oct 09,2009
under the Title Conservator Scott to Seek Licensing October 20

Another public hearing for conservator/fiduciary Melodie Scott is planned for October 20 in Oakland Administrative Court. Deputy state attorney general Jonathan Cooper is representing the State of California in the action against Scott.

Scott became the focus of state attention in the aftermath of press accounts pertaining to conservatorships and the potential abuse of power inherent in them. Simultaneously, several grassroots national groups have formed to address the issue of alleged civil rights and financial abuse by conservators.

Melodie Scott made headlines in the Los Angeles Timesback in November of 2005 in the much-touted series, “Guardians for Profit—When a Family Matter becomes a Business.” As a result of the public outcry engendered by the series, the California State Legislature passed the Omnibus Conservatorship Reform Act of 2006. Among the bill’s stipulations was the creation of the Professional Fiduciary Bureau in the Department of Consumer Affairs, charged with the task of licensing the previously unregulated conservators and fiduciaries. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger line item vetoed the funds for the reforms two years running. Subsequently, with the freeing up of funding, the Professional Fiduciary Bureau began reviewing applications for licensure in 2008.

Previously, Cooper indicated testimony of those impacted by Scott’s actions as a conservator for the elderly and disabled could be used at Scott’s hearing. He has now tempered that approach and is preparing to offer brief, non-specific statements encapsulating his synopsis of reports that have been provided to him by these putative witnesses to be be signed and “possibly” offered into evidence.

A conservator is defined by Black’s law dictionary as a protector or guardian. Conservatorships are generally initiated through court proceedings when there are allegations that an individual may not be competent to handle his or her own affairs. Aconservatorship of person allows the conservator to make personal decisions for the alleged incapacitated person, including whether or not the conservatee will be allowed to marry, where he or she will reside or whether the conservatee will even be permitted to see family members and friends. At the initiations of a conservatorship of estate, all assets are transferred into the control of the conservator, including bank accounts and property.

Scott’s application for a license was denied by the Professional Fiduciary Bureau in August of 2008 on the grounds that she had made false statements on her application. The specific issue pertained to a question as to whether she had ever settled or resigned from a case in which she was a fiduciary and a complaint had been filed against her with the court. She answered that she had not. The board is maintaining that this is untrue and thus denied her license.

When she appealed the decision of the Professiona Fiduciary Board, two subsequent counts were added: 1) that she had continued to work as a conservator/fiduciary following the denial of her license in at least twenty-three cases and 2) that she had received a drunk driving citation.
At least four individuals who feel they have been impacted negatively by Scott have contacted Cooper, seeking to testify as to their experience. When it was discovered that Cooper was planning on allowing the testimony of favorable character witnesses and not those with opposing
testimony, it provoked expressions of frustration by individuals who had hoped to testify at these hearings.

The Sentinel contacted Cooper with regard to these developments. On October 5, Cooper tersely responded, stating, “I will not discuss the bureau’s litigation strategy with you.“
According to sources close to Melodie Scott, the favourable character witnesses include attorney Sherri Kastilahn and conservator Christina Erickson-Taube.

Kastilahn, the former President of the High Desert Bar Association, regularly represents conservator Larry Dean, who up until last year worked as a conservator out of Melodie Scott’s office. Both Dean and Scott were under a grand jury investigation this year. Kastilahn received some scrutiny in an article published in The American’s Bulletin in 2008 concerning her actions in a particular case, the conservatorship of William Burke. The issue involved Kastilahn removing about thirty thousand dollars from Burke’s bank account following his passing in 2003 and placing the money in her attorney-client trust account. The Sentinel could find no record that the money was ever returned to the beneficiary of the Burke estate or accounted for in terms of expenditures on file with the court.

Christina Erickson-Taube was, until recently, a conservator working out of Scott’s office.
Gina Rilke, whose husband Scott Vericola was under a conservatorship with Scott, has written
Cooper, stating: “I was not aware that ‘character’ witnesses were going to be allowed at Ms. Scott’s hearing. If this is true, then it certainly seems fair that others who have been victimized by her actions be allowed to testify, as well. Please keep in mind that both Sherry Kastilahn and Christina Erickson-Taube have incurred financial gain as a result of their association with Ms. Scott, to say nothing of personal bonds that may exist. Their testimony would be biased and in their best interest….Ms. Scott has been able to get away with all she’s done for nearly 30 years. This does not happen without many, many people on her ‘team.’ Lawyers, doctors, judges, and a host of others have enabled her to plunder people’s assets and send them to early graves as the result of untreated pneumonia and other health issues. Again, it seems only fair that the
facts alone should be able to speak in Ms. Scott’s hearing.”

Steve Price, of Yucaipa, has stated that Cooper had told him that his testimony would not “add anything” to the hearings. Price’s son, Stevie, died in 2004 after a series of medical decisions by Scott, who was the young Price’s conservator. Price reports being “shocked” to learn at the time of the final accounting that the entire $5 million trust had been gutted by Scott.

A local man who had come into contact with Scott through business dealings and who declined to be identified, had also contacted Cooper with information about the extent of Scott’s alcohol consumption and concerns about the nature of her financial decisions in terms of several conservatorships. He stated that “Cooper couldn’t be less interested in what I had to say.”
In late August, deputy attorney general Cooper denied that a settlement offer was in the works for Scott. He went so far as to suggest that Scott was “lying” when he was confronted with the details of a text message, wherein Scott announced she would be granted her license. He later reversed himself and admitted that a settlement offer was made on August 13, the last day of hearings in Oakland.

While the details of the proposed settlement offer were not released, sources close to Scott hinted that the settlement involved her achieving full licensure in return for paying attorney’s fees and court costs. When this information was made public, several individuals contacted Cooper to lodge their protests and the settlement offer was pulled off the table.
Neither Cooper nor Scott returned calls to their offices seeking comment.
Journalist Janet Phelan asked us to re-post the article in its entirety, because of the scope of the problem and the degree of protection that operators in this business enjoy, we appreciate the scope of the revelations in these series of articles and the determination of the San Bernardino Sentinel to live up to it's obligation in informing it's citizens of the decorum or lack there of regarding public officials.

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