Saturday, May 29, 2010

Probate Judge Violates Ethics Code

Thanks to Barbara Morris for sending in the story!

Hours before releasing a combative order that approved the draining of an 88-year-old widow's life savings, a Maricopa County probate judge sent a draft copy of her ruling to the attorneys who stood to benefit – a violation of the judges' ethics code.

One of those attorneys responded to the March e-mail and even suggested several changes that were incorporated into Pro-Tem Judge Lindsay Ellis' 21-page ruling.

“I could not be happier,” attorney Brenda Church replied, upon getting the proposed order.

I guess not. Church's bill for $333,000 was among nearly $800,000 worth about to be approved by Ellis.

Three other attorneys – Lauren Garner and Jerome Elwell who were working for the Sun Valley Group, and Brian Theut, the old lady's guardian ad litem – also received Ellis' draft ruling. None of them reported Ellis to the Commission on Judicial Conduct or notified the attorneys representing Marie Long and her sisters of the improper “ex-parte” communication. Such contacts are a violation of the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct.

Presiding Probate Judge Karen O'Connor, who last year twice rejected requests to disqualify Ellis from the case due to bias, has ordered a hearing into the matter, which came to light late last week.

Ellis and the lawyers in on the tête-à-tête couldn't be reached for comment Monday. The attorneys excluded from Ellis' sneak peek -- the ones advocating for the old lady -- were stunned that Ellis would be so blatant in her favoritism.

“The whole justice system is based on making sure there is no appearance of impropriety and it's a fair tribunal and a fair system,” said attorney Pat Gitre, who represents Marie's sisters. “Marie Long never had a fair tribunal and Marie Long never had a chance.”

What Marie Long did have, once upon a time before she entered probate court, was $1.3 million in assets. After a stroke in 2005, she fell under the protective eye of probate, a place where a cozy group of fiduciaries and attorneys are appointed to help vulnerable people but also manage to help themselves to a sizable pile of cash unless a judge stops it.

In Marie's case, no judge stopped it. Over the next four years, Sun Valley, which served as Marie's guardian, and the various probate attorneys collected $900,000 in guardian, care and legal fees until last year, when Marie was tapped out.

Sun Valley and the probate attorneys have contended the bills were high because Marie's sisters interfered in her care and her lawyers peppered the court with motions.

If they peppered the court, perhaps it was because nobody was listening – to them, at least.

Jon Kitchel, the court-appointed attorney for Marie, began begging Ellis to do something in November 2008 when he discovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and guardian fees were going out the door. Kitchel and Gitre filed motion after motion asking the judge to stop the bleeding before Marie was sucked dry but Ellis didn't do a thing.

In September, they asked O'Connor, the presiding probate judge, to remove Ellis, saying she “has consistently ignored or refused to rule upon many motions and petitions filed on behalf of Marie Long … but at the same time, ruled on expedited motions filed by SVG and Trustee.”

O'Connor found no problem with Ellis' handling of the case and she rapped Kitchel and Gitre for filing a 41-page motion outlining their complaints when the limit is 15 pages.

By the end of the year, Marie was declared indigent and put on the welfare rolls. Still, there was a slim hope that she could recoup some of her funds. Though the money had already been spent, probate rules require that a judge approve the fees. Commissioner Ellis retired at the end of 2009, but she hung on to the case, becoming a pro-tem judge so she could rule on the fees.

On the morning of March 15, a judicial assistant e-mailed Ellis' proposed ruling to the four attorneys representing the trustee, Sun Valley and the attorney serving as Marie's guardian ad litem.

“Good morning,” wrote Robyn Brown, Ellis' former assistant who now works for Presiding Probate Commissioner Rick Nothwehr. “This minute entry will probably be issued today but Commissioner Ellis asked me to send the draft to you.”

Church, who represents the trustee who had control of Marie's money, e-mailed several suggested factual changes and announced her happiness with what Ellis was about to do.

In her fiery ruling, filed the next morning, Ellis approved the fees that put Marie Long into the poorhouse as “reasonable” and basically attacked Kitchel, Gitre and a third attorney, Dan Raynak, saying their “venomous” and “hateful” attacks forced the other side to defend themselves. With Marie's money, of course.

In all, Ellis approved nearly $800,000 from Marie's accounts, rubber stamping about half of the bills so as not to “unduly burden” Sun Valley, Church and Theut with a second hearing. (Another $120,000 in fees are pending before another commissioner.)

Nobody blew the whistle on Ellis' select private preview of her planned ruling. Then suddenly, late last week Church notified everyone involved in the case of the two-month-old exchange.

The revelation has startled some in the probate community, starting with Marie's attorney, who recalled Ellis' decision not to force Sun Valley, Church and the others to defend hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees they charged Marie.

“As though Sun Valley has been the one impoverished by the process and put on welfare and put in a nursing home…,” Kitchel said. “Marie's been put on welfare. She's living in a room that approximately 8 feet by 12 feet. She's the one in a hospital bed where there is barely room for a chair.”

Judges and lawyers were surprised that a judge would break the rule barring communication with one side in a contested case.

“It's a huge rule for judges,” said one judge, who spoke on condition that he not be named. “You're supposed to be the neutral detached magistrate, not favoring one side or another.”

Meantime, probate attorneys outside the clubby set reacted with amazement that probate's extracurricular activity has come to light, just a week before a Supreme Court panel convenes to review probate.

“I've had suspicions for a long time that this was going on. I just have never been able to prove it,” said probate attorney Tom Asimou. “I don't think we need a Supreme Court Commission. I think we need a federal grand jury.”

Editor's note: Roberts' sister, Appellate Court Judge Ann Timmer, is chairing a committee to review Probate Court practices. The Republic is disclosing the relationship to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.

(Column published May 18, 2010, The Arizona Republic)


Let's put the seniors in jail, and the criminals in a nursing home.

Let's put the seniors in jail, and the criminals in a nursing home.

This way the seniors would have access to showers, hobbies,

and walks, they'd receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental

and medical treatment , wheel chairs etc. and they'd receive money instead of

paying it out.

They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be

helped instantly ,if they fell, or needed assistance.

Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing would be

ironed and returned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes, and bring their meals

and snacks to their cell. They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose.

They would have access to a library, weight room,spiritual counselling, pool, and education.

Simple clothing , shoes, slippers, P.J.'s and legal aid would be free, on request.

Private, secure rooms for all, with an exercise outdoor yard ,with gardens

Each senior could have a P.C. a T.V.. radio, and daily phone calls.

There would be a board of directors , to hear complaints, and the guards

would have a code of conduct, that would be strictly adhered to.

The "criminals" would get cold food, be left all alone, and unsupervised,

lights off at 8pm, and showers once a week.

Live in a tiny room , and pay $5000..00 per month and have no hope

of ever getting out.

Justice for all.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Songwriter Danny Tate Wins Long Court Fight To Be Set Free

Crossposted from The Probate Lawyer Blog article by Andrew Mayoras

Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings exist to help those who are incapacitated, usually due to age or disability, and can’t make proper decisions for themselves. While these court cases help many thousands of people each year, they can also expose people to fraud and abuse.

Many believe that Nashville, Tennessee musician Danny Tate was one of the very unfortunate who was abused by the system. Tate had written music for popular TV shows Entertainment Tonight and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as a top 10 hit in the 1980’s. Yet his lifetime of savings of more than $600,000, and yearly royalty earnings of $125,000, are almost completely gone. And he’s only 54 years old.

Why? Because in 2007, his brother convinced a probate court judge that Danny was so addicted to crack cocaine that his life was in jeopardy, and he was unable to make legal, financial and medical decisions for himself.

Danny was not even told of the initial court hearing. He was not given an attorney. At a second court hearing three weeks later, he was denied an attorney and was instead committed to a psychiatric ward, according to this report by the Associated Press.

Danny finally won his freedom yesterday, after battling for two and one-half years. But the court fight reportedly cost him his entire lifetime of savings.

Here is an interesting article that examines the case in a little more detail and holds it up as an example of abuses that can occur in guardianship and conservatorship cases.

Danny Tate’s brother defends his actions, saying his younger brother would be dead if not for his actions. Danny admits he had a drug addiction, but says he still functioned and could make his own decisions. He says his estate has been plundered through the legal fees spent on his case, especially because his money was used to pay the lawyers and experts on both sides.

At least he now has his rights back, as of yesterday — after providing clean drug tests for nine months and a report by three different doctors saying he could make his own decisions.
While the circumstances that gave rise to this case are troubling — to say the least — and certainly this case shows the horrors of what can go wrong in guardianship cases, not all of these court proceedings are bad. Sometimes people need the help of a court-appointed guardian or conservator for their own protection.

Was this such a case? Or was Danny Tate a victim of a broken court process?

It’s especially odd that Danny Tate wasn’t given a lawyer until his rights had already been stripped away. An experienced guardianship and conservatorship attorney is critical for families facing complicated cases like these, such as those where competency is questionable, where there are allegations of abuse, or where family members are fighting.

If you or a loved one are facing such a court proceeding, the sooner you consult with a good attorney, the better.

Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.

Related : by EoD : We’re still watching the coverage of yesterday’s Nashville proceeding, we’ve posted an extended version of the AP follow-up story and here is a link to Channel 4’s report from last night. It definitely needs to be watched!

AP extended version of Danny Tate’s victory

"Now there was a TV camera, its lens and the eyes of its viewing audience trained on Judge Kennedy."

"The crowd of about 50, many of them wearing T-shirts that read “Free Danny Tate,” applauded when Kennedy issued his ruling from the bench."

This is an excellent example of what happens when media attention is directed towards these acts , our hearts go out to the thousands of vicitms and their families who are not famous and are not able to garner the media attention this case did, as well as the thousands of families who do not have the Hundreds of Thousands of dollars to pay for the legal ransom to set their relatives free!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Linda M. Banta & Laura Spease, Conservatorship, Abuse, Berkeley, California,

AVOID Conservator LINDA BANTA & Attorney LAURA SPEASE if you care about your loved ones at all! In fact, do WHATEVER you can to prevent a loved one being placed under a guardianship or conservatorship!

Some years ago my elderly parents were forced into a California conservatorship (known as guardianship in most states) by a sibling when they had become unable to care for themselves. Because I lived out of state California law prohibited me from being the conservator, so I agreed to the conservatorship because I innocently believed that the county Court would oversee how my parents’ estate was spent carefully, assure responsible management of their health care and emotional well-being.

NOTHING could be further from the truth!

Linda M. Banta came highly recommended by an attorney, MARGARET HAND, who I now realize is in on this business of taking the elderly for all they've got while disregarding their stated wishes and emotional needs. At the time the Court allowed Linda Banta to take 1% of the estate each year so she had the properties appraised at high value.

Now the Court rules dictate she charge $115/hour [which equals $239,200/year] and she is certainly not very competent at handling many of the tasks her fiduciary role requires. She doesn't even oversee the care herself, but hires Geriatric "Care" Managers, one of whom, AMY PIERI, charges $115/hr; another, CHRIS HENDRICKSON is also paid at such lucrative rates. Neither Linda Banta or LAURA SPEASE have any respect for family who actually CARE about my parents and Laura Spease even violatd my rights when her office fail to mail notice that the court requires that would provide me knowledge and the ability to respond to their actions, as required by law.

They restrict family visits despite my parents' BEGGING to be able to see me more. I'll spare you the details as there are THOUSANDS of stories exactly like this across the country. In fact, the Senate is holding hearings soon, so make a report to the Government Accounting Office if you know of any. Call Sandra Moore at 202-512-4910 at GAO.

If you are considering guardianship or are already involved with one that is abusive, look at websites such as or Janet Phelan’s work on to discover how the courts are allowing incredible exploitation of seniors and the disabled.

Find another alternative -- a trusted family friend, a cousin, ANYONE who is not a part of this racket. Their main predatory interest is MONEY, so if you or anyone you care about has substantial assets (over $100K), BEWARE!

I have protested the excessive expenditures in every aspect of Linda Banta’s work, but the Court totally disregards all my statements. In many states is it not necessary to have anything but hearsay to "prove" incompetence.

Texas legislators are being confronted by the fact that courts there hold secret hearings where the involved parties are not notified and not present. No, I'm not paranoid.

This is all true. Most people can't believe this gulag is happening in this country.

Sadly, I, too, was once Innocent.


Friday, May 21, 2010

AP Reports on Danny Tate Conservatorship

Posted: 21 May 2010 11:37 AM PDT byEstateOfDenial.Com

Sheila Burke, Associated Press
May 21, 2010
Yahoo! News
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A court stripped away songwriter Danny Tate’s control of his life — removing his right to make his own legal, financial and medical decisions — at a last-minute hearing he didn’t know about and didn’t attend.

With the drop of a gavel, the Nashville musician who’d written a top 10 hit and was making around $125,000 a year writing music for TV shows was declared mentally disabled and in need of someone to manage his affairs. The decision was made at an “emergency hearing” with no medical testimony and no lawyer to represent Tate’s interests.

When Tate finally got his day in court three weeks later to challenge allegations that he was in the grip of a life-threatening drug addiction, the judge refused his request for a lawyer and he had to represent himself.

He was again declared disabled, handcuffed and put in a locked psychiatric facility for six days.

“What they’ve done to me is wrong, and it shouldn’t ever happen to anyone again,” the songwriter said.

Advocates for people declared legally unfit to manage their own affairs say the songwriter’s case is a troubling example of abuses found in the courts nationwide.

Among the problems they see: people stripped of their rights on questionable evidence, deprived of a lawyer, subjected to emergency hearings when there is no true emergency and losing their life savings.

Such complaints prompted the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging to order an investigation into the concerns. That investigation is currently being conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In Tennessee, a person who manages the affairs of a disabled adult is called a conservator. Other states call these people guardians.

Tate, 54, says what was done to him at the emergency hearing Oct. 23, 2007, crippled his ability to mount a defense in a yearslong legal battle to restore his rights.

Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Kennedy named the songwriter’s older brother, David Tate, 60, as his conservator. That gave the older brother access to the younger brother’s savings — more than half a million dollars — to pay for the lawyers to keep the conservatorship in place. In effect, Danny Tate has been forced to pay for the legal fight to oppose his own legal claim.

About the only thing the brothers can agree on is that Danny Tate was addicted to crack in 2007 and is now clean and sober. The addiction was bad enough that the songwriter granted his brother temporary power of attorney to pay his bills while he went into drug rehab.

“He was trying to kill himself with crack,” the brother said.

Danny Tate was one of the writers of “Affair of the Heart,” a top 10 hit for Rick Springfield in the ’80s. He made most of his money writing music that appears during segments on popular TV shows, including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and “Entertainment Tonight.”

The son of an Arkansas minister, Danny Tate had wrestled for much of his life with alcohol and cocaine. He had made repeated but failed attempts to get a grip on his addiction when court proceedings began against him in October 2007.

That was when David Tate filed a court petition claiming his brother was spending between $500 and $800 dollars a day on crack.

David Tate asked the judge to appoint him as Danny’s conservator, to help him get treatment and preserve the songwriter’s assets. The brother filed a statement from one of the songwriter’s financial accounts showing large withdrawals of funds.

An attorney who now represents Danny Tate said the petition that led to the emergency hearing was based entirely on unsubstantiated allegations by the brother.

“It’s scary,” Michael Hoskins said. “All you’ve got to do is make the allegation” to force someone into a conservatorship.

Being a drug addict or alcoholic alone is not grounds enough to be declared mentally incompetent, legal experts say. The question is whether the addiction was so disabling that he could no longer manage his own affairs.

Danny Tate, a tall man who chain smokes and now lives by the credo of Alcoholics Anonymous, maintains that he was a functioning addict and was not in a crisis so severe that a court would have grounds to hold a hearing without him and strip him of his rights.

He said there were no claims that he’d ever been arrested, overdosed on drugs, been committed to a psychiatric ward or hurt anyone. Only that he’d been spending lots of money on drugs and his brother feared his habit would kill him.

His case, Danny Tate says, should serve as a stark warning about how easy it is to have someone declared disabled and should be chilling to anyone in Nashville’s music industry with an addiction and some money.

“If this could happen to me, they’d have to bust 75 percent of Music Row and go down before Randy Kennedy for a mass conservatorship hearing,” the songwriter said.

He is gearing up for a May 24 hearing to determine whether he is competent to take charge of his life again.

This time he’ll have a lawyer.

The upcoming hearing was ordered by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in December after the songwriter argued he was entitled to a chance to get out of the legal arrangement or appeal it.

David Tate won’t say whether he will ask the judge to keep him in charge of his brother’s affairs. He maintains that he stepped in to save his brother’s life.

More than $200,000 has been spent on legal fees so far, court records show. The upcoming hearing is expected to eat up thousands more.

Court records show that Tate had more than $600,000 in a money market account and was receiving about $125,000 a year in music royalty payments when the court proceedings began.

He will likely be in debt after the hearing, Hoskins said.

Unlike other court battles where each side pays its own legal fees, in a conservatorship proceeding a disabled person who has money pays for both sides. Every time Danny Tate’s brother files a motion it comes out of Danny Tate’s life savings.

“That’s the worst part of it. They’re paying these people to harm them,” said Elaine Renoire, president of the Indiana-based National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse. The organization is supporting the songwriter in his legal battle.

David Tate, who runs a corporate logo and merchandising company in Memphis, is not accused of trying to enrich himself at his brother’s expense. However, the outright theft of assets or questionable billing practices by lawyers and guardians has long been a concern of advocates and is part of the GAO study.

Renoire says she has no idea how prevalent guardian abuse is because the records simply don’t exist. Many courts don’t keep records on how many of these cases they have.

A December 2007 report by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging found numerous problems with conservatorship cases nationwide despite reforms specifically pointed to emergency hearings. “Emergency appointments, by their nature, immediately deny prospective wards their due process,” the report said.

The AARP says people often aren’t offered sufficient legal protections.

“Due process in the guardianship system has always been a substantial concern,” said Sally Hurme, an attorney and senior project manager with the AARP.

The organization recommends granting the allegedly disabled person the right to come to a hearing, requiring notice of an emergency hearing and an explanation of the emergency, and mandating that a lawyer always be appointed as an advocate for someone said to be disabled.

Hoskins said he believes Danny Tate’s case never would have gotten this far if Tate could have gotten a good lawyer from the start.

Unlike the right to counsel in criminal cases, the right to a lawyer in civil cases like conservatorship proceedings is not constitutionally guaranteed.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be, said Chris Slobogin a Vanderbilt University Law School professor who is an expert in mental-health law.

Video update, AP story on Danny Tate conservatorship

Video update, AP story on Danny Tate conservatorship

Posted: 21 May 2010 08:44 AM PDT

Here’s a video just posted by Kevin Montgomery regarding this weekend’s events in Nashville.

The Free Danny Tate Awareness/Flood Relief Concert Lineup and special message to supporters

Additionally, the Associated Press hit the wire today with a story on Danny’s case. It has been picked up by numerous outlets and will undoubtedly continue popping up in publications for the next days.

Other related Links:

Rights Lost To Conservator,Songwriter Fights BackCBS 5 In Tennessee, a person who manages the affairs of a disabled adult is called a conservator. Other states call these people guardians. ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Letter From Congressman Sestak to Attorney General

copied from

May 9, 2010

Mr. William E. Moschella
Assistant Attorney General for Office of Legislative Affairs
U.S. Department of Justice950 Pennyslvania Ave., Nw, Room 1145
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Moschella,

Enclosed please find a consent form from Ms. Holly Peffer. I enclose the several documents that substantiate Ms. Peffer's present concerns. I also enclose my letter to, and the response that I have received, from the Department of Health and Human Service, Administration on Aging. I reiterate here that my legislation on this critical matter of elder abuse is diretly on point to rememdy the plight of questionable guardianships, where an act of apparent compassion may mask greed.

Ms. Peffer's claim of miscarriage of justice resulted from the seemingly irregular use of guardianship procedures to seperate Ms. Peffer's mother from her family. In this case, the procedures within the state of Florida are at issue. For that reason, I am copying the Attorney General of Florida with this present letter and its enclosures and asking that the authority respond to my inquiry as well.

I ask that this matter be carefully reviewed within your department and that I receive a response as to what measures might be taken to address this issue in general and Ms. Peffer's concern specifically. I may be reached at my district office, located at 600 North Jackson St., Media, PA 19063. If you have any questions or concerns relating to this issue, please call my District Representative, Anne Vaughan, at 610-892-8623.

Thank you kindly for your attention to this concern. I look forward to hearing from you.


Joe Sestak
Member of Congress

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gestapo Like Conduct Destroys Lives With Impunity

If there was a contest for "Worst Place For (Gay)Elderly to Live," Sonoma County, California would have to be on the short list, based on what they did to two elderly gay gentlemen, Clay Greene and Harold Scull, pictured here in happier times. Clay Greene was living in his home in **Sonoma County, with his partner of 20 years, Harold Scull. Harold, then 88 years old, fell and was hospitalized. What happened then is every elder person’s – and gay person’s – worse nightmare. The County sprung into action, removing Clay from his home, and sending Clay and Harold, against their will, to separate nursing homes.

Although Clay and Harold had *wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other as their responsible persons, the County even obtained court orders preventing Clay and Harold from seeing each other. The County sold their belongings at auction, and as reported by Scott James of the New York Times, removed the men’s cats from their home, right in front of Clay Green. Clay is still haunted by the scene. “When Clay M. Greene remembered the events of June 2008, he clenched his teeth, his hands tightened into fists and his body shook. They grabbed them by their necks and tossed them in a car,’ he said last week, recalling the fate of his beloved cats, Sassy and Tiger. He never saw them again.” Harold died in the nursing home, a few months later. With the assistance of a court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis, of Santa Rosa, Clay was finally released from the nursing home According to Kay Kendall of the Bilerico Project, all Clay has left from his life together with Harold is a photograph. The rest was destroyed by the County.

Clay Greene has decided to strike back against this despicable and egregious conduct, and is suing Sonoma County for violation of his civil rights – as an elder and as a gay man – in a lawsuit that will go to trial in July. Clay is from a generation that was forced to live their lives behind closed doors, so he does not use the term “gay” to describe himself, or the term “same sex partner” to describe his relationship with Harold. By standing up for himself, though, he will vindicate the rights of senior citizens in general and gay senior citizens in particular who live in fear that the same thing could happen to themselves.

To read the New York Times article about Clay Greene, click here. To read Kay Kendall’s article in Bilerico, click here.

You can learn more about the lawsuit, by visiting a Facebook page set up by Clay's supporters:



"Although Clay and Harold had wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other as their responsible persons, the County even obtained court orders preventing Clay and Harold from seeing each other." We realized that Wills,Trusts,Medical Directives give a false sense of security as this case clearly proves it means nothing. These legal papers costs thousands to produce, yet they often are not worth the paper the are written on as the courts do not recognize or respect them, just ask Clay Greene or ask me, my mother spent thousands drawing up Trusts, Directives, Addendums, POA's yet it meant little , Probate courts and guardians do not pay a whole lot of attention to these papers and they do what they please free of any legal constraints..

* It doesn't matter if you are gay,straight,white,black,famous, or have a will or not , if you are under the radar are an older citizen and have something of value you are vulnerable and a target for 'IRA' Involuntary Redistribution of Assets ,involuntary lock up, and euthanasia.

**And apparently the writer is not acquainted with the problem as most aren't until it happens to them, then I get a "I can't believe this can happen here/to me letter" it's just not Sonoma county it's anytown,USA.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Alleged Co-Conspirator Presides Over Case

by Janet Phelan

As a reporter, I am reluctant to report on issues where I am an affected party. The idea of the “objective” reporter, which we learn as a mantra in Journalism School, largely dissuades us from reporting on events which impact us directly. However, as I watch the mainstream press twist facts and spin stories in order to protect and please those in power, I have come to see objectivity as a false flag under which mainstream media does repeated damage to the truth.

The story below certainly does involve me. The facts cited are sustained not only by my personal testimony, but are buttressed by court records and other external documentation. Given the seriousness of what is reported herein, given the potential for a similar deprivation of rights to all who set foot inside Riverside Superior Courthouse, I find it necessary to write this, my story.

On May 5, 2010, Judge Stephen Cunnison emerged from retirement to preside over several hearings concerning a case enumerated as RIP 080974, the Conservatorship of Amalie Phelan. Amalie, who is now deceased, was my mother. The case had been transferred from Judge Gary Tranbarger to Cunnison on April 26, 2010. Tranbarger is the third judge to be suddenly pulled off this case following my research on property loans taken out by judges, first reported in the San Bernardino County Sentinel and archived here ( On calendar was a lawsuit against former Conservator/

Trustee Melodie Scott. The lawsuit named Judge Stephen Cunnison as acting in a capacity which could be considered as “co-conspirator” with Melodie Scott. And on May 5th, Stephen Cunnison threw out the lawsuit which named him a compromised judge.

Count VI, entitled “Fraud Upon the Court and Undue Influence,” alleged that Melodie Scott had exercised “undue influence” over several judges through the course of RIP 080974 and specifically named actions by Stephen Cunnison as profoundly illegal. I maintain that these actions by Stephen Cunnison resulted in Amalie Phelan’s death.

My mother first visited Attorney J. David Horspool in the fall of 2001. My sister, Judith Phelan, had been residing with my widowed mother, and following the death of our father in 1997, had been stealing from the family estate, at one time valued at approximately $1 million dollars. In an effort to curtail the hemorrhaging of the estate by my sister and reluctant to initiate criminal proceedings against her, my mother and I approached J. David Horspool, seeking a bookkeeper to handle the funds of my mother, who was in her eighties.

In December of 2001 my mother and I met with Melodie Scott and Horspool. Scott expressed consternation at my sister's behavior, and stated she would "cut Judith off." Not wishing to leave her elder daughter destitute (Judith, though well-educated, is psychiatrically and physically disabled and does not work), my mother expressed her wish that Judith not be "cut off" but be granted adequate funds for her needs.

On December 2, 2001, my mother signed a document nominating Melodie Scott as conservator of her person and estate. In the Living Will set up by my parents in 1997 by Attorney Mark Anderson of Escondido, a conservator was named in advance should this prove necessary. An old family friend, James Henderson of Riverside, had been designated as "stand-by" should conservatorship prove necessary. He was also named successor trustee. In the meetings with Scott and Horspool we were at no time given input as to the difference between a “conservator” and a fiduciary or even a bookkeeper.

In light of the actions embarked on by Horspool and Scott against the best interests of Amalie and me, her signing the conservatorship nomination proved disastrous.

Almost immediately, Scott started funneling thousands of dollars a month to Judith. In a moment of rare and uncharacteristic honesty, Judith referred to these payments as “hush money.” Scott placed aides in my mother's home, ostensibly to care for Amalie, although none were needed before. On several occasions she threatened to call the police on me when I came to visit Amalie. Very shortly, Amalie requested I find her an attorney to consult on this matter, as she was distressed by Scott's behavior.

And then Amalie went down. Alarmed at how she sounded during a routine phone call in mid-June of 2002, I rushed to Temecula to find her too ill to even walk unassisted, and nearly delirious. I trundled her into my car and took her to the Emergency Room at Rancho Springs Hospital where she was evaluated and admitted. Shortly thereafter, she was taken into surgery and a pacemaker was inserted. Two days later, I was served with a Temporary Restraining Order. Melodie Scott had gone to court and said that I had “harmed” my mother by “unnecessarily” transporting her to the hospital.

On August 1, 2002, Stephen Cunnison was set to preside over two hearings. One was a hearing on the permanent conservatorship of Amalie Phelan, as the conservatorship moved from temporary to permanent. This was set for 8:30 a.m. On the docket following this hearing was a hearing on the above cited Restraining Order.

As far as I could see it, this Restraining Order hearing was going to be a slam-dunk. I would tell the judge the truth—my mother was close to death and received life-saving cardiac surgery as a result of the hospitalization. But Stephen Cunnison never called the Restraining Order to hearing. He left the courtroom following the hearing on the permanent conservatorship and the courtroom was then closed. I, along with a party who accompanied me to court that day, was told to leave the courtroom. Stephen Cunnison violated the Constitutional Right to Due Process and signed my Restraining Order into permanence without ever allowing me to face my accusers. The Minute Order for the hearing, signed by Stephen Cunnison on August 1, is archived here ( along with other relevant documents pertaining to this case. Aptly, the minute order reveals no one as listed as being in court, revealing Cunnison did not call this to hearing. The subsequent document was produced by my witness to that morning’s events.

But Scofflaw Cunnison didn’t stop there. He was to preside over a second Restraining Order hearing against me in October of 2002 and signed an order barring me from contacting the police, the FBI, The Ombudsman for Nursing Care and nearly anyone else who could have assisted Amalie Phelan, as I could no longer protect her, being “legally” restrained from my own mother. In that second hearing I asked Cunnison to recuse himself. He refused to do so.

Amalie soon died under suspicious circumstances. I was not informed of her death until weeks after she was buried. Possibly this was what Judith had referred to as the impetus for the “hush money.”

I filed suit against Melodie Scott, alleging multiple serious crimes. Upon discovering that Cunnison was again assigned to my case in May of 2010, I filed for his recusal. These papers were entered into the court file on May 5. The Challenge for Cause cites his heinous and illegal actions back in 2002.

In his denial of this request to have him recused, Cunnison determined that I should have moved to have him kicked off the case back in 2002. Which I had done. Other judges took over the case from 2003 on and I had no reason to suspect that he would emerge to further assault the law and my rights.

But he did.

Incidentally, the California Code of Civil Procedure 1013 (a) mandates ten extra days for notice to parties residing outside of the State of California and twenty extra days for those residing outside of the U.S. I have repeatedly noticed the court that I am residing in Toronto and that my mail is bundled from Ashland, Oregon and Fedexed to me in Toronto. Even if the court only ignored the fact that I now reside in Canada and chose to attend to my Oregon address, the ten extra days for service were not satisfied by re-scheduling from April 26th to May 5th.

The station at the court responsible for checking these details is the Probate Examiner, Elizabeth Miller. I spoke with Miller recently and told her that the court was ignoring the extended time for service, mandated by CCP 1013 (a) and ignoring my repeated filings to this effect. “Just keep telling the court,” she exhorted.

If the Riverside Superior Court can’t do any better than appoint a “Red Queen Judge” to destroy my family, destroy my ability to protect my mother from an obvious liar and plunderer and destroy my God-given rights to appeal to law enforcement to protect a vulnerable elderly person, I have only one question left:

What should I tell the court? What possible words are there to convey the damage done by this Constitution-denying scofflaw who has now quashed my lawsuit against the woman who, in concert with him, destroyed my family?

I fear we are living in lawless times, distinguished only by the fact that so many Americans have not yet realized this. As painful as it may be to realize that the promise of freedom, of equal protection under the law, is a farce and an illusion, it is imperative we wake up before we lose everything. My mother, who had a PhD and worked decades as a City Health Department supervisor, lost her life because of the illegal actions of an absolute stranger who had total power to hurt her. I have left the country of my birth to avoid a similar attack. If we have no protection from the justice system, then who do we turn to?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Judges Involved in Multiple Property Reconveyances

by Janet Phelan |

(Originally published in The San Bernardino County Sentinel)

Several years ago, all of the county's probate and conservatorship cases were moved to Redlands Courthouse and most of these cases were subsequently heard by Judge Welch.

Recent documents obtained by the Sentinel point to suspicious financial activity by Welch, who at one point in time was the presiding judge of San Bernardino County. Welch was featured in an article in the Sentinel on June 12th of this year in a lengthy expose regarding questionable business practices by Melodie Z. Scott, a professional fiduciary and conservator for the elderly. Scott is President of C.A.R.E., Inc., located at 25 E. State Street in Redlands, right around the corner from the courthouse.

The activities by Scott cited by the Sentinel as questionable involved giving conservatee property to her own family members, overcharges on her clients' accounts, missing monies from clients' accounts, selling conservatee property at bargain basement rates only to have the property jump in value and sell the next year, withholding medical care from conservatees resulting in death and allegations of possible undue influence on judges.

The documents uncovered relating to Judge Welch reveal that he has mortgaged his primary residence, located in the 300 block of La Colina in Redlands several times in recent years, encumbering it with loans which could not possibly be paid back on a judge's salary in the brief turn-around time indicated by the reconveyances (repayment of loans). The document numbers and the size of the loans follow:

In 1998, Welch and his wife, Ginny, took out a loan for $217,200 on their La Colina residence, which was fully paid back in March of 2003. The reconveyance document number attached to this transaction is 2003-0173087.

In February of 2003, James and Ginny Welch took out another loan on their residence, this time for $234,000. This was fully paid back by June 10, 2004, as listed in document number 2004-0410928.

Another loan was taken out by the Welches on May 17, 2004, as listed in document #2004-0353533. This loan was for $358,965.71.

Messages were left with Welch's secretary, inquiring as to where the money was going and how he was paying these loans back. The possibility that Welch was taking out loans and investing the money, then paying back the loans with the proceeds was considered and discarded. For the last seven years, Welch has reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission on his form 700 financial disclosure statements that he has no investments.

A query was also left with Judge Welch's secretary as to three property transactions recorded in neighboring Riverside County, attributed to a James Michael Welch, Trustee.

Judge Welch has declined to comment. Presiding judge Jim McGuire issued a terse letter on August 12th, 2009, in response to an inquiry from the Sentinel about the Welch loans and Riverside County transactions. McGuire stated: Please be advised that I have received and reviewed your letter of August 11, 2009. Please be further advised that I am an administrative presiding judge and, therefore, my review jurisdiction is limited. Nothing contained in your letter is of a nature over which I would have review jurisdiction. Any request for review or investigation by me is, therefore, denied.

There has been no confirmation or denial from the court as to whether Welch's exodus from his probate assignment in Redlands had any bearing on the recent media scrutiny given his actions as a judge or his apparent bias towards cases involving Melodie Scott, who recently launched a legal protest concerning the denial of her fiduciary license by the California Professional Fiduciary Bureau.

This practice of judges taking out large loans appears to be widespread and crosses county boundaries. Information gathered on Commissioner John McCoy and Judge Sharon Waters (both of Riverside County) has recently been turned over to a Riverside County district attorney investigator, Jeff Chebahtah. While Chebahtah has acknowledged receipt of the information on the Waters and McCoy loans, he has at press time refused to assign a complaint/case file number. The practice of accepting evidence and refusing to assign a tracking number has been previously explored by this reporter in an article entitled: "How the California Justice System covers up crimes against the elderly: A method to the madness" and appears to be deployed when either the matter is too trivial for the district attorney to take seriously or when there is a political agenda to keep the report out of the system and thus not to investigate at all.

Parenthetically, both McCoy and Waters were recently and consecutively removed from an active case in Riverside Superior Court, following a protest lodged that the loans smacked of pay-offs or bribes.

In San Bernardino County, Judge Steve Mapes ascended to the bench in 2007 and currently sits on Barstow court, following his tenure as an deputy district attorney in San Bernardino. Mapes has also been involved in the loan program, apparently going back to 1998, when he took out a loan on his home on Patricia Drive for over $155,000. He subsequently took out further loans on his property, including loans for $100,000 in 2001 and 2002, another loan for $307,500, also in 2001, one for $88,500 in 2002 and a loan in 2004 which was in excess of the value of the house, recorded at the tax assessor's office as $427,528. This loan was taken out for a resounding $493,000.

More recently, in 2006, he again borrowed money against his property. Since 2001, Judge Steven Mapes has received seven different reconveyances on his loans.

Judge Mapes did not return calls from the Sentinel inquiring as to who was paying back these loans.

Janet Phelan's blog

Women Take Guardianship Fight to State Lawmakers

Posted on May 9, 2010 at 11:04 PM

Families ripped apart in guardianship court hearings plan to take their fight to the State Capitol. They call themselves victims of the state's system.
Kathie Seidel is one of four North Texas families planning to testify at a May 12 Senate committee hearing on Health and Human Services.

Four years ago, she lost guardianship of her adopted daughter, Katia. Seidel was declared unfit to take care of her. The 24-year-old, who has mental health problems, is living at a group home.
"I haven't seen my daughter in more than a year on a holiday," Seidel said. "Her brother is suffering. They are both adopted and he misses her. It's like we really don't have the family any more."

The family's pain is one Sharon Richardson knows all too well. Richardson's guardianship over her mother, Ernestine Starks, was revoked nearly a year ago.
Starks is living at a nursing home.

"We have limited access to our mother, so it has been really hard on the family," Richardson said. "It's just not the same."

In both cases, guardianship was removed in an ex-parte hearing; that's when a judge issues an order or verdict without all the parties involved being present.

"I was removed in a secret hearing, and didn't even know it was happening," Seidel said.
Seidel and Richardson want to stop these hearings. They also want transparency and to extend the time period families can appeal a judge's decision on guardianship.
"We would like laws to be put in place so this does not happen to other families," Richardson said.

They hope their experiences lead to change and bring their loved ones home.
"We brought her [Katia] here to give her opportunities," Seidel said. "Her brother is doing well. We just want that same opportunity for her to learn and grow."
Richardson hopes all the families participating in the hearings get the homecoming they've been waiting for.

"We want the laws to protect the people," Richardson said. "We want our mother's civil rights restored. We just want her to come home."

Related:Aging in America: Family struggles with guardianship issues

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful women that made us what we are today.

Appreciate our mother everyday of our life and never take her for granted as life is short and there is never enough time to spend with our loved ones.

My father is gone and if I could go back in time , all of the things that I would have done with him! All the fishing trips I would have gone with him, instead of sleeping in on Saturday mornings, if I only could.......

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lady Worth 1.3 Million Now Dependent on State Support After Being Fleeced

by Laurie Roberts, Maricopa Co. Arizona

A Maricopa County probate judge has been asked to punish a pair of attorneys in the case of the old lady who was worth $1.3 million and now depends on taxpayers for support.

No, it’s not the attorneys who collected tens and even hundreds of thousands dollars from the old lady’s trust who could be in trouble.

It’s the attorneys who worked for free, the ones who tried to stop the wholesale draining of Marie Long’s account, who could be on the hook.

Sun Valley Group is asking that attorneys Pat Gitre and Dan Raynak be sanctioned and ordered to pay $13,518 of the company’s legal fees for suing Sun Valley.

This, apparently, is what you get in probate for trying to advocate for a defenseless widow.

Meanwhile, there is a glimmer of good news for Marie, who came under the protection of probate court after having a stroke in 2005. She may have a shot at getting some of her money back. It seems Pro-tem Judge Lindsay Ellis slipped up and didn’t approve the final $66,000 Sun Valley contends it’s owed — for 13 months of guardian work in December 2008 and 2009 – before washing her hands of the case last month. She also didn’t approve nearly $38,000 requested by one of Sun Valley’s attorneys for work in the 10 months before Marie’s trust was finally sucked dry. This, according to the court commissioner who inherited the case.

It now appears that Ellis only allowed a small army of probate “protectors” to collect $786,000 from the old lady — fees Ellis deemed “reasonable, necessary and for the benefit of the ward” – not the nearly $890,000 as originally thought.

In a hearing this week, Commissioner David Cunanan said that Ellis’ 21-page ruling didn’t cover the 2009 portion of Sun Valley’s fee request. “She (Ellis) could have approved SVG’s fees and she could have approved the other attorney’s fees, but she didn’t,” he said.

Cunanan set a hearing for later this month on Sun Valley’s final fee request. If approved, that’ll boost Sun Valley’s total take from Marie to more than $417,000.

Speaking of Sun Valley, its attorneys this week took up a suggestion by Ellis and went after Gitre and Raynak, the attorneys for Marie’s sisters. Ellis, in her March ruling, blamed Gitre and Raynak along with Marie’s attorney Jon Kitchel for driving up fees, citing their “venomous” and “hateful” attacks on Sun Valley and various probate attorneys as they repeatedly objected to the drain on Marie’s account.

Sun Valley, in its request for sanctions, contends that Gitre and Raynak had no legal standing to sue for breach of fiduciary duty, saying the suit was filed “to harass SVG in an attempt to force the resignation of SVG as guardian.”

The lawsuit, filed in May 2009 on behalf of both Marie and her sisters, claimed that Sun Valley had a duty to investigate whether the Arizona Department of Veterans Services would have served as Marie’s guardian for a fraction of the nearly $183,000 in guardian fees paid to Sun Valley. (Court records say ADVS would have served as Marie’s guardian for $75 a month because she was the widow of a veteran.) They also claimed Sun Valley violated a Supreme Court rule against self dealing by hiring itself to also provide companion care to Marie and that it charged unreasonable fees.

Sun Valley, in its request for sanctions, notes that it offered $50,000 to settle the suit but “Marie Long and her sisters demanded $240,000” and ultimately got nothing because the case was dismissed.

Sun Valley is absolutely right about that.

Marie’s attorney and her sisters did demand $240,000 – for Marie’s care. In settlement negotiations last fall – as Marie’s account was running dry — the sisters proposed that Sun Valley provide 88-year-old Marie with $10,000 a month for the rest of her life, to provide for her needs. Sun Valley offered $50,000, an offer that came with a requirement that none of this become public, according to an e-mail outlining the offer. Kitchel then countered with $240,000 and Sun Valley never responded.

In the end, Marie got nothing.

Ellis dismissed Marie’s portion of the lawsuit last fall, saying she’s incapacitated and thus can’t sue Sun Valley to get any of her money back. Ellis also ruled that Marie’s attorney lacked the authority to sue Sun Valley to get any of her money back. Then in her ruling last month, Ellis threw out the sisters’ suit, saying they, too, couldn’t sue Sun Valley to get any of Marie’s money back.

In the world of probate court, nobody, it seems, can sue to get any of Marie’s money back – at least nobody who actually would.

Handy, how that works, isn’t it?

Editor’s note: Roberts’ sister, Appellate Court Judge Ann Timmer, is chairing a committee to review Probate Court practices. The Republic is disclosing the relationship to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.


Related: Elderly millionaire destitute after ....

License Denied, Melodie Scott back to work

By Janet Phelan
Melodie Scott, whose fiduciary license was recently denied by the Department of Consumer Affairs, appears to be back at work. She has changed the name of her business from C.A.R.E., Inc to Reliant Professional Services and moved her office across the street from her former location on State Street in Redlands . And in February of 2010, she filed for guardianship of a minor in San Bernardino Court .

Scott's license was first denied in August 2008 by the newly created Professional Fiduciary Bureau, lodged in the Department of Consumer Affairs, for making false statements on her licensing application. She appealed the decision and went into contested hearings in Oakland Administrative Court, which spanned from May to October of 2009. Along the way, further charges were added to the original complaint, including her continuing to act as a conservator/fiduciary after her application for a license was originally denied. A drunk driving citation was also listed as a cause for denial of license. In addition to the licensing issues, numerous allegations ranging from financial mismanagement of client’s funds to medical negligence, resulting in client’s deaths, have been levied against Scott.

Curiously, the name change of her business does not appear to be recorded by the Secretary of State or by the San Bernardino County Recorder. Reliant Professional Services is not listed at either of the registries as either a corporate entity or as a fictitious business entity. Such registration is mandated by State law.

A confidential questionnaire must be filled out in order for an individual to become a minor’s guardian. The questions include whether or not a restraining order has been filed against the prospective guardian, whether the prospective guardian has been charged with a crime deemed to be a felony or misdemeanor and whether the prospective guardian has abused alcohol. Also included is a question as to whether the prospect has ever been removed from a case as a conservator or fiduciary.

Neither Scott nor her attorney of record, J. David Horspool, responded to queries as to the legal registration of Reliant Services. Scott is represented in the new guardianship case by Lenita Skoretz, who served as court appointed counsel for a number of conservatees in cases in which Scott was the conservator, prior to her removal from cases for failure to achieve licensure.

Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist with over twenty years in the saddle. Her articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Monica Daily Press, the San Bernardino County Sentinel, the American's Bulletin, Oui Magazine and elsewhere. She is best known for her article "Water As A Weapon" and her investigations on the war against the elderly and vulnerable through the conservatorship and guardianship programs in State Superior Courts. Janet was educated at Grinnell College and U.C. Berkeley, and studied journalism at University of Missouri -Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Her first book, "The Hitler Poems," was published in 2005.

AstraZeneca Fined $520 Million Over Illegal Seroquel Marketing
By Jane Akre
April 28, 2010

Pharmaceutical Giant, AstraZeneca LP and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP will pay $520 million after being fined by the federal government for illegally marketing the anti-psychotic drug, Seroquel.

Seroquel, also known as quetiapine fumarate, was approved by the FDA in 1997 to treat psychotic disorders. By October 2006, its use had expanded for use for bipolar depression and mania.

The Department of Justice alleges AstraZeneca illegally marketed Seroquel for uses other than those approved by the FDA such as Alzheimer’s disease, anger management, anxiety, ADD, dementia, depression, PTSD, mood disorders, among other uses considered “off-label.”

In 2008, Bloomberg reported that teenagers and the elderly were increasingly being given a class of anti-psychotic drugs not cleared by regulators. In adolescents, the medications are given for depression, autism and hyperactivity, and in the elderly for dementia and insomnia.

Half of Seroquel sales in 2006 were reportedly for off-label use.

In doing so, the company submitted false claims for payments from federal insurance programs including Medicaid, Medicare and TRICARE programs, Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

Read entire article: