#RestoreTheirRights: An Update on Guardianship Action

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On August 26, pop star Britney Spears dropped a new single, “Hold Me Closer,” with Elton John, her first musical recording since being released from her 13-year conservatorship ordeal. As someone whose family was destroyed by guardianship, I appreciate Sir Elton’s act of love and generosity in reaching out to Britney for this project and am thrilled to see her begin to thrive after the trauma she had to endure. Then, on August 28, she posted audio on her YouTube account explaining why she declined paid interviews to tell her story, sharing what happened on her own platform to help others and hasten her own healing. The 22-minute recording chronicles the conservatorship from her point of view as someone whose family conspired to control her.

Spears’ case opened people’s eyes to the corrupt industry known as guardianship, in which people use the courts to take away others’ rights—and, too often, all of their money and everything they own. Her words offer enormous help to other victims, who are also starting to come forward. Included are individuals and coalitions across the country who are working to expose this system, a racket in which predatory agencies, lawyers, and judges use guardianships to defraud vulnerable individuals and their families to line their own pockets. This is a clear violation of the RICO statute.

State-Based Advocacy

At the state level, the group I work with (Victims and Families Harmed by Guardianship) has been calling for an end to the state probate systems that have been usurped by professional guardians. We have been reaching out to Senator Bob Casey, the current Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Aging, about this issue and we are gaining traction in New York. On August 25 in New York City, we saw a first: a Guardianship Roundtable hosted by State Senators Anthony Palumbo and George Borrello. Eight victims, including Libra Max and myself, spoke about what happened when a family member was offered or coerced into a guardianship. Their stories were horrifying.

The senators first became aware of this issue because of the Free Peter Max movement Libra started on behalf of her father Peter, the famous artist and long-time New York City resident. Last month, she filed a lawsuit against the New York City courts, alleging systemic due-process violations in the city’s guardianship system. In the suit, she describes how her father is being mistreated by his guardians, who she says are also preventing her from seeing him and monitoring her with surveillance cameras during her limited visits with him.

Sherry Moses of Manhattan was one of the victims who spoke at the Roundtable. She shared how her mother, Annette, was placed into a guardianship even though Sherry was caring for her at home. It all began after Sherry called the NYC Department of Aging for help with Annette’s diet. Her mother happened to have fallen when the department made one of its callbacks, prompting them to refer her case to Adult Protective Services, which then initiated the guardianship, which was overseen by a private agency, United Guardianship Services. The agency then forced her mother into a nursing home, where Sherry said she often saw her mother with bruises. Sherry’s father was also placed into the same nursing facility and was not allowed to return home. Her sister, Karen, was also living with the family and was evicted. The guardians spent all of the Moses’ money and sold their co-op. Sherry told the senators that she is trying to recover the property and hoped that they will share her story with their colleagues.

Sherry also pointed out the injustice of having to endure and rise above a lifetime of systemic racism as an African-American family, only to be trapped by guardianship and gaslighted by lawyers. She said that she wants to expose what has happened to her and her family to as many people as possible so this corruption can be stopped and the predators held accountable.

Another victim, Nadia Antrobus, shared an equally heartbreaking tale. She lived with her mother, Judith, a divorced psychologist, in an apartment they had shared on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for 40 years. Nadia began to notice signs of dementia in her mother and obtained a very limited power of attorney, arranged by a lawyer recommended by her mother’s best friend. When an estranged relative learned that Judith had agreed to give Nadia power of attorney, she exploded in anger and demanded control over everything. Within minutes of the relative’s filing a petition for guardianship in court, a judge appointed a lawyer as Judith’s guardian.

Nadia then told the senators how she had spent 30 years’ worth of savings on lawyers to fight the guardians, who exploited her but accomplished nothing, while also facing degradation by the court and the court-appointed guardian-lawyers. She described how Judith suffered severe psychological, physical, and financial abuse for the next six years while the guardians were awarded $475 an hour just for paying her bills. All told, Nadia testified, she and her family were drained of one million dollars.

Nadia shared how the guardians wanted to remove her and her mother from their apartment and conspired with the landlord to do so, instigating expensive court proceedings against them. When she complained about this, the guardians filed a restraining order against her, alleging Nadia was a danger to her mother. The judge agreed, forcing her to leave the apartment. With no money left, she was forced to live in shelters, which she said was terrifying.

During court-supervised visitations, Nadia said she noticed signs of neglect. For example, Judith’s phone and medical alert system were on the other side of the room and her walker was placed in another room altogether. Judith said she had fallen several times and also complained of not having enough food or toilet paper. She was sad: No one had told her why Nadia no longer lived there, so Judith thought she had alienated her.

During another visit, Nadia called 911 because her mother was not doing well. Rather than expressing concern, the guardian yelled at her for reporting it. Eventually, Judith was hospitalized and then sent to a nursing home, where she later died. Nadia reported that she was notified of her mother’s death by phone after the funeral had already taken place, and that she was unable to retrieve Judith’s ashes. She also said that she has still not received her inheritance, nor a special needs trust Judith had set up for her.

You can watch the entire three-hour stream of the Roundtable at the New York State Senate Republicans Facebook page.

Going National

These state-level hearings are very important, but if we seek systemic change, we need to take the fight to the national level. To that end, Michael Gamel-McCormick, Disability Policy Advisor for the Special Senate Committee on Aging, has announced that we can expect another hearing before the Committee with victims and families sometime in October 2022.(The first committee hearing, “Toxic Conservatorships: The Need for Reform,” took place last Fall. It was organized by the Senate Judiciary Committee and chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal.)

Victims and Families is also working on convening a hearing before the full Congress. Testimony at the highest level is needed so the issue can be addressed across the board. We must grab the public’s attention so we can begin a national dialogue on supporting America’s elderly and all people with disabilities with services tailored to their needs and preferences—unlike guardianship, which takes away rights, money, and property. This is not a pipe dream: After Spears was released from her conservatorship last year, Rep. Eric Swalwell invited her to speak before Congress. Though she declined, clearly there are many people, both famous and not, who would be willing to testify.

A Long-Term Problem

It is important to know the history of guardianship to understand what we need to do to end this racket. The concept derives from old English law, which was originally established to guard people’s right to inherit land. Those who were underage, “feeble-minded,” gamblers, or drunkards were put under guardianship so they couldn’t squander their inheritance. This system evolved into present-day guardianship, as described by Britney Spears and in the victims’ testimony above—a scam in which there is a monetary incentive to push or lure families into guardianship so lawyers, judges, and government agencies can take control of their assets and bill those assets until there is literally nothing left.

This is not news. In 1987, when Britney Spears was five years old, the Associated Press published a ground-breaking, year-long investigation, “Guardians of the Elderly: An Ailing System.” The series examined the courts in all 50 states. The reporters found a very troubled system that routinely put older Americans’ lives in the hands of others (typically court-appointed lawyers) with little to no evidence that they need such an arrangement. These individuals were then abandoned after these strangers had completely taken over their assets.

Part I of the series described how, in thousands of courts around the country, men and women lost their basic rights with the stroke of a judge’s pen. At the time of the report, there were between 300,000 to 400,000 elderly people under guardianship. Now, it is guesstimated that there are between 1.5 to 3 million people in this arrangement. There are no official data, however, because states and the federal government are not tracking the practice; some estimate that the figure may be as high as 4 million.

The AP series also documented how institutions were increasingly using guardianship to solve a variety of problems. For example, hospitals faced with Medicare regulations limiting coverage for extended care used guardianship to move patients into nursing homes. (Nursing homes required guardianship to ensure that someone would pay the bills.) The reporters also learned of an expedited process that allowed hospitals not only to file petitions of guardianship on elderly patients but also to move them into nursing homes before the petitions were even approved. It became “after-the-fact due process.”

Guardianship works the same way in 2022 as it did in 1987: If someone has a physical and/or mental health problem, an institution, family member, or another party can simply file to have them placed in the hands of a guardian, who will be in charge of running that person’s life. Families are sometimes lured into filing for guardianship as an efficient way to handle a matter, only to see an outsider be appointed instead of them. This overlord retains control of all their money and frequently concocts ways to bill the family for their “services,” enriching themselves while doing nothing to aid their “ward.” That is what happened to me and my dad when we filed for guardianship of my ailing mother.

Guardianship Must Be Abolished

It’s time to change the conversation around guardianship. Let’s not talk about fixing or offering alternatives to it. Continuing to do so gives credibility to the process and implies it should be the default approach to disability care, where anything else is considered a special case. We also need to eliminate the term “guardianship.” Consider that when one is terminated (a rare event), the process is known as “restoration of rights.” Since that is the case, let’s call guardianship what it is: “removal of rights.” The question we should be asking is not “When do we remove someone’s rights?” but “How do we support this individual?”

We can no longer ignore the incongruity of removing a person’s rights, money, and property in order to “protect” them. We should no longer tolerate a guardianship system that is so adversarial that as soon as it commences, family members are harassed and degraded when they try to see or help their loved one or regain control over their assets. Guardianship is a threat to us all because anyone can be subjected to it on flimsy pretexts and without warning. We must end it.

What You Can Do

We all need to speak up to educate the public and let our elected representatives know we are serious about change. Here are a few actions anyone can take:

  • Join Libra Max in the fight to free her dad, Peter Max. Go to the FreePeterMax website to sign the letter there requesting he be released from guardianship and have his rights restored. It will be sent to the public officials who have jurisdiction over the matter.
  • Ask your representatives for a full Congressional hearing on guardianship, similar to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. This will provide the audience we need to effect change at the national level and jump-start conversations about democracy and self-determination. It may also be useful to contact Congress members, including Eric Swalwell and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who have supported investigations into guardianship. A simple call to their offices is more effective than an email.
  • Take action in your state. New York State residents should contact Senators George Borrello and Anthony Palumbo to ensure that they follow up the guardianship roundtable by convening a hearing in the legislature to hear more victim and family testimonies.
  • Educate yourself on guardianship by watching the ABC-10 News investigation, “The Price of Care: Investigating California.” This series exposing a $13 billion industry began with a call from a victim to reporter Andie Judson. Her findings led the ABC10 team to produce a second in-depth series involving conservatorship, “The Price of Care: Taken by the State.” These reports provide a model for media coverage; make sure to ask your state and local news media to dig for stories on this under-reported, corrupt industry.
  • Ask your state and federal elected officials to demand accountability in connection with guardianships. If someone commits a crime in connection with guardianship (fraud, theft, neglect, etc.), they need to be referred to the appropriate agency or to law enforcement. Otherwise, these crimes will continue.

 

 

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I would be offered the choice to realize a guardianship at the end of my divorce. So thankful that I did not accept the offer. With only the income realized from the SSDI check, moved into public housing. And began to wonder how come their Resident Council seemingly did not process democracy as we had in our non-profit in Kentucky that was known as ATAK/MI (Action Taken in Kentucky Against Mental Illness). We would realize even the IRS classification of a 501.c3. But in listening to the National Empowerment Meeting that celebrated passing the torch, would meet an individual from Arkansas who had returned back to the state. She had worked in nursing homes, where it seems the funds that are suppose to take care of those in these centers can be taken through lack of accountability. Hence, how do We, and I as an individual realize 1) the proper language in legal contracts, 2) how to distinguish between what the terms mean when “Shall” is used and “Should” is used? Or has the language of disabilities been misconstrued to “We shall destroy these people?”

    Perhaps there is way the ship can be directed in a different direction that is healthier for all, as Justin Dart would encourage?

  2. On further thoughts and in response to the image, how does a Mobile balance? Like the Calder that was breathtaking to experience in the journey? Though this image is not about a Calder, rather how can justice be realized if the Legal Houses pour money into campaign coffers? Does the legal profession become weighted? Do the scales of justice become complex with other scales weighting the movement as the breath of life becomes more laboured for the clients? Or does the ethics of a healthier mind, begin to understand the differences along with the short and long term consequences for being forcibly medicated? Forcibly guaridanshiped? Forcibly forced into a diminished existence when the form of democracy in the USA is tuned slightly different?

    I am curious ! And I think so are many who read this site! Thanks Kornicki and Graphic Artists! Staff and those aligned with the wisdom of Madinamerica.

  3. Marian fails to realize that unfortunately we live in a society where one person’s misery is another one’s profit and that in this world we live in where the attitude is “well if it didn’t happen to me then why should I care” – no one cares for the elderly and the MI. Psychiatry is a business opportunity to deprive people of their dignity and rights and almost always guarantees the patient poor long term outcomes- it is designed to fail for it is a business masquerading as a “medical specialty”.

    Guardianship provides for a legal framework that allows for the deprivation of a person’s rights and for the theft of property and assets. As a tsumani of people enter their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s this will provide a windfall of hundreds of billions of $ to steal. Guardianship is a scam like psychiatry where failure is success and guardianship is done “for the benefit of the AIP”. Britney was held hostage, drugged, robbed and deprived of her humanity all for “her protection and benefit”! No one spoke out from the entertainment industry during her 13 years of the nightmare and now the media has moved on to a new story. How does one recover from such a mind numbing, mind blowing idea of strangers and her family conspiring to enslave her for profit?

    Like in NYC where thousands of the elderly and infirmed (including MI) died for no reason- holding no one accountable and actually granting legal immunity to the perps. The same will occur with Spear’s perpetrators who will walk away as if nothing transpired since it was all done legally by the court. Psychiatry is a $50 billion dollar industry and like Guardianship is a wealth and job program that will never be conquered. Both are long cons and are criminal enterprises.

  4. It became “after-the-fact due process.”

    And here was me thinking that the “editing” of legal narratives after the fact to remove a persons human and civil rights was a uniquely Australian idea.

    Being able to make a citizen into an “Outpatient” to conceal arbitrary detentions and acts of torture is no doubt a favorite tool of the State where I live. ‘Spiking’ citizens with date rape drugs (later to become their “regular medications” once taken into custody and hit over the head with the chemical kosh and electricity) and then having police cause an ‘acute stress reaction’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ9UQKBUrsg

    a means to ensure that no accountability is ever possible. Would you answer the questions of the people providing you with ‘care’ after this sort of ‘treatment’? And keep in mind this is available for ALL citizens, who can be ‘spiked’ with date rape drugs and made “Outpatients” with some document “editing” to make what your looking at ‘care’ or ‘assistance’. The “induced coma” being the ‘chemical kosh’ to ensure the ‘authorities’ have time to get the legal narrative sorted. And not a soul prepared to say “this is wrong” because …. well, their family will be “fucking destroyed” by the same State representatives who destroyed mine for having the proof of their misconduct.

    I note that the ‘extra judicials’ being enabled by the State became a problem as a result of our equivalent of RICO laws (joint enterprise) and this required the bulldozing through of a Euthanasia Act as a supplement to the Mental Hygiene Act.

    The problem faced by Himmler as a result of the report of Josef Hartinger into two deaths of ‘prisoners’ at Dachau resolved in the same manner as the State I now live in. If it wasn’t lawful to kill the Jewish prisoners, make it so it IS lawful.

    There is no joint enterprise when a public officer is doing something lawful, and the legal narrative can be “edited” post hoc to make it lawful with “after the fact due process” (commonly referred to as criminal fraud but the preferred term where I live is “editing” and the lawyers know what this means. Nudge nudge wink wink, say no more.).

    The problem was that as a result of the case of Corrina Horvath at the U.N. the crimes of public officers were seen as being the responsibility of the State, and not as put forward by the State the sole responsibility of the individuals. And what if public officers were committing acts of criminal negligence and fraud to cover up such crimes? For example refusing to take evidence/proof of offending and then finding “insufficient evidence”? There’s your RICO link.

    Consider the situation if a doctor came forward and made admissions to Police regarding ending the life of a patient (providing the murder weapon, the place the body was disposed, and a full and unconditional confession [usually the missing link for prosecution])….. the Police had to literally dig up the wrong body to ensure they found “insufficient evidence”, while they passed the Euthanasia Act (never discussed before the election, though we were told 87% of the public wanted the laws, though the evidence for that figure was never produced either. Solomon Asch conformity experiments says a lot about this method of having people believe others want something).

    Personally I’d like to live in a place where people aren’t being subjected to arbitrary detentions and torture which is later “edited” to be ‘mental health care’, and the ‘unintended negative outcomes’ are seen for what they really are, intended. But it seems even the US is having some issues in this regard?

    As a wise man once said to me;

    “Where there’ a will,……… there’s relatives”.

    And if doctors are being enabled to dispose of ‘family problems’ for a fee? And the documents will be “edited” by the State before any legal representative is allowed to examine the facts, and the courts simply accept the fraud? And Police are dispatched to retrieve any documents, and arrest people for having the proof of misconduct…….. I guess I really stand as proof that they have got all the bases covered. lawyers forging letters of response from the Chief Psychiatrist making the most bizarre claims that he can rewrite the protections afforded by the law and remove them? Authorising the administration of date rape drugs before interrogations by police and other public officers, and then make them the victims “regular medications” with a fraudulent prescription “after the fact due process style?

    And the defense of “they wouldn’t do that” and “it never happened” is rock solid when the public are living in fear of their ‘elected representatives’ and their hired thugs ensuring carte blanche and zero accountability.

    “Australians value a rule of law” (ex Prime Minister ScoMo) except when it doesn’t work for certain people, then they value changing it. or at least that’s what 87% of the public thinks, and no I won’t provide the data to prove that.

    Good article though, and a warning to anyone who may think the US is a place which doesn’t enable such human rights abuses. My wife and a clinic psychologist pulling each others hair out over who was getting my property and money, once the legal narrative was fabircated.

  5. As one who was handed a derivation of one of these appallingly abusive contracts – who, thankfully understood the mind bogglingly deplorable nature of the contract, so I didn’t sign it – I do thank you for bringing these appalling legal human rights abuses to light.

    I do also hope that, as a psychologist, you will also work to make it considered ‘unethical’ or illegal for both the APA members to hand these evil contracts out. Since it was an evil psychologist, who wanted to cover up prior psychological and psychiatric malpractice – malpractice perpetrated to cover up child abuse, from decades prior, for a religion – who gave me that appalling contract.

    I’d be one of the many “widows” mentioned in the Preface of this book, if you doubt the systemic child abuse covering up crimes, of the ELCA religion.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=xI01AlxH1uAC&printsec=frontcover&source
    =gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    And, let’s be realistic, both the psychological and psychiatric industries are paternalistic, systemic child abuse covering up industries, as are all the Lutheran social service workers … and it’s all by DSM design.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo
    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5-and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1

    If you can’t bill to help child abuse survivors, or their legitimately concerned family members. Then to “help” them, you must systemically misdiagnose them, with your DSM “bible” disorders … which have less than zero to do with mutual respect of your fellow human being. Since the DSM “bible” disorders have nothing to due with sciencfic validity, and are merely stigmatizations.

  6. I return to this article after doing my obligatory reading on Friday (al Kahf, The Cave)

    I was interested to read about some of the ‘rules’ relating to ‘guardianship’ in that Chapter.

    The story relating to the education of Moses by Al Khidr;

    77. “So they moved on until they came to the people of a town. They asked them for food, but the people refused to give them hospitality. There they found a wall ready to collapse, so the man set it right. Moses protested, “If you wanted, you could have demanded a fee for this.””

    and on the parting of their ways, the explanation of the conduct is provided;

    82. “And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and under the wall was a treasure that belonged to them, and their father had been a righteous man. So your Lord willed that these children should come of age and retrieve their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. I did not do it ˹all˺ on my own. This is the explanation of what you could not bear patiently.”

    It seems that the wall may be ready to collapse once again, as a result of the grubs who are digging under it to remove what is not theirs to take. Note the refusal by al Khidr to charge a ‘fee’ despite having a right to? There are a few such references I can find, and those who find means of whittling away the ‘treasure’ owned by others will no doubt be dealt with in due course.

    I think that there is a saying about such ‘guardians’ which seems quite appropriate in the absence of an effective legal barrier (the wall).

    “While the Cats away, the Mice turn to Rats”

    Good luck in having someone honorable rebuilding the wall and protecting the assets of those who are at present being subjected to such legal abuses.

    After being charged thousands of dollars by a lawyer (who thought I was mad) for telling me how expensive her time was (and little else), I can appreciate how such abuses can occur. The ‘complaints process’ likely to get you ‘referred’ to a ‘friendly’ psychiatrist for ‘treatments’ against your will. Which can also see you charged a ‘fee’ incurred without your consent I note, though usually only until the insurance runs out or your wallet is empty.

  7. This is the full Newsom Care Courts signing event, with all the speakers. It is amazing to me how all the people crying out for this, except perhaps Newsom, have had a family member they deemed as “mentally ill”, and whom they think would have benefited from living under a Psychiatric Police State. I think the Mental Health State in this country now probably works a lot like it was in the Soviet Union.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ey8rHoeWgfY

    Joshua

  8. Yes, guardianship can be horribly unjust and abusive, as Marian Kornicki has so well described in this excellent expose. I myself am in the process of attempting to advocate for two of it’s victims; a 60-year-old man diagnosed with schizophrenia and his 66-year-old wife of 31 years.

    As anyone who follows the news knows, Britney Spears had to fight like hell to get out from under a very unjust guardianship even though she was a multi-millionaire and had full mental capacity, unlike this man, who is poor and has a serious disability affecting his cognition, and his wife who cannot afford a private lawyer and thus has no legal representation going into an upcoming “successor guardianship” hearing.

    But there is another side to this guardianship issue, and I’ve been on that side as well. When someone is truly incapacitated, as my young daughter was, without a guardian who is prepared to fight they will surely fall fully into the hands of the psychiatric powers that be, and can be kept entirely out of the loop. In our case, despite going through the expensive and onerous process of obtaining guardianship after she turned 18, we were ultimately unable to protect her from psychiatric coercion and abuse. An article describing our saga, which ended tragically, was published here on this site on the first anniversary of her death, July 29.

    So for this reason I would not support abolishing guardianship. However, it is certainly in need of very close scrutiny, regulation and oversight that would put an end to the egregious injustices that are regularly perpetrated through the process as it now exists.

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