When I saw the email come in, I froze.
The message described a psychiatrist who had allegedly committed perjury, which sealed the deal for a conservatorship to be put in place for a vulnerable, elderly wealthy woman. The psychiatrist presented a psych evaluation in court, diagnosing his victim with a delusional disorder. She had no previous mental health diagnosis, nor a history of psychiatric treatment, but nonetheless, the diagnosis was accepted by the judge.
I remember thinking to myself, this criminal network runs deeper than I thought, and this is really bad.
It was the same conservator that my mom had been previously placed under, and I immediately started to panic. I had the same thoughts that I had during my mom’s conservatorship nightmare: If it was so easy to get someone with no psychiatric history seamlessly diagnosed and locked into a conservatorship, how many other vulnerable people out there were at the mercy of this network of corruption?
Around 1.5 million Americans are under a conservatorship. Many will point the finger at the conservators as the primary focus of criminal behavior; however, the web of corruption runs deep, with layers of complicit individuals that work in conjunction with the conservators to allow them to take over someone’s entire life—both financially, and in terms of their personal well-being.
Rarely do you find discussions about the doctors behind the scenes who are vital to establishing a conservatorship. For the most part, without a psychiatric evaluation, a conservatorship cannot usually be solidified, which means the psychiatrist plays a fundamental role in the process.
After years of exposure to these criminal practices, I have come to understand that there’s almost no escape, even if you have a loved one who will try to help you by fighting the system of conservatorship abuse. The doctor’s note rules; the psychiatrist’s evaluation is held as the proof and the high standard that anyone fighting a conservatorship must defy. Since psychiatrists and conservators work together to implement a conservatorship, it is no surprise that in addition to these cultivated relationships there are also established ongoing relationships with the same judges, attorneys, and court-appointed counsel.
Since it is crucial to have a doctor’s note, the power and influence the doctors have within the layered network of conservatorships is monumental. They can deem someone incompetent and submit it to the court, which seals the deal on an individual’s future. Most of the conservators have relationships with these doctors. They work in cahoots to make sure their victim’s liberties are usurped for pure financial gain. Consequently, these corrupt doctors receive kickbacks from conservators that want those clients for astronomical wealth. Psychiatrists charge an exuberant amount of money for a psych evaluation, and if you want a different doctor’s evaluation to be considered by the court that’s more money out of your pocket you have to spend. Even if you have the funds to request another evaluation, the chance of reversing a diagnosis is slim to none.
Sadly, if you are a family fighting for a loved one to get a new doctor for a new psychiatric evaluation, you are going to pay thousands of dollars. Even then, that evaluation is up against the conservator’s chosen doctor’s evaluation that is already in place and documented in court, so your chances are low and will only amount to more doctors’ bills when attempting to make a case to stop or change a conservatorship.
Since a mental illness can be for life, once a person gets a diagnosis that results in a conservatorship, it is practically impossible to remove it. Therefore, if you are diagnosed with a mental illness, you are caught in the conservatorship trap. Now you have a doctor that can stand in the way of anyone’s chance to fight a conservatorship, as the courts rely heavily on their evaluations. Whether you are alone with no one to fight for you, or with a family member willing to fight for you, either way you are up against a criminal system that makes a corrupt conservator almost impossible to resolve.
When you have a corrupt conservator working with these compromised doctors to gain and keep clients, tragedy unfolds. If the Department of Justice would examine the relationships the conservators have with their chosen psychiatrists penning these notes, they will find similar stories: the same doctor, working with the same conservator, over and over again, acquiring conservatees who get stuck in the system all along the way.
If we want to take a serious look at changing the conservatorship process and successfully have legislation set forth for reform, there needs to be a deep examination into these relationships with conservators and the doctors making these evaluations. Unfortunately, these doctors manage to stay out of the spotlight, when really they are just as predatory as the conservators that stand in line to steal someone else’s life.
The most troubling yet telling aspect of this process is that the psych evaluations are locked. There is no transparency on evaluations, so no one can even begin to dispute or question their analysis. When it comes down to it, the heavy hand the psychiatrists play in the mental health world of conservatorships is far larger and more dangerous than anyone can even imagine. If a patient has no family or friends for support and are stuck in a hospital alone and end up in a locked facility, that’s one thing. But a person that has friends and family to look after them, yet still can’t beat a system that initiates the same protocols and same process to allow a conservatorship with no end in sight is another thing.
Take Los Angeles, for example. My mom’s previous conservator has been operating for decades. Since my mom’s emancipation from him, I have come across numerous victims stuck in his trap. Currently, he is working with the same court-appointed attorney that was assigned to Britney Spears to get another wealthy woman placed under his care. Yes, Spears’ conservatorship was dropped after years of public advocacy, which brought attention to her case, but, to date, she’s the only one. No conservatorship has been lifted in the state of California except for Spears, but she is a celebrity and had an ongoing #FreeBritney moment to apply pressure on the courts, while the rest of us are civilians fighting on our own.
I remember my mom’s first conservatorship hearing at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. The same courthouse in which Spears’ case was heard, which needs to be under investigation at this point. I walked in with evidence of victims all across LA County who had gotten sucked into that conservator’s grip, but the judge immediately shut me down. That judge has since retired, yet if my mom’s conservator was consistently leaning on the robes of the same judge, is that not a red flag?
Court-appointed attorneys working with the same conservators is an easy correlation to question, as would be a look into the doctors that pop up again and again in these cases. Why are the same conservators working with the same psychiatrists, often in front of the same judges? These doctors have managed to operate under the radar and rig the system.
We need to dig deeper into the doctors who conduct these evaluations, who hide behind their sealed documents with no transparency and zero accountability. If a family member wants to get rid of a conservator that is working in conjunction with a psychiatrist that is making money on their evaluations, the family most likely loses any chance to succeed. There are a lot people playing into the criminality of the structure of the judicial system that are all liable for foul play, as there are payoffs to all the complacent and compliant operators within this business.
There is a lot to be said about conservatorship abuse and who is to blame and who is in charge, but when it comes down to it, in my opinion, the doctors are the real criminals that no one seems to be talking about or questioning. The root of corruption in conservatorship abuse begins and ends with the criminality of the doctors. If we want to truly address the complexities of conservatorship abuse, we must look to the doctors that sit at the helm of this shipwreck.
Just recently, I heard yet another example of how conservators use psychiatrists to keep their hands in the cookie jar. A family member offered to take over and remove a corrupt professional fiduciary conservator, and the conservator’s lawyer argued that the conservatee needed a psych evaluation in order to determine his mental competency, which somehow would justify keeping his conservator tethered to his estate. The family and conservatee wanted the conservator removed, so the conservator, alongside his compliant psychiatrist, skewed the narrative and presented the conservatee as “unfit” to make that decision. This occurs across the board in numerous cases when the psychiatrist is at play.
Arguments like, “a transition wouldn’t be good for him,” or “I don’t want to lose his caregivers” are flat-out lies. I’ve dealt with that nonsense firsthand. My mom was hospitalized twice, and the first time, the caregivers remained at her side on their phones and I questioned why they were still on the clock when my mom had a professional treatment team at her disposal. The second time, she was hospitalized for Covid and was in isolation for three weeks so she couldn’t have any caregiver by her side, but everyone continued to get paid around the clock. Yet, any caregiver that advocates for my mom gets fired on the spot. Is that continuity of care? No.
Who picks the psychiatrist? The conservator. Who pays for the psychiatrist? The conserved individual. Who is left in the dark? You, me, and everyone else struggling outside of this locked-down, well-oiled criminal machine. I might not have a voice once a conservator takes charge, but I do have a say here and now. I refused to be silenced by this madness, and nor should you.
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.
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