There are many ways elderly, sick and disabled people can wind up in a court-appointed guardianship, where a complete stranger wields total control over their lives and assets. Some are identified as “incapacitated” by paid caregivers. Others are fingered by greedy relatives or rapacious lawyers. But members of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, who spoke out last week on Capitol Hill, agree that once a loved one is placed in a guardianship, they are stripped of all their civil and constitutional rights and death is often the only way out.
That was the case for 72-year-old Yvonne Sarhan, the widowed mother of Miami physician Robert Sarhan, who was declared “incapacitated” at a secret ex parte (“one side only”) hearing.
Guardians helped themselves to her $2 million estate while a Florida probate judge ignored her son’s desperate pleas to take her off the schizophrenia drug Seroquel, which is contraindicated for the elderly because it causes electrical disturbances in the heart.
“The word ‘incapacitated’ has no medical meaning,” Dr. Sarhan told The Examiner. “Two board-certified neurologists both agreed my mother was competent. She was a bit forgetful, but she was still able to go to the grocery store and church.”
Yet it continued even after Dr. Sarhan produced documented evidence that the same lawyer representing his mother also represented the court-appointed guardian who was billing her estate.
“She was murdered, and the judges were absolutely complicit in the fraud,” Dr. Sarhan says. “But nobody in government will touch this with a 10-foot pole, and if you fight them, they come after you.”
An auditor and member of Virginia’s Commonwealth Council on the Aging, Brenda Kelley says she’s spent $100,000 of her own money fighting the District guardians who barred her, an only child, from seeing her mother, Bertha, while they drained her million-dollar estate and negligently allowed her childhood home to be sold at a tax lien sale for a mere $29,000.
Shepherd Park resident Steven Nero charges that the court-appointed guardians of his mother, Viola, a retired D.C. teacher, hired unlicensed “caregivers” after she fell in the home she shared with her son and husband.
Nero says his mother is inappropriately being held captive in an Alzheimer’s facility that charges $6,000 per month. “She is being illegally deprived of her civil and constitutional rights even though there was no evidence on the record that she was ever evaluated as ‘incapacitated’ — it was all hearsay. I’m a lawyer and even I can’t get her out,” a frustrated Nero told us.
Even the young and middle-aged can become “legal ghosts” by court order, as 50-year-old Nashville, Tenn., songwriter Danny Tate described his status after his estranged brother was named his conservator during an ex parte hearing in 2007.
Tate, who has admitted abusing alcohol and drugs, was never charged with any crime. Tate’s conservatorship was finally terminated last September, minus the fortune he earned writing music for Rick Springfield and other Nashville legends.
“All of the country’s wealth eventually passes through the probate courts,” Tate pointed out. “The problem is that probate courts are designed for liquidation, not conservation, but it all gets adjudicated in the same court. All the attorneys are getting paid and nobody wants to get off the gravy train.”
Plaintiff: Yvonne Sarhan
Defendant: Arthur Rothenberg
Case Number: 1:2007cv22818
Filed: October 26, 2007
Court: US District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Office: Miami Office
Presiding Judge: Edwin G. Torres
Nature of Suit: Civil Rights: Other
Cause of Action: 28:2254 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (State)
Jury Demanded By: Plaintiff
CASE INFO: Sarhan v. Rothenberg