Thursday, April 06, 2006

News Article on Wrongful State Guardianship

Woman: Mom’s wishes ignored

Daughter questions guardian change by judge

By JENNIFER LEARN-ANDES jandes@leader.net
Grace Connors executed paperwork in September 1990 to make her only surviving daughter, Mary Connors, her durable power of attorney – the person who would manage her life, legal matters and finances if she could no longer do so.
Her wish is not being honored.
The 84-year-old West Pittston native now suffers dementia, and a Luzerne County judge has named a different guardian – the Family Service Association of Wyoming Valley.
Mary Claire Connors and her legal representative – the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia – say the court had no authority or justification to appoint a different guardian, and they filed legal action this week to force the county to reinstate Mary’s durable power of attorney and end the association’s guardianship.
“Mrs. Connors’ plain and bindingly expressed wishes, required under law to govern here, have been systematically disrespected, ignored, disregarded and trampled,” wrote lawyer Thomas K. Gilhool.
Mary Connors said “anger is just oozing out of me.”
“If these durable powers of attorney are being ignored, why advocate that people get them?” said Connors, who recently attended a county commissioners meeting to publicly urge county officials to watch her case and others.
The not-for-profit Public Interest Law Center helps people who can’t afford lawyers fight to get all levels of government to “do right by the public, especially the weakest and most vulnerable citizens.”
Gilhool presented the following details in his filing:
Grace, a lifelong West Pittston resident, had a U.S. Postal Service pension left by her late husband and a long-term care insurance policy.
Her attorney, Veronica Kisailus, testified in guardianship proceedings that Grace asked her to prepare a durable power of attorney in 1990. Kisailus said she explained in detail what it meant and Grace signed the action. Kisailus testified that Grace “gave every evidence of being of sound mind and judgment.”
The county’s Area Agency on Aging initiated the change in guardianship in 2001.
Grace had been visiting Mary in August 2001 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Mary Connors reported that her mother had been unlawfully removed by her adoptive niece from an Alzheimer’s day program there and brought to Pennsylvania without Mary’s knowledge or consent.
Around that time, Grace passed a note to a longtime West Pittston next-door neighbor, asking the neighbor to please get her out of the adoptive niece’s farmhouse, where she had been moved. The neighbor gave the note to the West Pittston police, which turned it over to the Agency on Aging.
In November 2001, county Judge Chester Muroski appointed the Family Service Association as temporary emergency guardian and later guardian “until further order of this court.”
Mary has argued in court that nobody has presented any evidence, proof or good cause showing why the power of attorney should be disqualified. The law requires evidence of “good cause or disqualification” before another guardian can be named, Gilhool said, adding that Mary must also be given a chance to refute any claims.
Gilhool said the Sept. 17, 1990, durable power of attorney was in “full force and effect,” making the other guardianship “unlawful, invalid, void and voidable.”
The Agency on Aging has cited allegations from both “sides” regarding “exploitation of Mrs. Connors’ assets.”
Gilhool said Mary gave the court complete records of the bank account and other transactions throughout the period of her durable power. The other “side” produced incomplete records that, if investigated, “would have shown a very substantial and unaccountable withdrawal from the then recently established joint account by the other ‘side,’” he wrote.
Grace was placed in a facility, where she has been for nearly five years, the action says.
County Public Information Officer Kathy Bozinski said the county can’t comment on pending litigation, and background information on guardianships would likely be confidential anyway.
Mary moved back to the family home in West Pittston, though she said it’s in foreclosure proceedings and the county is trying to liquidate it to pay the nursing home that she does not want her mother in. She said she wants her mother to live with her with assistance from providers that come into the home. People must wake up and realize the same thing can happen to them, she said.
“I want to show the public that the trust they have in the system can be violated. They can’t depend on their advance directives being followed,” she said.

Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.
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"The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture.  The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a spaniel." - Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" - 1776