Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Does the Statutory Definition of "Elder Abuse" Matter?

In April 2016, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN), introduced Senate Bill 2747 in the United States Senate.  Carrying the title of "Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act," one provision of the bill would amend existing federal law to redefine "abuse," as that phrase is used in the Older Americans Act.  The new definition would read:

The term "abuse" means the knowing infliction of physical or psychological harm or the knowing deprivation of goods or services that are necessary to meet essential needs or to avoid physical or psychological harm.

The existing language, defining abuse, provides: 

The term “abuse” means the willful--
(A) infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish; or
(B) deprivation by a person, including a caregiver, of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.
 
Is the proposed change mere semantics? 
 
A quick search reveals that the new federal language is identical to language contained in at least one state's statute, Rhode Island's Section 42-9.2-2, used to define the scope of administrative authority for the state's Elder Justice Prosecution Unit.  One of the sponsors of the new bill is from Rhode Island.  
 
However, Rhode Island's criminal statutes do not provide an exact match.  Rhode Island law does provide that it is a crime for any person "primarily responsible for the care of an adult with severe impairments" to "willfully an knowingly abuse, neglect or exploit that adult," and it defines "abuse" as "subjection of an adult with a severe impairment to willful infliction of physical pain [or] willful deprivation of services necessary to maintain the physical or mental health of the person, or unreasonable confinement."  But, by removing any age restriction but narrowing the crime to victims with "severe impairments," there is room for argument about application of that statute to all elderly victims, or those with "only" early stages of physical or mental impairment.  
 
So, what is the reasoning behind the proposed change of the federal definition of "abuse?" Abuse of an elder person is not a "federal" crime.  Certainly it would be useful to have the definition match any funding authorization, and  perhaps that is a reason, as the new language mirrors the definition of abuse contained in the Social Security Act's provision for block grants to states for social services and elder justice initiatives, at 42 U.S.C. Section 1397j(1).

April 12, 2016 in Crimes, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2016

When Remittiturs in Nursing Home Awards Trigger Inquiry into Campaign Finances for Judges...

I think it is safe to say that in recent years, juries have not been shy about awarding substantial damages in trials involving claims of negligent care, even -- or perhaps especially -- when the resident is very old.  Lately, several of our Elder Law Prof Blog posts have focused on nursing home providers' efforts to avoid jury trials through the use of pre-dispute, binding arbitration clauses in admission agreements.  See e.g. here and here.  However, there's another way in which litigation of nursing home care claims have triggered collateral legal disputes, and this time it is for the judicial system itself.  

In March 2016, former Arkansas state court judge Mike Maggio, age 54, was hit with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, following his plea of guilty to federal charges for taking a bribe to reduce a verdict in a nursing home negligence case.  Maggio was alleged to have reduced a jury verdict in a nursing home case from $5.2 million to $1 million, after the owner of the facility reportedly made multiple campaign contributions to "PACs that were to funnel the money to Maggio for a planned race" for the state's Court of Appeals.  

In issuing the sentence, United State District Judge Brian Miller emphasized that while he had earlier rejected the prosecution's argument that any sentence should be guided by the multi-million dollar size of the remittitur, the maximum sentence was still warranted because "corruption in the judicial system especially erodes public trust in the system," noting "a judge is the system."  Details of the investigation -- as well as on-going litigation -- are provided in the Arkansas Times' Arkansas Blog.  

By comparison, in West Virginia, news media questioned a business transaction and contributions to a judge's re-election campaign, asking whether they affected the decision of the State Supreme court justice when she wrote the lead opinion in an appellate decision that reduced a 2011 jury verdict in nursing home negligence case from $90.5 million to $36.6 million.  The justice denied any improper influence or relationship with defense-side parties; following an investigation, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission concluded the justice had no knowledge of the transactions in question, and it dismissed the ethics complaint in June 2015. 

The potential for campaign contributions to influence judicial election campaigns has long been one source of criticism of elections for judges.

April 11, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Victims Oppose California's Elderly Parole Program

My colleague Becky Morgan shared a good item this week on statistics about the number of elderly inmates, with growth of needy inmates increasing the burden on state prisons.

Another perspective on the issue comes this week via the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on California's Elderly Parole Program:

The Elderly Parole Program was instituted by a federal three-judge panel after a 2013 class-action lawsuit successfully argued that conditions in California's overcrowded prisons, including poor health care, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, the court ordered California to reduce its inmate population. The Elderly Parole Program and a realignment program to move nonviolent convicted felons back to county jails are among the solutions. The Elderly Parole Program will be in effect at least until California meets its prison population targets.

 

In Sacramento, prosecutors and victims rights groups have been working to prevent this temporary program from becoming state law. They scored a small victory last week when, after a call from this newspaper, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, gutted Senate Bill 1310, which he introduced last month. The original bill would not only make the Elderly Parole Program state law, but it would also lower the eligibility age to 50 and the time in prison to 15 years.

 

The withdrawal was unexpected and came with little explanation. Leno said in a statement Thursday that the bill would be used as a place holder for "other criminal justice reforms" and that "the bill will not deal with the issue of elder parole."

 

The article reports that since the Elderly Parole Program began in February 2014, more than 1,000 inmates have had parole hearings, with 371 granted parole, 89 deemed "not ready," and 781 denied release.  In the article, the reality of the hearings is seen through the eyes of one victim, who faced the trauma of attending a parole hearing to argue that the man who sexually assaulted her and others some 30 years ago, should serve his full sentence or die in prison -- 141 years.

No easy answers here.  For more read, "California's Elderly Parole Program Forcing Victims to Face Attackers Decades Later."   

March 23, 2016 in Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Elder Abuse in Australia

Elder Abuse knows no geographic boundaries, as a recent story in the Brisbane, Australia Times showed. Australia's ageing population prey to abuse was published on February 24, 2016 and explains

The abuse of older people is likely to worsen as Australia's population ages and relatively wealthy baby boomers become vulnerable to mercenary family members and carers.

The federal government is "appalled" at the extent of elder abuse and has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to find ways to safeguard older Australians....

The article discusses the number of victims, risk factors, and perpetrators. Similar to the U.S., Australia doesn't have good data on elder abuse as far as how big a problem it is, "has to extrapolate from international research. "We say that it frequently is a form of family violence - because it happens within families - but the significant difference is that it's most often between generations," said Jenny Blakey from Seniors Rights Victoria. "  The 4th annual national conference on elder abuse  was held in Melbourne, Australia in late February. More information about the conference can be found here.

March 11, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, International, Programs/CLEs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Justice Obtained-Guilty Plea in Romance Scam!

The Justice Department in the Southern District of Illinois issued a press release on March 3, 2016 announcing a perpetrator in the midst of trial changed his plea to guilty. Nigerian Scammer Convicted Of On-Line Romance Fraud notes that the perpetrator, the ringleader, pleaded guilty to all charges. He was arrested in London in 2014 and at trial, "'the evidence established that [the perpetrator], a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, was the ringleader of a criminal organization operating within South Africa that targeted and stole from hundreds of women across the United States, including dozens in the St. Louis metropolitan area." noted Acting United states Attorney Porter. "Our office will continue to pursue justice for these victims in [the perpetrator's] prison sentence and in our never-ending efforts to get restitution."'

Sentencing is set for early in the summer, and  "[b]y statute, [the perpetrator] faces a maximum prison sentence of 127 years, a fine of $250,000 on each of the eight counts of the indictment, and as much as five years of supervised release. He will also be required to pay restitution to the victims of his crimes."

March 8, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Only Limited Authority as Health Care Agents? The Latest Grounds to Challenge Dreaded Arbitration Clauses in NH Cases

The New York Times offers another window into concerns about pre-dispute binding arbitration provisions that are routinely found in nursing home agreements.  This is a long-simmering war, with many battlefronts and tactical arguments, as documented in the article.  However, the article also focuses on a narrow group of cases where courts have rejected a binding effect for arbitration clauses signed by someone serving "merely" as a health care agent for the incapacitated resident. (I hope my Contracts course students this semester are reading this article!)  

The article offers an additional opportunity to consider the tensions between public policies on either side of the debate over "fairness" of arbitration as a forum for consumer claims:

Arbitration clauses have proliferated over the last 10 years as companies have added them to tens of millions of contracts for things as diverse as cellphone service, credit cards and student loans.. Nursing homes in particular have embraced the clauses, which are often buried in complex contracts that are difficult to navigate, especially for elderly people with dwindling mental acuity or their relatives, who can be emotionally vulnerable when admitting a parent to a home.

 

State regulators are concerned because the secretive nature of arbitration can obscure patterns of wrongdoing from prospective residents and their families. Recently, officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia urged the federal government to deny Medicaid and Medicare money to nursing homes that use the clauses. Between 2010 and 2014, hundreds of cases of elder abuse, neglect and wrongful death ended up in arbitration, according to an examination by The New York Times of 25,000 arbitration records and interviews with arbitrators, judges and plaintiffs.

 

Judges have consistently upheld the clauses, The Times found, regardless of whether the people signing them understood what they were forfeiting. It is the most basic principle of contract law: Once a contract is signed, judges have ruled, it is legally binding.

 

Mr. Barrow’s case [set for trial in Massachusetts] is pivotal because, with the help of his lawyers, he has overcome an arbitration clause by using the fundamentals of contract law to fight back. As is often the case when elderly people are admitted to nursing homes, Mr. Barrow signed the admissions paperwork containing the arbitration clause on his mother’s behalf.

 

Although his mother had designated Mr. Barrow as her health care proxy — someone who was authorized to make decisions about her medical treatment — his lawyers argued that he did not have the authority to bind his mother to arbitration.

For more, read Pivotal Nursing Home Suit Raises a Simple Question: Who Signed the Contract?

Our thanks to attorneys Karen Miller in Florida and Morris Klein in Maryland, plus Dickinson Law students Joe Carroll, Corey Kysor and Kadeem Morris in Pennsylvania for sending us the link to the NYT coverage.

February 23, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New York Summer Internship Opportunity for Law Students Interested in Protection of Older Adults

Our friends at the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention sent application information for law students interested in a summer 2016 internship in New York:

The David Berg Center for Law and Aging is seeking select students for its Summer 2016 internship programs. The Center focuses on a wide range of legal and policy issues affecting the older adult population and victims of elder abuse and exploitation. 

 

Interns will be offered the unique opportunity to work at the nation’s first elder abuse shelter, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.  Located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, on 17 acres of the Hudson River, the comprehensive elder abuse center provides an emergency residential shelter as well as psychosocial, health care and legal advocacy and community-based services for victims of elder abuse. 

 

Under the direct supervision of the Weinberg Center’s Assistant Director and General Counsel, students will potentially be exposed to legal practice in all five boroughs of New York City and Westchester County. Students may have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Weinberg Center partners such as the New York Attorney General’s Office, the New York City Police Department, District Attorneys’ Offices and Family Justice Centers. Interns will complete substantive research and writing on the different legal and policy issues impacting the older adult population and victims of elder abuse. 

 

Past issues have included HIPAA regulations, questions surrounding legal capacity, immigration, powers of attorney, Medicaid eligibility, copyright, and right to privacy.  The interns will gain case management skills and potential courtroom exposure through drafting petitions for guardianship, family court orders of protection and housing court matters.  The interns will also have the opportunity to participate in multidisciplinary conferences, meetings of the American Bar Association Senior Lawyer’s Division’s Elder Abuse Task Force and other community outreach and training events. To apply, please send a resume, cover letter and writing sample to deirdre.lok@hebrewhome.org.

February 16, 2016 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Grant Deadlines/Awards, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Criminal History Not Bar to Employment in SNF In Pa.

Elderlawprof blog founder, elderlaw prof extraordinaire and renaissance woman, Professor Kim Dayton sent the following article Nursing homes free to hire applicants with criminal histories; Pennsylvania won't appeal decision striking down law .  According to the article, the state has decided not to appeal a decision striking a Pennsylvania law  that "prohibiting nursing homes and long-term care facilities from hiring employees with criminal histories." The article explains that the law contained a lifetime employment ban in the state's APS statute.  Part of the challenge to the law is that the statute didn't differentiate  between the types of crimes, circumstances or even when the crime was committed, so something minor or a crime committed decades ago would count in imposing the lifetime ban.

The opinion is available here.

February 10, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Not Another Social Security Scam

Yes, another Social Security Scam is making the rounds. The AARP Fraud Watch Network alerted folks about a new scam that the FTC has discovered. According to the Fraud Watch explanation,  people are being sent

an email with the subject line “Get Protected.” ...  The email describes that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is supposedly offering great new features to help taxpayers protect their personal information and identities. It sounds so good that you may be tempted to click on the link provided — [don't do so]  ...It’s a SCAM!

The scammers pose as SSA employees and to be even more authenticate-sounding, may even mention the “SAFE Act of 2015.”  Of course, the email includes a link, and we all know what happens when one clicks on a link in a scam email....bad things.

The FTC alert, with helpful information on how to spot scams, is available here.  To sign up for blog alerts from the FTC, click here.

 

 

February 8, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Senate Special Committee on Aging Upcoming Meeting

The Senate Special Committee on Aging has a meeting scheduled for 2:30 p.m., est on February 10, 2016. The topic of this meeting is "to examine a new scam by global drug traffickers perpetrated against our nation's seniors." Stay tuned for more information

February 7, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New Brochure-Caregiver Advocates

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) sent an email to the elderabuse listserv on February 4, 2016 that announced the release of a new brochure for family caregivers on how to advocate for those in their care with dementia.  The email announcement explained that the

material was created by the USC Department of Family Medicine, with funds provided by the Archstone Foundation, and was developed using input from actual family caregivers of people with dementia through informant interviews and focus groups. The brochure provides information about elder abuse, tips for caregivers on how to protect and advocate for their loved ones, real life scenarios, and resources. The goal of this brochure is to help family caregivers of people with dementia to learn how to take care of themselves in order to prevent mistreatment....

The brochure explains elder mistreatment, offers tips on advocating for and protecting relatives with dementia and provides helpful contacts along with examples. The web version is available here and the print version, here.

 

February 4, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Webinar: Addressing Financial Abuse of Low-Income Elders

Attorneys from Justice in Aging and Pro Seniors, Inc., with support from a grant from the Administration for Community Living, are offering a free webinar that targets the way in which older adults can lose benefits such as Social Security, SSI or Medicaid because of the actions by others who prey upon them.  

The Webinar on "Recognizing and Remedying Elder Financial Abuse in Medicaid Denials" is on Tuesday, February 16, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST, and is part of a series on protection of older adults from abuse for the National Legal Resource Center, working in conjunction with the National Consumer Law Center.

Here's a link to the registration page -- and again it is free!  

February 4, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Revisiting the Saga of Dr. Gerald Klooster

My Blogging colleague Becky Morgan suggested that our faculty readers share hot topics or videos they are using in Elder Law courses.  Along that line, I'm using an excerpt from a Dateline NBC program (archived in part by NBC, although special arrangements appear to be required for copies) from several years ago, that provides a dramatic introduction to a number of age-related legal issues. 

The program tells the story of Dr. Gerald Klooster and his family.  In 1995, friends of the family became concerned when they learned that Dr. Klooster, once a practicing obstetrician in California who was forced to retire early from his practice as the result of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, had an appointment with his wife to meet with Dr. Kevorkian, of "assisted suicide" fame.  One son, also a physician, became so concerned that he made the decision to whisk away his father to the son's own state of Michigan, for safeguarding.  That triggered a two-state custody battle, initially resulting in inconsistent court rulings.  Eventually, however, Dr. Klooster was returned to California where he resumed living with his wife, Ruth, and regularly saw his other children and grandchildren.  The NBC program shows Gerald swimming and interacting with his family members.

One night, however, emergency personnel were summoned to the Klooster home, when it was learned that Gerald had ingested as many as 60 sleeping pills and alcohol in the middle of the night. Ruth is the one who called the emergency personnel, but then also reportedly directed them not to provide certain life-saving treatments.  She was relying on her husband's pre-dementia living will.

Gerald Klooster did survive, and the NBC program provides fascinating interviews with family members, and shows the couple sitting hand-in-hand.  Did he knowingly attempt to take his own life? Did he do so because he was a physician and, as his wife put it, "didn't want to live the disease through?"  Or did Alzheimer's prevent him from having the capacity to make any such decision?  The saga was also detailed in a New York Times article, linked here.

Lots of food for discussion with this story.  It introduces the limitations of advance directives or living wills; it encourages discussion about Alzheimer's as a "real" phenomenon; it provides a stage for discussing powers of attorney, guardianships and family caregiver roles, just to name a few topics still "hot" today.  Plus, it offers historical perspective on recent changes in laws, including uniform laws on jurisdiction for protective proceedings for adults, and assisted-suicide laws, including the California law that became effective on January 1 of this year.

The Klooster Saga lasts several years beyond the NBC Dateline story itself, as Dr. Klooster did live with his wife in California for additional  years, before spending his last 18 months in a nursing center. According to this San Francisco news report, he passed away at the age of 72 of natural causes, but, sadly, the break in the relationship between his physician-son and the rest of the family had not healed. 

January 13, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Elder Abuse Laws: Are They Merely Scarecrow or White Hat Laws?

When researching laws that purport to serve the interests of a target population, such as the elderly, I look to see whether there is an effective enforcement mechanism attached to the law.  Without enforcement, the laws may serve merely as "scarecrows" to deter bad guys (who presumably are reading the laws… right?) or, perhaps, as a means by which legislators can proudly wear their "white hats," to show they are the good guys.  One possible example could be Colorado's civil penalties for violation of the state's consumer protection laws where the victim is "elderly."  C.R.S.A. Section 6-1-112 provides that:

"Any person who violates or causes another to violate any provision of this article [on consumer protections], where such violation was committed against an elderly person, shall forfeit and pay to the general fund of the state a civil penalty of not more than ten thousand dollars for each such violation. For purposes of this paragraph (c), a violation of any provision of this article shall constitute a separate violation with respect to each elderly person involved."

In a recent pro se Colorado case, Donna v. Countrywide Mortgage, the federal district court dismissed all counts of the complaint filed by the borrower, including the count alleging a violation of “Colorado elder law,” concluding that such a private claim must fail because only the attorney general and district attorneys are authorized to seek civil penalties under that law.

Of course, there could be other sources of effective, private rights of action for elder abuse in Colorado law. 

January 6, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Nursing Home Residents-Privacy Violations

An article in the Washington Post shortly before Christmas had me shaking my head at the cluelessness of some employees of nursing homes regarding resident privacy.  Nursing home workers have been posting abusive photos of elderly on social media gave me one of those "you have got to be kidding me moments."  Maybe it's an age-gap thing, but I just can't fathom why it would be appropriate to post intimate photos of individuals with whose care one is entrusted.  The article indicates that this is not a geographically isolated problem:

Nursing home workers across the country are posting embarrassing and dehumanizing photos of elderly residents on social media networks such as Snapchat, violating their privacy, dignity and, sometimes, the law.

ProPublica has identified 35 instances since 2012 in which workers at nursing homes and assisted-living centers have surreptitiously shared photos or videos of residents, some of whom were partially or completely naked. At least 16 cases involved Snapchat, a social media service in which photos appear for a few seconds and then disappear with no lasting record.

The article offers some illustrations of these photos and the remedies available against the perpetrators.  The article also notes that not only are those photos invading resident privacy, they serve as evidence of the violations.

The incidents illustrate the emerging threat that social media poses to patient privacy and, at the same time, its powerful potential for capturing transgressions that previously might have gone unrecorded. Abusive treatment is not new at nursing homes. Workers have been accused of sexually assaulting residents, sedating them with antipsychotic drugs and failing to change urine-soaked bedsheets. But the posting of explicit photos is a new type of mistreatment — one that sometimes leaves its own digital trail.

How often is this violation of resident privacy occurring? The article notes that "ProPublica identified incidents by searching government inspection reports, court cases and media reports. [A district attorney in Massachusetts] said she suspects such incidents are underreported, in part because many of the victims have dementia and do not realize what has happened."  So far HHS' Office of Civil Rights hasn't sanctioned any nursing homes "for violations involving social media or issued any recommendations to health providers on the topic." The article notes that CMS, in the process of revising the regs dealing with nursing homes, plans to deal with the issue when revising the definitions of various types of elder abuse. Even one of the social media sites referenced in the article expressed concern about the actions of  those nursing home employees.

The article summarizes some cases where charges have been filed.  Read the story and assign it to your students. 

 

December 29, 2015 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bad Behavior by so-called "Professionals"

Sad news about manipulation by attorneys of older clients, and about specific individuals who have been sanctioned recently for their abuse:

  • Florida Supreme Court "permanently disbarred" Cape Coral Florida attorney William Edy for theft from his clients.  Before being charged with second degree grant theft from clients, Edy apparently held himself out as a trustworthy elder law attorney, writing a newspaper column and even commenting on financial abuse of the elderly.
  • New Jersey Supreme Court suspended New Jersey attorney William Torre for one year, while sanctioning his conduct in "borrowing" money from a "vulnerable" 86 year old client, acting in his own self-interest and failing to repay her in a timely and appropriate manner.   

The New Jersey court, writing unanimously, observed:

The Court considers respondent’s conduct against the backdrop of the serious and growing problem of elder abuse. As the population ages, and more people suffer health problems, it is not uncommon for family members to seek the appointment of a guardian to oversee the finances of an incapacitated loved one. Others, like M.D., turn to family or professionals for help and execute powers of attorney in favor of a relative, friend, or trusted lawyer. In those situations, the vast majority of attorneys perform honorably and act in a manner consistent with the highest ethical standards. But regrettably, as more seniors have needed help to manage their affairs, allegations of physical and financial abuse have also increased.

In a News-Press article about the Florida disbarment,  Professor Geoffrey Hazard (Emeritus at Penn Law, Southern California Law and Yale Law) is quoted as noting that places with large numbers of retirees, such as Southern California, Florida and Arizona, have a "greater risk of attorney misbehavior," in part because of isolation from children and friends with whom they can discuss situations. 

Along the same lines of financial misconduct by "professionals," a Texas psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Hadley Gross, was recently sentenced to "nearly six years in prison" for submitting false claims for services to residents at a nursing home, individuals who were shown to be either dead or discharged. 

December 28, 2015 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tis the Season...for Scammers

Although there is no season for scammers-it's a year round problem. But with the holidays there are specific scams that pop up.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently blogged about holiday scams that target elders.  Beware of Scams Targeting Older People During the Holidays warns that

Scams that target older people occur every day, but you can count on scammers to ramp up their efforts to prey on people’s generosity during the holiday season. These grinches, armed with their dirty tricks, may even weave the holidays into elaborate stories to pull at your heartstrings as they slip their sticky fingers into your wallet.

During the holidays, the common scam known as the imposter or “grandparent scam” might be decorated with a special plea, a story of a relative in trouble who desperately needs money to fix a car or get out of jail – and home for the holidays.

These perpetrators are very skilled at what they do, and they aren't shy about intimidation:

The ruse known as the IRS scam takes on a vicious new twist with a grinch on the phone threatening an elder with being arrested and spending the holidays in jail for unpaid taxes or a fake debt. And then there is the predictable increase in false or imposter charities, which sound identical to the real ones. The pitch is wrapped in sympathy inducing requests for year-end, tax-deductible holiday donations. These grinches stand ready to take your credit card or check routing information and charge you for bogus Nutcracker ballet tickets, or a holiday charity fundraising event.

The CFPB offers tips for folks to protect themselves against these three scams and provides links to information available on the CFPB website. The blog post also appeared on the National Center for Elder Abuse website.

December 23, 2015 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Court Rules Charter School Founder "Incompetent to Stand Trial" on Fraud Because of Alzheimer's/Dementia

In an extraordinarily detailed consideration of expert reports and testimony, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled on November 23, 2015 that a high-profile criminal defendant, Dorothy June Brown, was unable to stand for retrial on fraud charges, following her diagnosis of dementia of an Alzheimer's type.  See United States v. Brown, 2015 WL 748490 (E.D. Pa. 2016).

Ms. Brown, age 78 at the time of the ruling, was accused in 2013 of multiple counts of federal wire fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and witness tampering, arising from her role in founding and operating two charter schools, with the alleged fraud totaling more than $6 million from federal funding sources.  The charges were big news, with coverage often depicting Brown, a "career educator," as blond and fashionably dressed, and noting that she was married to a prominent attorney.

Continue reading

December 10, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Interesting Case of "Mandatory" Bank Reporting of Suspected Elder Abuse

Here's a summary of interesting, key findings from the complicated case of Moylan v. Citizens Sec. Bank, an "elder abuse" and wrongful termination claim with a long litigation history in Guam: 

  • Bank Comptroller Moylan realizes his grandparents have certificate of deposit accounts in his bank, with assets totaling more than $1 million.
  • He notes that when the accounts rollover, they are no longer in the names of his grandparents, but rather solely in the names of  two individuals identified as "caretakers" for the grandparents.  
  • Moylan proceeds to "investigate further" and concludes that multiple transactions on the accounts were suspicious, given his "personal knowledge of his Grandparents' advanced age and deteriorating mental condition."
  • Moylan discusses his findings with his brother, an attorney, thus revealing bank account information without getting the permission of his Grandparents or the "caretakers" who were listed on the accounts.
  • The brother advises that the findings may constitute "elder abuse" and thus trigger a mandatory duty to report the activity to Adult Protective Services.
  • Moylan, fearing he may lose his bank job, encourages his father to make the report -- thus again sharing banking information without the consent of the listed account holders, the Grandparents and their caretakers.

Eventually, a guardians is appointed for the grandparents, the bank becomes a subject of the guardian's complaint about handling of the grandparents' accounts, the caretakers (one of whom is a family member) object to Moylan's "misuse" of his access to account information as a bank employee -- and, lo and behold, Moylan is fired in 2007.  Moylan challenged his termination as wrongful.

In 2015, after more than 7 years of litigation in the courts below, the Supreme Court of Guam overturned summary judgment in favor of the bank on Moylan's wrongful termination claim.  That's the good news for Moylan, as the Court recognizes a public policy exception to the "at will" nature of his employment contract:

Because the object and policy of the [Adult Protective Services Act] is to protect the elderly and disabled adults, the reporting requirements of 10 GCA §21003(a) should be construed liberally in favor of promoting the reporting of suspected abuse. This approach is consistent with the fact that the legislature chose to include the term “immediately” instead of a specified reporting deadline. Therefore, we hold that in the limited context of the facts of this case, Scott's oral reporting within seven days after the discovery of alleged abuse qualifies as sufficiently immediate....

 

Termination motivated by Scott's mandatory reporting would jeopardize the public policy to protect elderly and disabled adults from abuse because it would discourage future reporting. Scott presented evidence that at least one Bank executive knew that Scott had caused a report to APS before Scott was terminated.

Under Guam law, mandatory reporting of suspected elder abuse applies to "banking and financial institution personnel." 10 GCA §21003(b).

The bad news is the reversal sends the case back to the trial court for "further proceedings."  The full opinion by the Supreme Court of Guam, issued November 20, 2015, linked above, is well worth reading, as it demonstrates both weaknesses and strengths of statutory attempts to mandate that banks report suspected elder abuse.

December 9, 2015 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, International, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Opinion: Might California's New Law on Assisted Suicide Facilitate Elder Abuse?

Washington State Elder Law Attorney Margaret Dore has shared with us her interesting analysis of "California's Assisted Suicide Law: Whose Choice Will It Be?," published here in JURIST, the on-line platform by University of Pittsburgh Law.  She criticizes California's new law as inviting misuse, including elder abuse, observing:

The bill, ABX2-15, has an application process to obtain the lethal dose, which includes a written lethal dose request form with two required witnesses. Once the lethal dose is issued by the pharmacy, there is no oversight over administration. No one, not even a doctor, is required to be present at the death. 
 

ABX2-15
allows one of the two witnesses on the lethal dose request form to be the patient's heir, who will financially benefit from the patient's death. This is an extreme conflict of interest. Indeed, under California's Probate Code, similar conduct (an heir's acting as a witness on a will) can create a presumption that the will was procured by "duress, menace, fraud or undue influence." ABX2-15, which specifically allows the patient's heir to be a witness on the lethal dose request form, does not promote patient choice. It invites duress, menace, fraud and undue influence.

Further, she notes the potential trauma for family members, citing examples from her practice:

Two of my clients, whose fathers signed up for the lethal dose in Washington and Oregon, suffered similar trauma. In the first case, one side of the family wanted the father to take the lethal dose, while the other side did not. The father spent the last months of his life caught in the middle and torn over whether or not he should kill himself. My client, his adult daughter, was severely traumatized. The father did not take the lethal dose and died a natural death. In the other case, it is not clear that administration of the lethal dose was voluntary. A man who was present told my client that the client's father had refused to take the lethal dose when it was delivered, stating: "You're not killing me. I'm going to bed." But then took the lethal dose the next night when he was already intoxicated on alcohol. My client, although he was not present, was traumatized over the incident, and also by the sudden loss of his father.

Ms. Dore is a former Chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American Bar Association Family Law Section. She is also president of Choice is an Illusion, a nonprofit corporation opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia. 

November 18, 2015 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)