Friday, April 20, 2012
Ms. Jewell Tinnon's life was a product of the American dream. She lived in a house that she and her late-husband owned, and was a self-reliant 80-year-old senior. All she had was her possessions and that's the way she liked it. That was before her grandsons filed an emergency provision in the Davidson County Probate Court in Tennessee asking for their grandmother to be placed in a conservatorship.
At the time, her grandsons felt that she needed help because they believed that a third party was stealing her mail and that she was mentally ill. The grandsons also claimed that she was unable to manage her affairs because she was late in providing payments for her insurance carrier. At the hearing, the court appointed attorney Karl Warden to represent Ms. Tinnon. Through the hearing, Mr. Warden committed several acts of misbehavior. For example, Mr. Warden asserted that should the court grant the conservatorship, it should appoint Greater Nashville Regional Council against the wishes of Ms. Tinnon. Ms. Tinnon had wanted her niece to become her conservator, so she could continue to reside in her house. But that did not happen. Facts from the case also demonstrate that Mr. Warden may have unethically solicited her case.
When the judge granted the conservatorship, Ms. Tinnon's life was forever changed as a result of it. To pay the debts she incurred from her lawyer and other services, the Greater Nashville Regional Council sold all of her property. There were also allegations of misconduct on the part of the conservator. Ms. Tinnon alleged that the conservator undersold her property; therefore, it breached its fiduciary duty to her. Where is Ms. Tinnon today? She sits in a single bedroom public housing unit without any of her possessions or her house, a victim of a system that was meant to protect her.
As a result of stories like Ms. Tinnon's, states have begun the process of changing their laws to make the conservatorship process more difficult to implement. Their new rules reflect all aspects of the conservatorship process. For example, in several states, guardians are required to be certified, which may also include credit checks on potential guardians. As a result of Ms. Tinnon's story, the State of Tennessee has also taken actions to ensure that something like this does not happen again. The legislators in charge of bringing new legislation before the Tennessee legislature want to implement better due process protections, such as notice and medical certification. As for Ms. Tinnon, she is now determined to rectify the wrongs against her. She has brought suit against Mr. Warden and the conservator for $ 1.6 million in damages. Let's hope that Ms. Tinnon receives the justice she deserves.
See The Tennessean, Conservatorship Is Meant To Protect, But In Tennessee, It Sometimes Destroys, WBIR.com, Apr. 15, 2012.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.