Woman Continues Fight After Losing Mother, Granddaughter

A St. Louis-area woman who once told me she sometimes feels like the grief-stricken women in the 2008 film, “Changeling,” continues to fight for justice despite losing two very special people in her life due to actions taken by out-of-control government bureaucrats.

ChangelingUnder the headline, Government Burning Family Tree at Both Ends, I shared the horrifying true story of Janet (not her real name) Sept. 15, 2011.  It revolves around Janet’s two-pronged battle with county and state agencies in Missouri.

One of Janet’s battles involves fighting to obtain custody of her granddaughter after her daughter was no longer fit to care for the child.  Yesterday, she informed me that her granddaughter had been adopted out to a family in a far-away state about 18 months ago in a process that showed no regard for a state statute which requires Children’s Division officials to give preference and first consideration for foster care placement to grandparents of a child.

Janet’s other battle involved fighting to free her mother from a restricted-access long-term care facility.  It’s the same facility about which her mother’s physician once wrote “placement at this time would not be in the best interest of (Janet’s mother) with respect to her mental and physical health.”  According to Janet, her mother was drugged out of her mind for most of the time she spent in the facility and, during her last days of life — which happened to coincide with the date on which her long-term care insurance coverage ended — had food and water withheld from her.

While Janet said she cries about it every day, she seems at a loss as to what to do as she tries to get her granddaughter back.  Regarding her mother’s case, however, she is continuing to fight and claims to have many documents as well as months of videotape evidence regarding her mother’s maltreatment.  In addition, she is trying to obtain a copy of a toxicology report at this time and has enlisted the help of a local television reporter who has shown an interest in her case.

I plan to take a look at the documentation Janet has amassed very soon.  Stay tuned!

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct '11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May '13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct ’11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May ’13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

San Diego DA Fails to Prosecute Alleged Theft

The latest installment in my Family Court Nightmares series comes in the form of a video that appeared alongside an incredible story by writer Bonnie Russell.

Coming to us from San Diego, Calif., the case involves an assistant district attorney who is alleged to have stolen more than $188,000 from a crime victim and a district attorney who is dragging his feet when it comes to prosecuting the case.

While the imagery shown in the video above is often out of focus, the captions, subtitles and audio (i.e., narration and a voice mail message) make a strong case that something stinks in the Southern California city’s legal system.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I contacted the office of San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis late Wednesday and asked for an explanation of why she has, to date, chosen not to prosecute this allegation of a six-figure crime.  After waiting more than 18 hours for a reply from her office, I clicked “publish.”  If, after I publish this piece, I receive a reply from the DA, I will add it as an update.

Hat tip:  Estate of Denial

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Guardian Drains Elderly Woman of $1.3 Million (Update)

Since I began publishing posts in my Family Court Nightmares series a few months ago, I’ve received a flood of requests from people across the country who want me to cover similar cases of abuse involving their family members, both young and elderly.  I can’t accommodate all of the requests, but will endeavor to tackle as many as possible.  Before I do, however, I want to share a CBS News report about a case of elderly abuse in Arizona that appears typical and bears many striking similarities to the story I shared about a St. Louis woman in my most-recent Nightmares post.

Stay tuned for more posts about abuses in our nation’s Family Court and Probate Court systems.

UPDATE 9/20/11 at 10 a.m. Central:  Here’s another post highlighting a similar situation.

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Government Burning Family Tree at Both Ends (Update)

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Recently, a woman I’ll call “Janet” met with me for more than six hours to discuss two court cases in which she’s involved.  One is a Family Court case involving the welfare of a child, while the other is a Probate Court case involving the welfare of that child’s great-grandmother.  Names and case-specific personal details in the stories below have been changed in order to protect the identities of the innocent people involved.

Unlike other middle-age Americans who find themselves caring for both young children and elderly parents, Janet’s status as a member of the “sandwich generation” is unique.  Rather than simply care for her almost-seven-year-old granddaughter and her octogenarian mother at the same time, the 40-something woman who once earned six-figure income as manager of a high-end fitness center/spa in a posh St. Louis suburb finds herself fighting for both of them in separate cases at the St. Louis County (Mo.) Courthouse.  After years of legal wrangling, she now finds herself on the verge of bankruptcy, having thrown everything she had into the effort to save the two most important people in her life.

“Sometimes I feel like that movie is my life,” said Janet, referring to “Changeling,” a 2008 film in which a grief-stricken mother takes on the Los Angeles Police Department to her own detriment after it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child.  Unlike the movie, however, Janet’s child isn’t missing; instead, her granddaughter is on the verge of being taken from her family permanently.  In addition, her mother has, for the most part, already been removed from her life.

SAVING A GRANDDAUGHTER

Janet’s most-pressing concern is the fight to keep her granddaughter, a little girl for whom she’s been the primary caregiver during most of early life, from being placed up for adoption — possibly by total strangers.  In less than 10 days, a court hearing could determine whether or not she succeeds in the fight that begun in earnest 15 months ago.

Almost five years ago, Janet convinced her daughter and the biological father of her granddaughter to sign a document that, after being notarized and filed with the court, would have given her legal guardianship of her granddaughter.  While the document was notarized, Janet never filed it.  Why?  Because she was holding out hope that her daughter would change her ways.  But she didn’t.

During the early morning hours of a Thursday during the summer of 2010, police officers and paramedics responded to news of a person lying on the ground in front of an apartment building in the St. Louis suburb of University City.  Upon arrival, they found a woman unresponsive and barely breathing.  It was Janet’s daughter, the 26-year-old mother of a beautiful little girl.  She had overdosed on heroin.

The overdose occurred on one of those rare occasions when Janet was not watching her granddaughter and the little girl was being cared for by someone else inside her mother’s home.

As soon as Janet found out about the overdose, she picked up her granddaughter and took her home, fully expecting she would soon become the girl’s full-time guardian until her daughter was able to care for her again after completing rehab.

A hearing was held two days later and, not surprisingly, Janet’s drug-addicted daughter was angry at her mom and didn’t want her child to go with Janet, the responsible parent against whom she liked to lash out, especially when she was in trouble.  And she was in trouble.

Perhaps due to Janet’s daughter’s outbursts during the hearing, custody of Janet’s granddaughter went to another woman, the grandmother of Janet’s daughter’s other child by a different father — a woman acting as a foster parent who is not a blood relative of Janet’s granddaughter.  This occurred despite the fact that the judge had allowed Janet to intervene early in the case and said placement of the child with her was NOT contrary to the best interest of the child.

The emergency petition to take the granddaughter into state care was falsified and not warranted, Janet said, since she had had her granddaughter for several days after her daughter’s overdose and had ensured she was safe and well-cared for.

By granting temporary custody of Janet’s granddaughter to someone other than a blood relative (i.e., Janet), Children’s Division appears to have violated Missouri law (Section 210.305, RSMo) which requires the agency to give preference and first consideration for foster care placement to grandparents of a child.

I used the word, “appears,” because there is a loophole in the law that allows Children’s Division to avoid placing a child with a grandparent if they deem such placement as being “contrary to the welfare of the child.”

Children’s Division workers who opt for the loophole must, according to the statute, document in writing why the child was not placed with grandparent.  In this case, however, they did not conduct a home study or background check on Janet and, as a result, had nothing upon which to base their decision.  Apparently, they simply decided that her grandparent status didn’t matter.  Falsified reports by Children’s Division workers and the deputy juvenile officer assigned to the case followed to hinder Janet’s efforts to save her granddaughter.

Three months after the little girl was placed with the foster parent, the Family Court judge in charge of the case said Janet should have immediate access to her granddaughter if she passed a drug test. Interestingly, she passed the drug test as well as five other blood and hair-follicle tests during the past year.  Inexplicably, the foster parent never had to take a blood test.  In addition, Janet had to undergo a psychological evaluation which the foster parent did not.

Despite the judge’s directive and the fact that Janet passed the drug and psych test hurdles, access to her granddaughter continued to be blocked by the foster parent.  No birthdays.  No holidays.  And, for the first time ever, no Christmas morning celebration.  As a result, Janet’s granddaughter’s life changed dramatically.

Since being taken from Janet, the trips the gifted child enjoyed with her — to the zoo, theater and symphony — have not happened.  Her other regular activities, including swimming lessons, dance, music and art classes, ended as well.

Over the summer, the little girl spent more than 12 hours a day in daycare, arriving at 6 a.m. and leaving at 6 p.m. daily.  This fall, despite objections from Janet and from officials at the girl’s school, the judge allowed her to miss several weeks of school so she could travel with the foster parent to a far-away state.

SAVING A MOTHER

Least urgent to Janet, but only because her mother understands the other legal battle in which Janet is involved, is the fight to free her mother from the confines of a St. Louis-area retirement facility where she is being held against her will.

Janet’s octogenarian mother was in bed sleeping the day in August 2009 when she was removed from her private residence in the nice suburban St. Louis neighborhood where she had lived for more than 50 years, never to return.

Out to dinner at the time her mother was taken, Janet said she had spoken to her earlier that night — around 7 p.m. — and learned from her mother that she was tired from working in the yard all day and had gone to bed early.  Everything was fine — or so they thought.

When Janet returned to the home where she lived with her mother — at her mother’s request — around 11 p.m., she found her mother missing.  The woman who had taught swim lessons to babies three days a week at the YMCA, attended church regularly and tended to an array of growing things in her well-manicured yard was gone.  A Hollywood movie-style nightmare had begun.

Actually, the nightmare began more than a year earlier when Janet’s brother, who had not been involved with either her or their mother for more than two decades, coaxed his mother out of her home and made her sign legal papers in an apparent effort to steal her sizable assets.

A banker friend advised Janet and her mother that they should seek to have Janet installed as her mother’s guardian via the courts to prevent Janet’s brother from doing any more harm to her mother.  Following that advice, they took the matter to court and thought they were headed in the right direction.  But they were wrong.

Instead of obtaining full legal guardianship, Janet was granted limited guardianship by a judge and a St. Louis County official who was named conservator of Janet’s mother’s estate.  The springing durable power of attorney, a legal document that was to “spring” into effect at the point Janet’s mother lost capacity, was disregarded by the court even though it had been prepared by an attorney, signed by Janet’s mother (fully competent at the time) and registered with the office of the recorder of deeds.

Now, fast-forward back to August 2009.

After claiming Janet’s mother was somehow incapable of living on her own, Janet explained, the county official had her removed her from her home and placed in a restricted-access care facility under heavy sedation for three months.  In addition, the official prevented Janet from being able to visit her — or even know where she had been taken.

Janet said he left her threatening voice mail messages that said, “You can make it easy on yourself or hard on yourself.  You have to deed your half of the house over to me.”

Next, she said, he liquidated her mother’s assets, which included — but were not limited to — a half-million-dollar home in one of the St. Louis area’s finest neighborhoods, its contents (for only $100), life insurance policies and investments.

Janet said her mother has now needlessly used nearly half of the term covered by her long-term care insurance — one of the few assets of her mother that the county official/conservator has not sold — and will likely be tossed out of the home at the end of that term and placed in a low-end Medicaid bed somewhere else.  So much for her plans to stay in her own home as long as possible an use the policy when it was needed.

Today, Janet’s mother lives in a closet-size room at another retirement retirement facility where she continues to be kept in a locked-down memory care unit, unable to go beyond certain locked-door boundaries without an escort.  The only person allowed to take her on outings away from the home, Janet said, is the son who set into motion all of the events that resulted in her being confined against her will in the first place.

Does Janet’s mother really belong in a locked-down unit at a nursing home?  Not according to a St. Louis-area physician who is among the nation’s leading researchers on the subject of dementia.

In a “To whom it may concern” letter written 10 days before Janet’s mother was removed from her home, the physician who had cared for the woman for 17 months wrote the following about her condition:

(She) was diagnosed with dementia secondary to chronic stress exacerbated by her involvement with her son.  Since being separate from her son, she has demonstrated significant improvement in her cognitive function.  At this time, (she) has the mental capacity to determine where she would prefer to live.

Nursing home placement at this time would not be in the best interest of (Janet’s mother) with respect to her mental and physical health.

The court, however, ignored the expert physician’s opinion and sided with the public administrator, leaving Janet’s mother trapped against her will in the locked-down unit of a retirement home.

WHAT’S NEXT?

With few options remaining available to her, Janet told me she expects to file federal lawsuits during the next two weeks against the judges and other officials involved in both cases.  Unfortunately, she’s not likely to get far, because two things are working against her:

First, the Missouri House has impeached only two Missouri judges since the Civil War era, and both resigned before they could be removed, according to the Missouri Courts web site; and

Second, Guardian Ad Litems, the individuals — usually attorneys — charged with looking out for the interests of children in court cases, are accountable only to the judges who appoint them.

The time for Family Court reform is now.

For more news about justice denied, read other posts in my series, Family Court Nightmares.

UPDATE 9/17/11 at 6:44 p.m. Central:  Cross-posted at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com.

 

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Presidential Hopefuls Address Family Court Flaws

Family Court reform is a “tremendous opportunity for current GOP presidential candidates, one which leaders of both political parties have long squandered,” said Dr. Ned Holstein, board chairman of the national Family Court reform organization, Fathers and Families.  And, it appears, at least four are seizing the opportunity.

Asked for his opinion about the nation’s Family Court system during an appearance at the New Hampshire Seacoast Republican Women’s Breakfast May 26, Newt Gingrich recalled his own divorce experience and expressed familiarity with and a desire to change flaws in need of serious reform.

Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, condemned the family law system on June 5, saying it is “ripe for reform.”

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty expressed awareness of problems within the Family Court system during Family Court reform events in June.   See this link for details.

Huntsman said the was aware of the need to help those “caught up  in the legal system, caught up in the bureaucracy” of Family Court, and Pawlenty spoke about the need to encourage “involvement and engagement” of both parents in the lives of their children.

Though family law is usually a state matter, according to Holstein, there is much the federal government can do to change state policies, because the federal government helps shape states’ policies in many areas by the payment or withholding of federal reimbursement funds. In family law, the federal government reimburses the states billions of dollars each year in child support collection funds.

“What’s needed is a legal presumption of shared legal and physical custody,” Holstein explained.  “This means that, absent a finding of parental unfitness, both parents will have substantial physical time with their children after divorce or separation. A reformist administration could greatly encourage shared parenting by tying those federal funds to progress in enacting shared parenting laws, implementing and encouraging shared parenting arrangements, and enforcing visitation orders.”

As I continue to investigate the Family Court system and publish the findings in my series, Family Court Nightmares, I’ve found a lot of fathers caught up in the feeling that they have been discriminated against by the court.  At the same time, however, I’ve found many mothers who believe they’ve been wronged, too.

Imagine what would happen if fathers, mothers AND presidential candidates worked together to put Family Court reform on the nation’s radar and actually got something done.

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Lives ‘Turned Upside Down’ in Family Court (Update)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story below is based on an actual Missouri Family Court case; however, all names, dates and other case-specific personal details in the story have been changed in order to protect the identities of those involved.  It is one of several cases about which details have been shared with me by individuals advocating Family Court reform in the Show-Me State.

A STAY-AT-HOME MOTHER OF FIVE, “Jane” endured years of physical, verbal and sexual abuse at the hands of “John.” Then, she said, he began to physically and sexually abuse their children, too. That’s when she drew the line, whisked her children out of their home, loaded them into a car and fled to a nearby shelter.

At the shelter, Jane filed for protective orders against John on behalf of each of her children and herself. The police officer who took the report, she said, told her afterward that two of her children should undergo forensic interviews during which investigators could learn more about the alleged abuse.  In addition, he told her he had filed for a warrant for John’s arrest with the county prosecutor’s office.

After John learned of her actions, Jane explained, he filed for divorce, emptied their joint bank accounts and hired a team of attorneys who went to work quickly.

Not only did John’s attorneys fictionalize the chain of events that led the couple to the courthouse, Jane said, but they framed the case as one involving a heated divorce and worked overtime to portray her as “the crazy wife” trying to make her husband look bad in the eyes of the judge.  Along the way, they received help from both inside and outside the courthouse.

They received their first bit of help from a state social worker, Jane said, who had a mysterious “change of heart” after initially being on her side.  With little explanation, the social worker declared the children’s multiple graphic disclosures of molestation by their father — once deemed substantial enough to prompt a police officer to call for forensic interviews and to apply for an arrest warrant against John — “unsubstantiated.”

Jane said she never received a satisfactory explanation for the social worker’s change of heart, but she did see the impact it had on the case:  No forensic interviews were ever conducted; no law enforcement investigation was ever launched; and no warrant for John’s arrest was ever issued. In addition, the Family Court judge accepted a recommendation made by the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) — an attorney appointed by the judge, purportedly to look out for the best interests of the children in the case — and granted “2-2-5 custody” to the parents.

The arrangement, common in Family Court cases, provided each parent two consecutive days of custody during the week plus every other weekend. During a typical week, Jane had the kids Monday and Tuesday before John took them Wednesday and Thursday. Every other week, the kids spent five consecutive nights with John.

John’s attorneys received a second bit of help from a psychologist who, at a cost of several thousand dollars, produced a report that painted their client in a positive light. While the judge accepted that report, Jane said, he rejected a report prepared on her behalf by another psychologist whose credentials are, arguably, superior to those of John’s “hired gun.” Not surprisingly, the reports offered findings 180 degrees opposite each other.

When it finally arrived, the judge’s decision wasn’t quite the slam-dunk victory John’s attorneys had probably hoped to obtain for their client, but it must have came close.

The judge ordered a 50/50 custody arrangement, Jane said, meaning she will have to continue handing over her children to John.

In addition, the judge awarded Jane nothing in alimony and little in child support while adding miscellaneous other costs to the burden she is expected to bear;  he ordered her to pay thousands of dollars more to attorneys; and he reduced significantly the amount of money John would have to pay her as her “fair share” of their remaining joint assets.

The judge also gave the family home to Jane. On the surface, that might seem like a good thing, but there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

“The mortgage on the house is ‘under water,’” Jane said.  It’s worth less than is owed on the mortgage as a result of John borrowing money against the home several times.

Now broke and without a job after being a busy stay-at-home mom for most of their married years, Jane fears she’ll be forced to walk away from the home and leave her credit in ruins.

“It feels as if our lives have been turned upside down,” Jane said upon being asked to describe the family’s lengthy court battle.  “Right and wrong have been reversed, and truth is no longer the standard.”

On top of being broke financially after spending all she had on attorneys, Jane’s tapped out emotionally and fearful that no one outside the case will learn what she says is the truth until it’s too late and that her children suffer abuse even worse than before at the hands of their father.

At this point, Jane’s only legal recourse appears to be filing an appeal to a higher court. Without money, though, she might resort to another tactic — going public or something else. For now, she doesn’t want to show her hand and is only thinking about what’s best for her children.

If, at some point, she decides to level accusations — against the Family Court judge, the GAL and/or others — as part of an effort to have the judge’s ruling overturned, two factors will be working against her:

First, the Missouri House has impeached only two Missouri judges since the Civil War era, and both resigned before they could be removed, according to the Missouri Courts web site; and

Second, GALs are accountable only to the judges who appoint them, according to a Missouri Courts spokesperson with whom I spoke earlier this month [See Transparency Missing in Missouri Senate, Courts for details.].

Hence, the need for Family Court reform.

Stay tuned for more stories in my series, Family Court Nightmares.

UPDATE 6/6/11 at 8:52 p.m. Central: Both parties in this case are protesting the outcome, according to friends of “Jane.”  They tell me they have reason to fear the Family Court judge in the case is on the verge of ending the 2-2-5 custody arrangement and giving full custody to “John.”  I’m told that the “gloves will come off” if that happens.  It could get ugly.

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