SE Texas Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Congress Attacks Elder Guardianship Abuse After Criminal Investigation

By David Yates | Aug 12, 2019


HOUSTON - After a court-appointed guardian successfully moved a Schenectady, New York trial Judge to replace him as the trustee of his brother's special needs trust, John Scott appealed and lost.

Now he’s petitioning to either re-argue or appeal.

Trouble ensued when, as trustee of a $2 million fund, Mr. Scott disputed paying a court appointed evaluator's estimated $20,000 fee as well as requests to fund limousine service to take his anxiety-challenged brother James Scott to and from the grocery store and medical appointments, according to a press release.

According to the court appointed guardian Kathleen Toombs, however, it was a mere car service, not a limousine, that was enlisted temporarily to comfortably and reliably transport the brother during winter months.

Although an appellate court overturned an order requiring the payment of court evaluator fees, it upheld the transportation fees and the removal of Mr. Scott as trustee of his brother James' trust.

"John was the person who handled these logistics for no cost until the guardianship was imposed and the relationship frayed," said John Scott’s attorney Paul O’Brien of the Falcon, Jacobson & Gertler law firm.

Mr. Scott in New York isn’t the first to sue over the actions of court-appointed guardians, evaluators and even judges. Plaintiffs in states, including Texas, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, have increasingly cried afoul in recent years and as a result U.S. Representatives Darren Soto, Charlie Crist and Gus Bilirakis of Florida as well as Debbie Dingell of Michigan re-introduced HR 4174 on Aug. 7 to assist states in guardianship oversight.

"There have been cases nationwide that pushed the bill to the forefront of the House agenda," said Oriana Pina, communications director for Congressman Soto.

The House bill is identical to the Guardianship Accountability Act, which is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HR 4174 comes on the heels of a criminal investigation in Florida of court appointed guardian Rebecca Fierle who resigned last month.

“In Orlando, we saw firsthand the abuse of a former guardian, which led to a preventable death," said Congressman Soto. "We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system that's designed to provide a better quality of life." 

For example, in Ohio, a racketeering lawsuit filed in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas alleges that despite the recommendation of a court-appointed officer, a convicted felon was appointed the guardian of 85 year old Fourough Saghafi Bakhtiar. As reported in the Southeast Texas Record last week, a divorce was subsequently imposed against the wishes of Ms. Saghafi Bakhtiar’s 88 year old elderly husband, Dr. Mehdi Saghafi, according to court records. 

“Guardianship abuses are resulting in seniors literally being held against their will, isolated from family members and friends, their assets liquidated and drained by unscrupulous people gaming a broken system,” said Congressman Crist.

In April, the Honorable U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas remanded  Plaintiff Sherry Johnston's federal lawsuit, alleging elder guardian abuse of her elderly mother, to state court.

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Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas