SE Texas Record

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Probate court officer moves Ohio judge to limit subpoena power in elder guardian racketeering lawsuit

By David Yates | Nov 15, 2019

General court 10

OHIO - A Lorain County Probate Court Guardian moved Cuyahoga County Civil Judge Sherrie Miday yesterday to issue an order that would prevent the physician plaintiff in a racketeering lawsuit from accessing and distributing information concerning his 85 year old wife whom he was allegedly forced to divorce.

In January 2019, Zachary Simonoff, who is guardian of the estate of Mrs. Fourough Bakhtiar [Saghafi], was sued under the state of Ohio’s Organized Crime Control Act by her husband of sixty years, Dr. Mehdi Saghafi.

“Given their advanced ages and Mrs. Saghafi’s advanced, progressive dementia, filing an action for divorce was not in the best interests of either party, and there existed no reasonable, rationale or good faith basis for filing the Divorce Action,” stated Dr. Saghafi’s attorney Charles Longo in previous court pleadings.

Simonoff’s counsel, Theresa Richthammer, filed yesterday's motion to bar Dr. Saghafi from distributing information to non-parties after the retired surgeon’s attorney issued subpoenas to the Vanguard mutual fund company, Northwest Bank and Fifth Third Bank.

“Since receiving responsive documents, it appears that Plaintiffs, or at least their counsel, have shared the documents with persons who are not parties to this case,” wrote Richthammer in her Nov. 14 pleading on behalf of Simonoff.

The Saghafis had amassed $8 million in marital assets before Mrs. Bakhtiar [Saghafi] was guardianized by the Lorain County Probate Court, according to a press release.

As previously reported in the Southeast Texas Record, Khashayar Saghafi, the youngest son of Dr. and Mrs. Saghafi, alleges neglect of duties, incompetency, fraudulent misconduct and theft.

Dr. Saghafi's racketeering complaint is one of many lawsuits filed under various causes of action in state and federal court across the country highlighting the unexpected downsides of court-appointed adult guardianship, which are designed to help the elderly and the infirm manage their lives but have been under fire nationwide amid allegations of neglect, abuse, starvation, over medication, wrongful isolation and financial exploitation. 

Those problems haven’t escaped the watchful eye of Congress. HR 4174 is currently pending before the House Committee on the Judiciary and, if enacted, would activate protections against elder abuse, exploitation and neglect under court appointed guardianship.

“We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system designed to provide a better quality of life,” said Florida Congressman Darren Soto who introduced HR 4174 in August.

Just yesterday, Traci Hudson [Samuel], 51, a professional guardian in Florida, was arrested for allegedly financially exploiting 92 year old Maurice Myers.

According to a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office press release, detectives discovered a total of $541,541.12 was transferred from Myers account to accounts owned by Hudson [Samuel], founder of Florida Guardianship Services and President of the Guardian Association of Pinellas County.

In the Saghafi case, Simonoff’s request to restrict the disclosure of subpoenaed information was filed on the heels of Khashayar Saghafi’s Nov. 8 motion calling for Simonoff to justify payments of $127,730.17 in legal fees to Tucker Ellis, a law firm that is allegedly representing some of the Defendants named in the racketeering case pending before Judge Miday.

“Each of these motions cites and attaches financial documents Plaintiffs’ counsel subpoenaed through this case and which he did not have access to through the Lorain County Probate Court,” states Richthammer in Simonoff’s Nov. 14 pleading. “Further, if the information must be filed with the Court, Mr. Simonoff requests that it be filed under seal to protect it from public disclosure and view.”

However, the Saghafi Family alleges improper spending on attorney fees, according to court records.

“By law, Mrs. Saghafi’s funds are only supposed to be used for the care and needs of Mrs. Saghafi not legal fees,” Longo stated on behalf of Dr. Saghafi.

Simonoff’s pleading further states that the aging couple’s son, Khashayar Saghafi, has been unsuccessful in obtaining guardianship records from the Lorain County Probate Court.

“The Probate Court has repeatedly held that financial information related to the Ward [Mrs. Saghafi] is confidential and not subject to disclosure,” stated Richthammer’s pleading on behalf of Simonoff.

But Dr. Saghafi claims, through counsel, that Mrs. Saghafi’s guardianship records should not be withheld as confidential by the Lorain County Probate Court, whose Judge, the Honorable James Walther, is also the Clerk of the Lorain County Probate Court.

“As my clients have alleged a high degree of secrecy in the maintenance of records by the Probate Court, any order or motion claimed as justification for non-production must be met in this matter with skepticism and a full opportunity to brief and argue for release,” stated Longo who requested an Order to Show Cause from Judge Miday  on Nov. 1 as to why the Honorable Judge Walther should not be held in contempt for failure to respond to Dr. Saghafi’s subpoena.

According to court records, the Honorable Judge Walther was served a subpoena related to Mrs. Saghafi in the racketeering lawsuit to which a response was due to Judge Miday on September 16 but he has, so far, reportedly failed to respond.

“By failing to make written objections, the Lorain County Probate Court in the office of Judge Walther has circumvented the correct process for responding to a subpoena,” stated Dr. Saghafi's attorney in his Motion requesting an Order to Show Cause. “The subpoeanaed documents continue to be at issue in this matter, as they relate to the underlying probate dispute which has given rise to the instant litigation.”

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