Access of the Elderly to Justice

  1. Senator John Vasconcellos.  Senator Vasconcellos convened a meeting in Sacramento on November 19, 2003 for a workgroup discussion focusing on the access that less-than-affluent elderly have to the State’s judicial system.   Many interested people attended and the minutes will soon be published on the web. 

  2. Legislative Proposal for Survey.  At the conclusion of the Conservatorship of Levitt decision, the Second District Court of Appeal invited Appellant Hankin to propose legislation for a survey to determine whether Probate Court practices prevent less-than-affluent victims of elder abuse from getting representation. 

  3. The Probate Court has traditionally been a haven of protection for the elderly and the disabled.  Some Probate judges continue to maintain that tradition, despite the pressures of the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act, and the attraction of private judging work, and the growing need to address elder abuse litigation.   See Heros of the Probate Bench.

  4. Two and one-half page Summary of how the less-than-affluent victims of elder abuse are excluded from the protective umbrella of many conservatorship courts [despite the hard work of many committed jurists].  The Summary also explains how this exclusion causes increased exposure to elder abuse.

  5. Letters from prominent knowledgeable people who say that many courts do not protect less-than-affluent elders.  These letters contend that practices in many Probate Court prevent less-than-affluent elder abuse victims from obtaining lawyers to protect them, and prevent professional conservators from protecting them:

ORGANIZATIONS: [1] Resolution of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, [2] Bet Tzedek Legal Services, [3] Beverly Hills Bar Association, [4] Consumer Attorneys of California.

INDIVIDUALS:  [1] Stephen E. Webber, [2] Irwin D. Goldring, a former Chair of the Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section of the State Bar, and a Fellow of the American College of Probate and Trust Lawyers, [3] Ruth Phelps, Certified Elder Law Attorney and member of the Board Of Directors of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, [4] Terry Magady, Chair of the Elder Law Committee of the Beverly Hills Bar Association. [5] Barbara Jagiello, famous crusading attorney who blew the whistle on the Riverside County Probate Court Scandal; [6] Professor James Spar, M.D., renowned expert and author of several books and chapters on geriatric psychiatry, principal medical/forensic consultant to lawyers who drafted Probate Code §6100.5, and the Due Process in Competence Determinations Act, [7] LAPD (Ret.) Captain Glenn Ackerman, [8] Terri Abelar, CEO of Aging Solutions, Inc., former Social Services Supervisor for the Riverside County Office on Aging, and former Supervisor of the Health Insurance and Counseling Program (HICAP) for four counties. [9] Thomas E. Beltran, [10] Norma Nordstrom, Retired head of Los Angeles County's APS Program, [10] Professor Joseph F. C. Dimento, [11] Robert Foster, and [13] F. Bentley Mooney, [11] Thom Bluemel, Real Estate Agent (Probate & Trust Sale Specialist).
[These letters are listed in the order in which they were received.]

  1. Additional letters from prominent lawyers asserting that: (a) lawyers do not handle contested conservatorships and elder abuse involving people who have modest estates, and therefore (b) it is "Open Season" on elder abuse victims who have modest estates, because non-wealthy elders do not have access to protection, by the court, from physical and financial abuse: 

[1] Bruce Ross, Esq., [2] Russell Balisok, Esq., [3] Carol Small Jimenez, Esq., [4] Mary L. O'Neill, Esq., [5] Ruth A. Phelps, Esq., [6] Steven Weber, Esq., [7] Denis O'Neal, Esq., [8] Caren Nielsen, Esq., [9] Barbara Bailey Ballou, Esq., [10] Betty G. Barrington, Esq., [11] Robert J. Gomez, Esq., [12] Leah V. Granof, Esq., [13] Lynard C. Hinojosa, Esq., [14] Terry M. Magady, Esq., [15] Marshal A. Oldman, Esq., [16] Gary M. Ruttenberg, Esq., [17] Robert D. Wilner, Esq.

  1. Email from Prof. Stephen Read, M.D., Geropsychiatrist, about a person who died from elder abuse because no lawyer would take the case.  The lawyers who were consulted all expressed a lack of confidence that the court would grant them enough fees to pay for their time, expressing the belief that they would get the same treatment as in the Conservatorship of Levitt case.

  2. Daily Journal Column about the Conservatorship of Levitt's adverse impact on access of the elderly to protection from elder abuse  [by Marshal Oldman and Susan Cooley]

  3. How the Probate Courts Use Law Office Economics to Reduce Probate Judges' Workload (i.e., how judges successfully keep Elder Abuse cases out of Probate Court, by making sure that the fees the lawyers earn are usually lower than the overhead the lawyer must pay for the time devoted to the case):

    Daily Journal article on law office overhead (i.e., the costs required to provide litigation services)
    Table of Fees and Costs in the Conservatorship of Levitt case:     Size of the Two Estates (Levitt and Page) in Conservatorship of Levitt, as compared with Attorneys Fees & Costs 

  1. Transcripts from hearings before two recent former Presiding Judges in Probate for Los Angeles County: (1) Hon. Robert M. Letteau, and (2) Hon. Gary Klausner.   Judge Klausner is now a the Presiding Judge of the entire Civil Division of Los Angeles County.  In those hearings, the Judges expressed:

    [1] impatience with elder abuse cases being brought in Probate Court because of the workload ("They tie up the calendar"), and
    [2] a reluctance to deal with elder abuse cases involving less-than-large estates. 
       The small estate cases take time away from the large estate cases that 

        lead to higher paying private judging work, when the judge retires.

  2. Daily Journal article about Probate Court corruption in Riverside County.    [Queries: (1) Why did none of the lawyers or professional conservators speak out condemning the flagrant corruption of the Riverside court by Judge Sullivan and his business associates?  (2) Did they fear that the judge might cut their fees to punish them, if they spoke out?  (3) Doesn't this suggest that we need a more objective way of determining fees, so that this blemish (of silence) on the Probate community does not occur again?]

  3. Second District Court of Appeal's decision: Conservatorship of Feist, reversing Judge Robert M. Letteau's award of fees to Hankin.  The Second District found that Judge Letteau's decision was the product of a "palpable animosity," because Judge Letteau took offense at Hankin's contention that the court was not serving less-than-affluent victims of elder abuse.  The Second District characterized Hankin's contention as an "outspoken" and "immoderate" "commentary" on probate court practices.   Hankin contended that probate court practices deprive elder abuse victims (who are not affluent) of the protection the courts should provide (to them) from elder abuse.

        The Second District determined that, in a "clear" and "patent"  "abuse of discretion": (1) Letteau cut Hankin's fees (to 1/4 of Hankin's fee request) to punish Hankin for making that contention, and  (2) Hankin under-billed the Fiest Conservatorship (by charging for only 11 out of 21 hearings).  But the Court of Appeal inexplicably refused to publish the decision, effectively sweeping the Judge Letteau's punitive abuse of power under the rug.  Query:  Why did the Second District decline to publish this decision?  

  1. Declaration of Ric Saenz , a Civil and Judicial Bonding Agent, attesting to Hon. Robert M. Letteau's personal bias and misconduct on the bench to punish Hankin