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Wednesday, December 2


I just read an article in the Arizona Republic about a situation that reminded me of lampreys attaching themselves to sharks, sucking the shark's blood. Lovely creatures, right? The article describes lamprey-like lawyers and administrators that not only sucked the blood of an old woman, but unlike lampreys in the sea, which don't kill their hosts, don't suck them dry, just suck them a little bit, these lawyers and administrators got it all. Well, here's the article, written by Laurie Roberts. See what you think.

When Marie Long wanted to go out to eat, her caregiver called a fellow employee to get directions to a restaurant.

That phone call cost Marie $19.50.

When a caregiver needed directions to Marie's doctor's office, that call also cost Marie: $8.50.

Four years ago, Marie Long was worth more than a million dollars, but that money is gone now, most of it gobbled up by lawyers and a guardian that decided what she needed and then hired itself to provide it.

A hearing into the fees that helped put this 88-year-old widow into the poorhouse wrapped up on Tuesday. Now, it's up to Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Lindsay Ellis to decide whether the charges were fair.

I wrote about Marie's plight in October. How just four years ago she had $1.3 million in assets, held in trust for her final years. How her court-appointed atorney, Jon Kitchel, practically begged Ellis to do something a year ago when he discovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and guardian's fees wee going out the door. How Ellis didn't do a thing and how the drain actually accelerated after that as the various parties--the trustee, the guardian and their attorneys--used what was left of Marie's money to defend their use of Marie's money.

In all, court records indicate that Brenda Church, the lawyer for the trustee who oversaw Marie's finances, had collected nearly $345,000 of Marie's money since 2005.

Meanwhile, Sun Valley Group has collected nearly $178,000 for acting as her guardian and directing her non-medical care, and another $235,000 for supplying that care over a 20-month period while she was still in her own home. Sun Valley's attorneys got another $57,000.

On Tuesday, Heather Frenette, who with her husband, Peter, owns Sun Valley, testified that their bills are legitimate. Things like charging Marie $75 an hour for services provided by an employee who now is Sun Valley's receptionist.

Things like charging Marie $13 when Sun Valley's care manager had to call to remind Sun Valley caregivers of a doctor's appointment. And charging Marie $62 to discuss among themselves a grease fire caused by one of their own employees.

Things like Charging Marie $88--plus $18.69 for mileage--to pick up hearing-aid batteries, and $19 to reply to Marie's attorney about her request for new shoes.

Things like charging Marie $17 when a caregiver didn't show up, requiring a call to the care manager. And $25.50, in part to discuss a caregiver who locked herself out of Marie's house, and $32.50 to go to the bank to get Marie cash.

Things like charging Marie $19.50 to look up directions to restaurants. Frenette testified Tuesday that Marie and the caregiver were already in the car and headed to a different restaurant when Marie changed her mind about where she wanted to eat, necessitating the call for directions--and the $19.50 charge.

"Everything we do for the benefit of the client is charged to the client," Frenette said.

Plenty of questions remain about this case, chief among them how Sun Valley can serve as the guardian that determines the care needed and then profit by providing that care.

Frenette testified that Sun Valley never sought court approval to do both but that everyone knew that Sun Valley was also supplying caregivers under the name Arizona Care Management.

Ellis ruled Tuesday that it's not a conflict.

Presiding Probate Judge Karen O'Connor didn't return a call to explain how that squares with a Supreme Court rule that bars fiduciaries from "self dealing or the appearance of a conflict of interest." If such services aren't available elsewhere, the rule allows a guardian to provide them but only after getting court approval.

O'Connor's spokeswoman, Jessica Funkhouser, said in an e-mail that O'Connor couldn't comment on a pending case but that the Supreme Court employs auditors to check compliance with the rules governing fiduciaries.

Also up in the air is who can investigate whether there has been a breach of fiduciary duty and thus money should be returned to Marie. Marie's attorney filed such a suit, but Ellis tossed it, ruling he lacks the aurthority to do so. Marie's guardian ad litem, Brian Theut, has the authority to do so but hasn't done so. Instead, he has asked Ellis to instead appoint the county's public fiduciary to look into it.

Meanwhile, Marie's trustee has resigned and Sun Valley has served notice that it wants out. And the widow once worth a million dollars?

Well, she's broke now, and for the rest of her life, her care will be paid for by . . .


End of article. Isn't that a scary situation? Reminds me too much of the way taxpayer money can be misused by bureaus and bureaucrats and their ilk.

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