The Arizona State Legislature was busy as bills had to be heard in their chamber of origin by the end of the week. Among them, the competing versions of attempts at probate reform.
DAY ONE: SB1499 sponsored by Sen. Adam Driggs, R-LD11, the product of the court committee on probate reform. The committee, made up entirely of judges, attorneys and fiduciaries and without even one public member, was charged with “reform” after the press began to report the travesty of justice experienced by many who have entered the hallowed halls of the courts. Sen. Driggs said in testimony that “85% of cases go well, but we only hear about the 15% that don’t.”
An observer in the audience had this to say,
85% compliance is good if you are among the 85%. But if our murder rate was 15% would they find that acceptable?”
Jon Kitchel said in testimony,
SB 1499 is full of feel-good language but does very little to improve the system.”
Kitchel, identified himself before the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services as an attorney who “does not represent fiduciaries but works for wards”.
Amy Love, lobbyist for the courts, spoke to the merits of the bill and was followed by Justice Ann Timmer who expounded on certain aspects. They were followed by Susan Bitter-Smith, lobbyist for the Elder Law attorney group and Jay Polk who support the bill.
Then the people spoke. And spoke. And spoke.
Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, and Kitchel spoke in opposition. The reality of the courts played out before the committee that seemed very confused at the completely different perceptions portrayed between the court spokespersons and the people who actually have lived through the process.
- Admittance of hearsay as sufficient evidence to keep a family in a costly legal battle for almost 2 years without an evidentiary hearing or an investigative report.
- Court ordered physician evaluations when an existing evaluation exists, multiple doctors surveyed before a singular finding of incapacitation is rendered, with that evaluation used for the purpose of the court.
- Refusal of the court to uphold established directives. Legal Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Medical Powers of Attorney, and other legal directives are discarded with the courts inserting paid, private fiduciaries instead at the cost of millions to estates.
- Extreme cost of restoring one’s rights or to request a change of fiduciary. The fiduciary may use the funds from the ward’s estate to maintain and defend their position.
- Detrimental care of wards under a fiduciary when families are legally restricted from contact with the ward.
The final speaker shook the committee and the crowded, standing room only audience. Clair Di Pardo was named guardian in her mother’s directives, only to be dismissed by the court and replaced by Sun Valley Group (SVG). Ms. Di Pardo showed photos of her mother just prior to being placed in a care home at the order of SVG. Restricted from visiting her mother because of her objections to the placement, four months went by without seeing her mother. When she did, what she found was horrifying. Showing photos of her mother’s condition to the committee, an inches large stage four bed sore that had invaded tissue to the bone and another on her heel that was turning black with no antibiotics are pain medicine being given in the care home. Septic and dying, she had to be hospitalized to recover. The cost of this care, $500,000.
In attempting to have her mother released from the court, she has had 9 judges or commissioners in 31 months.
Members questioned Ms. Di Pardo then requested Judge Timmer return. Clearly confused as to how the system could allow such a condition to occur, Sen. Gray asked the judge to explain. Judge Timmer said she was aware of the case and gave some explanations such as judicial rotation.
Then the vote…To a person the committee agreed the bill was insufficient and did not go far enough, stated the information they had heard from the public was compelling and demanded further review of need, and requested input from the public for the future of the bill to be successful in meeting that need. The bill passed with only Sen. Landrum-Taylor voting no due to her belief the bill was seriously flawed in meeting the needs of the court and to protect the public.
DAY TWO: HB2424, the product of a cooperative effort of legislators, private citizens, attorneys for wards, and input from the courts and other stakeholders. Sponsored by Rep. David Smith, R-LD7, this bill is opposed by those that support the Senate bill.
Amy Love, on behalf of the court, asked the committee to stop this bill and support the Senate bill.
The testimony of citizens, all impacted by the current implementation of the law, proceeded. Many of the same issues were raised as in the Senate committee, however people spoke in support of HB2424 and to the remedies it provides.
The final speaker was Brad Lund. The grandson of Walt Disney, at the age of 40 he is fighting to avoid being placed under the care of a guardian after a disgruntled distant family member filed the action with the courts. He stated his battle has gone on for 16 months, no evidence of need has ever been offered, hearsay is the only evidence ever submitted to the court, no court investigation has ever been filed, and to date no doctor has ever declared him to incapacitated. When asked by House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Eddie Farnsworth about the cost of his legal defense, Mr. Lund answered, “Over a million dollars.”
Farnsworth concluded as he voted referencing the courts objections,
We do not make laws for the people who do the right thing but for those that don’t. There are bad actors in this process and we need to protect the people from the abuses we have heard today.”
The bill passed the House with 8 “Ayes” and 1 “Present” by Rep. Tom Chabin.