While you were running for Michigan Attorney General in 2018, I was an award-winning investigative journalist, member of the LGBTQ community and a Democrat.
Had I also been a resident of Michigan, I would have cast an enthusiastic vote for both you and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. This was not because of my political and social backgrounds.
I've interviewed politicians, lines of them. All of them parroted whatever talking points they thought my newspaper’s readers wanted to hear. The post-election reality was, as expected, entirely different.
You ran a campaign that seemed to be based on genuine sincerity rather than expedient politics.
“It’s just a basic belief that it’s never the wrong time to fight for justice,” you said. “It’s never the wrong time to fight for what’s right, and that there are so many people out there clamoring for representation, clamoring to have their voices heard, clamoring for recognition of their rights and equal dignity, just as human beings.”
Having spent my career, driven by the same ideology, your promises resonated with me as much as they clearly did with Michigan’s voters who included the voiceless.
But the post-election reality is that you have not only broken that promise, but actively shielded the alleged perpetrators of some of the most horrific and repugnant crimes and flagrant abuses of civil and human rights in Michigan’s history.
In July last year, myself, a team of three Wayne State University researchers and a forensic fraud examiner launched an investigation into the systemic judicial removal of the civil, constitutional, statutory and human rights of Michigan’s senior and developmentally disabled communities as well as subsequent allegations of the abuse, exploitation torture, isolation and robbery of them by public administrators and judges at the Detroit-area Oakland County Probate Court.
On March 12, at the behest of your Communications Director Kelly Rossman-McKinney, my team met with a contingent of your staff led by Child, Elder, Family and Financial Crimes Division Chief Scott Teter.
Over the course of four hours, we presented evidence in the form of court documents culled from 2,278 separate cases belonging to now-former Oakland County Public Administrators Jennifer Carney, Jon B. Munger, Thomas Brennan Fraser and John Yun who had been appointed as guardians and/or conservators over allegedly “legally incapacitated” seniors and developmentally disabled individuals by Oakland County Probate Court Judges Jennifer Callaghan, Linda Hallmark, Daniel A. O’Brien, Kathleen Ryan and former judge Elizabeth Pezetti.
Our findings, which also included data-driven research and interviews with family members and whistleblowers in the legal and medical communities, included:
- Guardian ad Litems (GALs) working in the interest of a court appointed guardian rather than prospective wards by encouraging them to accept a public administrator (sometimes name specific), while discouraging them from attending a guardianship hearing and filing their reports and recommendations as late as the day of a guardianship hearing.
- Public administrators appointed with no due process afforded to the wards or rights guaranteed under Michigan Compiled Law as well as the dismissal of family members in favor of a public administrator.
- The use by APS of legal representation by the Attorney General’s office to ensure the guardianship of a ward, over their objections and in cases where the GAL also felt no guardianship was necessary.
- The vacating of advance directives such as Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Advocacy forms without cause.
- Families (husbands/wives, siblings, parent/child) put under guardianship at the same time and, in some cases separated.
- The forced removal of wards from their homes.
- Resale of homes by investors at full market value or higher.
- Evidence of home mortgages owned by judges and attorneys paid off in three years or less.
- Massive over-billing, breach of fiduciary duty, double and triple dipping and hundreds of thousands of dollars in unaccounted for money in estates belonging to wards who passed away while under guardianship.
- Guardian accounts of annual ward billing filed with no corroborating evidence, such as receipts, to justify charges which were approved by all four judges.
This evidence was just part of a systemic pattern and practice established by this investigation, which has been unchecked since for at least the past two decades.
However, in an email that evening, Mr. Teter requested I forward him only the case number and alleged victim contact information in one case where a home was sold under market value or a Durable Power of Attorney ignored.
He did not ask for any further information regarding the use of unlicensed group homes, Medicaid fraud, over-billing, judicial misconduct or public administrator malfeasance.
This was a surprise, given the weight and breadth of the evidence we presented to you. Where two cases can be dismissed as a misfortunate error, 2,278 seems like more than carelessness.
Equally startling was your subsequent March 25 announcement of an Elder Abuse Task Force, my attendance at which Ms. Rossman-McKinney actively blocked by telling my then-Detroit Free Press editor the conference would only address “high level elder care issues” and neither guardianship nor Oakland County.
This was a lie.
During the announcement, you presented nine legislative reforms to Michigan’s guardianship system. No criminal investigations into the activities of public administrators, private guardianship companies, probate attorneys or judges were ever mentioned.
The membership of your Task Force was also concerning as it included pro-guardianship agencies and organizations such as the Michigan Probate Judges and Guardianship Associations, the Michigan State Bar and the State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO) who successfully blocked reform legislation proposed by the 1998 Supreme Court Guardianship and 2005 Governor Jennifer Granholm Task Forces.
Furthermore, the SCAO has actively and consistently shielded probate judges, such as Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George.
In 2008, George was caught handing over cases to ADDMS Guardianship Services—an organization formed by two attorneys who donated to her 2003 campaign and found to have engaged in multiple acts of malfeasance.
After an investigation by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission however, no disciplinary action was taken. Indeed, since 1995 not a single probate court judge engaged in misconduct has been removed from the bench.
The same is true for disciplinary actions against probate attorneys by the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. The one glaring exception was the disciplinary action against attorney Steven G. Cohen after he spoke out about the alleged collusion between a Wayne County Probate Judge and two attorneys who drained the estate of civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
George remained on the Macomb County bench allowing history to allegedly repeat itself when a 2019 investigation by WXYZ determined precisely the same behavior with guardianship company Caring Hearts formed by an attorney who donated to George’s campaign. Meanwhile George is still taking guardianship and conservatorship cases in Macomb County begging the question as to why.
That isn’t the only thing which has not changed.
Family members who attended your Elder Abuse Task Force Listening Sessions and presented horrific stories of abuse and neglect at the hands of probate judges, public administrators and attorneys across Michigan have reported back that there has been no action taken by your office to investigate these cases.
We have letters to families, from your employee State Public Administrator Michael Moody, who responded with a similar answer to complaints, received long before and after the announcement of your Task Force, by telling them that their best option to deal with allegations of abuse and neglect by Michigan’s professional guardians and probate attorneys is to “get an attorney.”
Your sudden August 23 firing of Yun, Carney and Fraser from their roles as public administrators was similarly ineffective.
As Teter told my team, and you have since repeated, public administrators are appointed to open deceased estate cases where their are no living heirs. They take on guardianship and conservatorship positions outside of that job description and as private attorneys. Therefore, they are not subject to oversight by the State Public Administrator.
Although Munger was fired as a public administrator in 2017, he still takes guardianship, conservatorship and deceased estate cases in Oakland County the most prolific of which is the guardianship of Aretha Franklin’s eldest son Clarence. The ongoing deceased estate case is presided over by Callaghan who used to work for Munger’s former law partner Yun and whose Judicial Attorney Christina Waid is also a former Munger employee.
At a September 16, 2019 Elder Abuse Awareness event you attended alongside Michigan State Rep. John Cherry (D), numerous frustrated and angry Michigan families, whose relatives have suffered horrific and neglect abuse by probate attorneys and judges statewide, finally asked the questions as to why these crimes have not been investigated.
They were questions my peers in the media have been unwilling to put to you.
Video of the morning was as shocking as it was revealing:
Growing increasingly foul tempered and unprofessional, you attacked the audience: “You don’t know how to vote?” and apportioned blame for your office’s inaction to protect Michigan’s vulnerable on Republican legislators who “Don’t care for me,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Secretary of State, budget cuts, lack of staffing and the amount of time you’ve been in office.
You responded to these families by telling them “I would rather ensure you don’t lose your money at all, than prosecute.”
You added that they should take their complaints concerning probate judges to the Judicial Tenure Commission, the Michigan Supreme Court or just “vote them out.”
“I guarantee you this is the only way anything will happen, “ you said before walking out of the event early.
While that is ticking on, court files indicate that neither they nor the judges have modified their behavior in the slightest. Furthermore, there is evidence that Munger and Fraser are disposing of their assets and that court files such as guardian accounts and ex parte orders are being deleted from the dockets or altered and refiled.
That this is happening under the nose of an Attorney General is unacceptable, That thousands of vulnerable people are in danger while they wait “for the system to work” is unacceptable.
Families in Oakland, Wayne County, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties are now turning to me for help.
Your September 6, 2019 announcement to “object to” over $200,000 in billing by Caring Hearts in Macomb County. is more of a band-aid than a solution. Accounts filed by a guardianship company with no corroborating evidence should be investigated. The receipts should have been filed upon demand from the family and the company should not have been given until January next year to produce them.
It also flies against your defense that you have only been in office nine months since the first WXYZ report on Caring Hearts aired May 30. Yet, you were able to intervene in that case three months later.
We have found absolutely no evidence that you are investigating any other incidents of alleged probate court corruption.
Professional guardians are not immune from investigation when wrong doing is found. This was the case in Nevada and most recently in Florida. After professional guardian Rebecca Fierle was found to have executed Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders without the knowledge of her wards or their families, Governor Ron DeSantis made the astute observation that new or existing legislation is meaningless without consequences for those who break it.
In contrast, your lack of commitment to any kind of criminal investigation into alleged crimes in Michigan is astonishing and led my team down a new line of inquiry as to why.
We received our answers when we discovered campaign ties between yourself, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Oakland County Probate Court Chief Judge Kathleen Ryan.
All of this was laid out in our five-part report published August 23, 2019.
“As AG, I will increase resources to defend seniors from neglect, abuse, and exploitation. I'll ensure that unsafe assisted living facilities and in-home care providers are stripped of their licenses, issue scam notifications for public awareness, and vigorously prosecute cases of Medicaid fraud.”
It seems this particular promise came with conditions that did not include anyone other than allegedly abusive family members, friends or low-level nursing home employees such as CNAs. Your arrests of these individuals, while laudable, fit the “majority of abusers” narrative both yourself and the Michigan Guardianship Association have been hammering home since March 25.
Nursing home executives, probate attorneys and judges have yet to become part of that narrative.
A politician who makes promises she has no intention of keeping is expected. One who attempts to shield alleged abusers of our elderly and developmentally disabled communities with a public relations campaign designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters who placed you into office to protect them is utterly despicable.
While you have forced me to question my own loyalties to party and community, the real shame of it all is that those who will suffer the most are the “people out there clamoring to have their voices heard, clamoring for recognition of their rights and equal dignity, just as human beings.”
The victims and their families who are being terrorized by these courts are not just the people you swore to protect, they are human beings.
They deserve better. They deserve justice.
Gretchen Rachel Hammond.