Alexes Shostac, daughter of elder abuse victim, on California probate judges failing to protect abused seniors
My personal experience with the court system has had a devastating effect on my whole family.
My mother, who had been employed as an aeronautic engineer by TRW prior to her retirement at age 65, began to develop debilitating dementia and depression by age 76. At this time, her brother and his children started to take advantage of her financially, psychologically, and physically. Her brother stole thousands of dollars from her, and his children tried to take over her real estate holdings. My mother was under a doctor’s care and taking several medications to keep her health stabilized. One day, her brother threw out all of her medications, which resulted in her being admitted to the ER in a comatose state.
At this point, I contacted a social worker who said that I should notify the police. At the police station, it was suggested to me that rather than have my uncle go to jail, I should contact an elder abuse lawyer and try to resolve the matter in a less drastic fashion. I retained elder law attorney Marc Hankin to represent my mother, and she was immediately placed in a temporary conservatorship pending a hearing.
Meanwhile, my uncle had a lawyer friend who was highly unethical and dishonest. The lawyer forced my mother to sign documents retaining him as her lawyer because she needed “protection from the conservatorship and from her daughter [me].” He tried to get my mother to change her will to benefit her brother instead of me, her only child. The lawyer often told my mother that he loved her and would marry her if it wasn’t for the age difference, and then he had her sign yet another document.
During this period, my mother had 24-hour care provided by the court-appointed conservator. My mother’s caretakers took extensive notes around the clock. In their notes, which were provided to the court, were several entries stating that after the lawyer’s visits, my mother was often extremely upset and disoriented, and would ask if she had signed something bad.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hankin had compiled volumes of documentation detailing my mother’s case, but each time there was a scheduled court hearing and we had all assembled (doctors, lawyers, witnesses, conservators, caregivers, etc.), Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Letteau would postpone the case for no apparent reason. The general feeling was that the judge was totally unfamiliar with the case. During one of these postponed hearings, the evil lawyer’s mother was present, sat up front and appeared friendly with Judge Letteau, while announcing that the lawyer was her son. Something did not look right.
Finally, the trial date arrived, and my mother was placed on the stand. When Judge Letteau questioned her about the documents that she had supposedly written, she had no idea what he was talking about. When asked to read them, she was unable to comprehend their meaning. It was obvious to everyone present that my mother was being duped by her brother and the crooked lawyer, and yet to our amazement, the judge still acknowledged him as her lawyer and awarded him his full fee! When Mr. Hankin tried to introduce the facts of the case, Judge Letteau appeared irritated and didn’t want to hear it. Mr. Hankin’s fees were cut in half. We were all stunned! The brother got away with murder, the evil lawyer made out like a bandit, and my mother, who was helpless and incapable of defending her rights, got stuck with all the attorneys’ fees and court costs.
As a result, my mother was forced to sell a house to pay for this entire fiasco that was being passed off as justice.
This whole process was one of the worst experiences of my life. I lost 15 pounds due to stress and have since developed a deep distrust of the judicial system and everyone involved in it.
As for my mother, her emotional and physical condition has deteriorated drastically because of the stress inflicted on her, and her money is running out. She had worked hard all her life and had denied herself many things so that she could leave an inheritance for her only grandson—that was her big dream. Now it will never come true. At least her dementia prevents her from understanding that her life’s ambition was destroyed by the very courts which were supposed to protect her.
[Written by Alexes Shostac]