Los Angeles Police Department Detective Jeff Redman on California Judge R. Gary Klausner failing to protect elder abuse victims
I am writing to explain a situation that happened to my family. My uncle was a World War II Navy veteran highly decorated for his service in the Pacific Campaign during the war. My 77-year-old uncle, Joel Levitt, was in failing health. He was suffering from dementia and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It became apparent that he would be in need of 24-hour care. Due to his deteriorating health, a live-in healthcare provider was hired to assist my uncle.
To make a long story short, the live-in healthcare provider was taking advantage of my uncle by having him sign over property and pay her bills, and by taking cash draws from his numerous accounts. The topping of the cake was when she took my uncle to Las Vegas and married him. I found out about this when my uncle told a neighbor that he had gotten married to his housekeeper. This neighbor quickly called me, and that was the start of our nightmare.
She immediately proceeded to attempt to withdraw my uncle’s life savings from several banks holding his accounts. Los Angeles Police Department Det. Chayo Reyes, who headed the now virtually moribund LAPD Elder Abuse Unit, was able to convince the bankers not to honor my uncle’s demand for funds. Wielding my uncle like a marionette with a sword affixed to its hand, the caregiver had my uncle denounce the deprivation of his civil liberties (i.e., his right to give his money to her).
But [elder abuse attorney] Mr. [Marc] Hankin and Det. Reyes were able to demonstrate my uncle’s mental deficits and thereby convince the banks and the Los Angeles County Superior Court to freeze my uncle’s bank accounts with a restraining order, and a temporary conservator was appointed.
Mr. Hankin explained how widespread elder abuse was, and he assured me the court would not allow this type of injustice to go on.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hankin and I learned that the court seemed more concerned about the rights of the caregiver “wife” than the protection of my elderly uncle and that the probate court was not the protective environment that Mr. Hankin says the probate court used to be.
After numerous court continuances, it became very apparent that the court was just trying to sweep this horrendous miscarriage of justice under the proverbial carpet. Judge Gary Klausner of the Los Angeles County Superior Court was the presiding judge. The caregiver “wife” consistently failed to obey Judge Klausner’s orders to account. But he gave her continuances over about a two-year period, without ever holding her in contempt, and I cannot understand why.
Eventually, Judge Klausner finally allowed us to go to trial, but he interrupted the trial after a half of a day’s worth of testimony from a geriatric clinical psychologist and other witnesses. For reasons that no one can fathom, Judge Klausner placed a telephone call to the trial judge, asking that the trial be aborted and that the case be returned to his (Klausner’s) court . . . so that Judge Klausner could give the caregiver “wife” yet one more chance to file the accounting she had been obstinately failing to file . . . for (I think) about two years at that point. She never did account. And all of our trial preparation time and costs had been wasted. The continuances continued and continued.
Judge Klausner also inexplicably allowed the caregiver “wife” to take my uncle out alone, without supervision. On one occasion, I was called at home by LAPD, informing me that my uncle was wandering on a major street some 20 miles from his home. It was determined that he had not been taking his seizure prevention medication (Dilantin), that the caregiver had dropped him off on a bench so she could visit friends, and that my uncle could have died from the low Dilantin levels, or just from wandering around, lost. This was just one instance of the horrendous care my uncle received at the hands of this crook.
We later discovered a will leaving everything to her. After a conservator was appointed, the lawyer to whom the crook took my uncle for the preparation of the will tried to represent my uncle in the conservatorship (e.g., to seek a spousal support order for my uncle’s “beloved wife”).
Eventually my uncle was determined to be in need of a conservatorship, and with the hard work and great effort of Mr. Hankin, my uncle lived the last few years of his life in comfort without any interference from the former caregiver. Eventually, we obtained a judgment in family court that the marriage was a nullity based on findings of both fraud and lack of capacity. Mr. Hankin also got the will invalidated.
The former caregiver has moved on to greener pastures and no doubt will be pulling the same scam on some other unsuspecting family. Mr. Hankin tells me that she has been involved with several other families and that they have been calling him (each of them unaware of the others) over the intervening years since she stopped ravaging our lives. Mr. Hankin tells me that he gives them what information he can to protect themselves.
Eventually, after several years, Mr. Hankin petitioned for attorney’s fees. Judge Klausner awarded him fees of about $190 an hour, which was beneath the $200 an hour that Judge Klausner paid Probate Volunteer Panel (PVP) lawyers, and beneath the $225 an hour that Mr. Hankin requested. This did not sit well with me since I believed that $190 an hour was beneath Mr. Hankin’s overhead. Stephen Webber, the lawyer whom the court appointed to protect my uncle from potential overcharging (by the conservator or the conservator’s attorney, Mr. Hankin,), supported Mr. Hankin’s fee request, saying that Mr. Hankin had saved my uncle’s life and that there would be nothing left but for Mr. Hankin’s very efficient services. Mr. Hankin no longer takes cases like this, and there is a shortage of lawyers who are competent to handle cases like this.
Something must be done to assist our elderly, not only from the vultures who feed off of them, but the courts in our state have to recognize the terrible cases of elder fraud and abuse. We as tax-paying citizens look to the legal system to help us, not to hinder us. I cannot tell you how this particular version of Alice in Wonderland caused pain for my wife, my children, my uncle, and me.
I hope that no other family has to go through the hell that my family and I went through just to try and protect an old veteran who was unable to protect himself.
[Written by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Det. Jeff Redman and by Barbara Redman]