The Ruling That Could Change Everything For Disabled People With Million-Dollar Trusts

A pissed-off judge, a $3 million inheritance, and a neglected autistic man

The trustees agreed to pay for some of the items Staver recommended, including a computer, headphones, clothing, and gift certificates for restaurants. They also hired Staver to assess Mark four times a year.

In June 2009, Glen was finally ready to appoint Platt as Mark's guardian, but with strings attached: He would have to report to the court every year.

New York's guardianship law for intellectually disabled people, known as Article 17-A, is one of the nation's few that doesn't require periodic judicial review. "If a guardian was appointed 15 years ago, we have no idea whether the kid's dead, alive, tied to a mattress in their own crap," Glen says.

Mark, Glen wrote in her opinion, could have remained completely isolated in an institution without his resources being spent to help him reach his potential. From now on, she decreed, all guardians appointed in Manhattan would have to report annually.

Glen didn't stop there. She wondered how many Marks were out there, and how many trustees were getting away with not spending money on them.

By chance, another special-needs case had come across her docket that year. A severely disabled woman had a large fund managed by a corporate trustee. It seemed no one had evaluated her for years, so Glen sent a guardian ad litem to visit her. She lived very comfortably, with a full-time caretaker and chauffeur. But Glen found out that the woman never went outside because she couldn't hold her head up. The trustee never visited her and had no idea she needed a wheelchair that could support her head, or that such a wheelchair existed.

"They were spending a lot of money, but they weren't spending money in a smart way," Glen says.

That same year, Glen ordered Mark's trustees to open their books.

In 2010, Mark moved into his own room at the Anderson Center. During the day, he exercised and worked on communication and vocational skills, like sorting and packaging. He didn't do well with change, and at first he hit staff and himself.

But soon, Staver noticed improvements. Mark had made "significant progress" using pictures to convey words, sentences, and questions. For the first time, he could dress himself, eat with regular utensils, and drink from a cup. He was still aggressive, but he was also playing outside with a ball, watching videos, and eating at restaurants accompanied by caregivers.

"He smiles and will reciprocate gestures such as high fives or handshakes," Staver wrote. (She declined comment on this story due to a confidentiality agreement.)

A year later, Mark no longer needed a safety harness to restrain him during van rides. He could now brush his teeth without help, take laundry in and out of the washing machine, put his plate in the dishwasher, and review his daily schedule. He was using a trampoline, reclining bike, and Nintendo Wii the trustees had bought him, and his Xbox helped him interact with others. He left the facility to eat in restaurants, go bowling, get haircuts, and shop. Staff began planning a vacation to Disney World or the Autism on the Seas cruise.

By 2012, Mark was showering independently. He liked dressing up before eating out and buying a drink for himself after walking a trail. Using new communication devices, he chose the foods he wanted for dinner. For the first time, he could use sign language to say "apple" and "cracker."

One day, as Staver left Mark's classroom, she waved and said, "Bye!" Mark had never spoken in his life, so she expected no reply.

But this time she didn't hear gurgles or inscrutable sounds. Instead, she heard him utter his first word: "Buh!"

In late 2012, as Glen neared mandatory retirement at age 70, she decided to follow up on Mark's case. She discovered that it had been two years since the trustees filed documents showing how they'd managed Mark's trust.

The trust was now worth $3.6 million. In the five years after Marie's death, Platt earned more than $26,000 in commissions, and JP Morgan received more than $52,000. But through March 2010, they had only spent $3,525 on Mark after Glen intervened.

In December, on her last day as a judge, Glen wrote her final chapter in Mark's case, which had implications that would reach far beyond him. She ruled for the first time that banks and other trustees have to figure out what disabled people need and spend money to improve their lives.

Like many of her opinions, this one was unusually detailed, reading more like a novella than a court record.

"The history reveals a severely disabled, vulnerable, institutionalized young man, wholly dependent on Medicaid, unvisited and virtually abandoned, despite a multi-million dollar trust left for his care by his deceased mother," she began.

According to Glen, in the four years since trustees hired Staver and attended to Mark's needs, the intervention "has dramatically improved the beneficiary's quality of life and his functional capacity to enjoy what is now a near 'normal' existence in the community.

"It is not sufficient for the trustees to simply safeguard the Mark Trust's assets; instead, the trustees have a duty to Mark to inquire into his condition and to apply trust income to improving it."

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11 comments
sgreenovich
sgreenovich

I agree Determinedin (NY) but the responsibility of finding just judges is up to us. It is the same for finding people who will express our views politically. This really isn't even a difficult thing. Our political representatives only have to do what we ask them to they are literally trying to be popular with the people that put them into office. The same goes for the president his job is to lead and do the will of the people. Why is it so hard for political people to follow their word, do as they have promised and as the people who have faith in them have asked? Something is seriously wrong, and it may start with us.


http://www.jcohenmediation.com/div1.htm

DeterminedinNY
DeterminedinNY

This judge has restored some of my faith in the judicial system, I wish there were more like her.

JackForeigner
JackForeigner

CUNY Law dean and prof, eh?  No wonder!  That's one progressive institution.  Too bad their grads had the issues with passing the bar exam the first time around (industry standard); hopefully that's now been rectified (though it's certainly the case that bad lawyers exist anyway).  What a woman, wow!

AerOHead
AerOHead

I'll gladly join those giving thanks to -- and for -- the Honorable Judge Glen. My question is this: Why was Platt so able to take the money and run, but then claim family illness, etc. for not being able to do the job? Professionals routinely reassign their duties to others when they are unable to perform to standards. Platt said he won't be criticized by anyone. Well, I will most certainly criticize! It's because of sleazebags like him that lawyers get a bad name. Shame on you, Platt. I can almost understand that JP Morgan, as a corporation and dedicated to nothing other but the bottom line, might focus purely upon maximizing the trust, but you, as an attorney, have a sacred duty to work in your clients' best interests. It's too late now, but by rights I think Judge Glen should have ordered you to reimburse your ill-gotten commissions. They were, in truth, defrauding your client. I hope the fire is stoked up enough for the likes of you by the time you get there.

ally121
ally121

Thank you Judge Glen, for caring about people. I wish you had been the judge on my mother's case...she possibly would have been alive today. My mother was kidnapped by her guardian /attorney Mary Giordano, elder care attorney with Franchina and Giordano in Garden City, NY. Judge Joel Asarch insisted she go in a nursing home although I was able to care for her 24/7 in my home, deemed safe by the courts. They wanted what was left of her small estate, which had already been pillaged by Giordano. It always and only all about money, never about the people.

sunnykay1
sunnykay1

Thank you Judge Glen! The whole institution of guardianship needs more oversight nationwide. My family was never wealthy but I had a special needs younger brother -- and it was always a worry as to who would look out for my brother if he was our last family member. Sometimes in dark moments I think it was a blessing that Paul passed before my mother and I did. Perhaps if more people follow your footsteps and watch over the guardianship process, things will be better. But guardianship abuses are everywhere, and there is a long way to go.

MarkNicholas
MarkNicholas

Go Judge Glen, go! Thank you! You are a hero to every parent of a special needs child (like me).

lemurdock1
lemurdock1

I remember Judge Kristin Booth Glen well from my time as a practicing attorney.  Very smart, very fair, very nice.  Now that I am the mother of two disabled boys and Exec Dir of a school for children with autism, I appreciate her even more -- she is obviously caring and sensitive.  I am so happy that she took on the lawyers and banks to ensure that they do right by people who are so severely disabled they cannot fend for themselves.  What a great outcome -- I hope other judges will pick up where Judge Glen left off and hold these officials accountable.


AerOHead
AerOHead

What I hadn't yet learned when I posted that is that Harvey Platt also makes a fair share of money with his books (search for his name on Amazon) and also on the lecture circuit. His family health problems somehow didn't keep him from updating his books every year!

I haven't yet had a chance to read Judge Glen's entire opinion on this case, but I've put it on my Kindle for reading later. It's a bit hard to find, so here's a link for anyone who is interested: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/other-courts/2012/2012-ny-slip-op-22387.html

 
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