August 15, 2018
California Court is Target of Disability Discrimination Complaint
The Sacramento County Superior Court will receive a package in the mail tomorrow. It contains two complaints, several affidavits, and multiple exhibits to support allegations that the court is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the equivalent California state law.
At issue is the failure of the court to appoint attorneys to represent people with disabilities who are summoned to court to defend their freedoms in conservatorship proceedings. At stake in these cases is the right of adults to make important life decisions – where to live, what to do with their money, what medical care to receive, whether to marry, who to socialize with, etc. Knowing that these individuals have actual or perceived mental and communication disabilities, the court fails to appoint an attorney to assist many of these involuntary litigants with their legal defense. In many cases, seniors and people with developmental disabilities are left to defend themselves – which, of course, the court knows they cannot do because of the nature and extent of their disabilities. So individuals representing themselves usually lose their cases and their rights are taken away.
The complaint and supporting materials argue that an attorney must be appointed in order for the court to comply with the ADA’s requirement that it provide “access to justice” to litigants who have significant disabilities that would deprive them of meaningful participation in their cases.
For more information about this matter, and to access the complaint, affidavits, and exhibits, go to: http://www.spectruminstitute.org/Sacramento/
August 13, 2018
Conservatorship Reform: An Invitation to Disability Rights California
Spectrum Institute has been at the forefront of conservatorship reform advocacy for some six years now. Over these years, we have invited various disability rights groups to participate in advocacy activities designed to achieve much needed reforms. The most well-funded of these organizations is Disability Rights California. We have just sent a commentary, and supporting materials, to the board of directors of DRC for its consideration. We would like to have an opportunity to meet with board members so that we can share with them our request that DRC put the issue of conservatorship reform on the organization's agenda. DRC could play a major role in protecting the rights of people with developmental disabilities who find themselves entangled in conservatorship proceedings in California. There is room for DRC and its staff to join a growing network of individuals and organizations at a conservatorship reform roundtable. Taking a role in conservatorship reform would be consistent with federal mandates for protection and advocacy agencies such as DRC. Priority should be given to ensuring that counsel is appointed for all conservatorship respondents and that court-appointed attorneys are properly educated on issues and procedures essential to providing effective advocacy in such proceedings. These are positions supported by national organizations and agencies such as TASH, The Arc and AAIDD, and the National Council on Disability.
August 10, 2018
Dr. Nora Baladerian Receives APA Award in San Francisco
Congratulations to Dr. Nora Baladerian for receiving this year's Distinguished Contributions Award from the APA Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology. The award recognizes an APA member who has made a significant contribution to people with disabilities through promoting inclusion, advancing knowledge and research, participating in advocacy, and fostering empowerment of people with disabilities in society. To read Nora's acceptance speech, click here.
July 27, 2018
Pursuit of Justice: Official Selection at Another Film Festival
Our docmentary film has been selected for inclusion in the Docs Without Borders International Film Festival. It is one of several films selected to compete in the "Rev-Reform" category. Other films in this category are from Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, and the USA.
This web-based competition is dedicated solely to documentaries and docu-dramas. Winners will be announced on October 22, 2018.
July 26, 2018
Just Released: Digital Law Library on Guardianship and Disability Rights
An updated compendium of more than 300 articles, reports, and educational materials on access to justice in guardianship proceedings has just been released by Spectrum Institute. The collection contains more than 2,500 pages of materials written by or produced by attorney Thomas F. Coleman over the last five years. The collection is dedicated to the memory of Mickey Parisio, the man whose alleged abuse by his conservators in 2012 was reported to Dr. Nora Baladerian who then referred it to Coleman, thus starting him down the guardianship reform path. To read the preface to the compendium, click here. To access the library materials, click here.
July 18, 2018
Official Poster Released for Pursuit of Justice Film
Filmmaker Greg Byers has released a poster for our documentary film. To view the full-size poster, click here. It includes an image of Mickey, a victim of abuse allegedly committed by his parents/conservators, looking up helplessly from the lawn in his parents' backyard. Mickey was supposedly under the protection of the probate court in California at the time. This is the case that captured the attention of Dr. Nora Baladerian and attorney Tom Coleman in 2012 and inspired Spectrum Institute to launch the Disability and Guardianship Project.
The Pursuit of Justice film tracks the activities of the project over the past few years as it has advocated for guardianship and conservatorship reform in California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania and many other states, and as it has sought the involvement of the United States Department of Justice through the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to state guardianship proceedings. Please be advised that this film contains images of Mickey that some viewers may find uncomfortable. As we all know, the topic of abuse is never pleasant.
July 14, 2018
Thomas Coleman Scheduled to Speak at Autism Conference in Georgia
Spectrum Institute's legal director, Thomas F. Coleman, has been invited to speak at the Matthew Reardon Center Autism Conference in Savannah Georgia on Feburary 28, 2019. He will present at two breakout sessions. One will focus on the application of ADA rights and legal protections to guardianship proceedings. The other will explore safe and legal supported decision-making arrangements as an alternative to guardianship. For a description of the presentations, click here.
Colorado Film Festival Shows Pursuit of Justice Film Today
Our documentary film -- Pursuit of
Justice -- will be shown tonight at the Colorado
International Activism Film Festival in Denver, Colorado.
The film is a contender for one of the awards to be
announced later this evening. For more information about
the festival, and their summary of our film, click
July 12, 2018
World Congress to Feature Our Pursuit of Justice Film
The World Congress on Adult
Guardianship, to be held this October in South Korea,
will show our documentary film -- Pursuit of Justice
-- during a plenary session on the second day of the
conference. About 500 people from around the world are
expected to attend. Producer Tom Wright's award winning
documentary film -- Edith+Eddie -- will also be
shown during a plenary session on the first day. Dr. Nora
J. Baladerian will speak on two panels at the conference
and attorney Thomas F. Coleman will speak on another one.
This is a great opportunity to share our insights and
suggestions on abuse, disability, and guardianship to
like-minded educators, advocates, and government agency
officials from all parts of the world. For the program of
the conference, click here.
July 9, 2018
Dr. Nora Baladerian to Receive Award from American Psychological Association
Psychological Association will present an award to Dr.
Nora Baladerian on August 9, 2018 at its annual meeting
in San Francisco. The award recognizes her contributions
to disability issues in psychology. To read the
announcement of the award, click here.
June 26, 2018
Precedent Set for Right to Appointed Attorney in Conservatorship Appeal
The Second District Court of Appeal set an administrative precedent yesterday. It appointed counsel to represent a young woman in her appeal from an order placing her under a limited conservatorship. Limited conservatorship proceedings are reserves solely for adults with developmental disabilities. General conservators are available to any adult with cognitive problems (due to illness or accident) that deprive them of the ability to make major life decisions.
There are virtually never any appeals by limited conservatees in California (see commentary), because no one will help them file an appeal and they dont know that they can or that they should or how to do it. Therefore, this may be the first time the Court of Appeal was asked to appoint counsel in such an appeal. With the help of my colleague Jay Kohorn at the California Appellate Project, and the excellent groundwork done by public defender Susan Sindelar on the case, the issue came to the courts attention in a positive framework. I supplied a commentary that hopefully played a role as well. A copy of the commentary is attached.
Now we can get
to the substance of the appeal and make some good case
law on the rights of people with developmental
disabilities in these proceedings. This case involves a 19
year-old autistic woman who wants to return to her lifelong
home in Santa Barbara County and to make many, if not
all, of her own decisions. She does not want a
conservator. This appeal is rich with issues that, if
decided properly, can reshape how the cases are handled
in trial courts in the future. What a great
opportunity to make new case law.
June 11, 2018
California Senior Challenges Fees of Appointed Conservatorship Attorney
Theresa Jankowski is fighting for her freedom. A "financial advisor" has petitioned the Los Angeles Superior Court to appoint a conservator to take control of Theresa's life -- including the assets she accumulated over her lifetime. Theresa, 84, has no living relatives. She hired two attorneys to help her oppose the petition. However, a judge has refused to recognize her chosen lawyers as her official attorneys in the proceeding. Instead, the court appointed a different attorney to represent her. The appointed lawyer has been actively advocating against Theresa. He told the court that she should be conserved and that the person she opposes should become Theresa's conservator. In doing so, the attorney has violated ethical obligations of loyalty and confidentiality and deprived her of effective assistance of counsel to which she is entitled as a matter of due process. He is seeking $27,000 in fees and wants the court to order Theresa to pay him out of her assets. Theresa has filed an opposition to the fees. In her motion, she is asking the court to remove the court-appointed attorney from the case and to strike his pleadings from the court file. Next up will be a civil suit by Theresa against the attorney for malpractice, ethics violations, and disability discrimination. A lawyer would never represent a client without perceived disabilities in such a manner. Spectrum Institute is actively monitoring the case. For an op-ed published in the Daily Journal legal newspaper about the case, click here. (Photo: Theresa giving out flowers on Mother's Day at her church.) Update (8-10-18): Attorney Thomas F. Coleman recently filed an ex-parte communication with the court pointing out ways in which the court-appointed attorney was violating ethical requirements and legal obligations. Theresa's "unofficial" attorneys filed a document today with the court, agreeing with the actions that Coleman recommended to the court to protect Theresa's right to have an effective advocacy attorney.
June 3, 2018
New Missouri Law Makes Minor Changes to State's Guardianship System
Senate Bill 806 was signed into law last week in Missouri. The bill makes a few minor changes in the state's guardianship system. It fails to address the major systemic flaws identified in a report distributed by Spectrum Institute to a statewide policy conference last year. That report was cited in a complaint filed by Spectrum Institute with the Supreme Court of Missouri. The complaint is under review by the court. For a short commentary analyzing SB 806, click here.
May 31, 2018
TASH Calls for Civil Rights Summit on California Conservatorships
TASH, an international disability rights organization, has sent letters to both of the major contenders for California Attorney General. The letters call on the next Attorney General to convene a Civil Rights Summit on Probate Conservatorships, to be followed up with a Civil Rights Task Force on Probate Conservatorships. The summit and the task force would identify civil rights violations that are occurring in conservatorship proceedings and would offer solutions to better protect the rights of seniors and people with disabilities who are involuntarily drawn into such proceedings. Similar letters have been sent to these AG candidates by The Arc of California, the California Siblings Leadership Network, and the Coalition for Elder and Disability Rights. The campaign was initiated by Spectrum Institute.
May 21, 2018
Nancy O'Malley Shows Leadership on Conservatorship Reform
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley has decided to investigate claims that seniors are victims of financial and other abuses being systematically perpetrated by the conservatorship system in Alameda County. She has assembled a team of lawyers and financial exerts to conduct the investigation. This appears to be the first time that any elected official in California has taken a serious interest in the problem of abuses in the conservatorship system. For more information about what O'Malley is doing, click here to read a recent news story in the Oakland Post.
May 21, 2018
Teresa Anderson Becomes An Advisor to the Disability and Guardianship Project
Teresa Anderson has been added to the list of advisors to the Disability and Guardianship Project of Spectrum Institute.
Teresa is the Director
of Public Policy of The Arc of California -- a disability
services organization that has been advocating for access
to justice and equal rights for people with developmental
disabilities. The Arc of California supports
conservatorship reform and promotes the use of safe and
legal supported decision-making arrangements as an
alternative to conservatorship.
May 15, 2018
Sacramento Superior Court Has a Duty to Appoint Attorneys
Last year, it was brought to our attention by Alta Regional Center that courts in Sacramento and nearby counties were not appointing attorneys to represent respondents in general conservatorship proceedings. We recently audited records of the Sacramento County Superior Court and found a large number of general conservatorship cases in which respondents had no attorney. This is unacceptable, not only as a matter of basic fairness, but requiring such litigants to fend for themselves deprives them of access to justice and is a form a disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Click here for an essay titled "Compliance with the ADA Requires the Sacramento County Superior Court to Appoint Lawyers for All Proposed Conservatees." As a public entity the court has obligations under regulations implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act which it is violating by not appointing lawyers to represent these litigants. The legal basis for the court's obligation to appoint counsel in these cases is spelled out in a section of the White Paper submitted by Spectrum Institute to the U.S. Dept. of Justice in 2015.
Today we sent to the Sacramento Superior Court a request for records to verify whether the court has an ADA policy pertaining to its services, whether it has a complaint procedure for alleged violations of the ADA by the court, and whether the court has ever conducted a self-evaluation of services as mandated by ADA regulations. We will report the response when we receive it.
May 14, 2018
Response from Missouri Supreme Court
Spectrum Institute received a letter today from the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Missouri indicating that our ADA complaint regarding the state's guardianship system is under review by the Supreme Court.
California Siblings Group Joins Our Call for Civil Rights Summit
Siblings Leadership Network has sent letters to both of
the major candidates for California Attorney General
asking them to convene a Civil Rights Summit on Probate
Conservatorships next year. For the letter to
candidate Becerra, click here.
For the letter to candidate Jones, click here.
April 27, 2018
Spectrum Institute Directors to Speak at International Conference
Dr. Nora J. Baladerian and attorney Thomas F. Coleman have been invited to make presentations at the Fifth World Congress on Adult Guardianship. The conference will be held on October 23-25 in Seoul, South Korea. For an abstract of Dr. Baladerian's presentations, click here. For an abstract of Mr. Coleman's presentation, click here. The World Congress occurs every two years and is generally attended by about 450 delegates from dozens of nations.
April 26, 2018
Letters Sent to Candidates for California Attorney General
In May 2014, we sent a letter to the California Attorney General Kamala Harris reporting civil rights violations in the limited conservatorship system and asking for her, as chief law enforcement officer of the state, to take corrective action. No reply. In January 2017, we wrote a letter to the Attorney General nominee Xavier Becerra, asking him to open an investigation into these civil rights abuses once his nomination was confirmed. After delays and avoidance, we were told the AG's hands were tied because his office represents the officials who allow or participate in these civil rights violations.
Today, we are writing to Dave Jones (above) and Xavier Becerra (left) -- the two major candidates for the office of California Attorney General in the November election. We are asking the winner of the election to sponsor a Civil Rights Summit on Probate Guardianships and to convene a Civil Rights Task Force on Probate Guardianships to study systemic civil rights problems in the conservatorship system and to make recommendations on how the state can better protect the rights of seniors and people with disabilities who become involved in these proceedings.
April 25, 2018
South Korea Delegation Meets with Dr. Nora Baladerian
A group of scholars and government officials from South Korea met with Dr. Nora J. Baladerian in Los Angeles on April 10, 2018. At the request of the delegation, the meeting was arranged by the United States Department of State. Members of the group were interested in Dr. Baladerian's views on issues pertaining to disability and abuse. Above is a photo of the group with Dr. Baladerian.
April 24, 2018
Records Request Sent to Texas Supreme Court
Spectrum Institute sent a records request today to the Justice Nathan L. Hecht, both in his capacity as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and as Chair of the Texas Judicial Council. The purpose of the request is to determine whether either entity has conducted a self-evaluation of the state's guardianship system to determine if it is in compliance or out of compliance with the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This information will be useful in connection with the ADA complaint filed with the Supreme Court by Spectrum Institute a few days ago. To read the request, click here. Update (May 16, 2016): A letter from the Supreme Court of Texas indicates that the court has not conducted a self-evaluation of judicial services to determine if they comply with the requirements of the ADA.
April 22, 2018
Texas Official Tells Congress about Guardianship System's Failures
David Slayton (left) is the Executive Director of the Texas Judicial Council. He testified last week before the Special Committee on Aging of the U.S. House of Representatives. Mr. Slayton's testimony disclosed serious deficiencies in the adult guardianship system in Texas and the documented failure of the judicial branch to stop financial abuses and lack of reporting by guardians. Spectrum Institute has taken excerpts from that testimony and supplied commentary explaining that Slayton's disclosures are tantamount to an admission by the state judiciary that it is failing to provide access to justice for people with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. To read the excerpts and our commentary, click here.
Update: Two newspapers in Texas published stories on April 23 about the testimony of this official and how it relates to the ADA complaint filed by Spectrum Institute with the Texas Supreme Court. To read the story in the San Antonio Current, click here. To read the story in the SE Texas Record, click here.
April 16, 2018
Reaching Out Again
to the Department of Developmental Services
A letter was sent today by Spectrum Institute to Diana Dooley, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency -- the agency to which the Department of Developmental Services reports. Secretary Dooley is a member of the Cabinet of California Governor Jerry Brown. The letter, and enclosed materials, are an effort to prod DDS into fulfilling its responsibilities to provide guidance to and oversight of regional centers as they evaluate and prepare reports on adults with developmental disabilities in conservatorship proceedings.
Spectrum Institute is attempting to get DDS to voluntarily comply with mandates of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior attempts over the past four years have been met with avoidance and resistance. We hope that Secretary Dooley can provide the incentives needed by DDS to get the director to work with us toward the goal of ADA compliance by the department. For a report on the responsibilities of DDS under the ADA in connection with regional centers and conservatorship proceedings, click here.
Update: On April 23, we received a reply from the Assistant Secretary of HHS informing us that DDS is now reviewing the material we submitted to them last year and that the Assistant Secretary will get back to us in a month or two.
April 13, 2018
New Rule Proposed for Conservatorship Attorneys in California
On November 17, 2014, leaders of Spectrum Institute and a small group of our supporters made a presentation to an advisory committee of the California Judicial Council at its headquarters in San Francisco. We had a big ask: adopt new rules to ensure access to justice for people with cognitive and communication disabilities who find themselves entangled in conservatorship proceedings.
Did we get everything we wanted? No. Would this rule change, if implemented effectively, ensure access to justice for people with disabilities in conservatorship proceedings? No. But is the proposal a step in the right direction and an improvement over the status quo? Yes.
Today the Los Angeles Daily Journal published a commentary by Thomas F. Coleman about the proposed new rule. It compliments the committee on its work, asks for two changes, and notes that there is much work ahead for conservatorship reform advocates in order to secure access to justice for seniors and people with disabilities in these proceedings. Work with the California State Bar on the details of training programs should be at the top of the agenda. For a copy of the commentary, click here.
Correction: The commentary states that the proposal restricts the authority of local courts to impose greater training requirements. That is erroneous. In fact, such authority is retained by local courts. The Daily Journal editor and the advisory committee have been notified of the error and received our apology for the mistake. Follow-up: A letter was sent to the advisory committee today recommending that two issues be added to the training: disability and sexuality, and alternatives to conservatorship. For a copy of the letter, click here.
April 9, 2018
Guardianship Reform: An ADA Complaint to the Supreme Court of Texas
Spectrum Institute has filed a complaint today with the Supreme Court of Texas alleging that the state's guardianship system is operating in violation of the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These statutes apply federal nondiscrimination protections to public entities, which include state and local courts. The Supreme Court of Texas has administrative and supervisory authority over the judges who preside in guardianship cases and the attorneys who are appointed to represent litigants with disabilities in these proceedings.
The complaint asks the Supreme Court to investigate documented deficiencies in the guardianship system, to acknowledge that litigants with disabilities are not being provided access to justice as required by the ADA, and to make modifications to policies and practices in order to bring the state's guardianship system into compliance with these federal nondiscrimination laws.
"Access to justice" for people with disabilities is required by the ADA. The denial of such in Texas guardianship proceedings stems in large measure from two problems. First is the failure of the courts to appoint an attorney in about 10 percent of cases to represent respondents who have significant cognitive and communication disabilities, thereby precluding them from meaningful participation in their cases. The nature of their disabilities prevents them from advocating for or defending their rights. The second problem has been raised by some judges who report that even when attorneys are appointed, they are not prepared or qualified. They therefore do not provide effective representation (as required by the ADA). These ADA violations infect the entire case and call into question the fairness of the result as well as the process. Decision-making rights are sometimes surrendered or lost due to the failure of proper advocacy and defense. Less restrictive alternatives are sometimes not explored because an unprepared attorney does not make the system seriously consider such alternatives.
A press release was issued today to call the attention of the media to these civil rights violations and our attempt to correct them.
April 2, 2018
Screening of Pursuit of Justice at Autfest International Film Festival
The Second Annual Autfest International Film Festival will occur in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29, 2018. The festival is sponsored by the Autism Society of America. The festival will be held at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Pursuit of Justice -- a new documentary film by Greg Byers on our advocacy for guardianship reform -- will be shown at the festival. Pursuit of Justice will be part of a block of short films shown on Saturday, starting at 10am. A ticket for this block of films costs $10. For information on how to buy a ticket online, click here.
A reception, to be held on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m., will honor the ABC series The Good Doctor, the Netflix comedy series Atypical, and Sony Pictures. For more information about the festival, click here.
Follow-up Letter Sent to Supreme Court of Missouri
On September 25, 2017, Spectrum Institute sent a letter to the Supreme Court of Missouri complaining that the guardianship system in that state is not in compliance with the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. State and local courts are public entities subject to Title II of the ADA. They are required to take steps to ensure that litigants with disabilities have effective communication and receive access to justice in these proceedings. With its administrative and supervisory authority over state and local courts, the Supreme Court has ultimate responsibility to make sure that these requirements are being met in guardianship proceedings.
We never received a response from the Supreme Court. As a result, today we sent a follow-up letter to Chief Justice Zel M. Fischer (photo). For a copy of the letter, click here.
March 29, 2018
Materials Sent to California State Senate
Spectrum Institute sent an email and attachments to Ms. Nora Lynn, a policy analyst for California Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. Senator Jackson (photo) is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The materials document serious deficiencies in California's conservatorship system. Among the attachments are materials submitted to the Judiciary Committee in 2015: report, exhibits, commentary, letter of Dr. Nora J. Baladerian, and an article summarizing an oversight hearing conducted by the committee. The California Legislature has not yet addressed the issues raised by Spectrum Institute in 2015. Perhaps this will change in 2018.
March 22, 2018
Federal Agency Issues Report Calling for Guardianship Reform
The National Council on Disability issued a report today highlighting the need for major reforms to guardianship systems operated by state courts throughout the nation.
The report emphasizes that the requirements of Americans with Disabilities Act apply to guardianship proceedings, that due process is being denied to many respondents with disabilities, and that attorneys should be provided to advocate for and defend such respondents.
For excerpts from the report, click here.
March 21, 2018
News Story Focuses on Impact of "Incompetence Laws" on Voting Rights
The Pew Charitable Trusts published a story today reporting that thousands of people with disabilities have lost the right to vote due to "incompetence" laws in many states. Gregory Demer, a 31-year old autistic man who lives in Los Angeles, was featured in the story. His photo appears below. The story was also published in Governing Magazine, the Huffington Post, and the Seattle Times.
March 15, 2018
Pursuit of Justice Included in Virtual Film Festival
Our new documentary has been included in the Virtual Film Festival sponsored by THINK+change, a project of The Arc of Aurora in Colorado. To visit the film festival's webpage, click here.
March 7, 2018
National Council on Disability Considers Promoting Guardianship Reform
At a meeting tomorrow, the National Council on Disability will consider public comments on whether the council should put guardianship reform advocacy on its agenda for the next fiscal year. Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute, will offer verbal comments to members of this federal agency. He has already submitted a written proposal to the NCD on this subject. To access that document, click here.
Release of Our Documentary Film on Guardianship Reform
A press release was issued today announcing the release of our new documentary film on the need for reforms of the guardianship and conservatorship systems in all 50 states. For more information about the film -- Pursuit of Justice -- click here.
UPDATE (April 30, 2018): The film is being viewed in many parts of the word. The documentary has been watched by 1,292 people online. This includes more than 1200 people in all 50 states in the the United States, where it has been viewed the most in (top 10 areas): California, Virginia, New York, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Oregon, Utah, and the District of Columbia. About 70 people in 22 other nations have also viewed the film. These counties are Canada, Argentina, Honduras, Australia, Germany, Peru, United Kingdom, Israel, India, South Korea, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, India, Yemen, Estonia, and Portugal.
February 16, 2018
Another Commentary on the ADA Obligations of Guardianship Courts
The United States Department of Justice has not yet issued a guidance memo to assist state courts and their appointed agents in fulfilling their duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mounting evidence throughout the nation that the rights of guardianship respondents are being violated by state courts underscores the need for such guidance. Until the DOJ publishes a memo specifically on guardianship proceedings, the best we can do is to direct state courts to ADA guidance memos issued by the DOJ to state courts in other types of proceedings.
Today, we are releasing a commentary titled "The ADA and Guardianship Courts" which is based on a memo issued by the DOJ in 2015 in connection with the ADA obligations of courts in child welfare proceedings. A previous commentary -- based on a DOJ guidance memo regarding criminal justice proceedings -- was recently sent to the Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Op-Ed: When Freedom from Abuse and the Right to Marry Collide
A commentary was published today in the Los Angeles Daily Journal focusing on the need for all marriages to be premised on valid consent. The marriage discussed in the article involves a same-sex couple where one of the parties has intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Daily Journal is California's premier legal newspaper -- a publication read by judges, legislators, and attorneys throughout the state.
Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a contract that may have significant financial consequences. The commentary was prompted when Spectrum Institute learned of a same-sex marriage involving a young man with serious multiple disabilities. A video of the marriage ceremony posted on YouTube depicts a situation where the young man does not seem to understand the significance of what is happening. At one point in the video he seems to think that it is a baptism ceremony. He is coached and coaxed through the ceremony. As a result of the marriage, the young man lost all of his federal SSI and Medicaid benefits.
The commentary, which appeared on the front page of the paper, calls on the Riverside County Superior Court to evaluate the facts of the case to determine whether the marriage may be invalid due to mental incapacity to understand the nature and consequences of the marriage contract or due to lack of consent because of undue influence. The freedom to marry, as important as it is, must be balanced with the right of vulnerable adults to be free from abuse and exploitation. To read the commentary by Thomas F. Coleman, click here.
Update: February 16, 2018. Following the filing of documents by Spectrum Institute providing the court with information relevant to the marriage and other matters in this case, the court entered an order directing Adult Protective Services to conduct an investigation and report back to the court.
Update: June 5, 2018: After a trial that lasted more than two weeks, Judge Sunshine Sykes took the matter under submission on April 19, 2018. Having reviewed the evidence for more than a month, the judge entered an order on May 24, 2018 calling for more evidence. In her order, Judge Sykes directed that an evaluation of Ryan's capacity to consent to marriage be conducted by a qualified professional and she called for a home evaluation to be done.
January 31, 2018
Letter Received Today from DOJ Civil Rights Division
Today we received a letter from John M. Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice. Mr. Gore (depicted in the photo) heads up the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. The letter responds to our outreach to the DOJ, both in person and in writing, asking the Department to issue a guidance memo to the states explaining how state guardianship proceedings should be conducted in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The letter concludes: "We will keep your comments and proposals under consideration when developing future guidance." For a copy of the letter, click here.
January 29, 2018
Letter Sent Today to Chief Justice of Washington State
A letter was sent today to Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst in response to her letter of December 22, 2017 acknowledging receipt of a formal complaint filed by Spectrum Institute in November 2017 alleging that the state's guardianship system is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Along with the complaint we sent a commentary on how the ADA applies to guardianship proceedings. We also sent information on a specific case in which a 98-year-old woman has been denied access to justice by the judicial system in a guardianship proceeding and a protective order proceeding in Washington State. We included a summary of the facts of the case of Bonnie Jeanne Southall as well as excerpts of relevant provisions of the ADA that apply to her case.
January 23, 2018
Letter Sent Today to Maryland Chief Judge
A letter was sent today by Spectrum Institute to Maryland Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera (in photo). The letter compliments the Maryland Court of Appeals for adopting rules governing performance standards and training requirements for court-appointed attorneys in adult guardianship proceedings. It also calls attention to the omission in the new rules of any reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the applicability of this federal law to the performance of judges, investigators, and court-appointed attorneys in these proceedings. The letter urges the court to amend the rules to make such a reference. Included with the letter is an essay on the topic written by attorney Thomas F. Coleman and a guidance memo issued by the United States Department of Justice on the application of the ADA to participants in the criminal justice system.
January 20, 2018
New Legislative Proposals in Missouri on Abuse and Disability
The Missouri Association of County Developmental Disabilities Services has developed a set of legislative proposals aimed at abuse of people with disabilities. Some of the proposals emerged from presentations on disability, abuse, and guardianships last year by Dr. Nora J. Baladerian and attorney Thomas F. Coleman at a summit on victimization convened by The Arc of Missouri. To view the legislative package, click here.
January 18, 2018
New York Times: Treatment Offers Hope for California Siblings
Dr. Nora Baladerian was quoted in a story today about the 13 children in California who were held captive and continually abused by their parents for years. The story focuses on their need for trauma therapy. To read the story, click here.
January 8, 2018
NPR Series: Abused and Betrayed
National Public Radio
is airing a series on sexual abuse of people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Investigative reporter Joseph Shapiro is responsible for
the research and reporting. Below are links to
individual episodes of the series.
Part 5: From the Frontlines of a Sexual Assault Epidemic: Two Therapists Share Stories
In Their Own Words: People with Intellectual Disabilities
Talk About Rape
December 29, 2017
Chief Justice Responds to ADA Complaint in Washington State
Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst (photo) says she is discussing the issues raised in the complaint with the other eight justices on the court. She will get back to us after she has had an opportunity to gather information about these issues.
December 12, 2017
California Judiciary Working on Spectrum Institute's Proposals
In November 2014, board members and project advisors traveled to San Francisco and met with the Probate and Mental Health Advisory Committee of the California Judicial Council. We brought to the committee's attention the many ways in which the limited conservatorship system in California is dysfunctional. We urged the committee to conduct a thorough review and to recommend that the Judicial Council adopt court rules and judicial standards to effectuate systemic changes that would ensure access to justice for people with disabilities who are caught up in these proceedings. http://disabilityandabuse.org/conservatorship/judicial-council.htm
The committee did not recommend the creation of a task force to look into the entire limited conservatorship system, as we had requested, but it did initiate a review of how to improve the system through new court rules on education of judges as well as qualifications and continuing education requirements for court-appointed attorneys who represent conservatorship respondents. This review has been ongoing throughout 2015, 2016, and 2017. The committee's work agenda for 2018 suggests that new rules could be released for public comment in a few months and perhaps be adopted by the Judicial Council for implementation by January 1, 2019. The wheels of justice move slowly.
According to the staff attorney for the committee: "The committee has reviewed the Institutes proposals carefully. The committee has accepted, in principle, many elements of those proposals; it is working, under the procedures established by rule 10.22, to incorporate those elements into broader proposals related to appointment of counsel in all guardianship and conservatorship proceedings."
Here is a link to this portion of the the committee's work agenda for 2018. http://disabilityandabuse.org/2018-project-pmhac.htm
December 7, 2017
Appointment of Counsel as an ADA Accommodation
The annual conference of the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association will have a panel focusing on appointment of counsel as an ADA accommodation for litigants with significant cognitive disabilities. Spectrum Institute has been advocating for appointment of counsel as an ADA requirement in guardianship and conservatorship cases -- proceedings in which the respondents are alleged to have such significant cognitive and communication disabilities that they need someone else to make major life decisions for them. If the disabilities are that significant, then surely these respondents cannot represent themselves in court. They would need an attorney to ensure meaningful participation in their cases -- a requirement of the ADA. One of the participants on this panel, John Pollock, will distribute our Due Process Plus brochure explaining the ADA requirements for court-appointed counsel in guardianship proceedings. John is the coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. For a copy of the brochure, click here.
November 11, 2017
New Decision on Facilitated Communication, Abuse, and Court Testimony
The Indiana Court of Appeal recently issued a decision allowing a victim of alleged abuse to testify using a form of facilitated communication (FC). The court reviewed prior precedents on the issue and ruled that the victim does not have to prove that FC in general is a scientifically validated form of communication. Rather, it need only be shown that the communication method works for the victim in a specific case and that the victim is in fact the author of the messages being conveyed through the facilitated testimony. The trial court only needs to assure itself that it is the victim who is testifying, not the person assisting the victim in the FC process. For a copy of the court's opinion, click here. Note: This case-by-case approach is consistent with the "effective communication" requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, a person is entitled to have assistance in participating in his or her case. But, of course, in the case of assisted testimony the communication must be coming from the witness and not the person doing the assisting.
November 8, 2017
Preview of Pursuit of Justice Film in Seattle Today
Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute, is in Seattle today along with Greg Byers, a filmmaker who is producing a documentary on the guardianship reform activities over the last few years of Coleman and a small but growing network of advocates. A rough cut of the film -- Pursuit of Justice -- is being shown to a focus group to get feedback that will assist Byers in the final editing process. The film, which is about 34 minutes in length, was shot on locations in California (Los Angeles, Lancaster, Joshua Tree, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco) and in Washington (Seattle and Olympia) as well as in Maryland and Washington D.C. It highlights injustices to several individuals, as well as to a large class of people with cognitive and communication disabilities who are involuntarily required to participate in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings.
We plan a nationwide release of the film in early 2018. The film will be used to generate greater public awareness of guardianship abuses. It will also be used to educate public officials, judges, attorneys, and disability rights advocates about the need for specific reforms to bring state guardianship systems into compliance with the access-to-justice requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For a summary of the film, click here.
November 7, 2017
ADA complaint to be filed with the Washington Supreme Court
A complaint will be filed tomorrow with the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. It alleges that the court is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to adopt policies and procedures to ensure access to justice for people with disabilities involved in adult guardianship proceedings.
The complaint invokes a procedure authorized by a federal regulation implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The regulation imposes a duty on the court to process the complaint pursuant to its administrative authority over the state guardianship system.
An informational copy of the complaint is being sent to the Department of Justice in Washington DC, with a copy being hand delivered to the office of the United States Attorney in Seattle. Pursuant to his request, a copy is also being sent to the Washington State Deputy Attorney General who represents the Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts. The AOC operates under the direction and supervision of the Supreme Court.
Representatives of Spectrum Institute will meet with the United States Attorney's Office on November 8 to brief the Assistant Attorney General on ADA violations occurring in the guardianship system in Washington State and the complaint being filed with the Washington Supreme Court. A similar meeting will be held that day with staff at the Seattle office of Disability Rights Washington.
For more information, go to: http://spectruminstitute.org/Washington/
November 3, 2017
The Arc sends a letter to the Missouri Supreme Court
A letter was sent today from The Arc of Missouri to the state supreme court calling its attention to perceived ADA violations in the guardianship system. The letter, signed by chapter president Ed Thomas (photo), encourages the court to convene an advisory committee to develop ways to bring the guardianship system into compliance with federal law. The letter asks the court to include self-advocates and advocacy organizations as members of such an advisory committee.
To read the letter, click here.
November 1, 2017
Letter sent to DOJ Civil Rights Division
A letter was sent today from Spectrum Institute to John Gore, acting head of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. The letter requests that, in view of the enactment of S.178 into law (elder abuse and guardianship), now would be an appropriate time for the DOJ to issue a guidance memo to the states on the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to guardianship proceedings. To access the letter, click here.
October 24, 2017
Lectures Today at UCLA Class on Autism
Dr. Nora J. Baladerian and attorney Thomas F. Coleman have been invited to lecture today at the University of California at Los Angeles. Their presentations will follow a lecture on legal issues by Dr. Linda Demer. The class is titled Perspectives on Autism and Neurodiversity. Dr. Baladerian will speak about disability and abuse. Mr. Coleman will give an overview of advocacy efforts to reform state guardianship and conservatorship systems -- legal proceedings in which people with autism often find themselves entangled. Coleman, Demer, and Baladerian are depicted in this photo.
Coleman's presentation will be filmed by Greg Byers for a documentary on guardianship reform. The documentary film -- Pursuit of Justice -- will be released next year. In addition to his presentation on guardianship reform, Coleman will give students a written commentary titled "Living on the Autism Spectrum: Legal Issues Over a Life Span." For a copy of the commentary, click here.
September 27, 2017
Complaint filed today with the Supreme Court of Missouri
Based on research conducted by attorney Thomas F. Coleman in preparation for his presentation at the Educational Summit on Victimization sponsored by The Arc of Missouri, Spectrum Institute has filed a complaint with the Missouri Supreme Court alleging that the state's guardianship system does not give adults with developmental disabilities access to justice as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The court is being asked to take appropriate actions to remedy the situation. An informational copy of the complaint was sent to the United States Department of Justice. These materials, and an essay about the court's duties under the ADA, are available at http://spectruminstitute.org/Missouri/. The filing of this complaint begins Phase Two of our Access to Advocacy Outreach Project. (http://spectruminstitute.org/outreach/)
Arc of Missouri Educational Summit on Victimization is a Success
Dr. Nora J. Baladerian gave a morning keynote address at this conference. Her presentation focused on the incidence of abuse, the impact of abuse, and how a lack of awareness of abuse leads to longer exposure and no access to treatment.
Attorney Thomas F. Coleman's afternoon keynote discussed the need to administer trauma informed justice for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are involved in guardianship proceedings. He identified ways in which persons who are in charge of or participating in Missouri's guardianship system can reduce the risk of abuse and provide an effective response if and when maltreatment is suspected or reported. His presentation and supporting materials are found at: http://spectruminstitute.org/Missouri/
Many thanks to Ed Thomas, President of The Arc of Missouri, for inviting Nora and Tom to participate in the conference as keynote speakers. Depicted in this photo are Ed, Nora, and Tom.
ABA Commission on
Law and Aging Emphasizes Right to
The American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging has issued an "action tool" document suggesting ways in which state WINGS groups can promote the right to counsel for respondents in adult guardianship proceedings. WINGS is an acronym for Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders. Such workgroups now exist in several states. For a copy of the action tool, click here.
July 15, 2017
ABA Report on
Restoration of Rights in Guardianship Proceedings
The American Bar Association has published a new report on the restoration of rights in adult guardianships.
The report shares the results on an ongoing study by the ABA of how several states are handling restoration requests, including who is making such requests and whether the person under an order of guardianship is being represented by counsel in these proceedings.
The fact that nearly 43 percent of adults were not represented by counsel in restoration proceedings should be of great concern. An order terminating a guardianship will eliminate court oversight of the guardian (usually a relative) and may expose the adult to a higher risk of abuse. A court-appointed attorney could investigate this possibility and have confidential communications with the client about any abuse that may have occurred or be occurring. Also, without an attorney, the adult may not truly understand the proceedings and be able to have meaningful participation in the case. A court-appointed attorney would serve as an ADA accommodation to ensure the client has access to justice in the proceedings.
To access a copy of the report, click here.
July 6, 2017
Vice News Tonight: Senate Healthcare Bill's Effect on Disabled
Project Advisor Debra Stemmler and her son Sergei explain the consequences that passage of the Senate's heath care bill would have on people with serious disabilities.
Adventures in Advocacy for Spectrum Institute Team
A new documentary film Edith and Eddie provides yet another example of what the films executive producer calls a broken and predatory guardianship system. As it chronicles the love story of an interracial couple in their nineties, the film also provides a dramatic example of how state guardianship proceedings can be easily abused. See review at: http://www.columbiatribune.com/691b9492-fc3d-11e6-8c72-5b9f448a87e3.html
Tom Wright, an advisor to the Disability and Guardianship Project, was one of the producers who worked on the film. He and lead producer Laura Checkoway will be in Washington D.C. on June 12-14 to participate in a project sponsored by the American Film Institute. Dr. Nora Baladerian and I hope to spend some time with Tom on the evening of June 11 while we are in DC with a group of Spectrum Institute supporters and advisors. Our teams activities in DC are intended to advance our guardianship reform agenda and to promote the need for additional federal protections focused on the abuse of seniors and people with disabilities.
In collaboration with NBC Universal, AFI has chosen the producers of Edith and Eddie to participate in an Impact Lab. The Lab is described as follows: This two-day intensive program is designed for filmmakers with issue-driven films who aim to create broader social and political change through the power of story and film. The Lab provides a select group of AFI DOCS filmmakers with unique training opportunities in the areas of advocacy, grassroots communications and grasstops engagement. In addition to exclusive training with some of Washington's most sought-after tacticians, Lab participants are connected with policymakers and Congressional aides working on legislation relevant to their films. https://www.afi.com/afidocs/impact_lab.aspx
Congratulations to Laura and Tom and the entire crew and cast who worked on this important film. The movie will increase public awareness of the critical need for guardianship reform. We hope that our own documentary film Pursuit of Justice will be able to expand public awareness even further, by focusing attention on the problem of guardianship abuses involving people with cognitive and other disabilities of any adult age and help clarify that guardianship abuse is not limited to seniors. http://disabilityandabuse.org/seniorsplus.pdf
Our filmmaker, Greg Byers, will be gathering video footage for the Pursuit of Justice as he follows members of our team at various events and locations in Washington DC and vicinity while we attend a conference on guardianship reform and as we hold meetings with attorneys at the Department of Justice and with members of Congress. With this new footage added to that already gathered by Greg over the past three years, he should be able to complete post-production activities once we return to California. We look forward to the release of the film once Greg finishes working his magic on it.
Spectrum Institute received a letter today from Ralph Edwards (left), President of TASH, along with a resolution adopted by the organization's Board of Directors acknowledging and supporting the efforts of Spectrum Institute and its Legal Director, Thomas F. Coleman, in advocating for reform of state guardianship systems. The commendation notes their efforts to promote the mandatory appointment of counsel for all guardianship and conservatorship respondents, and advocating for the use of less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision-making, whenever that is feasible.
TASH is an international leader in disability advocacy, promoting human rights and inclusion for people with significant disabilities and support needs, and seeking to eliminate injustices that diminish human rights.
Many thanks to Dr. Linda Demer and other members of the Human Rights Committee of TASH for bringing the guardianship reform activities of Spectrum Institute and Thomas F. Coleman to the attention of the organization's Board of Directors.
May 4, 2017
Spectrum Institute sent a letter today to the Clark County District Attorney regarding sentencing options for a guardian who was convicted of financial elder abuse. The case was brought to our attention by Richard Black who is an advisor to the Disability and Guardianship Project. A television news program reported on the conviction of Helen Natko on April 11, 2017. We are asking the prosecutor to recommend to the court that Natko serve significant jail time, not only as punishment for her crime but to send a message to other would-be perpetrators that abuse and exploitation of seniors and dependent adults will not be tolerated. To read our letter, click here.
May 2, 2017
Debra J. Stemmler has become an advisor to the Disability and Guardianship Project. DJ, as she likes to be called, works as the Fiscal Administrator for the HIV Prevention and Care Project at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2003, she was the recipient of the EP Maxwell Schleifer Distinguished Service Award for her lifelong advocacy for people with disabilities.
DJ finds opportunities every day to ensure people with disabilities are identified as stakeholders in all aspects of life. She is one of the founding members of Oakland for All -- a grassroots advocacy effort to improve accessibility, fight stigma and remove barriers to people with disabilities through education, outreach and community partnerships.
DJ has served as a consultant to the Disability and Abuse Project for several years. She will be joining Nora Baladerian, myself, and several advisors to the Disability and Guardianship Project at a guardianship reform conference in Baltimore and a meeting with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. in June 2017. We welcome her as a consultant to the project.
April 21, 2017
Richard Black has become an advisor to the Disability and Guardianship Project. Richard lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a director of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship.
Richard was drawn into the
guardianship reform movement because of systemic abuse of
his father-in-law by the guardianship system in
April 20, 2017
Thomas Lee Wright is an author and documentary filmmaker. His latest book is titled "The Family Guide to Preventing Elder Abuse: How to Protect Your Parents -- and Yourself."
Tom has been very supportive of our guardianship reform efforts. He has been working with other individuals and organizations to promote legal protections against isolation of elders as a form of abuse.
April 20, 2017
Spectrum Institute sent a letter and several enclosures today to the California Supreme Court urging the justices not to approve a proposed amendment to Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The rule specifies the duties of lawyers to communicate with their clients. However, it is silent on how to fulfill that duty when the client has cognitive and communication disabilities. We are asking the Court to send the proposal back to the State Bar for further review, perhaps by the State Bar Commission on Access to Justice. We believe it is important for the Court and the State Bar to emphasize to attorneys the need to provide accommodations, even without request by the client, when it is apparent that the client has disabilities that impair the client's ability to understand or communicate. For a copy of the packet of materials sent to the Court, click here. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to send a letter to the Court to support our request. An original and seven copies should be mailed to the court and two copies should be mailed to the State Bar.
Update (May 10, 2018) The court entered an order denying our request to send the proposed rule back to the State Bar for further consideration. However, the court did reject a rule on Representing Clients with Diminished Capacity -- thereby giving the State Bar an opportunity to address our concerns in the context of that rule.
April 7, 2017
For a little more than two years, attorney Thomas F. Coleman has been writing commentaries about disability rights and conservatorship reform that have been published in the Daily Journal -- California's premier legal newspaper. They are being released today in one booklet. To access the articles, click here.
April 6 2017
A report was released today titled "Regional Center Conservatorship Assessments: The Need for Guidance and Oversight from the Department of Developmental Services."
The report focuses on the statutory and contractual provisions regulating the role of regional centers in conservatorship proceedings in California. It calls on DDS to provide necessary guidance and oversight, noting that the failure to do so is adversely affecting the rights of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The report was written in the days following a trip to Sacramento by people associated with the Disability and Guardianship Project and the Disability and Abuse Project of Spectrum Institute. During the trip, some of them attended the Public Policy Conference of The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Coalition. We dropped off a letter to the office of Gov. Jerry Brown and met with officials of the Health and Human Services Agency, the Department of Developmental Services, the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Among those participating in one or more of these events were: Attorney Thomas F. Coleman, Dr. Nora J. Baladerian, Dr. Linda Demer, Ron Simandle, Barbara Imle, and our documentary filmmaker Greg Byers.
Spectrum Institute Directors and Advisors in Front of the Office of Gov. Jerry Brown
April 1, 2017
Attorney Thomas F. Coleman made a presentation on Supported Decision-Making at the Public Policy Conference of The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration in Sacramento on March 26, 2017. The presentation was filmed by attorney Stephen Dale. The video has been added to a page on our website devoted to this topic. To see the video or access other materials on SDM, click here.
April 1, 2017
A letter was sent today to DDS Director Nancy Bargmann regarding the duty of the department to provide guidance to and oversight of regional centers in connection with their conservatorship assessment and reporting services. Representatives of Spectrum Institute met with DDS staff on March 27 in Sacramento to begin a conversation on this topic. We hope the letter and the supporting materials will help Director Bargmann understand the value of working with us to improve these guidance and oversight services by DDS.
March 26, 2017
Attorney Thomas F. Coleman received an award today from The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration in recognition of his years of advocacy for justice for people with developmental disabilities. The presentation of the award occurred at the annual public policy conference of the collaboration.
Conference organizers asked Dr. Nora J. Baladerian to present the award to Tom. To read her remarks, click here. To view the award, click here. To watch a video of the award presentation, click here. Many thanks to Stephen Dale for producing this video.
The award ceremony followed Coleman's presentation on Supported Decision-Making. To view the PowerPoint slides and access the reference materials on which it is based, click here.
March 20, 2017
Spectrum Institute has received a letter from the Legal Services Director at the Alta California Regional Center describing ongoing violations of constitutional and statutory rights of its adult clients who become involved in conservatorship proceedings. We have forwarded the letter to the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice, and the State Bar of California. To read the letter, click here.
March 14, 2017
Institute will be sending letters to officials in
California to correct a systemic flaw in appellate
procedure when an appeal involves a litigant with a
cognitive or developmental disability who is not
represented by counsel on appeal. We are asking
California and national organizations to lend their names
to our letters. For more information about the
problem and how we suggest it may be solved, click here.
An op-ed article on third-party advocacy in appellate proceedings was published today in the Daily Journal -- California's premier legal newspaper. The commentary recommends changes in law and appellate practice to allow a third party to advocate for the rights of a litigant with an intellectual and developmental disability in an appeal when the litigant is not able to advocate for himself or herself. Advocacy by a surrogate would function as an ADA accommodation to ensure that people with such disabilities have access to justice in appellate proceedings. Otherwise, they may be locked out, especially if the attorney who represented them in the trial court was ineffective or otherwise failed to vigorously defend the client's rights. Obviously, a negligent attorney will not be appealing to challenge his or her own incompetency. To read the article, click here.
March 10, 2017
The Arc of California holds its Annual Public Policy Conference later this month in Sacramento. Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute, will make a presentation on supported decision-making.
Finding the proper balance between respect for individual freedom and providing societal protection will be a theme running throughout the presentation. For more information on supported decision-making, click here.
March 7, 2017
Jennifer Palmer has become the Newsfeed Researcher for the Disability and Abuse Project. Because of her participation, we are able to resume the newsfeed service which has been dormant for the past several months. Jennifer is a nurse advocate at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Kansas City, Missouri. To access the newsfeed contents page, click here.
March 6, 2017
About three dozen documents were added to the Digital Law Library today. The documents include letters and commentaries written by Thomas F. Coleman since the library was created on November 1, 2016. To access the compendium which lists and summarizes the documents and provides a link to each one online, click here.
March 1, 2017
A new commentary on supported-decision making has been added to the website. It was written by attorney Thomas F. Coleman for distribution later this month at the Public Policy Conference of The Arc of California in Sacramento. The commentary explains cautionary concerns about SDM and gives practical suggestions on how to develop safe and legal SDM arrangements and agreements. To read the commentary, click here.
February 28, 2017
Earlier this month Spectrum Institute wrote letters to U.S. Senators Grassley (S. 178) and Klobuchar (S. 182) suggesting they should amend their bills intended to stimulate reforms in state guardianship and abuse-response systems. The bills focus on elder abuse (people over 60). (See posts under Feb. 17 and Feb. 21 below.) Today the Daily Journal legal newspaper published my commentary giving examples of how vulnerable adults with disabilities under the age of 60 have been victims of state guardianship systems. All vulnerable adults with disabilities should reap the benefit of any federally-funded reforms to state-operated guardianship and abuse-response systems. To read the op-ed article, click here. The article is a condensed version of a longer "seniors plus" commentary that I have written on the same subject and which was sent to the senators sponsoring these bills. To read the longer version, click here.
February 28, 2017
In August 2015, the Daily Journal published my op-ed article titled "Legal Services Program Appears to Violate the ADA." In it I described how the court-appointed attorney program operated by the Superior Court in limited conservatorship proceedings violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. I placed the blame on the Superior Court judges who operate the program. I later had second thoughts about who is primarily responsible for these ongoing and systematic violations of federal disability rights laws. The admonition to "Follow the Money" caused me to think twice about this. While the court operates the program, it is the county that funds it. The county has choices as to who is selected to run the program and whether quality assurance controls are required and implemented or not. So I have added a comment at the end of the article, noting "the County of Los Angeles is ultimately responsible for these ADA violations." To read the amended commentary, click here. -- Thomas F. Coleman
February 22, 2017
Today Spectrum Institute sent a letter to Alexis Podesta, Acting Secretary of the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency of the State of California. The agency oversees several government departments, including the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) which is the largest state civil rights agency in the nation. We have asked for a meeting with her to discuss the role that her agency and DFEH can play in protecting the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in limited conservatorship proceedings. DFEH has jurisdiction to investigate violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act committed by state and local public entities in California. For a copy of the letter, click here.
February 21, 2017
Today Spectrum Institute sent a letter to Senator Amy Klobuchar regarding S. 182 -- Court-Appointed Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act. The letter suggests two amendments which would strengthen the measure. The bill authorizes HHS to award grants to states for demonstration projects that improve guardianship systems. For a copy of the letter, click here.
February 20, 2017
February 17, 2017
Today Spectrum Institute sent a letter to Senator Charles Grassley asking him to consider broadening the scope of S. 178 on elder abuse to include protections for vulnerable and dependent adults under the age of 60. A copy of the letter was also sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein who is a co-sponsor of the bill and to staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was approved by the committee on February 9, 2017.
The letter refers to a 2013 National Survey conducted by NAPSA (National Adult Protective Services Association) showing that APS agencies in virtually all states focus on elder and dependent adult abuse and not just elder abuse. The benefits of this bill (data collection, trainings, and development of best practices) should be extended to adults under the age of 60 who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Others should send a printed letter to Senator Grassley (with an e-mail copy to staff members) to express their opinions about and reasons why this bill should be amended so that it includes elder and dependent adult abuse.
Email addresses for
committee staff are:
February 15, 2017
Many thanks to Dr. Linda Demer (center) for all of her support over the past few years. This photo was taken recently at UCLA after a presentation to her students in a class focusing on autism. She has arranged for students to help us as interns and has taken trips with us for special events and has attended press conferences. We appreciate her advice to us and are grateful for her support of our nonprofit activities.
February 13, 2017
The Disability and Abuse Project is conducting a Safe Schools Study to monitor incidents of abuse of children with disabilities at school and to create greater public awareness of the seriousness and scope of this national problem. To lay the foundation for the campaign, we have published a commentary by our legal director, Thomas F. Coleman, about the need for parents, disability organizations, local school boards, state legislators, and insurance companies to adopt policies and implement procedures to reduce the risk of such abuse at school. To access the new webpage for the Safe Schools Study, click here.
February 9, 2017
Thomas Coleman and Nora Baladerian both make presentations today to students in a class on "Current Perspectives on the Autism Spectrum and Neurodiversity, part of the undergraduate Disability Studies Department. Each week the class concerns a different theme. Today's theme is Legal Issues." Baladerian and Coleman will both discuss abuse of people with developmental disabilities. Using a powerpoint presentation, Baladerian will focus on abuses by individuals. Referencing printed handouts, Coleman will discuss abuses by legal institutions such as the courts in the context of guardianship and conservatorship proceedings..
January 27, 2017
Spectrum Institute sent a letter today to the California Court of Appeal asking for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Parisio v. County of Los Angeles. The brother of Michael J. Parisio Jr. (aka Mickey) contacted Spectrum Institute in 2012 to help save his brother Mickey from alleged abuse by Mickey's parents who were also his conservators. We got involved and were successful in having APS remove Mickey from the home of his parents and have him admitted to a hospital for care. APS contacted the probate court which bungled the abuse investigation. Mickey was returned to his parents and a few weeks later he was dead. The autopsy report listed the reason for death as "undetermined" pending further investigation into the level of care by the parents.
Despite our best efforts, no agency would conduct that investigation. The parents then had the gall to sue the county for violation of their civil rights in removing Mickey from the home so he could be treated at the hospital. The superior court ruled against the parents. The parents appealed and oral argument in that case is scheduled for February 2 in Division Seven of the Second District Court of Appeal. Spectrum Institute has asked for permission to file an amicus curiae brief. We plan to attend oral argument. We also plan to do a film about Mickey's case to show the need for education and training of judges and attorneys about abuse of people with developmental disabilities and the need for proper investigations into such allegations. To read our request for permission to file an amicus curiae brief, click here.
Update (Jan, 31, 2017): Our letter to the Court of Appeal has caused the court to cancel oral argument on February 2 and postpone it for one month. The court apparently realizes that the parties to the case did not fully inform them of the laws applicable to investigating and responding to allegations of abuse against a dependent adult who is under an order of conservatorship. It will be interesting to see what the court does with the information we provided to it. Will the parties be asked to file additional briefs? Will Spectrum Institute be invited to file a formal friend-of-the-court brief? Stay tuned. For a copy of the court's order, click here.
January 20, 2017
Spectrum Institute sent a letter today to Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California, requesting a meeting to discuss how he could use the prestige and visibility of his office to promote improved access to justice for people with developmental disabilities in limited conservatorship proceedings. To read the letter, click here. Update: Lt. Governor Newsom declined our request for a meeting.
January 20, 2017
Spectrum Institute sent a letter today to Xavier Becerra, currently a member of Congress and soon to be California's next Attorney General. Senate confirmation of his nomination is expected to occur next week, perhaps as soon as Monday. In anticipation of his confirmation, the letter asks that once he assumes office that he authorize the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice to work with Spectrum Institute to protect the civil rights of people with developmental disabilities in limited conservatorship proceedings. To read the letter, click here. Update 1: We received a reply letter from the Attorney General's office on February 17, 2017. It said: "Your letter and the concerns you raise are being preliminarily reviewed by the Civil Rights Enforcement Section. Let us now if you are aware of specific violations that illustrate your larger concerns that you'd like to bring to our attention." Update 2: We responded with a letter and several attachments that document civil rights violations in specific cases as well as additional evidence of a pattern and practice of violations of state and federal statutes and constitutional provisions by official participants in the limited conservatorship system. Click here to read that letter (which has links to the attachments).
January 20, 2017
Letters were sent to three public officials today asking for meetings with them in Sacramento on March 27, 2017. One is a letter to Justice Harry Hull who chairs the Rules and Projects Committee of the Judicial Council of California. Another is a letter to Assemblyman Mark Stone who chairs the Judiciary Committee of the California State Assembly. The third is a letter to Diana Dooley who is the Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency. Each of these meetings would focus on ways to improve access to justice for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in limited conservatorship proceedings. Update: Will will be meeting with Representative Stone. We also will be meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the HHS agency.
January 17, 2017
A letter was sent today
to Nancy Bargmann, director of the Californa Department
of Developmental Services. It requests a meeting
with DDS officials on March 27, 2017, to discuss the
department's functions in regulating and monitoring the
21 regional centers throughout the state in connection
with their role in limited conservatorship
proceedings. These proceedings assess the capacity
of adults with developmental disabilities to make major
life decisions and care for their own basic needs.
Seniors and others with cognitive disabilities are
assessed in general conservatorship proceedings. To
read the letter and reference materials contained in this
booklet, click here. Update:
We will be meeting with Nancy Bargmann.
January 16, 2017
Lori Brown, an advisor to the Disability and Abuse Project, alerted us to a new publication by the U.S. Department of Justice about Title II of the ADA and how it applies to agencies and participants in the criminal justice system. Thomas Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute, reviewed the publication and wrote a commentary on how the information in it would also apply to agencies and participants in guardianship and conservatorship systems. To read the commentary, click here. It will be distributed to bar associations, lawyers, judges, and disability rights organizations.
A previously written essay on the need of judges and attorneys to administer trauma-informed justice in conservatorship and guardianship proceedings involving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities has been revised to incorporate new data on the rate and prevalence of abuse of people in this population. To access the revised essay, click here. A one-page synopsis of the importance of vetting prospective conservators in newly-filed limited conservatorship proceedings, and investigating allegations of abuse in open cases, has been added to the website. To read it, click here.
January 13, 2017
Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute, has reviewed a recently published journal article containing a meta-analysis of many other studies on the subject of rates of abuse of children with disabilities. The meta-analysis concludes that children with disabilities experience abuse and neglect at a higher rate than children without disabilities. Although the meta-analysis does not venture an estimate of the prevalence of abuse of children with disabilities, Coleman's review cites other studies on the subject and estimates that a majority of children with disabilities experience abuse of some type during their childhood years. To read Coleman's review, click here.
January 12, 2017
A letter has been received from the Ohio State Bar Association indicating that an Access to Justice Committee and a Probate Law Section are reviewing materials sent to the bar association by Spectrum Institute. To read the letter, click here.
January 6, 2017
Today the Daily Journal published an article on its op-ed page that encourages attorneys to use form MC-410 to make disability accommodation requests to assist clients with cognitive and communication disabilities receive access to justice in court proceedings. The Daily Journal is California's premier legal newspaper. Use of the form is especially important in conservatorship proceedings but appears to be generally overlooked by lawyers in those cases. To read the article, click here. The court form is based on Rule 1-100 of the California Rules of Court. The judicial branch has published a brochure about the rule and has an information sheet with answers to commonly asked questions about it.
November 26, 2016
Lisa MacCarley has been
practicing law in California since 1992. She
focuses on wills, trusts, guardianships, and
conservatorships. Lisa will be working with us to
develop an ADA-compliant legal services alternative to
the dysfunctional PVP attorney system in Los Angeles
which is under the control of and operated by local
The current and planned activities of the project have been summarized on one page for the convenience of those who are interested in our work. To read about our activities, click here.
Spectrum Institute has become a member of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. The coalition is comprised of organizations and individuals supporting the right to counsel in civil proceedings in which significant liberty interests are at stake. This includes cases involving domestic violence disputes, civil forfeiture, parental termination, eviction from rental housing, and guardianships and conservatorships. For more information on NCCRC, click here.
November 18, 2016
The Los Angeles County Superior Court mandates that court-appointed attorneys who represent limited conservatorship respondents with developmental disabilities attend a training program every three years. A limited conservatorship training seminar is offered each year by the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
Coleman has been attending and auditing the trainings for the last few years. Click here for reviews of some prior trainings.
The most recent training occurred on November 12, 2016. A review has been written of two portions of the that training. Click here to read the review. Click here for a paraphrased transcript of the second presentation.
November 18, 2016
November 15, 2016
Follow Up Letters
Sent to Supreme Courts and
As part of our Access to Advocacy Outreach Project, intern Ashley Fortier sent out letters today to supreme courts and state bar associations in several states that had not yet responded to our initial letters. Ashley is a student at UCLA who is working with our project under the supervision of Dr. Linda Demer. Click here to read these "follow up" letters.
November 14, 2016
Recommends Mandatory Counsel
The final report of a commission on guardianships convened by the Nevada Supreme Court has come out firmly in support of the appointment of counsel for guardianship respondents being mandatory for all "proposed protected persons." Spectrum Institute sent a letter to the commission on January 19, 2016 asking its members to adopt such a position. The recommendation appears on page three of the report (Legislative Recommendations - #1)
November 3, 2016
Washington State Supreme Court Filed Regarding
The petition asks the court to grant review in an appeal which raises the issue of whether a guardianship respondent has a due process right to counsel when post-adjudication proceedings seek to restrict substantial rights. The brief cites due process precedents from several state appellate courts throughout the nation. To read the brief, click here.
November 2, 2016
Published in California Legal Newspaper:
The Daily Journal legal newspaper published a commentary today written by Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute. The front-page "guest column" focuses on the need of the Supreme Court, Judicial Council, and State Bar to take steps to make complaint procedures accessible to litigants who have cognitive disabilities. All states have a variety of administrative and judicial procedures through which clients can complain about the misconduct of their attorneys. For all practical purposes, these procedures are not available to clients with intellectual disabilities because they won't recognize the misconduct and won't have the ability to file complaints. The commentary suggestions potential solutions. To read the article, click here.
November 1, 2016
Digital Law Library on Disability and Guardianship is Released
The Disability and Guardianship Project has published a compendium of more than 200 reports and essays on legal and political issues involved in making guardianship proceedings comply with Due Process and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The compendium will be of particular interest to lawyers, judges, legislators, and disability rights advocates. To access the Digital Law Library, click here.
November 1, 2016
The Aljazeera Network Broadcasts a Show on Disability and Voting Rights
A half-hour show on disability and voting rights is now available to be viewed online through the website of the Aljazeera Network. Four disability rights advocates -- including attorney Thomas F. Coleman -- engaged in a lively discussion of voting rights in the United States. Coleman was also able to raise two other important issues during the show -- abuse of people with disabilities and the need to apply the ADA to state guardianship proceedings so that respondents with cognitive disabilities receive access to justice.
To view the program on the Aljazeera website, click here.
October 31, 2016
The Arc of the
United States Adopts Policy on Guardianship
its annual meeting over the weekend, The Arc of the
United States adopted a policy on guardianship. The
policy has a position statement that attorneys should be
appointed to represent respondents in all guardianship
proceedings. Click here to read the policy
statement. The same policy has been approved by the
Board of Directors of the American Association on
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
October 31, 2016
The Center for
Investigative Reporting Releases a Story
A story on disenfranchisement of people with disabilities -- and their fight to have voting rights restored was released today on Reveal, the website of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Click here to read the story.
October 21, 2016
Disability and Voting Rights on HBO Tonight
Vice News Tonight, a new nightly news show on HBO, aired a segment tonight about voting rights of people with disabilities particularly folks with developmental or other cognitive disabilities. On their website is a written piece about the issue. http://bit.ly/2eqL9Lk
The segment that was aired was a human interest story about the quest of David Rector, a former NPR producer who now has locked-in syndrome, to regain his right to vote. He was stripped of that right in 2011 by the San Diego Superior Court when he was placed in a conservatorship.
Spectrum Institute and our Disability and Guardianship Project and its supporters recently teamed up with David, his fiancée Roz and their family and friends to spearhead a protest in San Diego to pressure the court to reinstate his voting rights. Spectrum also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice asking for its assistance to help David and tens of thousands of others in California who were stripped of their right to vote in conservatorship proceedings. Our efforts were successful for David who will cast his vote by absentee ballot later this month. As for the others, we will see.
September 7, 2016
Judge Restores Voting Rights / Regional Center Outreach
The Associated Press released a story today about the voting rights of David Rector being restored by a judge in San Diego. To read the story, click here.
In response to requests from Spectrum Institute, several regional centers are sending letters and emails to adult clients in conservatorships to inform them how to request their voting rights to be restored. To read the letter from Westside Regional Center, click here. A similar letter was sent to clients by the San Diego Regional Center. The Lanterman Regional Center put information about the restoration process on its website, click here.
Based on information from Spectrum Institute, the Special Needs Network included information in a voting booklet about how conservatees can regain their right to vote. A sample letter to the court is included. See pages 5, 9, and 21. To read the booklet, click here.
We are pleased that our efforts on behalf of David Rector and thousands of people with disabilities are having an effect.
KPBS Radio Airs Segment on Voting Rights Restoration
KPBS Radio in San Diego carried a story on its website today about the activities of Spectrum Institute to educate people with disabilities about the voting rights of conservatees and the ability to have those rights restored for those who had them taken away in the past. The webpage also contains a link to a segment on "The Midday Edition" about voting rights of conservatees. To read the article or listen to the audio segment, click here.
August 26, 2016
Daily Journal Publishes Op-Ed Article on Voting Rights
The Daily Journal published a commentary today, written by attorney Thomas F. Coleman, calling on California officials and organizations to move more quickly to restore the voting rights of thousands of conservatees. The Daily Journal is the leading legal newspaper in the state. To read the article, click here.
August 23, 2016
Spectrum Institute and Supporters Demand Voting Rights Restoration
Spectrum Institute filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice today in San Diego asking for federal intervention to assist David Rector and tens of thousands of people with disabilities to have their voting rights restored. Following a press conference in front of the federal building, a group of supporters marched to the San Diego Superior Court where David Rector handed the clerk a request to have his voting rights given back to him. For more on the story, click here.
June 22, 2016
Video on Disability and Guardianship Project
The Arc of Riverside
County has produced a two-minute video about the
Disability and Guardianship Project. In the video,
Legal Director Thomas F. Coleman discusses the goals of
the project and some of its recent successes.
Video on Disability and Abuse Project
The Arc of Riverside County has produced a two-minute video about the Disability and Abuse Project. In the video, Executive Director Nora J. Baladerian, Ph.D. discusses some of the activities of the project.
June 14, 2016
The Risk of Abuse: Don't Tell the Children?
A new essay written by Dr. Nora J. Baladerian has been added to the website. It was written in response to a question raised by an audience member at a recent presentation about risk reduction. The essay proposes that children, even those who have been previously abused, should be told about potential abuse in the future and advised that they can work with a parent or other responsible adult to create a Risk Reduction Plan. Dr. Baladerian says that the benefits of such a plan far outweigh any anxiety or other potentially uncomfortable effects of discussing such a delicate issue with a child. To access the essay, click here.
May 19, 2016
Presentation at Kaiser Permanente
Nora Baladerian, Ph.D. and Thomas Coleman, J.D. met today in Pasadena with members of a regional Family Violence Prevention Program at Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Baladerian spoke about our Rule Out Abuse Campaign and how it applies to doctors and staff at Kaiser. Attorney Coleman discussed how the Family Violence and Prevention Program should be ADA accessible so that patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities may have meaningful access to all components of the program as required by Kaiser's nondiscrimination policy and state and federal laws. His presentation included a handout titled "Adult Patients with Intellectual Disabilities: Issues of Capacity and Waiver under the ADA."
May 9, 2016
Presentation at UCLA
Dr. Nora Baladerian (second from right) and attorney Thomas Coleman (far left) both made presentations at UCLA today. This session of an undergraduate class titled "Current Perspectives on the Autism Spectrum and Neurodiversity" focused on legal issues. Dr. Baladerian spoke on disability and abuse. Thomas Coleman addressed legal capacity to make decisions with an emphasis on the limited conservatorship system in California. The class is taught by Judy Mark (right) and Dr. Linda Demer (second from left).
May 5, 2016
Presentation at Kaiser Permanente
Dr. Nora Baladerian made a presentation on the "Rule Out Abuse Campaign" at Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena, California today. The presentation to the Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Committee was well received. Some members of the committee suggested that Dr. Baladeran approach other committees and departments within Kaiser about creating and implementing a Rule Out Abuse Physician Education Program focusing on patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities with symptoms consistent with possible abuse. A follow-up letter was sent to Kaiser requesting a joint meeting with these departments and committees.
May 4, 2016
Feedback on "The Rules of Sex" Webinar
The Webinar conducted on April 28 (see below) was well attended and well received. More than 150 people attended the session, including self-advocates, family members of self-advocates, and developmental disability professionals. Attending were people from California and nearly a dozen other states -- and Canada too. Feedback on the quality of the presentation was overwhelmingly positive.
May 1, 2016
Rule Out Abuse Campaign Receives Major Endorsement
Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-principal investigator of the ACE Study -- a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente into the later-in-life consequences of adverse childhood events -- has endorsed the Rule Out Abuse Campaign.
We are asking people to spread the word about the campaign by sharing our literature with medical and mental health practitioners. See our "call for help."
April 29, 2016
Tom and Nora Interviewed at the Arc of Riverside County
Tom Coleman and Nora Baladerian joined Jim Stream in Riverside today. Jim is the Executive Director of the Arc of Riverside County. Tom and Nora were each interviewed by Robbie Silver (below) about the projects which they direct at Spectrum Institute: Nora about the Disability and Abuse Project; Tom about the Disability and Guardianship Project. A 20 minute video about each project will become part of a series of educational videos being produced by Arc Riverside about various topics affecting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When the videos are released, we will provide a link to them from this website.
April 28, 2016
Webinar Today on "The Rules of Sex"
The University of Southern California and Children's Hospital in Los Angeles are hosting a webinar on "The Rules of Sex."
The presentation, by Dr. Nora J. Baladerian, is designed for an audience of self advocate with developmental disabilities and their families.
To access a flyer about the presentation, click here.
April 15, 2016
Letter Received from Chief Justice of Washington State
A letter was received today from Honorable Barbara Madsen, Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court. The Chief Justice acknowledged that the Supreme Court does indeed supervise the judicial branch. However, she explained that the court's administrative functions are performed with the assistance of the Administrative Office of the Courts and advisory bodies such as the Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS). She suggested that we share our concerns with the Superior Court Judges' Association. Click here for our reply letter.
Adina Zahradnikova Becomes a Project Advisor
Adina Zahradnikova has become an advisor to the Disability and Guardianship Project of Spectrum Institute. An attorney and advocate for disability rights, Adina is the executive director of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Prior to her work in Utah, Adina taught law in China and served as a program director for the Peace Corps in Romania.
Letter Sent to Utah Judicial Council
A letter was sent today to the Utah Judicial Council -- the rule-making body of the Judicial Branch in the State of Utah. The letter explains how recently enacted HB 101 encourages the judiciary to violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It stresses the need for counsel to be appointed to represent guardianship respondents to ensure they have access to justice in guardianship proceedings. Update: A second letter was sent to the Judicial Council on April 8, 2016. It asks for the ADA Accessibility webpage on the website of the Utah Courts to be modified to show that appointment of counsel is available as an ADA accommodation when necessary to ensure access to justice in a civil case. Update: We received a response from the Administrative Office of the Courts on May 9, 2016.
April 4, 2016
New Materials Added to Website
ADA and Guardianships: To view a page showing the participants and issues in the typical guardianship proceeding -- and the corresponding need for respondents to have an attorney to navigate through the proceedings -- click here. Project Activities: To view a page showing the highlights of the activities of the Disability and Guardianship Project, click here. Biography: To view a short professional biography of the legal director of the project, click here. Speaker Availability: For information on his availability as a speaker on the "The ADA and the Right to Competent Counsel in Adult Guardianship and Conservatorship Cases," click here.
April 4, 2016
Grassroots Support in Utah for Right to Counsel
Today we received a petition from the Disability Law Center that was signed by more than 200 people who support the right to counsel for respondents in all guardianship proceedings in Utah. The petition urges the Governor of Utah to veto a bill that would allow judges to process a guardianship petition without appointing an attorney to represent the respondent when the petitioner is a parent. The Disability and Guardianship Project wrote to the Governor on March 14, 2016 expressing concerns about the bill. Scroll down to that date to review our letter. Unfortunately, we learned today that the Governor signed the bill into law. We have reached out to the Disability Law Center to develop a strategy to educate the Utah judiciary that if a court proceeds with a guardianship case without an attorney for the respondent, the court would be violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Utah Legislature may not authorize state courts to violate federal law.
April 1, 2016
Adults in Nevada Are Stripped of Rights without an Attorney
A story published today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that a recent review of guardianship cases in Clark County revealed that 85 percent of respondents in guardianship proceedings were not represented by an attorney. The startling statistics were presented to a Nevada Supreme Court commission studying the guardianship system in that state.
According to the story, "That means those wards, most of whom have already been deemed unfit to handle their own affairs, face the potential loss of rights that comes with guardianships alone and without any knowledge of the system."
The story adds: "The commission has bounced around the idea of recommending that all wards be given the right to an attorney, much like those facing criminal charges, but it has not made a formal decision yet."
The Disability and Guardianship Project sent a letter to the Supreme Court about the issue of legal representation for guardianship respondents in Nevada on January 19, 2016. A letter was also sent to the commission on that date. Scroll down to that date to find the link to both letters.
March 30, 2016
TASH Supports Our Access to Advocacy Outreach Project
Spectrum Institute received a letter today from Barbara R. Trader, Executive Director of TASH. The letter expresses the organization's support for our efforts to secure effective advocacy services for guardianship respondents in all 50 states.
Founded in 1975, TASH is a volunteer-driven organization that advocates for human rights and inclusion for people with the most significant disabilities and support needs -- those most vulnerable to segregation, abuse, neglect and institutionalization.
March 30, 2016
Children's Hospital Sponsors Webinar on "Rules of Sex"
The USC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities will conduct a webinar on "The Rules of Sex" for people with developmental disabilities. The Center is affiliated with Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. The speaker will be Dr. Nora J. Baladerian. For a copy of the announcement, click here.
March 29, 2016
Invitations to Speak at UCLA
Dr. Nora J. Baladerian and attorney Thomas F. Coleman received invitations today to lecture at the University of California at Los Angeles campus.
The class --
Perspectives on the Autism Spectrum and Neurodiversity --
will hear Dr. Baladerian speak on the topic of disability
and abuse, while attorney Coleman will speak about
March 29, 2016
Letter from Pennsylvania Administrative Office of the Courts
Spectrum Institute received a letter today from Mr. Thomas B. Darr, Court Administrator of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Darr (left) acknowledged receipt of our letter and materials to the Supreme Court regarding access to advocacy services in guardianship proceedings, especially for respondents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
He has asked the Advisory Council on Elder Justice in the Courts to add the issues we raised to their ongoing work as a "follow through" group which is implementing the recommendations of the Elder Law Task Force which studied the guardianship system from 2013 to 2015.
March 28, 2016
The Arc Considers Supporting our Guardianship Reform Efforts
This week's Monday Morning Memo -- an informational email released each week by Tony Anderson, executive director of The Arc of California -- mentioned Spectrum Institute. Tony (left) reported that the position statements committee of The Arc of the United States, chaired by Ruth Luckasson, professor at the University of New Mexico, continued its work on updating the the organization's position on guardianship. As part of that review, the committee discussed ways to support the some of the work of Spectrum Institute related to guardianship and conservatorship reform.
March 21, 2016
Letter from Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts
Spectrum Institute received a letter on March 15 from the State Court Administrator of the Washington Courts. The letter is dated March 10 and the envelope was postmarked March 12. It was received on March 14. The letter was sent in response to our communication to the Washington State Supreme Court on January 15, 2016. It was sent before the court received our new report titled The Justice Gap which was filed with the Clerk of the Court in Olympia, Washington on March 16, 2016. Click here to review our reply to the State Court Administrator.
March 17, 2016
WINGS Conference Receives New Report on Supported Decision-Making
The Disability and Guardianship Project of Spectrum Institute distributed a new report on supported decision-making to participants at a conference of the Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) held today in Seattle. The report -- Supported Decision-Making: A Critical Analysis -- calls attention to several concerns about supported decision-making that are often overlooked in conversations and presentations about SDM as an alternative to guardianship. To access the report and related reference materials, click here.
March 16, 2016
Report Filed Today with the Washington State Supreme Court
The Disability and Guardianship Project of Spectrum Institute is filing a report today with the Supreme Court of Washington State. The report follows two previous letters filed by the Project asking the court to ensure access to justice for respondents in guardianship proceedings. The report documents that most respondents are not receiving court-appointed attorneys as specified in state law. Without the assistance of such attorneys, respondents are not receiving access to justice as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For a copy of the report and related materials, click here.
Project members and advisors are also delivering materials on this subject to the Senate Law and Justice Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. In addition, they are stopping by the offices of all senators and representatives to share similar materials.
March 15, 2016
Filmmaker and Legal Director Travel to Seattle
Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute travels today to Seattle, Washington. Documentary filmmaker Greg Byers (left) is traveling with Coleman.
Activities on the trip will be filmed for a documentary about the ongoing quest to reform the conservatorship system in California and the guardianship systems in other states. The goal is to ensure that litigants with cognitive and communication disabilities receive access to justice during these proceedings. The Disability and Guardianship Project of Spectrum Institute is placing heavy emphasis on making sure that attorneys are appointed to represent guardianship respondents and that courts require the attorneys to be properly trained and adhere to pre-established performance standards.
In Seattle, Coleman will be joined by several local advisors to the Guardianship Project. The team will spend March 16 in Olympia where they will deliver materials to the offices of public officials in all three branches of government. The following day, some members will attend the WINGS Conference where they will network with others who are interested in improving the guardianship system in Washington State.
March 14, 2016
Considers Bill to Deny Court-Appointed Attorneys
HB 101 is on the desk of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and he has until March 30 to sign or veto it. Under current law, a court must appoint an attorney to represent a respondent in a guardianship proceeding. Respondents have cognitive and communication disabilities that prevent them from representing themselves. Therefore, a court-appointed attorney is the only way they can have meaningful access to justice in these proceedings. HB 101 would eliminate that requirement when the guardianship petition is filed by a parent.
Spectrum Institute sent Gov. Herbert a letter today advising him that the failure to appoint an attorney for vulnerable adults in these proceedings increases the risk of abuse. People with developmental disabilities are at a much higher risk of abuse than the generic population and perpetrators are likely to be relatives, household members, school personnel, or service providers. We also explain that if judges were to conduct proceedings without an attorney to advocate for these respondents, the court would be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. To read our letter to Gov. Herbert, click here. To contact the governor's office to share your views on HB 101, click here.
February 29, 2016
Response from Michigan Supreme Court
The letter we received today from the Michigan Supreme
Court was very guarded. Anne Boomer, administrative
counsel to the court, stated that the "current
statutory and rule framework" are adequate to
protect the rights of individuals subject to a
guardianship. In effect, the letter indicates that
no changes are necessary. As for our
recommendations for the adoption of training programs,
performance standards, and mechanisms to monitor the
services of attorneys who are appointed to represent
guardianship cases, the letter referred to "a
significant infusion of time and money" as a reason
to dismiss those suggestions. We replied to the
court and addressed the points raised in the letter, one
by one. To read our reply, click
February 26, 2016
Consideration of New Court Rules on Conservatorships in California
The following item appeared on the agenda of the Probate and Mental Health Advisory Committee of the California Judicial Council for its meeting today.
Item 17 Spectrum Institute Proposal: Discuss proposal from Spectrum Institute for rules of court and Standards of Judicial Administration concerning qualifications, continuing education requirements, and performance standards for court-appointed counsel in limited conservatorships (Information and Discussion)
Also, at its meeting on January 29, 2016, the Rules and Projects Committee of the Judicial Council gave approval for the Probate and Mental Health Advisory Committee to work on two projects proposed by Spectrum Institute. One is a two-year project to develop new rules (see Item 17 above) governing attorney performance in limited conservatorship proceedings and the other is an ongoing project to improve the administration of justice in these proceedings. A summary of these projects is found in Item 5 and Item 6 of the 2016 Annual Agenda of the Committee.
Response from Oregon Supreme Court
We received a letter today from the Oregon Supreme Court in
response to our outreach to the court on February 3,
2016. Writing at the direction of Chief Justice
Balmer, Lisa Norris-Lampe, appellate legal counsel to the
court, acknowledged that our letter "raises
important issues." The issues were referred to
internal advisory committees as well as to the Oregon
State Bar and the Office of Public Defense
Services. The tone of the letter was receptive and
the specific statements made in the letter were
responsive. We appreciate the consideration the
court is giving to the concerns we brought to its
Another Letter Sent to the Washington Supreme Court
A follow-up letter was sent today to the Supreme Court of Washington. It explains that subsequent to sending our first letter, we discovered that the problem with lack of counsel for guardianship respondents rests with the practices of judges, not with legislative policy. Along with the letter, we included an essay explaining that statutory law contemplates virtually every guardianship respondent having an attorney. If the respondent cannot afford one, the statute says the court "shall" appoint one. The statute affirms the right to counsel at "any stage of the proceedings." We have asked the court to remind judges of their duty to implement the statute, and to create a monitoring mechanism to ensure that they do.
February 9, 2016
Letter Sent to the National Council on Disability
A letter was sent today to the National Council on Disability. Guardianship reform is an issue to be addressed at its quarterly meeting on February 11 and 12. We are bringing to the Council's attention our numerous publications on the issue of guardianship reform, especially those that explain how state guardianship systems must comply with various federal constitutional and statutory provisions. To reach the letter, click here.
February 9, 2016
Letter Sent to the Conference of State Court Administrators
A letter was sent today to the Conference of State Court Administrators. The Conference is dedicated to the improvement of state court systems. In 2010, the Conference adopted a position supporting the mandatory appointment of counsel for guardianship respondents. We are asking the Conference to encourage states without mandatory counsel to revisit the issue. We are also asking the Conference to recommend that all states adopt ADA-compliant training and performance standards for attorneys who represent guardianship respondents. To read the letter, click here.
February 8, 2016
Letter Sent to the American Judges Association
A letter was sent today to the American Judges Association. As the largest judges-only association in the nation, AJA calls itself the "voice of the judiciary." The association prides itself on being a leader in promoting "procedural fairness." We wrote to the AJA to acquaint its members with our Access to Advocacy Outreach Project -- a project that promotes procedural fairness for guardianship respondents. To read the letter, click here.
February 8, 2016
Letter Sent to the National Center for State Courts
A letter was sent today to the National Center of State Courts. The Center is a nonprofit court improvement organization that acts as a clearinghouse for research information and comparative data to support improvement in judicial administration in state courts. We alerted staff at the Center that they may receive informational inquiries from state courts in response to our Access to Advocacy Outreach Project. To read the letter, click here.
February 8, 2016
Letter Sent to Conference of Chief Justices
A letter and informational materials were sent today to the Conference of Chief Justices. The Conference provides an opportunity for the highest judicial officers of the states to discuss ways to improve the administration of justice. We ask the Conference to assist state supreme courts to develop methods to improve access to justice for guardianship respondents, especially access to effective advocacy services. To read the letter, click here.
February 6, 2016
Letters Sent to Uniform Law Commission
A letter was sent on February 5 to the Uniform Law Commission asking that the comment to Section 5-305 of the Uniform Probate Code be expanded to explain that failure to appoint counsel for guardianship respondents may violate due process as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. To read the letter, click here. A follow-up letter was sent today. To read that letter, click here.
February 4, 2016
Access to Advocacy Outreach Project Webpage Updated
Last week we created a webpage for our outreach project promoting access to effective advocacy services for guardianship respondents in all 50 states. So far, we have sent letters to the supreme courts and state bar associations in 10 states: California, Washington, Nevada, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Colorado, Oregon, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania. To view the webpage, click here.
Next week, we will be contacting the Uniform Law Commission to suggest that they revise its model guardianship law to include the mandatory appointment of counsel as an ADA compliance requirement. We also want the commission to add comments to the model law that remind judges, administrators, legislators, and attorneys that all aspects of guardianship procedures must comply with the access-to-justice requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We will also be contacting the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the National Center for State Courts to suggest that they review the White Paper and its ADA-compliant training and performance standards. We will suggest that a coordinated effort among the states should be undertaken to ensure that guardianship respondents throughout the nation receive access to justice in such cases -- as required by federal law.
February 4, 2016
Outreach to Pennsylvania Supreme Court and State Bar
A letter was sent today to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania by the Disability and Guardianship Project, making Pennsylvania the tenth state to receive such a request under Title II of the ADA. The court's ADA Coordinator also received copies of the letter and reference materials.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association received a separate letter inviting the association to support our request to the Supreme Court
February 4, 2016
Outreach to South Dakota Supreme Court and State Bar
A letter was sent today to the Supreme Court of South Dakota by the Disability and Guardianship Project, making South Dakota the ninth state to receive such a request under Title II of the ADA. The court's ADA Coordinator also received copies of the letter and reference materials.
The South Dakota State Bar received a separate letter inviting the association to support our request to the Supreme Court.
February 3, 2016
Outreach to Oregon Supreme Court and State Bar
A letter was sent today to the Supreme Court of Oregon by the Disability and Guardianship Project, making Oregon the eighth state to receive such a request under Title II of the ADA. The court's ADA Coordinator also received copies of the letter and reference materials.
The Oregon State Bar received a separate letter inviting the association to support our request to the Supreme Court.
February 2, 2016
Outreach to Colorado Supreme Court and Bar Association
A letter was sent today to the Supreme Court of Colorado by the Disability and Guardianship Project, making Colorado the seventh state to receive such a request under Title II of the ADA. The court's ADA Coordinator also received copies of the letter and reference materials.
The Colorado Bar Association received a separate letter inviting the association to support our request to the Supreme Court.
February 1, 2016
Speaker Availability: ADA and the Right to Competent Counsel
Attorney Thomas F. Coleman is available to speak to your agency or organization about the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it requires courts to appoint counsel to provide effective advocacy services for guardianship respondents, to train the attorneys, and to monitor their performance.
Coleman has more than four decades of experience educating and advocating for various civil rights causes, the most recent of which involves access to justice for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in guardianship proceedings.
For a description of the presentation, click here.
January 26, 2016
New Webpage for Our Access to Advocacy Outreach Project
A new webpage has been created for our outreach project promoting access to effective advocacy services for guardianship respondents in all 50 states. So far, we have sent letters to the supreme courts and state bar associations in California, Washington, Nevada, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. More states will be contacted each week. To view the new webpage, click here. Many thanks to UCLA graduates Tabitha Lin and Taylor Pedego for their assistance on the project.
January 26, 2016
Outreach to Indiana Supreme Court and State Bar Association
A letter was sent today to the Supreme Court of Indiana by the Disability and Guardianship Project, making Indiana the sixth state to receive such a request under Title II of the ADA. The court's Adult Guardianship Office and its ADA Coordinator both received copies of the letter and reference materials.
The State Bar of Indiana received a separate letter inviting the association to support our request to the Supreme Court.
January 25, 2016
Letters Sent to Michigan Supreme Court and State Bar Association
The Disability and Guardianship Project sent letter today to the Supreme Court of Michigan as part of its Access to Advocacy Outreach Project. A copy of the letter was sent to the court's ADA coordinator.
A separate letter was sent to the State Bar of Michigan.
We invite guardianship reform advocates in Michigan, as well as disability services and disability rights organizations, to contact us to discuss how they can participate in these access-to-justice efforts in that state.
Letters Sent to Ohio Supreme Court and State Bar Association
The Disability and Guardianship Project sent a letter today to the Supreme Court of Ohio as a public entity under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The letter asks the court, on its own motion, to exercise its responsibility to ensure that respondents in guardianship proceedings receive access to justice. It calls to the court's attention the fact that attorneys are not appointed to represent these respondents and that the lack of an advocate is depriving them of access to justice. It asks the court to adopt a rule requiring the appointment of counsel and to enact training and performance standards for such attorneys. A copy of the letter and support materials was sent to the court's Advisory Committee on Children and Families, for review by its Subcommittee on Guardianship.
A letter was also sent to the Ohio State Bar Association encouraging the organization to support these reforms.
January 19, 2016
Washington State Officials Receive Guardianship Reform Proposals
The Legislature, Supreme Court, and Washington State Bar Association all received requests today to adopt and implement reforms in the state's guardianship proceedings.
Tina Baldwin, a guardianship reform advocate, testified before the Senate Law and Justice Committee today on SB 6235, a bill to protect guardianship respondents from undue restrictions on their freedom of association. Ms. Baldwin urged the committee to amend the bill to, among other things, require the appointment of an attorney to represent a respondent when a petition is filed to restrict decisions regarding visitation with friends and family members. She will testify on a companion bill (HB 2402) before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow.
Also today, the Washington State Supreme
Court received a letter from
the Disability and Guardianship Project of Spectrum
Institute requesting the court to modify policies and
practices, per the requirements of the ADA and Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to ensure that
guardianship respondents with cognitive and communication
disabilities receive access to effective advocacy
services from court-appointed attorneys. The State
Bar received a letter asking
the association to support this request and to take steps
to improve the training and performance of such
January 19, 2016
Letters Sent to Nevada Supreme Court and Guardianship Commission
The Disability and Guardianship Project sent a letter today to the Supreme Court of Nevada asking the court to take pro-active steps to insure access to effective advocacy services for guardianship respondents. A letter was also sent to the Commission to Study the Administration of Guardianships in Nevada Courts. The commission was convened by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The White Paper (Due Process Plus: ADA Advocacy and Training Standards for Appointed Attorneys in Adult Guardianship Cases) was sent to both agencies.
Additionally, a letter was
sent to the State Bar of Nevada, inviting the bar
association to become involved in the process of
improving the performance of attorneys who represent
January 17, 2016
New Standards for Attorneys Under Review in California
The Judicial Council of California has authorized its Probate and Mental Health Advisory Committee to develop training and performance standards for court-appointed attorneys in limited conservatorship proceedings. The Judicial Council is the rule-making body of the Judicial Branch. Limited conservatorships are guardianships for adults with developmental disabilities.
The two-year project has been placed on the Advisory Committee's 2016 Annual Agenda. Its workplan specifies that rules developed by the committee, if adopted by the Judicial Council, would go into effect on January 1, 2018.
Representatives of Spectrum Institute testified before the committee in November 2014. We subsequently submitted variety of documents to the committee for its consideration. On May 1, 2015, we sent the committee a framework for new rules regulating the training and performance of attorneys who represent respondents in limited conservatorship proceedings. We later sent the committee a White Paper developed by attorney Thomas F. Coleman (photo) for the United States Department of Justice containing specific training and performance standards for guardianship and conservatorship attorneys that would comply with due process and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A few days ago, we sent committee members a report containing the findings of an audit of the performance of court-appointed attorneys in Los Angeles County. The report was the subject of an op-ed article published in the Daily Journal.
A recent letter to the committee encouraged members to reach out to organizations providing services to and advocacy for people with developmental disabilities as it develops these training and performance standards. Collaboration with such organizations would only help to improve the end product.
Our research indicates that if new rules are adopted by the Judicial Council, this would make California the second state in the nation to have explicit training and performance standards for court-appointed attorneys representing guardianship or conservatorship respondents. Massachusetts is the other state.