Musician Danny Tate shows ‘fight for your life’ aspect of Nashville (and other) probate courts

Probate court isn’t viewed as a common locale for the fight of a lifetime, but the conservatorship (also known as guardianship) imposed on Nashville musician Danny Tate by Davidson County Probate Judge Randy Kennedy is becoming a prominent example of the power wielded by these often quiet and seemingly unobtrusive legal venues.

In October 2007, David Tate went before Judge Kennedy claiming his brother Danny’s crack addiction had reached a life-threatening point.  Danny Tate’s history of dependence also included an 18-year run of sobriety.  Signing a power of attorney so his brother could pay bills while Tate was in rehab was a step intended to help return the musician to that more productive life course.  Never did he dream that this power, along with his financial resources, would be used to institute a conservatorship effectively removing his civil and property rights.

Nashville Scene published Court-Ordered Hell – how an errant judge and a controlling sibling stripped Nashville rocker Danny Tate of his money, his livelihood and his legal right that described the hijacking of Danny Tate’s life as follows:

How this hearing actually came about, though, is a mystery. There was no motion to set a hearing, according to court records. No process served to Tate. No police reports demanding urgent action. No one seemed to know anything about it except for Tate’s brother and his attorney, Paul Housch.

And yet Judge Kennedy — with no evidence before him but David Tate’s say-so, and with no notice or due process given to Tate himself so that he might contest the petition — allowed David to freeze Tate’s assets in an ex parte “emergency” hearing, filings indicate. In the rap of a gavel, the ruling effectively removed every citizen’s right Tate previously enjoyed.

Tate had no idea that the power of attorney he’d signed that summer to give David the ability to pay his bills while he was in rehab had already been used against him. Only days before the hearing, David used it to pay Housch a $25,000 retainer, which the attorney would earn stripping Tate’s rights.

A few weeks later, with only 12 days’ notice of the follow-up hearing and no ability to write a check to hire his own attorney, Tate showed up to court with a neighbor who had no experience in this area of law simply to plead for a continuance pro bono. Neither Tate nor his neighbor was provided with any of the evidence upon which his disability was to be determined that day. They weren’t even given a report submitted a few days before the hearing by the chief witness — a child psychiatrist without any certification in addiction medicine, who nevertheless labeled Tate disabled. Only after the hearing, once his fate was set in stone and the conservatorship was in place, was an attorney of Kennedy’s choosing appointed to counsel Tate.

The Probate Court walked through a gaping hole in Tennessee conservatorship law that shreds constitutionally guaranteed due process rights. Under these circumstances, Tate’s attorney Michael Hoskins figures that just about any local musician with assets and a drug problem could conceivably be stripped of his autonomy based on nothing more than hearsay.

While musicians may be appealing targets, this case exemplifies a power that resides in probate courts throughout this country.  A power that when misapplied with minimal standards of evidence and accountability puts at risk anyone in America.  Conservatorships aren’t on people’s radar, but when they are, this legal status is often associated with minors, the elderly or the disabled.  Not understood by the general public is the dangerous fuzziness that comes into play when judges employ broad latitude to define “incapacitation” of anyone at any age.  Not only can it open lucrative conservatorship doors, but it can set the scene for a life-altering cancellation of personal freedom and an Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA).

Danny Tate’s future is still to be determined.  More than two years of Tennessee court-sanctioned personnel acting in Tate’s “best interest” has reduced his original assets of $600,000+ to a still-diminishing $175,000.  Other real estate is also at risk.  One significant expenditure of Danny Tate’s estate has been attorney Paul T. Housch’s compensation for representing David Tate as his brother’s Temporary Conservator.  Housch has advocated continuing the conservatorship while Danny Tate has fought for release.  Only in recent days did Judge Randy Kennedy grant a motion for Danny Tate’s chosen lawyer, Michael Hoskins, to additionally be paid out of the musician’s own funds.

Probate actions often occur quietly and with little fanfare, but not so these days with Danny Tate’s case.  A Free Danny Tate web site along with a Friends for Danny Tate’s Defense Facebook group is bringing specific attention to Tate’s case and general awareness to the power of probate courts.  The Facebook group is only weeks old, but has a membership of nearly 3,000 and is growing daily.  Danny’s friend Kevin Montgomery started the group and posted this after the recent hearing:

I just got off the phone with Danny. I’m so fired up I can hardly put it into words. We had a little victory in court today. Danny’s attorney was finally awarded his fees! Word is that it was a different Judge Kennedy, and a different Paul Housch in the courtroom today! 10 people showed up with “Free Danny Tate” t-shirts (with less than 24 hours notice), and everyone in the courtroom was very aware of their presence.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t let out of the conservatorship, but this is a minor battle that we won with the brilliance of his attorney, Danny’s courage in walking into that court, and the 10 people that showed up to scrutinize the court in a public fashion.

An Awareness Concert is scheduled in upcoming weeks as also is another hearing.

In a letter, Paul Housch wrote “Mr. David Tate saved his brother John Daniel Tate’s life at the time of the filing of the Conservatorship approximately two years ago.  I am happy to report that Mr. John Daniel Tate is still alive due to his brother’s efforts in saving his life at a critical time in Mr. John Daniel Tate’s life.”

Opinions will differ as to the nature and degree of “salvation” perpetrated, but Danny Tate won’t likely dispute the permanent, enduring influence that his brother along with attorney Paul Housch and Judge Randy Kennedy have had on his life.  Neither will a growing number of people who, as they learn more about this case, increasingly call out to Free Danny Tate!!!

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

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