Another CT probate case to watch

Once Again: Watch Out For Probate Court
Rick Green
October 6, 2010
Hartford Courant

The latest appalling story out of probate court begins with a frantic message to a state senator from a relative worried about her 84-year-old aunt.

“She has been forcibly removed from her home by the police, accompanied by her daughter who is acting as her temporary conservator, to the psychiatric ward,” the woman wrote in an e-mail last week to state Sen. Edith Prague. “She is not insane and committed no crime but is being treated like the worst type of criminal.”

Sadly, this is no surprise in some of our lawless probate courts. I’ve been writing these tragic stories for more than four years. Two things have not changed: judges and lawyers who take advantage of the old and sick and probate court administrators who say these are only isolated and rare problems.

The daughter, who lives out of state, was estranged from her mother. At the daughter’s behest, Probate Judge John W. Cooney made her conservator of her mother and allowed Dorothy Crouse to be snatched from her home and locked in a secure nursing facility in Wallingford.

For 10 days, nobody could find Crouse, who was medicated and blocked from all visitors.

Crouse suffers from mild dementia, but she lived alone and independently. She has a boyfriend, relatives she is close with and friends in the community. The law requires that even if a person is conserved – which means the court takes over your civil rights, your money and your freedom -the judge must make sure it is under the “least restrictive” conditions.

That means an estranged child can’t step in and tell mom or dad what to do. That means a judge can’t name somebody conservator when the conserved person already has a power of attorney and other legal documents dictating care.

“It makes my blood boil,” Prague told me. “There are people my age … who want to live independently and who want to be left alone. I am not going to sit down and let this happen.

“The conservator abuse is usually caused by money. Look at Miss Smoron down in Southington,” Prague said about the infamous case where, at the behest of a rogue conservator, a judge changed the will of a dying woman to benefit a developer. “Who do these probate judges think they are? We’ve got to do something about it.”

Indeed we do.

“Ms. Crouse stated clearly that she wants to continue to live in her own home, wants to make her own decisions regarding where she lives and how she spends her money,” a lawyer for Dorothy Crouse stated in a document on file in probate court. “She believes her daughter only wants her money.”

Last week, relatives from around New England and from as far away Nova Scotia converged upon Masonicare at Ashlar Village in Wallingford where Judge Cooney – under the glare of Legal Aid lawyers – held a hearing where he was forced to remove the estranged daughter as conservator and replace her with a sympathetic nephew. With luck, Crouse, who remains hospitalized, will return home soon.

Old people, even sick ones, have rights. They can live the way they want as long as they are not harming themselves. That is the law. Some day our probate court system will recognize this, too.

Until then, be careful if you plan to grow old here.