TORRINGTON – At a probate hearing Monday in the nursing home that houses Dr. Eli Schutts, 86, Judge Michael Magistrali appointed Lorraine Seely conservator for the retired Western Connecticut State University philosophy professor.
With this ruling Ms. Seely once again has control of Dr. Schutts’ estate and care. The Litchfield Hills Probate Court had previously appointed her and his daughter, Prisca Cox of London, temporary co-conservators but that status expired Aug. 12.
For two weeks, the now wheelchair-bound Dr. Schutts, who has been a resident of Litchfield Woods since early summer, has been without court oversight. Though Ms. Cox was present via Skype, Judge Magistrali only named Ms. Seely as conservator.
“I give her absolute power,” said Dr. Schutts, after Judge Magistrali explained Ms. Seely will be in charge of his affairs though he will still possess power to revoke. “She must have full knowledge of my financial condition. I have a rock-bottom belief in this person – otherwise I’d be pointing a gun at my head.”
“I’m not in dementia, I know I’m not,” Dr. Schutts said, further explaining that he understands this arrangement. “I have Parkinson’s.”
The ruling came at the protest of Edith Johnson, Dr. Schutts’ companion since the 1980s, and Deborah Logue, the lay minister of Bethlehem’s Christ Episcopal Church. Both were present, and they claim that Dr. Schutts, who in court said he will not cede control to Ms. Johnson, has been manipulated, and in Torrington his best interests are not the first concern.
Ms. Johnson, 79, whose power of attorney was not recognized by Litchfield Probate Judge Diane Blick, based on a fear that Dr. Schutts did not understand what he was signing, has accused Ms. Seely of mishandling money in his account and threatening to deny her visitation rights.
“That sounds completely out of character for Lorrie,” said Ms. Seely’s attorney, Mike McKenna of New Milford. “Conservators are required to file an accounting – that’s a safeguard to make sure everything is done properly.”
Judge Magistrali refused to look at any information regarding previous matters. After Ms. Logue told him “there seems to be a lot of money missing,” the probate judge told her that matter is for the Litchfield Hills Probate Court.
“I have nothing to do with that,” he told Ms. Logue, and then he closed the hearing.
Conservators are appointed when a person is unable to live independently. Generally, the fiduciary duty of conservators compels them to act in the best interests of the protected person. They cannot benefit at the expense of the protected person. They must submit an inventory of assets balanced with an accounting of bills paid. The court must approve fees.
Connecticut has no training for conservators, according to a probate court official. The probate courts themselves provide the only oversight, though the National Disability Rights Network said such oversight is often lacking.
Ms. Seely told the probate court that Dr. Schutts is capable and competent sporadically, and that he is still in need of 24-hour care.
“Very often I would find him to be confused when he would talk to his girlfriend, Edith Johnson,” she said.
Prior to the hearing, Dr. Schutts had a closed door session with his attorney, Marc Ford Greene of Washington, his daughter via Skype, and staff including a social worker at the facility.
After the hearing Ms. Johnson, who with Ms. Logue promised to take the matter back to Litchfield Hills Probate Court, said, “I think [Ms.] Seely and the attorney managed to get rid of me.”
“We’re going to seek a full accounting through the Litchfield Hills Probate Court,” said Ms. Logue.
This spring, Dr. Schutts was in the Kent Specialty Care Center, an Apple Rehab facility. There he fell sick with pneumonia and his health rapidly deteriorated. That’s when Judge Blick assigned Ms. Cox and Ms. Seely co-conservators, and had the retired Danbury professor transferred to New Milford Hospital, then Litchfield Woods.
Ms. Johnson and Ms. Logue said Dr. Schutts wanted to go to Bethel Health Care, but the facility was never provided proper documentation.
Conservator In, Companion Out, in Torrington Probate Case of Eli Schutts; the Drama Promises to Go On
Jack Coraggio/Andy Thibault
August 27, 2012
Litchfield County Times