Mommy Dearest

The fight between socialite Judi Wolf and her brother has turned into the mother of all family feuds.

On Mother's Day, families across the country gathered together to thank Mom for all her love and sacrifices. In Denver, flamboyant socialite Judi Wolf drove over to her mother's house in order to take the elderly woman back to "a party" at Judi's expansive digs in Cherry Hills. But Letty Milstein wouldn't cooperate.

A feisty 83-year-old, Letty is convinced that her daughter and son-in-law, Marvin Wolf, one of the richest men in Colorado, are trying to bankrupt her and force her into a nursing home. It was Judi, Letty says, who petitioned the court to have "my freedom taken away."

As Judi attempted to coax her mother out the door and into her car, an angry Letty got on the telephone and called her son, John Milstein.

"They're trying to take my dog and me and leave," Letty yelled into the phone as her toy poodle, Surprise, was led out to Judi's car. "What the hell is this all about? I have to say these bad words or I'll go crazy.

"I'm not going to leave the house. I want to stay right here with Surprise."
And not just on Mother's Day, either. All Letty wants to do is live out her life in the brick home on East Fourth Avenue where she's resided for over a generation. But that desire has become the focus of an ugly year-long battle in Denver Probate Court.

Arrayed on one side are Judi, the darling of the society-page columnists, her oilman husband and Letty's court-appointed guardians. They all contend that Letty suffers from dementia and needs 24-hour care and a guardian to protect her--protect her, that is, from her longtime neighbors and her only son.

On the other side are Letty, her neighbors and John, a 42-year-old Harvard law grad who even friends concede may be wound a little too tightly in his mother's apron strings. But that, they add, is a matter between a mother and her son.

Letty's support group doesn't deny that she may need help dealing with the details of daily living. But they also say they're willing to provide that help, with only minimal assistance from in-home health-care providers, at a much lower price than the costly care that now drains Letty's bank account. And whatever "dementia" she suffers from, Letty's friends argue, has been exacerbated by having her life turned upside down by an overly intrusive court system that jumps whenever the Wolfs howl.

Today Letty is a virtual prisoner in her own home. Her telephone calls are monitored. The media, and even nurses sent to look into her situation by Denver police, have been turned away by Letty's "protectors." She has to put up with whatever health-care aides--essentially glorified babysitters--the guardian sends over, whether she likes them or not. And she is kept from her friends, her neighbors and the son she loves, all by order of Denver Probate Judge C. Jean Stewart, while the court determines what ultimate action is "best" for her.

In the meantime, a handful of lawyers fight each other and take their payment from Letty's estate. Between the attorneys, the guardians and a court-appointed conservator, what was once the tidy nest egg that Jules Milstein left to support his beloved wife has been severely depleted--so much so that Letty's fears of being sent to a nursing home may be realized no matter what anyone says or does.

The Wolfs have declined to be interviewed for this story. "I have been advised that because this matter has been scheduled for a hearing, it is not appropriate for me to discuss the issues before the court date for permanent orders," Judi Wolf wrote in response to Westword's request.

Many of Letty's supporters refuse to speak on the record, though they have plenty to say behind the cloak of anonymity. They cite fears of the Wolfs' big money and the 17th Street law firms at their beck and call, as well as their concerns over the perceived bias of the court, which Letty's supporters say has sided with the Wolfs at every turn and ignored Colorado law in the process.

The court files on Letty's case are over a foot thick and tell much of the story. They include a restraining order that bars John from seeing his mother.

So on Mother's Day, when Letty called, John couldn't help her.
"I don't know what to do, Mom," he told her. In the background, he could hear one of the aides telling Letty that Surprise was out in Judi's car, crying.

"Of course he's crying," Letty yelled back. "He has more sense than all of us.

"It's criminal what they're doing to me. I'm going to get Surprise and stay right here. This is a free country."

Letty Lippman and her twin sister, Betty, were born April 23, 1914, and grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri. By her own account, Letty came from a wealthy Jewish family of good standing that could trace its roots back to even greater wealth in Russia. Their father protected the girls from the harshness of the world, and Letty grew up used to having things her own way.

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