Mommy Dearest

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

After Letty fell twice last winter--once breaking her wrist, once a hip--John Milstein hired two new lawyers of his own, John Hoffman and Robert Hopp, a former Arapahoe County prosecutor, to fight the restraining order. The two attorneys claim they had Hagen's permission to visit Letty at her home, according to court records. But when they arrived, instead of contacting her employer, the aide on duty immediately called Judi Wolf, who called Jones, who called Hagen, who said he had never given the lawyers permission and that they were to leave.

The court then issued restraining orders against Hopp and Hoffman. They have since resigned John's case.

This past spring, Judge Stewart finally appointed psychiatrist Bruce Leonard to research the Milstein family dynamics. Leonard brought in social worker William Smith, who shares office space with him.

In March John arranged with Smith to visit his mother for the first time since October. But when John showed up at Letty's house with a Denver patrolman and a former Denver police detective who now works as a private detective, Smith "threw a fit," John says. Smith didn't know that another Denver police detective and a Channel 9 camera crew were secretly watching the action.

The officer went inside with John and Smith, and for the next two hours Letty poured out her heart while her son taped her conversation:

"It's criminal what they've done to me and my son," Letty said. "How could this go on in America? All my rights have been taken away...They've taken my money and keep me from seeing my son when he's done nothing wrong."

Shortly after that episode, John received a call from Letty. Her aides weren't feeding her, she said. John called the police, who said they would do a welfare check.

The responding officer said it looked like Letty was getting enough to eat, that there had just been a mixup in the schedule. But a Denver detective asked two nurses who specialize in geriatric care to look in on Letty.

Nurses Sheri Bremer and Janie, who asked that her last name not be used, called and got Letty's permission to visit. But when they arrived at her home, they were denied entry by an aide. "I was told we were not on the list of 'approved' visitors," says Bremer. "They wanted to know who we were and what our purpose was."

Although they spoke only briefly to Letty that day, she has since called them numerous times, begging them to help her, Bremer says.

While it is evident that Letty suffers from some dementia, that doesn't necessarily render her incapable of making decisions, Bremer notes. "Just because an older person can't work a problem with multiples of seven or spell a word backwards," she says, "it doesn't mean they don't know who they are or can't express what they want.

"You are supposed to work with older people instead of imposing your will on them. In Letty's case, I saw a woman who had led a sheltered, even pampered, life, who was now being told what to do, when to do it, and with whom she could do it.

"She's been isolated from her son, whom she loves, and her friends. Who wouldn't act out?"

For their troubles, the two nurses say they have been bullied and badgered by Hagen, the guardian's attorney. Hagen found Janie's number in Letty's things and warned her to "back off," Janie says. He then subpoenaed Bremer and said that if she didn't tell him Janie's last name, she "might get thrown in jail." Bremer refused, and walked out on Hagen saying that she would see that a major investigation was launched.

The Denver Police Department is still involved in the case. And a half dozen people interviewed for this story say they've also been contacted by FBI agents concerning Letty Milstein's situation. Neither agency will comment on the status of their investigations.

Horen, who resigned this spring when Letty was appointed a guardian ad litem--a legal representative--in addition to the temporary guardian, declined to be interviewed. So did Judge Stewart. Neither Florence Jones nor Hagen returned Westword's calls. Dr. Denst, who received a letter from one guardian's lawyer threatening him with jail or fines if he so much as talked to Letty or John, also refused to speak on the record, though he made his feelings known: "It's a terrible miscarriage of justice. But these are powerful people." His old friend, he added, "may not be saveable."

In fact, it may already be too late to save Letty from a nursing home. Her once-comfortable estate has been reduced by almost $400,000, through fees paid to guardians, round-the-clock caregivers and lawyers, lots of lawyers. Only Horen was actually retained by Letty. But the guardians each had lawyers, conservator Norwest has a lawyer, one of the Wolfs' lawyers sought to be reimbursed from the estate--and then there's the lawyer appointed by Stewart to make sure that what the other attorneys are charging is fair. So far, he's billed Letty's estate more than $7,000. And John's lawyers haven't managed to collect from him or his mother's estate.

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