Mommy Dearest

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

But in Letty's case, Judge Stewart apparently overlooked several of these procedures.

For one thing, the appointment of a guardian must be based on medical information, usually a letter from a doctor. Haines had presented a letter, allegedly from Halterman, claiming that she'd been Letty's physician since November 1995 and had diagnosed her with dementia "resulting in short-term memory loss." Letty's recovery from the hip fracture had been slow, according to the letter. "Unfortunately, because of the underlying dementia, she had great difficulty performing activities of daily living.

"Due to some social issues within her family," the doctor continued, she had been unable to see Letty for some time. However, it was still her opinion that Letty was incapable of living in her home without the assistance of a health-care provider.

Horen objected to the letter's admission. For starters, it wasn't signed, and Halterman--who arguably was not even Letty's primary physician--was not present for questioning. The letter made only a vague reference to short-term memory loss, and it did not mention incontinence. Nor did it suggest that 24-hour care was necessary. Besides, could Halterman be objective given the fact that Marvin Wolf's brother and sister-in-law donated such large sums to Rose Medical?

Judge Stewart said she would not consider the letter when rendering her opinion. The only medical evidence she then had was the testimony of two caregivers from First Choice and a nurse from Rose--none of them qualified to diagnose dementia. Even so, the hearing continued.

Under Colorado law, the courts are supposed to follow a hierarchical list when choosing a guardian: Spouses, adult children and family friends all rank higher on that list than professional guardians like Gordon Wolfe. Wolfe has previously drawn criticism for his work as a guardian; Haines, in addition to being Judi's attorney, represented Wolfe when those claims got to court. (When Horen asked the court to make Wolfe turn over records of those court cases, Wolfe's attorney complained that compliance would be "unduly burdensome.")

Finally, according to the statutes, the court is supposed to begin the process with the least restrictive form of guardianship.

Stewart followed none of these procedures. Based on little more than the testimony of two First Care representatives who claimed Letty needed 24-hour care--and said John Milstein was an impediment to his mother receiving proper assistance--the judge appointed Wolfe as Letty's guardian. He was given complete authority over her life.

"No family member or neighbor shall interfere with the Guardian's administration," Stewart ordered. "Schedules, visits, outings and contacts with Letty should be cleared through the Guardian."

Stewart, however, did order Wolfe to "work with Mrs. Milstein to implement the program with her comfort and her wishes in mind." And mindful of Letty's complaints that her daughter was doing this in order to drive her into a nursing home, Stewart also prohibited Wolfe from obtaining out-of-home care "except for medical emergencies or for her protection."

The judge also appointed Norwest Bank to be Letty's temporary conservator, which included paying "reasonable" fees to Wolfe and his designated health- and personal-care workers. And the bank would take over writing checks for groceries, travel and entertainment--a chore Letty had performed capably until her injury. In return for its services, the bank would pay itself $10,000 a year.

At a May hearing, Wolfe recommended that a permanent guardian be appointed. But since Letty's resources would not cover such an expense, he suggested that in the next year she be placed in a nursing home "regardless of her condition or desires of anyone."

The "interactions between all family members is pathological and dysfunctional with dysfunction between John and Mrs. Milstein most evident at present, perhaps because Mrs. Milstein is refusing to see Judi," Wolfe told the court. He recommended that an independent professional evaluation be done of John and Judi. "Such evaluations would help sort out recommendations to govern the degree of involvement or authority for each child in Mrs. Milstein's life in the future," he said.

But before such an evaluation was conducted, in July Wolfe was back before the judge, urging that visitation be limited because John and neighbors like the Densts and Watts agitated Letty to revolt against her home-health-care aides. John intimidated the aides, Wolfe said, and Letty's "histrionics" drove them from the house.

But even one of the aides who testified to John's disruptive influence had noted in a daily log book that Letty was always happier after speaking to her son. Also included in the evidence at that hearing were handwritten instructions given the aides charged with watching Letty:

"Treat her like a disciplined child. Prepare dinner and serve it whether she wants it or not. Do not listen to her bossiness. Do not do anything she demands. Make note of all phone calls in for her (who, when, how long)."

Horen objected to the demeaning orders, as well as to a memo from Wolfe placing severe restrictions on Letty's visiting hours and telephone use. "You have far exceeded your authority," he said. "You're supposed to take into account the incapacitated person's wishes. The court order was not meant to make Mrs. Milstein a prisoner. She desperately wants her freedom back, and we will fight."

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