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A Family Affair

In some guardianship cases, the court can be overly intrusive, interfering in natural relationships while guardians rake in the money. And as a recent case in Arapahoe County demonstrates, not all problems lie within the Denver system.

Ginny Rogliano and her sister, Joan, were appointed their mother's guardians in 1995. Their mother had suffered several strokes and could no longer speak. "We're not sure how much she understands," says Ginny, who handled the bulk of the day-to-day duties because she lives near her mother, while aides looked after her health needs.

For years Ginny got nothing but glowing reports from court visitors about how she cared for her mother. The only problem was with three siblings, whom Ginny and Joan refer to as the "dissident children," who'd been exiled from the home by their father after they had tried to get him declared incompetent. After his death, the "dissident" siblings asked the court for visitation rights to see their mother, which were granted.

However, Arapahoe County Judge Deanna Hickman apparently grew tired of the sibling rivalry. One night Ginny had to take her mother to the hospital in an emergency. One of the "dissident" sisters couldn't reach the guardian ad litem appointed to the case and couldn't get any information out of the hospital about her mother's condition. She called the judge.

When Ginny got back from the hospital, there was a message on her answering machine. She'd been replaced as guardian by two attorneys. Her sister Joan didn't get even that much notice.

There was no hearing, and no reason was given at the time for the switch. (Hickman has since said it was due to ex parte communications from Ginny and Joan to the court, although their mother's file is full of such communications from all sides.)

The guardians, however, didn't want to handle the nitty-gritty stuff, such as getting groceries and taking Mrs. Rogliano to the doctor. They allowed Ginny to be renamed co-guardian for those purposes. Otherwise, the attorneys do the babysitting--at $150 an hour--while the "dissident" children get their visitations.

"They come in and sit at the kitchen table reading the Wall Street Journal," says Ginny. "They don't even go check on my mother or see how the visit is going. Or they'll make work for themselves, like calling and speaking for thirty seconds and then charging for fifteen minutes."

The guardians have raked in $30,000 in fees. A court-appointed psychiatrist has made another $10,000. "She comes in and stares at my mother," says Ginny. "My mother can't speak. What's [the psychiatrist] going to learn from her?"

Ginny's lawyer demanded that Hickman recuse herself, saying, "She does not seem to be acting impartially." Although the judge first denied the request, she recently stepped down. So far, Ginny's legal fees for fighting for her mother total $60,000.

"Ginny was doing a good job of taking care of her mother," says Alice Kitt director of the Guardianship Alliance of Colorado. "The visitation issue, I understand, had been worked out...Usually it's easy to see who really cares for the protected person and who's just in it for the money or to cause trouble. But a lot of times in these cases, professional guardians find it to their financial benefit to side with the side of the family that will keep them on the job."

--Jackson

 
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