Nessel takes unprecedented step to intervene in local guardianship case

In an unprecedented move, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a notice late last week to intervene on behalf of the people of the State of Michigan in a controversial guardianship case in Macomb County.

Nessel’s action comes less than a month after she and Michigan Supreme Court Justices Megan Cavanagh and Richard Bernstein wrapped up the last of a 12-stop statewide Elder Abuse Listening Tour. The single most frequent complaint heard was that regarding guardianships, said Nessel.

“It is absolutely incumbent on the courts to ensure that the state’s guardianship system is providing properly for the vulnerable and that the court-appointed conservators fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to those in their custody,” said Nessel.  “That does not appear to be happening in the case of Caring Hearts, which was appointed by Judge Kathryn George as guardian and conservator for Robert Lee Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge.”

The appointment of an outside guardianship company was done despite a petition submitted by the daughter and stepdaughter of the couple.

Of concern to the attorney general is the web of connections between Caring Hearts of Michigan Inc., a guardian agency owned by Catherine Kirk, and two companies also owned in part by Kirk or her husband – Executive Care, a 24-hour in-home care company, and Kirk, Huth, Lange and Badalamenti PLS, a law firm owned by Kirk’s husband. Caring Hearts hired Executive Care to provide in-home care for Mitchell and Delbridge. Legal counsel for the couple was – again at the direction of Caring Hearts – provided by Kirk’s husband’s law firm.
“The law is very clear on this issue,” said Nessel. “The court shall not appoint as guardian an agency, public or private, that financially benefits from directly providing housing, medical, mental health, or social services to the legally incapacitated individual.  In fact, the Estates and Protected Individuals Code specifically prohibits certain financial self-dealing by the guardian with respect to the ward.”

Nessel gave a shout-out to WXYZ-TV reporter Heather Catallo for her investigative work that brought this issue to light, saying, “Catallo’s work is an excellent example of the incredible importance of journalism in our society.”

The case now proceeds into discovery where the parties can seek information as well as file additional motions. Macomb County Circuit Court Chief Judge James M. Biernat set January 10 for a settlement conference and end of discovery.

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