Elder Law of Michigan honors those dedicated to helping vulnerable adults

Ron Tatro talks about the wonderful work of Sgt Michelle Robinson.

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

A distinguished set of honorees composed the West Michigan recipients of Elder Law of Michigan’s Joe D. Sutton Call to Justice awards.

Among the four awards given out at an evening reception last Thursday was one to Kent County Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Chris Becker, for his years of work in protecting vulnerable adults.

“It’s so nice to be honored,” Becker commented later. “As a prosecutor you hear more from people when things go bad, so it was really nice to have somebody recognize the good things I’ve done trying to combat elder fraud and elder abuse.”

Becker, who started working for the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office right after graduation from Valparaiso University School of Law, has specialized in child abuse, sexual assault and vulnerable adults cases over his twenty-year career. He has handled hundreds of cases involving elderly victims, including embezzlement, physical abuse, sex abuse, and even felony murder with the underlying crime of vulnerable adult abuse.

Ron Tatro, the Vice-President of Elder Law of Michigan with whom Becker works closely, said about him in introducing the award, “This is the first time we’ve honored a prosecutor for all that they have done to prevent elder abuse.”

Tatro emceed the event at Meijer Gardens, following a welcome by Elder Law President Keith Morris, an attorney who has worked with the organization since he was an intern volunteer while still in law school.?Morris still serves as project director for Elder Law’s Center for Elder Rights Advocacy.

Tatro recalled the first time he met Becker was years ago when people in Kent County were discussing the creation of the Kent County Stop Elder Abuse Task Force.

Certainly, one of the reasons Becker was honored with a Joe D. Sutton Award had to do with his role in that coalition’s formation and his current participation as an educator with the group.

The awards are part of what Elder Law does, giving credit to those who battle on the front lines of serving, and protecting, senior adults. The first speaker at last week’s reception was Jerry Sutton, who said that his brother Joe lured him into starting a legal partnership and then quit a year later to pursue public service.

Sutton, a long time supporter and board member of Elder Law of Michigan, did a lot of pro bono work on behalf of older adults, including helping them with planning for a secure future. Brother Jerry, an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, continues that tradition.

West Michigan has fared well in the statewide awards. In 2014, Judge David M. Murkowski, Chief Judge of the Kent County Probate Court, was honored along with posthumous recognition of Mike Chielens of Legal Aid of Western Michigan.

This year others around the state given a Joe D. Sutton Award were Hon. James Alexander or Oakland County Circuit Court and his wife, Lynn Alexander, Vice President of Public Affairs for Presbyterian Village of Michigan; the Area Agency on Aging 1-B; attorney Rosemary Buhl; attorney Amy Tripp; Shelley Stratz of Adult Protective Services in mid-Michigan; and the WMU-Cooley Law School Sixty Plus Elderlaw Clinic.

In addition to Becker, Elder Law handed out three awards to others in West Michigan: Senior Neighbors, “promoting the health and well-being of Kent County's older adults;” Sgt. Michelle Robinson of the Michigan State Police; and Kelly Quardokus of Q Elder Law in Portage.

Senior Neighbors, according to Tatro, created the first area interim housing for elder abuse victims, partnering with the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan.

Accepting the award, President Robert Barnes said, “A lot of us look forward to retirement and we have a picture in our minds of what that’s going to look like. But we see a lot of seniors who outlive their assets and a lot whose connections to others erode. And we help them remake those connections.”

Quardokus started her own law firm to work with senior adults, after spending many years of her career at a larger firm. Her website says, “Throughouther career, advocating for vulnerable populations has been a passion for Kelly Q.” In fact, as both she and Tatro noted, there have been times when she has gone without payment in order to help.

Quardokus, whose family was present, pointed to a table of staff members and said, “They will all nod furiously when I say that they sometimes think they’re not going to get paid the next week.”

Sgt. Robinson was honored for her role in helping to change the way law enforcement views elder abuse, moving from a mindset where officers often felt such matters did not concern them. She left a desk job to return to the field, working out of the Rockford Post, so that she could tke a more direct role in helping people.  “She personifies all the things we would like to see in police officers,” Tatro said.

“I’m incredibly humbled by this honor - thank you all for all the work you do - the people at Elder Law and the other recipients,” Robinson said. “It was a challenge for me to leave the training division and come back out to the field, but I asked myself, ‘Where am I going to really make a difference?’ I get phone calls on a daily basis from senior individuals who need help. Many times I’ve called Ron [Tatro] and said I don’t know what to do! I tell them, I don’t know what to do either but I know who does, and I?call Elder Law.

Robinson lives with her husband and two sons in North Muskegon.

Chris Becker has played a similar role to Robinson’s in changing prosecutors’ attitudes. “Twenty years ago, if you showed prosecutors somebody’s Power of Attorney and said there was abuse there, they’d say those are family matters,” he said at the ceremony. “I think that’s changing and I think that’s a great thing.”

Becker notes that the Kent County Stop Elder Abuse Coalition is hosting an event with San Diego Prosecutor Paul Greenwood, a nationally-recognized expert on elder abuse, on September 14.

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