How the Cook County Public Guardian Can Take Your Home

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In Illinois guardianship is referred to by the state as a “court created responsibility,” however for the family of Mildred Willis it has turned into a four year nightmare which has seen the matriarch lose her freedom, and the family lose much of its assets, including the family home.

With her mother, Mildred Willis, struggling with impending death of her father in 2010, Stacey Willis consulted with a Chicago attorney named Terrance Godbolt who suggested that to relieve some of the stress, Stacey take over temporary guardianship over her mother.

On October 18, 2010, Stacey Willis was named plenary guardian by the Cook County Superior Court.

“He gave me a brochure,” Stacey Willis told RebelPundit, and said she never knew that she’d be responsible for creating a detailed budget, financial plan, and be responsible for accounting for every dime she spent of her mother’s money.

Furthermore, Willis says, after filing all the proper forms for guardianship, Godbolt disappeared, stopped returning phone calls, and was otherwise unavailable to help her navigate the process.

A message to Godbolt’s office was left unreturned.

Willis said she had no idea that in Cook County there is a special office, the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office, which watches all guardianship cases like a hawk and is ready to step in whenever the office feels there is trouble.

That’s exactly what happened when the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office led by Robert Harris accused Stacey Willis of misspending $164,000 of her mother’s money. The office asked the probate judge, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carolyn Quinn, to have Willis removed as her mother’s guardian and instead have the office appointed on December 17, 2012.

The full statement from the Cook County Public Guardian’s office can be found here and a response from Stacey Willis can be found here.

Willis said the charges against her are lies, citing the fact that her mother didn’t have anywhere close to $164,000 in liquid assets to misspend. Stacey Willis told RebelPundit that her mother had about $30,000 in cash at the start of the process along with a treasury bond worth about $22,000.

Willis said that beside cash her mother receives approximately $3,100 in a monthly pension from the US Postal Service.

Elaine Renoire is the President of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA), and her organization has tracked tens of thousands of cases similar to the Willis case all over the USA. Renoire told RebelPundit she too was skeptical of the charges:

And here we have them coming right out and accusing Stacey of stealing $164K from Mildred and going on trips, etc.  If true, then I have to wonder why they didn’t press charges. And in fact, wouldn’t they have an obligation to do so?

While Willis acknowledged some money was spent on previously scheduled trips, not only was her mother aware of these expenditures, but Stacey Willis said the majority of the money she spent was for expenses relating to executing the guardianship itself.

Whether or not Willis was misspending her mother’s money, an analysis of the probate file shows in the ensuing years, court officers along with the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office have spent about that much legally in fees, all done presumably to make sure no one misspends Mildred Willis’s estate.

According to one filing, the Cook County asked for and received $26,814 for services rendered from December 17, 2012 through November November 30, 2013.

Every lawyer associated with this case has been allowed to charge $250 per hour for their services. This includes the Guardian ad Litem (GAL), Kyra Payne.

A GAL is an individual, often a lawyer, appointed in especially difficult probate and family law cases to act on behalf of the interests of those considered incapacitated. In family court, that’s usually minor children, but in this case it was Mildred Willis.

A GAL is “A guardian appointed by the court to represent the interests of Infants, the unborn, or incompetent persons in legal actions.

“Guardians are adults who are legally responsible for protecting the well-being and interests of their ward, who is usually a minor. A guardian ad litem is a unique type of guardian in a relationship that has been created by a court order only for the duration of a legal action,” according to the website legal dictionary.

The GAL was appointed at the behest of the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office. Payne didn’t respond to a voice-mail at her Chicago office from RebelPundit.

In repeated court filings, the GAL has stipulated that Mildred Willis should remain a ward of the state and she’s been buoyed by the 2010 medical report of Dr. Emerito Natanawan. In that report Dr. Natanawan found a laundry list of physical and mental issues with Mildred Willis which would normally suggest she was near death.

“Dr. Natanawan opined that Midred Willis had multiple medical problems including end stage renal disease, congestive heart failure, hemodialysis, chronic major depression, memory problems suggesting and disability, and is totally incapable of making personal and financial decisions,” read part of his report entered with the court.

Renoire told RebelPundit that this report is dubious. That’s because Dr. Natanawan specializes in internal medicine and yet makes determinations including memory, heart issues, and even depression, none of which would fall within his field of specialty.

Dr. Natanawan works at Advocate Health Care in Chicago and didn’t respond to a voice mail for comment.

A subsequent court report filed by Cook County Public Guardian case manager Tasha Dicks filed on October 15, 2013, cites all the same ailments and a batch of new ones as reasons to continue to provide guardianship for Mildred Willis.

“Ms. Willis suffers from coronary artery disease, dementia, depression, congestive heart failure, insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, anemia, cholesterolemia,, arthritis, glaucoma, cervicalpondylosis, retinopathy, hypoparathyroidium, bowel restriction, failed angioplasty, and a coronary stent. Ms. Willis also has end of stage renal disease and requires dialysis.”

Dicks is a social worker and not a doctor, and it’s not clear what medical opinion she was using to make all these medical determinations.

The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign’s Shirley Henderson told Rebel Pundit that the court and the Cook County Public Guardian’s office has ignored medical opinions which bolster the case that Mildred Willis is competent. On August 8, 2013, Dr. Keith Hopkins filed such a report?

The patient states she is sleeping well, eating well, and her concentration is at normal levels. The patient also denies any previous psychological history or contact with mental health professionals.

The patient scored a 25/30 on a mini mental status which is interpreted as normal cognition. She is alert, oriented, with good eye contact, speech is coherent, her thoughts are sequential, and she voiced no thoughts of suicidal or homicidal ideation.

My professional opinion is that Mildred Willis is able to make her own personal and financial decisions.

But Henderson said this report was buried, and any mention of it or any replies or counter-arguments anywhere else in the file are unfound.

Henderson and Stacey Willis also said the court, the GAL, and the Cook County Public Guardian’s office have all repeatedly ignored Mildred Willis’ pleas to be released from guardianship and to move back in with her family at their home.

A statement from the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign to Rebel Pundit about this case can be found here.

The family said on August 26, 2014, it suffered its latest humiliation when the Cook County Sheriff’s office came to their family home and confiscated it at the behest of the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office.

According to Henderson, this action was in retaliation for a rally held in front of the Cook County Public Guardian’s office on the previous day.

According to its website, the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office currently manages more than $100 million in ward assets from 800 cases like the Willis case. The Cook County Public Guardian’s Office is a part of the Cook County Circuit Court, run by Timothy Evans, who did not respond to an email.

2 Responses

  1. Sylvia Rudek

    Doctor shopping? For the evaluation needed to establish a guardianship case? And another case of allegations against the family member serving as Guardian misspending? I agree: ” If true, then I have to wonder why they didn’t press charges. And in fact, wouldn’t they have an obligation to do so?”

    Reply

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