By Terri LaPoint, Real News Spark
April 7, 2021
No person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” — unless, it seems, that person becomes a victim of probate or family courts. At that point, such deprivation of liberty happens more often than most of us realize.
It happened to Marguerite Trent Caddis of Birmingham, Alabama. A probate judge appointed a stranger as her guardian, and she was forced into a nursing home against her will. By the time the courts were finished with the Caddis estate, there was $3.76 left, to be divided equally between her three daughters.
Her story joins those of retired Alabama schoolteacher Marian Leonard and Golden Flake heiress Joann Bashinsky, each of whom were placed under court-appointed guardianships by Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King, who has since retired. Even after the death of a loved one, the court battles don’t end. Guardianship abuse leaves grieving heirs, like Leonard’s daughter Nancy Scott and Bashinsky’s grandson Landon Ash, bearing the brunt of the financial burden and emotional heartache of desperate ongoing battles against the probate courts and guardians as they attempt to honor the wishes of their loved one. These are lives which ended, not peacefully, but embroiled in bitter legal battles that refuse to end even at the grave.
Stories like theirs, and a Netflix movie called “I Care a Lot,” are shining the spotlight on egregious abuses of power that are ongoing within the guardianship and conservatorship system.
What is happening nationwide to our elderly and disabled within the systems entrusted to protect them is very similar to the abuse that happens to children within the Child Protective System. There is often little to no due process, yet people are literally being locked away from the lives they once knew, ostensibly in the name of protecting them. The ease with which this happens is shocking.
Gretchen Rachel Hammond of the Daily Kos says:
According to state and national activists, it’s a system that has been left unchecked for decades and is now so broken that it has led to unprecedented judicial overreach and the eradication of the constitutional, civil and human rights of thousands of Americans who suffer from resulting neglect, isolation, abuse, torture and theft on a massive scale, allegedly at the hands of the same individuals assigned to protect them.
They Thought They Had Prepared
Marguerite Trent Caddis, “Trent,” spent the last 3 years of her life battling for her freedom from the bondage of guardianship under Judge Alan King and Gregory H. Hawley, the guardian appointed by King to oversee her life and finances. Hawley is the same guardian involved with Golden Flake philanthropist Joann Bashinsky.
Other names of the many attorneys who profited from Trent Caddis’ plight include Sidney Summey and Amy Adams. Readers might recognize Summey’s name as the guardian who forced Marian Leonard onto hospice care, though there was no diagnosis of any terminal illness. Adams was involved with the Joann Bashinsky story as the attorney brought in by Hawley who used “scare tactics” to try to persuade her to hire her. When she refused, guardian Hawley hired her anyway. It was hours after damning recordings of the conversation were published that Judge King suddenly announced his retirement.
Trent Caddis was born and raised in Birmingham. She married her high school sweetheart Charles Owings Caddis. Together they raised 3 daughters.
In her early 40s, Trent was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but it did not stop her. She lost her husband in 1997. Charles Caddis had taken steps to ensure that his wife’s needs would be met. They had a lovely home in a great neighborhood. He had set up family trusts to see her soundly through the future, even appointing one of their sons-in-law as trustee over one of the trusts.
They surely thought it was enough. They could not have foreseen how wrong things could go when the family tried to enlist help from what should have been a neutral third party.
Petition for Help Goes Terribly Wrong
In February of 2013, when Trent Caddis was 69 years old, her two oldest daughters filed a petition in Judge Alan King’s Probate Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, to have their mother placed under the care of a guardian.
According to court documents, the daughters expressed concerns that their mother was unable to live alone. Though the family trusts contained a couple million dollars, the oldest Caddis daughters told the court that they were concerned that she might exhaust her assets; thus, they requested the court to appoint someone to oversee their mother’s affairs.
Not long after, Caddis’ youngest daughter filed a subsequent petition for guardianship, asking that, if the court felt it must appoint a guardian, it would appoint her to carry out what her mother wanted.
In a perfect world where outside entities would not profit financially from a judge’s decision, and where ONLY the true best interests of the person in question, including that person’s own wishes, were considered, this might have been a prudent move. However, as the Caddis family was about to learn, this is not such a perfect world.
No matter how noble their intentions were, their petitions to the Alabama probate court opened the door to a world of heartache. In the end, there would be no winners in the Caddis family guardianship case, except for the army of lawyers involved on all sides of the dispute, and those working with them who profited financially from the ensuing years of legal wrangling.
Though the original petition alleged that Trent Caddis suffered from confusion and impaired memory, she was ultimately never determined to be incompetent. Everything that happened to her throughout the years of legal battles, the loss of her rights and freedom, happened with her being named only as an “alleged” incapacitated person. There was never a finding of incompetency.
Despite this, Mrs. Caddis was removed from her home and sent to live in a nursing home, a move to which she was very much opposed. She wanted more than anything to stay in her own home. She was paying for round-the-clock sitters and healthcare providers whom she trusted; she wanted to keep it that way.
Lawyers Battle It Out, Both Sides Using Her Money
She hired the law firm of Trimmier, Kudulis, and Reisinger LLC to fight against her being forced into a nursing home, and to protect her rights to keep her own healthcare providers and be able to exercise control over her assets as she saw fit.
Rather than appointing any of the daughters, or anyone else that Mrs. Caddis knew and trusted, Judge King appointed Michael G. Trucks, Esq., as her Guardian ad Litem, and Gregory H. Hawley as her Temporary Guardian, a role that he filled until her death.
Judge King also ordered that Trent Caddis’ son-in-law Patrick Hubbard, husband of her youngest daughter, be removed as trustee over the family trust, to be replaced by Gregory H. Hawley. Hubbard fought back, stating that Caddis wished for him to remain as trustee, and that the court lacked the jurisdiction to remove him. Ultimately, Hawley replaced Patrick Hubbard as trustee on the trust set up by Trent Caddis’ late husband.
Trent Caddis remained under the “care” of her guardian Gregory Hawley until she passed away just after Christmas in 2015, after several years of legal battles.
In what seems to be a nationwide pattern in guardianship abuse stories, Mrs. Caddis’ money was used to pay for lawyers on both sides of the legal battles. Her estate paid for the attorneys fighting for her freedom. Because her money was under the control of the court-appointed guardian and conservator, her estate also paid for the lawyers fighting to keep her under the guardianship and in the nursing home.
It is a pattern that Boston Broadside editor Lonnie Brennan calls, “Isolate, Medicate, Liquidate.” The ward’s estate is whittled away by attorneys and guardians until there is nothing left. This is what happened to Marvin Siegal’s estate, once worth more than $6 million. By the time the system was finished with him, his estate was largely liquidated, leaving his daughters a mere pittance of his hard-earned wealth to inherit.
After hundreds of thousands of dollars were allocated in the final settlement to all the lawyers, including Greg Hawley as Conservator, Guardian, and Trustee of The Charles O. Caddis Family Trust, there was almost nothing left for her daughters, the heirs she and her late husband had intended to inherit their estate.
In a guardianship case that lasted just under three years from the original petition until the death of Trent Caddis, three dollars and 76 cents was all that remained, to be divided between the children of Charles and Trent Caddis.
This kind of predatory behavior is what masquerades as “guardianship” in many of our probate courts in America. The word “guardian” means “a defender, protector, or keeper.” “Keeper” here was never intended to be a pun where the guardian gets to “keep” what is found within the ward’s assets or estate. Judges, guardians, and social workers are called to protect, yet some of them abuse their power to exploit the elderly, disabled, or children. They fail the very people they are appointed to serve.
How many more Alabamians have fallen prey to such schemes, often hidden behind closed doors or shrouded in secrecy? How many more Americans have been stripped of their money, their freedom, and their lives, all in the name of “protecting” or “guarding” them? More importantly, when will it stop?