As I was trying to find where the latest Deb Zerafa article ended up shared on Facebook (thank you), I came across this disturbing article from the Northern Express about a guardianship case in Leelanau and Grand Traverse probate courts. The case is disturbing because it reveals what tremendous power government workers have over our lives whether they are Adult Protective Services Workers, CPS workers or even daycare licensing officials. These officials can shutter your business or as the Northern Express article exposed, isolate your aging mother suffering from dementia from you and her friends for months on end. The Martha Rodgers case is another example of state authorities swooping in, accepting allegations as true and destroying lives without performing their due diligence or seeking truth.
The only question in this case is what Grand Traverse County Probate Judge Melanie Stanton will do to hold Adult Protective Services workers and guardian Jill Case accountable for their actions. Government workers are seldom, if ever, held accountable for malfeasance. Their actions in this case appear to amount to recklessness if not even intentional misconduct.
In the case reported on by the Northern Express, the elderly woman dutifully did her estate planning. She planned for her daughter, Jennifer Rodgers, to have a power of attorney if the woman was ever unable to make decisions on her own. The woman cut her son, Simeon Rodgers, out of her will after he allegedly bankrupted the family business. The woman’s estate is reportedly worth more than $1 million.
Many years after her appointment as caretaker of her mother’s affairs, Jennifer went out of town on a business trip. Simeon saw his opportunity. He swooped in and made a complaint to Adult Protective Services about his sister Jennifer.
Simeon said that Jennifer stole $60,000 from their mother to buy a house. With an estate of more than $1 million, a gift of that size from an elderly mother to daughter isn’t unreasonable at all. I’d be more surprised if a loving, elderly mother with that kind of estate didn’t share with the child that takes care of her. Families share, and that’s okay, even when brothers are jealous and even when an APS worker can’t wrap their head around that kind of generosity.
Leelanau County Probate Judge Larry Nelson didn’t question Simeon’s motivations. Instead, he accepted APS’ word as gospel and ruled that Jennifer would need permission from the court-appointed “advocate” to see her mother. He appointed Jill Case to make the call. Initially, Case allowed Jennifer to meet her mother for lunch and drive her to her knitting club.
Then, Jennifer asked the Northern Express to check out what was going on with the case.
And Case retaliated by cutting Jennifer off from her mother. And she cut Martha off from her daughter.
Martha wouldn’t see her daughter again for seven months. That’s a life sentence for an elderly woman with dementia. Case and APS didn’t care.
Despite court orders that require the court-appointed guardian to tell family members of Martha’s address, Case told only Simeon. You know, the guy allegedly cut out of the will after bankrupting the family business who only complained to APS about Jennifer’s conduct while she was in Florida and unable to defend herself and her mother. Yeah, that.
Case allegedly told Jennifer that she cut the mother off from her daughter because the daughter upset the mother and swore on the phone.
If you’re the mother, and you find out the state has taken over your care and given control over your finances to the son who ran the family business into the ground, you’d be upset too. So was it really Jennifer that was upsetting the elderly woman, or was it APS and Case who had gone off the rails? It sounds like swear words may have been in order.
The case didn’t get sorted out until it moved to Grand Traverse County, because that’s where Case placed the elderly woman, presumably against her will. That’s when Grand Traverse County Probate Judge Melanie Stanton got her first look at the case. She removed Case as guardian. Stanton is allowing the mother and daughter pair to reunite.
So that’s not even the end of the story. This is a really long story. A couple of other things:
There are things missing from Martha’s estate. There’s a lockbox missing that has tens of thousands of dollars of jewelry in it. In addition, according to Janet Mistele, a new attorney appointed to represent Martha, Case made financial withdraws that are larger than anything Jennifer ever took from the estate. Mistele asked for Case to submit a financial report, but didn’t get one. Case also allegedly transferred the funds from one investment firm to another when firm representatives started asking questions.
And Case has prior questionable conduct in her employment with the Grand Traverse Commission on Aging. She sold two county-owned snowblowers to her brother for next to nothing, even though they were worth several hundred dollars. Then, she bought one of them back for herself, also for next to nothing. One man reported that witnesses weren’t talking for fear of retribution.
Of course, Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney refused to press charges, because anytime there’s an issue with a county employee behaving badly he calls it a mistake and gives them a pass. Commission on Aging Director Cindy Kienlen took that to mean that Case was “cleared” and said that Case “goes above and beyond.”
If you look in the 86th District Court ledger, Case has had a few civil actions filed against her.
So we’re still not to the end of the story. Case didn’t show up for court. If you’re wondering if you can just not show up for court, the answer is no. Judge Stanton issued a bench warrant for her arrest.
As I said, APS, CPS, the Prosecutor, the daycare license people, they all seem to have a lot of unchecked power in Northern Michigan. They have the power to destroy lives and think about it later. It’s terrifying. If we don’t hold our public officials accountable, who will? What happens when it happens to you?
And where is the county on this? One of your employees with prior questionable conduct has a bench warrant for their arrest. Really? And where are we at on understanding that Bob Cooney not charging something doesn’t mean that the person is “cleared.” Maybe Cooney could take a break from sending out pamphlets and otherwise campaigning to do some legal education for employees.