MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — The six-month guardianship of a Macomb County couple has racked up a total cost of $376,000. Now the couple's family members want the court to deny those fees because they say the guardianship never should have happened in the first place.
If a judge appoints a guardian and conservator, that person has the power to make all medical and financial decisions for a person. Now the bills from Caring Hearts Michigan have been revealed in the case of Barb and Bob.
They charged them for everything from $275 to research a Do Not Resuscitate order, to $13,000 to pay for the fence around their house.
The fence still stands around Barbara Delbridge and Bob Mitchell’s Utica home – a fence family members say blocked them from being with their loved ones. Lawyers for Caring Hearts said the fence was to keep Bob from running away
On the inside of the house, relatives say they found ripped furniture and what appears to be blood stains on the wall after six months of a court-appointed guardianship for the couple.
“It makes me so angry that time that we lost, we’ll never get back," said Gretchen Sommer, Delbridge’s niece. "The damage that was done is permanent.”
This all started in November 2018 when Marcie Mitchell petitioned the Macomb County Probate Court for guardianship of her dad and stepmom because they were becoming mentally incapacitated. However, Judge Kathryn George said she had “grave concerns” about the couple’s safety, and instead appointed Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. as guardian and conservator.
Caring Hearts is owned by Catherine Kirk. After the 7 Investigators exposed how Kirk then hired her own home-care company and her husband’s law firm to bill Barb and Bob for the guardianship, the Macomb County chief judge stepped in and returned the couple to their family.
The attorney general also intervened in the case, saying in court records that “there appears to be a clear violation of the statutes” about the guardian and conservator engaging in “self-dealing.”
”You’re being enriched through your work as the guardian in a way the law didn’t intend for you to be enriched,” said Nicole Shannon, Systemic Advocacy Attorney for the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative.
And now the 7 Investigators have obtained the bills for that alleged self-dealing:
Court records show Caring Hearts is asking for $46,123.41 for guardianship services.
Robert Kirk’s law firm billed $67,149.14 in legal fees.
And Cathy Kirk’s employee wrote in their accounting to the court, the total for Barb and Bob’s 24/7 home-care from Executive Care was $263,478.91.
That’s a total $376,751.46.
“There’s no way they stood by their fiduciary duty doing that because what they were doing was just draining their estate,” Sommer said.
Within days of getting the appointment as conservator, Kirk and her employees had the power to start writing checks, and they wrote check after check from Barb and Bob’s account to Kirk’s two companies and the law firm.
Kirk also used at least four attorneys, including her husband, all of them billing at $275 an hour.
Marcie says the toughest thing to see was a lawyer fee of one hour of research on a guardian’s power to execute a Do Not Resuscitate Order.
“The hardest was when I read 'Do Not Resuscitate' order – and my parents have to pay for that? I’m sorry but it’s not fair,” said Marcie through tears.
When Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, who works for Robert Kirk’s law firm, showed up during our interview with family members last May, he charged Barb and Bob’s estate $1100 for his work that day.
In fact, Taylor’s fees on the case total $36,850, according to court records, and that doesn’t include the $542.50 just for others in the office to make copies for Taylor.
“These are humans that we’re doing this to," Sommer said. "But they don’t see them that way, they’re wards. They see the end game, the dollar sign, that’s it."
Caring Hearts has new lawyers now. They declined to talk to 7 Investigators on camera, but they argue in court filings that Caring Hearts “is entitled to every penny it seeks” because they performed “a multitude of good deeds.” They call Barb and Bob’s home a “house of horrors” and say family members were “taking advantage” of the couple’s $2 million estate. They argue Bob was physically and verbally abusive to the home-care aides.
Relatives deny that and say instead the so-called “house of horrors” was created by Caring Hearts, where Bob and Barb were over-medicated and mistreated.
“They were very harsh," Sommer said. "They would antagonize Bob. They would get in his face. They would tell him to hit them because if he did they would call the police and he’d go away to jail forever. We’re told they were forced to take cold showers, I don’t know why and it’s just heartbreaking. They were totally held hostage against their will."
After Bob and Barb were returned to their family members in June, they moved them to nursing homes where relatives say they improved dramatically.
Sadly, Barbara suffered a stroke and passed away earlier in November.
The family is continuing their legal fight, hoping to set some precedents in the courts in order to help other families fighting guardianships in Michigan.