Total strangers – lawyers who double as public officials – are taking over the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community – senior citizens and others who are disabled.
Several Metro Detroit families say they’ve now lost all control over their parents’ health care decisions and their finances.
At the last minute Thursday, the attorneys for two of those siblings in this case, Lorrie and Sandy Kapp, went to a judge to try to stop WXYZ-TV and the 7 Investigators from showing you this investigation.
Instead, Judge Daniel A. O’Brien issued a court order, saying 7 Action News cannot show any images of the Kapp’s parents, so you won’t see their faces in this story.
A hearing on our objections to the order is scheduled for Tuesday.
911 Call: “911 what’s your emergency? Yes, my dad fell out of bed.”
At least 37 calls to 911 in just 10 months.
911 CALL: “I need you to stop yelling! I need you to stop… Mom, be quiet” Operator: “911 where is your emergency? West Bloomfield.”
Mila Kapusta says those are the kinds of emergency calls that have been made from her parents West Bloomfield condo, ever since a court-appointed guardian took over their lives.
“I really can’t talk about it, because I will break down. It’s hard to watch your loved ones suffer. That’s the hardest thing,” said Kapusta.
Mila’s father, Milan, is 94, and her mom, Janet is 93.
Mila tells the 7 Investigators that they both have dementia and need round-the-clock care, which she was helping to provide until she says one of her sisters locked Mila out of the house. Mila says she suspected abuse and went to Oakland County’s Probate Court.
“We noticed that my father had a pressure sore. And my parents were sleeping in their own urine,” said Mila. She says she wanted to take over the caregiving for her parents, but instead the judge created a visitation schedule for all four siblings. Now Mila is only allowed to see her parents three days a week.
During that November 23, 2016 court hearing, Oakland County Probate Judge Daniel A. O’Brien said on the record, “I’m appointing a public administrator, Barbara Andruccioli” as Milan and Janet Kapp’s guardian and conservator. That means the Kemp Klein attorney had total control over their lives, including their health and their money.
“Things went downhill from there,” said Mila.
A Public Administrator is an attorney who’s appointed by the state Attorney General to handle estates after someone dies without an heir. The Public Administrator law says nothing about them being guardians for someone who’s living, but that’s how they’re often being appointed.
“When the judge finds disharmony between family members, they’re using that as an excuse to not find suitability. And they’re appointing these public administrators because they think it will stop the anxiety between families,” said attorney Douglas Kuthy, who’s representing Mila Kapusta.
“Andruccioli never resolved anything. She never did anything,” said Mila.
With Andruccioli in charge of the Kapps, Mila and her attorney, Douglas Kuthy, say her parents’ health got worse.
“We reported to her that my parents had been falling, Ms. Andruccioli’s response to my attorney was, it’s unfortunate but old people fall,” said Mila.
“[Andruccioli] failed to recognize the ward was hospitalized; failed to take care of it, failed to provide anything. I filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing in regard to that, she resigned in the face of it,” said Kuthy.
That’s when Judge O’Brien appointed a new guardian – yet another Public Administrator – Thomas Brennan Fraser.
For six months, Mila says she’s been asking Fraser for a wheelchair ramp so her parents can leave their house.
“He doesn’t respond to anything. Maybe one out of every ten emails, I’ll get a response, if that,” said Kuthy.
Mila and Doug say when they try to get answers from the judge, they get shut down. Our cameras were rolling last week while they waited – along with four other attorneys on the case – for 45 minutes. Instead of taking the bench for the scheduled hearing, Judge O’Brien sent a staffer out to hand out a written opinion.
“It’s highly unusual in my 30 years of practicing law to run into a situation like this. And frankly, I don’t understand it,” said Kuthy.
“It’s very disrespectful to my parents who are in their 90s. They seek justice, and from what I can see they aren’t getting any,” said Mila. “This is supposed to be a house of justice, and from what I can see, they aren’t getting any.”
What Fraser and the other professional guardians and conservators are getting is money.
In the Kapp case, court records show, Fraser and Andruccioli both charge $245/hour for attorney fees.
And their various staffers charge anywhere from $35/hour to $165/hour.
In just 10 months, all together they’ve billed for $13,929.34 in costs for the Kapp family.
“Guardianship is one of the easiest weapons to use to financially exploit the vulnerable,” said Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship Director Rick Black. Black calls Oakland County a hot spot for probate problems, and says the guardians who are also Public Administrators have an unfair advantage.
“Their capability in the court room is pretty much carte blanche, both in terms of the protections that they get from the judge, but also the latitude they get within the system as an attorney,” said Black.
7 Investigator Heather Catallo caught up with the Kapp’s guardian after court.
Catallo: “The judge consistently refers to you on the record as a public administrator, so –
Fraser: “By habit – I have a lot of cases.”
Catallo: “How many guardianship and conservator cases do you have?”
Fraser: “I don’t know.”
Catallo: “We have several families that are telling us that you bill an awful lot of money but don’t do very much. What is your response to that?”
Fraser: “And that’s just not true, my bills are my bills.”
“No one can believe this is happening. And for my father, who is a veteran – he protected this country -- for him to be treated like this; for my mother who worked her whole life to be treated like this – I think judges need to look at the elderly and our seniors more cautiously instead of trying to protect Public Administrators and any attorney – anybody walking into the court. You’re here to protect your public,” said Mila.
On October 5, the 7 Investigators contacted Prince Law Firm attorneys Kelli Nearhood and Ryan Bourjaily, who represent Lorrie and Sandy Kapp, to request comment on this investigation. In an email response, Nearhood said, “we can neither comment regarding pending litigation nor our client’s role in pending litigation.”
At 4:12pm on October 12, Nearhood and Bourjaily filed the motion for an Ex-Parte Order to keep the 7 Investigators from broadcasting this story. Without contacting WXYZ or Mila Kapusta’s attorney, the Judge issued the Ex-Parte Temporary restraining order preventing the use of the images of the Kapps.
A hearing will be held on Tuesday October 17.
The original guardian in this case, Barb Andruccioli, has not gotten back to us to comment on this.
In Oakland County, there is a criminal investigation taking place right now into the actions of several Public Administrators.
The Attorney General does appoint Public Administrators to handle decedent estates. Those attorneys are not state employees, and therefore the Attorney General cannot prevent them from doing outside legal work, such as taking guardian and conservator cases. According to Andrea Bitely, Press Secretary for Attorney General Bill Schuette, “there’s nothing in Michigan’s laws that prohibit them from fulfilling both roles. But the Attorney General is in favor of changing the system, and all options are on the table. The old [Public Administrator] laws that are currently in place need to continue to be examined. We’re continuing to work with the legislature to reform the process.”
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-827-4473.