Guardians from Hell Undermine Rights of Elderlies: Part 1 (Extended Story)

By GRETCHEN RACHEL HAMMOND

(TABLET) At 92 years old, Virginia “Jean” Wahab hadn’t lost any of the vitality and health she maintained throughout her life. She raised two daughters as a single mom and made a home for them in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, Michigan. Wahab worked on her feet and didn’t retire from her job at a local family restaurant until she was 88.

Fiercely independent, Wahab was quite happy living at home after retirement. She had a healthy social life. She did her own grocery shopping and chores. She so rarely needed to pay a visit to a hospital that her health insurance was barely touched.

Her eldest daughter, Mimi Brun, converted to Judaism at the age of 18. She went on to become a prolific Jewish artist, who sold her work all over the world. In 2010, she began to establish art schools for children under 12 in France and then Chicago. Although Brun was estranged from her younger sister, she and her mother were extremely close. Wahab was Catholic, but Brun noted that she had the fastidious nature of a Jewish mother.

Wahab’s legal affairs were in order including a durable power of attorney she had signed in January 2016 which named Brun as a patient advocate (the handler of her medical needs) as well as giving her daughter charge of her financial affairs should she ever become incapacitated. Wahab’s home was also registered in Brun’s name in a quit claim deed signed by Wahab on Dec. 29, 2014.

The two talked on the phone every day. Brun particularly relished visits with her mother during which she would gift her a piece of art. Wahab was an eager collector of Brun’s work.

That was two years ago. Everything has changed since then.

In 2016, after a fall at her home, Wahab was diagnosed with a slight cognitive problem but otherwise deemed healthy. Wahab’s doctor recommended that Brun find her a short-term rehab facility.

“I looked for a Jewish one,” Brun said. “They were all full. I found Lourdes because it had a five-star reputation.”

On February 23, that year, with the approval of her HMO, Wahab was admitted for short-term rehabilitation at Lourdes Senior Community in Waterford, Michigan—a nonprofit eldercare facility founded by Dominican nuns in 1948. According to the organization’s 2016 IRS form 990, Lourdes listed end-of-year assets of $22,096,166. Expenses totaled $14,476,851.

Brun said she made her mother’s meals and went to each of her physical and occupational therapy sessions.

“The insurance granted her up to 120 days,” Brun remembered. “She was excelling like a champ but the therapist at Lourdes started telling me she suspected Mom should not live alone. Mom and I decided that I was going to go back to France and Chicago, put my businesses on hold, rent out my homes and move my work and studio to Mom’s. It was what she had dreamed about—to spend the end of her life living with me.”

Brun left for France, placing her aunt and sister in charge of caring for Wahab while she was in rehab.

“I called Lourdes every day,” Brun said. “Then the insurance cut off.”

Brun asserted that she spoke to Lourdes social worker Sara Van Acker and pledged that she would enter into a payment plan. Shortly thereafter, however, she received an email from a Lourdes administrator which stated “Your payment plan with Sara Van Acker was not approved by me. I cannot receive partial payment nor be patient for your payment plan time frame.”

On June 6, Lourdes filed a petition for guardianship on the grounds of a $31,416.65 past-due bill. Brun said that the petition notice was sent to an address that was not hers. The petition shows that the address used to serve Brun belongs to an apartment complex in Harper Woods Michigan—one hour’s drive from Lourdes and 30 minutes from Oak Park. On the address, no apartment number is listed. It is also not the address listed on the Power of Attorney paperwork Brun says she provided to Lourdes.

Brun rushed back to Michigan. On the morning of June 29, 2016, she attended a hearing presided over by Oakland County Probate Judge Linda Hallmark, one of four judges serving there. Hallmark vacated Wahab’s power of attorney and appointed a local attorney Jon Munger as Wahab’s guardian. According to Brun, neither she nor her mother ever requested Munger’s services.

Also appointed by the court was a man named Matthew Jason Brown, another local lawyer. Brown was named as Wahab’s guardian ad litem (GAL)—a person entrusted with investigating what course of action is in the best interest of a person unable to care for themselves. The June 29 hearing was also attended by two representatives from Lourdes: Van Acker and Lisa Hibbert from the organization’s accounts receivable department.

According to court transcripts from that morning, Van Acker stated that she had filed the petition for guardianship because “there’s a concern about the nursing home being paid.”

Brown wanted to know if an application for Medicare benefits for Wahab had been made.

“Not to my knowledge,” Van Acker replied.

“Are you familiar with [Wahab’s] medical condition?” Brown wondered, to which Van Acker answered “slightly.”

When Brown asked Brun if she had any objection to the petition, Brun replied “I am contesting this hearing because I was not served. I’ve had no time to get a lawyer.”

“Well, you’re here Ma’am,” Hallmark replied, “and it’s a guardianship so there is some urgency about it, so we’re going to proceed.”

When Brun protested that she had been appointed as Wahab’s guardian through a power of attorney, Hallmark quickly rebuked her.

“That’s different than an appointment by the court,” Hallmark said. “Has any court appointed you guardian?”

“No, but I haven’t applied for it yet,” Brun replied. “I’d like to petition for it, but I need time.”

Hallmark did not respond to this request.

In delivering his report to the court, Brown went on to state that he had visited Wahab at Lourdes only two days earlier. During that visit, he said, he “explained to Wahab her rights and gave her a copy of [the petition].”

“She didn’t have any objection to the appointment of a public administrator at that time,” he added. “But I would note that she was not oriented to date, time, and place.”

Brown also stated that he “went over [Wahab’s] medical condition with Ms. Van Acker and she went over with me sheets that said she was suffering from dementia, unspecified lack of coordination, osteoarthritis, two…type two diabetes, muscle weakness and hypertension.”

Transcripts from that day indicate that Hallmark never asked for medical reports to prove Brown’s assertions.

Brun told Hallmark that she had witnesses who would speak on her and Wahab’s behalf. Those witnesses, however, were never called.

“My mom needs love,” Brun went on to tell Hallmark. “No one loves my Mom more than me. When I asked my mom ‘what’s your greatest desire?’ she said ‘I want to go home. I want to go home with you.’”

“I want to take her home,” Brun begged Hallmark.

“I’m going to grant the petition,” Hallmark said. “I would like to appoint Mr. Munger [as guardian]. If he thinks that an independent medical or some other action is required that’s fine. I’m also going to appoint [Munger] as special fiduciary to make sure we have the Medicaid application on track. I’ll revoke the power of attorney today. If it’s appropriate that [Brun] should serve, if you want to get counsel and bring the matter in, we’ll consider that.”

“She hasn’t lost any of her rights…” Hallmark added, speaking of Wahab. “She has a guardian and it’s Mr. Munger …”

Brun made one last desperate plea. “Is there a reason why?”

“Yes,” Hallmark replied. “Because she’s in need of a guardian and I’m appointing Mr. Munger. That’s why.”

Hallmark never mentioned the grounds by which she was revoking the power of attorney.

The court adjourned.

Brun’s fight to have her mom released from Lourdes would eventually result in Hallmark issuing an injunction restraining her from entering Lourdes premises, denial of her visitation rights (even when chaperoned by a nun and a locally renowned, retired judge) and a bench warrant from Hallmark’s court for Brun’s arrest.

Two days after Munger had been assigned, Brun received an email from his office which stated “It will be necessary to close [Wahab’s] bank accounts and locate all assets in order to apply for Medicaid.

I understand that there is at least one account at ****** Bank with both of your names on it. It would be more efficient if you cooperate with the closing of the account(s). I will need proof of closure for the Medicaid application. I will then open a guardianship account at ******** for your mother, pay her bills, and apply for Medicaid.”

Even though Wahab was originally admitted for a short-term rehab at Lourdes, on July 1, 2016, according to his own accounting, Munger completed a long-term medical assistance application that entitled Lourdes to three months of retroactive disbursement, faxing the application to Michigan State’s Department of Human Services.

Five days later, Munger completed and mailed another admissions packet to Lourdes for Wahab.

A July 17, 2016 affidavit, signed by Wahab and filed in court, read “I want to go home with my daughter Mimi.”

On August 15, 2016 Brun’s then-attorney sent a letter to Lourdes CEO Sr. Maureen Comer stating “Ms. Brun has not and has never been opposed to negotiating the payment of the outstanding bill. Ms. Brun has made arrangements to take Ms. Wahab home and Ms. Wahab has even signed an affidavit stating she wants to return home.”

Two days later, Brun, her attorney and Lourdes received an email from Munger which stated that he was clarifying “for both Lourdes and for yourself, that I am not authorizing either Mimi Brun or yourself to discuss, negotiate or otherwise become involved in any potential discharge plan nor payment.”

Munger also went on to say “there have already been repeated complaints about your client’s behavior while at Lourdes facility. I have not yet taken full steps to curtail your client’s visitation, but we may need to revisit that issue.”

In a subsequent series of emails Brun’s then-attorney called Munger’s actions “highly inappropriate. You are needlessly dragging on this litigation so you can keep billing and billing.”

Munger replied “You and your client will cease any communication with Lourdes administration or management. Your failure to abide by this requirement will simply force me to place the matter before Judge Hallmark, where I will ask that both you and your client be sanctioned for this grossly unprofessional, abusive and threatening behavior. I simply will not allow either of you to interfere with Virginia’s care.”

On August 18, 2016, Munger billed Wahab $245 for his drafting “of a petition to limit visitation.”

An email that day from Munger to Brun’s attorney stated that it was “due to your attempts to pay Lourdes.” It makes no mention of any complaints about Brun’s behavior.

Because he was Wahab’s guardian, Munger was legally permitted to bill his ward for any work on her behalf. A 2017 statement of other fees and services billed to Wahab by Munger and Associates shows that in little over a three-month span, Munger billed Wahab a total of $6,097.00 in fees and services.

Brun filed an emergency petition to have Wahab released from Lourdes. In an October 5 hearing in Hallmark’s courtroom, Munger was represented by attorney Joseph Ehrlich.

Munger billed Wahab $450 to “attend hearing on court motions and “[a] conference with judicial staff attorney.”

Following the hearing, Ehrlich secured an order from Hallmark compelling Brun to pay $25,000 to Lourdes and gave her 25 days to come up with the cash.

Brun told me that, because it did not include the provision for her mother to be released, she refused to pay it.

A subsequent motion Brun filed to vacate the order stated that “upon review of the transcript of this hearing, at no point did Brun ever agree to pay $25,000 to Lourdes. It does not comport with the settlement placed on record.”

Lourdes retained attorney Mary Lyneis to represent them.

A November 2016 letter from Lyneis to Brun accused her of violating “Court Orders entered into the Probate Court.”

While it did not mention which of those orders Brun was supposed to have violated, it went on to accuse her of “Threatening conduct toward the staff at Lourdes. In addition, you upset your mother with unfounded allegations the staff at Lourdes. As a result, you are hereby notified that you are no longer permitted on the premises. Should you attempt to enter the premises, appropriate law enforcement will be contacted.”

The letter offered no evidence of any court order sanctioning a decision to bar Brun from the premises.

In a February 2, 2017 email, Lyneis told Brun “We want to be paid. You cannot expect to show up to see your mother when you have not paid for the privilege and you have disappeared since November.”

A subsequent email from Munger to Brun stated “If you want to visit your mother and or even remain in contact with her, you would be better served by complying with the existing court order than by continuing to harass everyone trying to see your mother. In particular, pay the $25,000.”

Concerned about being able to pay her legal fees, Brun sold her and her mother’s home to Michigan banker Bradley Silverstein on the proviso that he draft a lease for her and Wahab to live there. A lease with that condition was drafted on February 28, 2017.

Two days later on March 1, 2017, Ehrlich, Lyneis, and Munger appeared before Hallmark and asked for a series of ex parte orders against Brun.

Ex parte orders are issued without the presence of or even notification of the parties it affects. Since due process is Constitutionally guaranteed, these orders are supposed to be temporary while allowing ample room for them to be contested.

Brun was not present at the hearing when the ex parte orders were issued. At the time, with the support of her doctor and with his medical order in the court file, she had requested a two-month medical leave from the court.

Hallmark also issued a permanent injunction against Brun restraining her from entering Lourdes premises, and a bench warrant for arrest alleging that her refusal to pay the $25,000.00 was in contempt of court.Regardless, Munger and Ehrlich requested that the house be transferred back to Wahab’s name “and then [to] permit Jon Munger to sell the house in order to pay for her care, so that [Wahab] would then qualify for needs-based benefits.” The court issued this order on June 28, 2016.

Brun told me that, in the months that followed, Munger attempted to force his way into the house. On August 8, 2017, she filed a police report, complaining that Munger had attempted to enter the house on three separate occasions.

When Brun replied that she had never received such an order, Munger wrote “A hearing was held on June 21 in front of Judge Linda Hallmark, and you received notice of that. I have every legal right to enter your mother’s home, and I have done so.”A June 30 email from Munger to Brun read “As you are aware, Judge Hallmark entered an order in the eviction case requiring you to vacate your mother’s home by Wednesday, June 28th 2017. I went to the home with several others on the following day, June 29th, and it was apparent that no one was residing in the home. Accordingly, we had the locks changed and the home secured. Upon our entry into the home, it was apparent that you had left a great deal of valuable personal property behind, including artwork. We deem this to be abandoned property under the law. For the time being, we are holding that personal property and artwork as security for repayment of the $25,000 you were ordered to pay on October 5.”

Brun has filed criminal police reports for larceny home invasion and theft against Munger with the Oak Park Police. The police took no subsequent action.

On August 30, Munger billed Wahab $245 for “a hearing to set aside deed” and $119 for calls to the real estate agent and the locksmith.

Brun said she was not present at any such hearing.

Brun’s attorney Phillip Strehle would later tell Hallmark “In October ’16 [Munger] filed a forwarding address card with the post office which has Mimi’s name on top and Munger’s address on it. So, he already knew, as of October ’16, that whatever mail he sent to the house, she would never get, because he sent it to himself. Mr. Ehrlich told me out in the hall that the order of August 30 was entered because it was uncontested. There’s a reason why it was uncontested; because Ms. Brun was not properly served.”

Brun finally got a break in October 2017 when attorney Lisa Orlando became Wahab’s new Guardian ad Litem.

In two reports Orlando submitted to Hallmark in 2018, she wrote “I visited [Wahab] at Lourdes Senior Community first on November 16, 2017 and then again more recently, on February 28, 2018, at which time I again served her a copy of the petition, notice of hearing and the order appointing a Guardian ad Litem. I don’t believe that Virginia was able to understand the information being presented, however she did clearly say that she did not want to go to court. I then asked her if she wanted Mimi to be her guardian and she said ‘of course!’”

“In the opinion of this GAL, it is Virginia Wahab a 94-year-old woman, who is paying the price of these ongoing legal disputes and suffering harm by not being able to see her daughter for more than 17 months,” Orlando added. “To isolate and prohibit an aging Mother from seeing her daughter is heartbreaking to this GAL. Mimi Brun has priority under the statute and is Virginia’s choice to be her Guardian.”

An affidavit signed by Wahab’s sister Sr. Helen Essa reads “Mimi is a devoted daughter and attended to every detail of her mother’s care not ever putting her own needs first. I know how desperate my sister is to go home with Mimi and have Mimi care for her. I pray, as we all do, that my sister will not die in a nursing home.”

In concluding her report, Orlando cited Michigan statutes.

“Under MCL 700.5313(3)(b), [Brun] has priority over a professional guardian,” she wrote. “’If suitable and willing to serve as guardian, the court shall appoint, an adult child of the legally incapacitated individual.’” Under MCL 700.5313(2)(b), [Brun] is Virginia’s choice to serve as her guardian. I discovered no clear and convincing evidence why the Petition should not be granted.”

Yet, Munger still remains as the sole guardian for Wahab who is still at Lourdes. Despite her best hopes, Brun has yet to see her and bring her home

The question remains as to why the Oakland County Probate Court effectively became a debt collector for a nursing facility and why the now 95-year-old Wahab is still held there despite her own Guardian ad Litem opinion that Brun replace Munger as guardian and family members’ pleas to Hallmark that Wahab be allowed to go home with her daughter.

On May 25, 2018 Hallmark vacated the order to pay $25,000.00. Hallmark also found Brun not guilty of contempt of court.

Brun does not believe the petitions she filed in October to have Munger removed as guardian will even be heard until July.

“I have been offering to pay Lourdes the money to let my mother go but Munger refuses to accept my working with the facility,” she said. “I promised Mom that her last chapter would be her best. But I think my mom will die before Munger ever lets her go.”

Strehle, who has been Brun’s attorney since October, 2017, told me that he felt the entire case against Brun was “bizarre.”

“The transcript of June 29, 2016 does not comply with the statute or the court rules,” he said. “There’s not a single bit of evidence to support even the creation of a guardianship; not one iota of evidence.”

He added that for a nursing home to present a petition for guardianship based on a past-due bill is something “I’ve never seen in all my years of doing probate. Ever.”

In the [June 29, 2016] transcript, the guardian ad litem [Brown] is the one that’s asking the questions,” he added. “Not Munger. Not an attorney for Lourdes. That’s even more bizarre. Usually, the person asking the questions is the petitioner not the guardian at litem. The court grated it because of an overdue bill. That’s not a basis for getting even a limited guardianship.”

Strehle also addressed the March 1, 2017 subsequent bench warrant and injunction issued against Brun.

“In my view, the bench warrant against Mimi was entered improperly because of the $25,000 provision which the court recently vacated,” he said in an interview with me. “In her petition Lyneis was seeking a restraining order against Mimi. A restraining order lapses on its own in 14 days. That’s not what she got. The court granted her a broad injunction. Lyneis had a huge burden of proof to get the restraining order. After that, she was supposed to notify us of a hearing within 14 days. She didn’t do that. It was based on no evidence whatsoever.”

“After all this time, I still have not seen any evidence to support [Munger’s] guardianship,” he concluded. “I have emails from Lourdes saying ‘we don’t want [Wahab] here.’”

“Twice on the record now in open court Ehrlich has said he wants to get the house to pay fees,” [referring to both his and Munger’s legal fees]. “I don’t see how that’s a basis for keeping this poor woman in this location, isolated, with no visitation. I’ve never seen it before in 31 years of doing this.”

I reached out to both Lourdes CEO Sr. Maureen Comer and Lyneis. In a series of email responses, Lyneis requested my “credentials” in the form of a “CV”. When I refused to provide her with a resume, Lyneis declined to confirm or deny any of the emails or statements on court transcripts made by her or Lourdes staff members. She also refused to answer a long list of questions pertaining to everything from Wahab’s initial medical diagnosis to why a petition for guardianship was filed over a past-due bill.

I also reached out to Hallmark via email and telephone and was told by a staff member in her office that, since she had not responded to my email, it was an indication that she had no comment.

An Oakland County Probate Court Administrator later replied, “In the interest of fairness to those involved, it is this court’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

Wahab’s first GAL, Brown, however, did respond. “As I stated in my report, Ms. Wahab consented to the guardianship,” he wrote. “I also felt, after interviewing Ms. Wahab, that she needed a guardian to be appointed. The information regarding the medicals was given to me by the nursing home regarding Ms. Wahab’s medical condition and are consistent with my report and testimony.”

READ PART II OF THIS SERIES

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