Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Satisfied clients


Normally I don't like to 'toot my own horn', but this one I've got to.  

I just got one of the best ‘thank you’s’ ever from a client. Background:  son (in his late 40’s, no children or wife) died broke with a large amount of debt and no will, leaving only very elderly but spry parents. I decided that they should forego any formal administration as it was only work with absolutely no benefit to them. Also, the apartment where their son was living changed the locks after his death and—working with the apartment’s lawyer—I was able to get my clients back in to retrieve the property and memories he left behind. Their letter:

Mr. Hart:
Thank you and your dedicated staff for all you have done for us. Losing our fine son has been very traumatic for us and the legal ramifications were overwhelming to us.

Yet you established a plan that both provided dignity for our son, and isolated us from the harassing phone calls and direct contacts that we could have been subjected to.

Mr. Hart, your legal knowledge, expertise and positive directions assured us that our son’s best interest and ours was always at the forefront of each decision.  . .  .  .  

Our gratitude again for the ‘extra mile’ you went to help us during the ‘lockout’ of [our son’s] apartment.

                                                           Respectfully yours,


             These clients are wonderful to work with and they followed my suggestions. Days like this are why I love my job and career.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Virginia's Mean and Callous Joke . . .

I’m guardian for Sylvester who lives in Assisted Living where he paid ('privately) $2250.00 per month until his saved money ran out; now he pays $1450.00 per month (the owner has a heart of gold, likes Sylvester and agreed to reduce the rate, otherwise he’d be in the street). He thrives there. And at that rate the owner gets a whopping $243.00 more than she would be paid if Sylvester was on the embarrassing disgrace called ‘auxiliary grant’. (see my blog entry on THAT)

Sylvester’s net Social Security income is $18,876.00 per year or $1573.00 per month (after Medicare A, B and D are deducted). So he has $123.00 per month remaining for clothing, diapers, incidentals, Medicare co-pays, my fee for serving as guardian, etc. (I will NOT ‘short’ the assisted living facility as a roof over his head and meals is the most important priority). 

Sylvester has cancer. He presently OWES medical bills of over $4600.00 (that I know of). He needs treatment; the cancer care provider (who has the stupidest billing department I’ve encountered in 20 years of guardianship) is raising hell over its unpaid bill of over $500.00 (and increasing every day); the pharmacy is raising hell over its unpaid bill of over $3500.00 (and increasing every day).  And I have no way to pay any of them.  UPDATE: the day after I posted this I got a letter from the pharmacy that they are discontinuing his meds -- I asked if they (a HUGE national pharmacy) had a charity program and they said NO.

The cancer care provider suggested we apply for Medicaid.  My thought was it’d be easier to move the Rock of Gibraltar to the African continent on the other side of the strait, and I said as much. Nevertheless we (futilely) sent in an application. As I expected it was denied but he was placed on something called “Spend-down”.

If you thought the ‘auxiliary grant’ was a cruel joke, you haven’t seen ‘spend-down’. It is mean and callous.

Our exalted Commonwealth of Virginia’s Medicaid program will pay the difference in
Sylvester’s medical bills OVER $8041.08. After insurance.  Over the six months ending October 31, 2014.


NO-ONE can meet a criteria so damned asinine.

I’m pissed off at this. I’m pissed off because the “we don’t like anything Obama does and will stonewall everything related to him” Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid benefits in Virginia. AT NO COST to Virginia for the first 4 years of expansion. That expansion would probably cover Sylvester.

This is unconscionable. It makes me think that the Republicans want poor people to die so they won’t have to pay for their care. It’s the only logical answer – there’s no other way to explain what they’re doing. I don’t even think former Governor and US Senator Harry F. Byrd would stoop this low.

To protect Sylvester, I’m going to have to figure out how to get him into a nursing home where Medicaid WILL pay for his care.  At a cost to Virginia taxpayers of over $12,000.00 per year (based on Virginia’s share of Medicaid spending). The Republicans are penny-wise and pound foolish – and are too senseless to understand it.

And they’ll tell me I’m wrong about them that they really do care.  Really?  Then prove it.  Expand Medicaid. Show the world we’re better than Mississippi.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The inaccessible Roanoke Law Library

Over 75 years ago the Roanoke Bar Association was formed for the then primary purpose of maintaining a cooperative law library. (Law books are expensive).  In the 1970's the library was given to the City of Roanoke with the understanding it would maintain the library for the benefit of the public and for the lawyers (who represented that same public).  11 years ago Roanoke City cut hours of the Law Library and now the current operating schedule for the Roanoke Law Library is beyond ridiculous.  The hours are generally 8 am to noon all days except one when it is open until, I think, 4 -- this is applicable to lawyers and the general public. 
This puts the usefulness of the Law Library on nearly the same level as screen doors on a submarine. A joke.
I've toyed with the idea of some action against the city for the reduced hours, but would rather make a few suggestions and comments that may improve the present situation.
The heck of it is, Roanoke's not alone.  I just learned that the Alexandria, VA, proposed budget cuts all funding (except what comes from court fees) from its law library.
Short of restoring the Roanoke Law Library hours to something resembling common sense, a solution would be to move the Law Library over to the main library so the public at large and lawyers could have access on a more human schedule. Having the resources available is -- these days -- more important to the public than for lawyers (we've got our computers with Fastcase, Westlaw, Lexis).  That would free up significant room in the courthouse for something else.  (However, if this is adopted I'd urge the continuation of the "Lawyers' Lounge" for a place we could work between appearances, meet clients, take a nap, etc.).  
An alternative, which would apply to lawyers only, is to reinstate a version of the 'key club' (a privilege lawyers had for access years ago).  The Courthouse security checkpoint is mere feet from the door to the Law Library.  Have a key with the deputies and a sign-in/out book.  A lawyer needing to go in to the library could do so upon presenting his bar card and signing the book. (a modification of the old magistrate system)  Frankly this could be instituted immediately while the main branch consolidation idea is studied to death in typical Roanoke fashion.
For a number of years I was a member and chair of the Roanoke Bar's library committee and worked with the late Clayne Calhoun to make it a premier law library for a community of our size. It is disheartening to see it as a stepchild of the library system and virtually inaccessible to anyone who might want to use its resources.
I want to see it fixed.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Voice to text . . .

I've installed voice-to-text software -- the one advertised on TV.  I had tried it in the past but computer power and the software both left a lot to be desired. 

Given my new computer (I had an XP machine that is now obsolete, so got a Windows 7 thing) I thought I'd try it again.  It does do a lot better and it is fairly fast.

However, the accuracy rate is still at 95% -- that means one in twenty words is wrong and you have to take the time to correct it.  Given that lawyers use a LOT of words, that's a lot of corrections.

I just looked at something I 'dictated' into the computer.  Visions of instructions for electronic devices from Asia, written by a non-English-as-first-language person came to mind.  I'll have to be careful.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Home fire safety tip . . .

(originally posted 1/27/2014)

My wife and I learned something Friday night,  After we went to bed. And were half asleep.

Smoke/Fire alarms 'wear out'. And get noisy when they die. And they like to die in the middle of the night. (one Lowe's consumer review mentioned the "Midnight Fire Alarm Club").

Our house has 'hard-wired' fire/smoke alarms. This means there's a dedicated circuit connecting all the fire alarms in the house, and if one goes off, they ALL go off.  That's a good thing -- if there's a fire downstairs we might not hear the alarm down there; Allyson (whose apartment is downstairs) might not hear a fire alarm going off upstairs.

According to the firemen who 'visited' us Friday, the alarms have a useful life of about 10 years. Ours had a manufacture date-stamp of 2001. And, per the nice firemen, when one 'hard-wired' alarm dies, it sends a signal to all the others and they all shriek. The US Fire Administration (part of FEMA) also says replace after 10 years.

In our case, all EIGHT of the alarms.

And there's no way to shut them off -- no 'breaker' on the electrical box says 'fire alarms' (which is also a good thing because there are dummies who would switch them off) but even if there were one, the battery back up in each would keep it shrieking.

So after 14 1/2 minutes of shrieking (we couldn't find any fire, smoke, gas, etc.) we called the fire department and they kindly responded, getting to our house about 2 minutes after we called.

And 90 seconds after the 15-minute 'automatic reset' in the alarms shut them off.

Saturday I went to Lowes and bought 8 replacement BRK/First Alert (tm) alarms (and there's a 20% discount if you buy 6 or more, so I paid $15 for each $19 alarm); it took only 30 minutes to switch all of them out because they had matching 'plugs' to connect them to the house.  The alarms 'twist' in and out of the retaining/trim ring, while the new alarm had a different ring, all I did was loosen two screws holding it in, jiggled it out and jiggled in the new ring, tightened it, plugged in the new alarm and twisted it into the new ring.  The hardest part was moving the ladder from alarm to alarm.

So, folks, the bottom line is look at your alarms - if they were made before 2004 you need to replace them.  And consider doing it anyhow if they were made in 2005 or before.You'll sleep better (literally and figuratively)

FOLLOWUP - 4/7/2014. 

Today I got the following email from a friend: 


Yesterday afternoon while my husband and I were enjoying a quiet and relaxation time, all of a sudden the smoke/fire alarms started sounding off all throughout the house.  We both bounded up and went dashing through the house and I was feeling of walls and sniffing.  We have a nice staircase to the attic and I ran up there and there was nothing anywhere.  Well, of course, what did I think but the conversation that we had about something similar happening to you.  I hardwired alarms have been in service about ten and one-half years.  I went to the electrical box and there was a breaker that said “fire alarms”.  I tripped it off and the alarms were still sounding.  I thought good grief what will we do?   My husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined!  AND then it stopped.  I said to him, this is not the end of it.  He got the step ladder and proceeded to tell me we should replace the batteries.  Hummmmmm….not a fix I thought, but I went along with it.

The long and short of it is that they sounded again, and then again.  I determined that the breaker did turn off the electricity to all of them, but the batteries made them still sound off.  Then we removed the newly inserted fresh batteries.   AND then we had silence, but no protection.   We made a quick trip to Lowe’s and bought the six pack you described.  NOW like I said my husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined and certainly not trained in electric matters.  He wouldn’t touch them and he dared me to.  I googled it and I know that it is matter of turning off the juice and connecting the black wire, the white wire, and the red wire and reattaching them – but I was under orders not to touch them. 

FOR NOW, we have the circuit breaker off and the batteries removed.  I have one sole alarm/carbon monoxide unit in the middle of my one-story house and am praying for nothing to happen until we have someone in the house later this week that I think will replace them for us.



Friday, January 24, 2014

(another) Stupid Rule

This is an excerpt from a letter that went to four members of the Virginia General Assembly from my area. The Auxiliary Grant program (which I've commented on before) is a stepchild of "Virginia Hates the Poor and We're Doing it Only Because the Feds Make Us" funding, which means it gets nothing.

I’m court appointed guardian for an individual in assisted living who receives the cruel joke Virginia calls Auxiliary Grant.  This isn’t about the stupidity of the niggardly funding of Auxiliary Grant although, as you can imagine, I am more than willing to discuss that at another time.  Instead I have another problem related to a quirk in the rules.

Auxiliary Grant (AG) funds are to help with Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) charges. A significant percentage of ALF residents are there because they’re disabled – mentally (including drug/alcohol abuse/addiction) or physically (age or other impediment). Many of them have a guardian/conservator appointed for them.  In short, many if not most of the individuals are unable to handle money.

So imagine my surprise when I learned, recently, that Virginia Department of Social Services, Auxiliary Grant Manual, (Volume II, Part III, Chapter J, page 12) states

AG payments are issued by check directly to the individual unless an authorized payee has been designated. If an authorized payee has been designated, the check shall be issued to the authorized payee. An authorized payee may be the individual's court appointed conservator or guardian or the person with a valid power of attorney with the authority to accept funds on behalf of the individual. It is the individual’s or the individual’s payee’s responsibility to use the money to pay the ALF/AFCH. The check cannot be issued in the name of the facility or home.
While I’ve acted as guardian for many people for many years, this is the first I knew that AG payments could NOT be payable to the ALF.  I find no logic for it.

My specific problem is that “Jane” for whom I act as guardian lives in an ALF. Her income totals 741.00/month (2014) between Social Security and SSI benefits; because she receives SSI she also automatically receives Medicaid and AG.  The Roanoke City DSS (through the Department of Finance) routinely sends AG payments, BUT THEY ARE PAYABLE DIRECTLY TO JANE who has been declared incompetent. Somehow, at the ALF, because the checks were addressed and mailed to her, she got the checks, cashed them and spent the money – she doesn’t know any better – and her rent is unpaid.

Now the ALF is demanding $2420.00 because (a) they didn’t intercept the checks (which they have done in the past) and (b) the checks invited the abuse by how they were written.

I have asked that the legislators from my area contact Commissioner Shultze at Virginia DSS and ask her to fix the abject stupidity of the manual and let AG funds for an ALF be paid to the ALF directly. At least require AG funds be paid to the Guardian/Conservator where one is appointed, although why we would have to ‘launder’ the funds is beyond me. (however if that’s the way it is, I’ll take a 5% fee as fiduciary for doing so!)