Why is Florida resident and Holocaust survivor Marie Winkelman still in guardianship?
This is the sixth in a series of articles about the landmark guardianship of Holocaust survivor, Marie Winkelman, in Sarasota, Florida, established by a mediated settlement agreement without any evidence presented or records made.
After dozens of tests administered to her, dozens of hours of examinations and multiple positive evaluations of her capacity, 89-year-old Holocaust Survivor Marie Winkelman is still steel-trapped in Florida’s black-hole guardianship system, with her life in limbo and her assets at stake. Every court hearing costs Marie’s assets thousands of dollars. Every mediation costs Marie’s assets thousands of dollars. And every day costs Marie heartache as she aches to be free.
Why were Marie’s positive evaluations withheld from the court? Why did Marie’s attorney, Audrey Bear, not file the first positive evaluation of Marie with the court until May 30, 2014, almost four months after its completion in early February?
Why was Marie’s second positive evaluation from another psychiatrist not filed with the court until May 28, 2014, when the report was already signed by the psychiatrist nearly one month earlier on April 30? Under Florida law, a positive evaluation from a physician can restore a Ward’s rights, but Marie’s rights are not restored despite positive evaluations from two psychiatrists.
To date, Marie Winkelman’s assets mean gainful employment for:
- Attorney Rebecca Proctor and at least one other attorney from her firm, Kirk Pinkerton
- Attorney Audrey Bear
- Attorney Christopher Likens
- Attorney Kim Bald
- Attorney Barry Spivey
- Attorney Erika Dine
- Nurse Lori Gaetano
- Psychiatrist Miguel Rivera
What Is Restoration of Capacity?
In Florida, any “interested person” can file a petition with the probate court to restore the rights of a person in guardianship. After the petition to restore capacity is filed, Fla. Stat. 744.464 requires the court to “immediately appoint a physician to examine the Ward,” and his report must be filed with the court within 20 days after his appointment. In sum, the process to restore a Ward’s civil rights should be short and simple, but Marie has never had an evidentiary hearing to remove her rights and never had an evidentiary hearing to restore them.
Although Marie’s restoration petition was filed on March 7, 2014, Marie has never had any hearing to restore her rights. The short and simple process mandated by Florida State law used to restore Marie’s rights is now in its fourth month, months behind the statutory schedule.
Rutgers Administrator Brings Marie to Court
Since early July 2013, Marie Winkelman’s step-son-in-law Robert Szychowski, long-time fiscal administrator for Rutgers University and the New Jersey University of Medicine and Dentistry, has caused an avalanche of legal bills to crush Marie’s lifetime of savings for her retirement. She is a woman alone, buried in a tsunami of bills she did not make; while Szychowski awaits millions of dollars that his wife and sister-in-law are guaranteed to receive from Marie’s Trust, which was court ordered to be irrevocable, making Corrine Szychowski and Diane Winkelman the Trust’s permanent primary beneficiaries.
In the meantime, Rutgers officials refuse to accept any ethical complaints filed against Robert Szychowski’s breach of fiduciary duties owed to an elderly Holocaust Survivor remotely “related” to him, upon whose life force he has stomped for nearly one year.
Two Holocaust Survivors Trapped in Fraudulent Guardianships
On July 10, 2013, nearly one year ago, vivacious Marie Winkelman was living independently in a life full of meaning, especially for an 88-year-old Holocaust Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, author, and recognized painter. The next day, Marie was immersed in court proceedings about which she knew nothing and was assigned a court-appointed attorney, Erika Dine, who had previously represented an agency, Aging Safely, that placed another Holocaust Survivor, Al Katz, into an infamous Florida guardianship. Now, it was Marie’s turn to lose her civil rights, assets, independence, and sense of stability – the dearest facets of a Survivor’s life.
Marie’s case is a landmark one in guardianship history, as Marie never was given an opportunity to present evidence on her behalf. She lost her civil rights and became a Ward of the State of Florida through a mediation that she never attended, which produced a settlement agreement that she never signed or saw, and was adopted by the Sarasota Probate Court without notice to her. Marie’s step-son-in-law, Robert Szychowski, sought through fraudulent filings in the Sarasota County Probate Court to remove all of Marie’s civil rights – to vote, sign contracts, choose her residence, pick her physicians, and write a check, among many more – and was successful in obtaining a mediation agreement that put all of Marie’s Revocable Trust, worth millions, into an irrevocable Trust at Sabal Trust, which place Szychowski insisted upon, keeping Marie’s Trust totally out of Marie’s control.
In order to file his petition against Marie and place her into involuntary guardianship, Szychowski hired Dr. Miguel Rivera to accompany nurse Lori Gaetano to Marie’s apartment in a gated complex to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Marie. On July 2, 2013, Rivera with Gaetano knocked on Marie’s door unannounced, sat at her dining room table, and asked Marie dozens of questions without revealing the purpose of their visit.
According to the Principles of Medical Ethics of the American Medical Association, “Psychiatrists are often asked to examine individuals for security purposes, to determine suitability for various jobs, and to determine legal competence. The psychiatrist must fully describe the nature and purpose and lack of confidentiality of the examination to the examinee at the beginning of the examination.” Although Section 4, No. 6, of the Principles of Medical Ethics quoted above requires proper notification for such an evaluation to be conduced, Rivera’s refusal to notify Marie did not impede his caustic evaluation of her that he provided to Szychowski, even criticizing a small stain she had on her blouse, which she was wearing while cleaning house and preparing a meal just moments before Rivera and Gaetano arrived.
With Rivera’s evaluation in hand, Szychowski’s lawyer, Christopher Likens, previously involved in the Al Katz guardianship, filed a petition for Szychowski to become Marie’s guardian and for Marie to be declared totally incapacitated by the court. Days later, Likens filed another petition for the court to appoint an Emergency Temporary Guardian, Dawn Van Beck, who was appointed immediately by Judge Deno Economou.
In August 2013, Marie obtained a new attorney to replace Ericka Dine, Barry Spivey, who signed the mediated settlement agreement later adopted by the court, placing Marie into guardianship without an evidentiary hearing on her capacity or on the need for a guardianship.
Who Were the Signatories to the Mediated Settlement Agreement Controlling Marie’s Life and Millions in Trust?
On November 25, 2013, five lawyers (including the mediator charging Marie $450.00 per hour for his services) and three distant relatives of Marie signed an agreement which Barry Spivey never shared with Marie and Marie never signed. For Spivey’s work on the Mediated Settlement Agreement and other legal work, Judge Economou ordered Marie to pay Spivey $100.00 per hour more than the Sarasota rules permit guardianship attorneys to be paid. Spivey charged Marie $350.00 per hour for a total of approximately $40,000.00.
Although Marie has never had an evidentiary hearing to restore or to remove her rights, Spivey charged Marie for him to hold his own evidentiary hearing on his fees charged to Marie. On May 1, 2014, an expert witness, Russell Snyder, testified that Spivey’s extraordinary rate of $350 per hour (versus the Sarasota cap on guardianship attorney fees of $250 per hour) charged to Marie was “reasonable” and then charged Marie $1700 for his testimony.
Attorney Rebecca Proctor, a Director of the now-bankrupt agency that put Al Katz into guardianship, has been paid approximately $50,000.00 from Marie’s assets for representing Marie’s two court-appointed guardians, Raymond Millman and Alina Koren, Marie’s cousin, whom Marie rescued as a baby after the Holocaust.
A Private Meeting of Attorneys Seeking More Money from Wards
Both Rebecca Proctor and Audrey Bear, Marie’s current attorney, met in a private meeting on June 2, 2014, at 1:30 PM, with Judge Economou in his courtroom with approximately two dozen other Sarasota attorneys to obtain the Judge’s agreement to raising their hourly fee cap for guardianship cases. Also among the attorneys present was Edwin Boyer, who filed a bill in the Al Katz guardianship for $40,000.00 in legal fees “for [his] services rendered [from August 25, 2010, to December 14, 2010]… for the benefit of the Ward,” who passed away on July 11, 2010. The attorney arranging the private meeting with the Probate Judge was a good friend of Edwin Boyer, Gerald O’Brien, who is being sued by Al Katz’s Estate for exploitation of a vulnerable adult while Al Katz was in guardianship.
On the day following the private meeting with Judge Economou, attorneys Audrey Bear and Rebecca Proctor, who are close friends, held a hearing in front of Judge Economou to obtain Marie’s financial accountings from Szychowski. Both of these attorneys plus Christopher Likens and Szychowski’s other attorney, Kim Bald, all knew well before the hearing that Marie had been determined in multiple reports to be capacitated, but the result of the hearing was to schedule another expensive mediation without any evidence presented or records made.
Meanwhile, dear Marie asks “Am I free? Am I free? When will I be free?”
NOTE: On Friday, June 6, 2014, Beverly Newman filed a motion pro se to have Robert Szychowski removed as agent pursuant to Marie’s Durable Power of Attorney, due to his continuing abuse of POA powers and fiduciary duties.
RELATED ARTICLE: Incapacitated: Florida’s Guardianship Program – ABC News