By Tom Mooney
Journal Staff Writer
RICHMOND, R.I. — A contested probate case is raising questions about how a 90-year-old woman from Ohio became involuntarily committed to a Rhode Island assisted-living facility.
The case of Rita Cole, of Cincinnati, has attracted the attention of an advocacy group called the Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, which — along with a relative and friend of Cole’s — alleges that a court-appointed guardian had Cole committed to a Providence assisted-living facility last spring and has since been improperly withdrawing money from her estate.
That guardian, Pawtucket lawyer R.J. Connelly III, denied those allegations Tuesday in an interview and said in a probate court hearing that he was voluntarily removing himself from the case to ease the acrimony his involvement had generated.
Cole, who now suffers from dementia, had been living with her niece in Richmond between August 2015 and May 2016. During that time she had delegated her power of attorney to Connelly, he said.
But her niece, Karen Nelligan, eventually objected to Connelly’s role.
Connelly said the more than $54,000 he withdrew from Cole’s estate went for her care at the facility where she lives and for the upkeep of her Cincinnati condominium: “Everything that we have done has been done with court approval,” he said.
But Mary Ann Bender, an Ohio friend of Cole’s for 20 years and an alternate court guardian, told probate Judge Christine Engustian on Tuesday that Connelly’s guardianship of her friend had been “a horrible mistake.”
“Rita was railroaded into this guardianship and she belongs in Ohio,” Bender said, adding that Engustian had never taken testimony on whether Cole should be committed before approving Connelly’s request.
Five lawyers in the case appeared before Engustian, who did voice concern for some of the legal fees being charged to Cole’s estate.
On Tuesday, the case was continued for one month, at which time the parties will decide whether Cole’s Cincinnati condominium can be sold to help pay for her health care.
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