10 years have now passed since I committed to bring public attention to the guardianship racket in this country by creating AAAPG as a response to my (never ending, ongoing and debasing) personal experience in Probate Court. During that decade I have heard countless heartbreaking and infuriating stories of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of innocent citizens, both young and old, by an equity court system allegedly designed to help those who need it, but instead functioning as a massively corrupt cottage industry that exists for the enormous benefit of judges, lawyers, guardians and their enablers. Sometimes, all I could do was listen and empathize, but at least I told people they were not alone. Over time, AAAPG has grown to represent thousands of individuals and families. I have done everything I could to educate and warn the public including writing what has been called the definitive book on the topic.
I have too many times watched in horror as victims and their families are systematically vilified, bankrupted, tortured overmedicated, and even murdered while their entire estate was being legally raped with the full knowledge and complicity of the court.
I have interacted with dozens of state and federal agencies who are supposed to be the watchdogs over this rapacious industry. From the highest levels of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice in Washington, to chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court, to top officials at the Florida bar and the Judicial Qualifications Commission, to high-level leadership in the various offices of the Florida clerks of courts, to a bevy of state senators and representatives and their leadership over the years, to the executive Directors of the Florida Department of elderly affairs and the Office of Public and Professional Guardians– each with a role to play in assuring that the citizens of Florida are treated fairly when they need help– and not one of them was sufficiently moved to take a stand and make a difference.
I was there in Tallahassee when our group helped forge the legislation that created the OPPG in Florida with great hopes for its success. Sadly, in my estimation that agency has been an utter failure. See the proof at OPPG Audit report.
I and others have communicated directly with our top state leadership including Gov. Scott, Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Rubio, Attorneys General Ashley Moody and Pam Bondi, statewide prosecutor Nick Cox, Palm Beach County Sheriff Rick Bradshaw, Senate leader Kathleen Passidomo, State Attorney Kathleen Rundle and so many others. I have worked closely with members of the media including but not limited to Adam Walser, John Pacenti, Monivette Cordero and others in Florida as well as producers at Showtime, HBO, ABC, CBS and NBC, NPR, reporters at Buzzfeed, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, producers at 60 minutes and of course with my publisher Rudy Shur at Square One publishing in New York for my book “Guardianships and the Elderly the Perfect Crime”.
None of it has resulted in significant reform. The guardianship business is booming and shows no signs of slowing down. There is no incentive for reform among the predatory court insiders, only loud calls from lawyers for more anti-family laws and rules.
Over the years, I have had the honor and pleasure of working with some truly righteous individuals for whom guardianship has been the awful defining moment of their lives and against which they tirelessly fight. Just to name a few in no particular order, Ron Denman, Michael Schlesinger, Doug Franks, Hilary Hogue, Ioanna Bugalis, Beverly Newman, Rey Contreras, Lynn and Alan Saylor, Kerri Kasem, Linda Arters,, Rick Black, Juliette Fairly, Marion Kornicki, Kelley Smoot Garrett, Marci Friedman, Terri Kennedy, Tim Reid, Angela Woodhull, Tom Coleman, Linda Kincaid, Julie Belshe, Dianne Diamond, Luanne Fleming and so many others around the country. God bless every one.
But despite everything that all of us have tried —while there has been some success lately in getting the word out to the general public, especially as regards the case of Britney Spears (mostly due to the #FreeBritney movement) and to a lesser degree Peter Max and Nichelle Nichols– the number of abuses in guardianship cases has not diminished, nor do I expect it will anytime soon.
I and several my colleagues have fielded countless phone calls from around the country from desperate people trying to save their loved one from the tentacles of probate guardianship, some of whom can be seen on our YouTube Victim Videos on the AAAPG channel. We have attended court hearings in person and on zoom. We have given of our time and effort without compensation and without reservation because we feel bound to bear witness to what has happened to us and to prevent it from happening to others.
Over the last several months I have worked with a group of advocates to construct a legislative bill that in our opinion would stem the flow of guardianships. It would cost the state nothing, it would clarify existing vagaries in the law and even the playing field for those opposing guardianship of their loved one. After painstakingly guiding the bill through the complex House drafting process, not a single member of the Florida House of Representatives or the Florida Senate would agree to sponsor it, so our bill for the 2022 session in Florida is dead. This was a crushing blow.
There have been some bright spots along the way. A number of particularly egregious guardians have been convicted and sent to prison for their crimes, many of them from Florida and many of them brought to justice by the hard work of advocates and our media friends. But the total number is in the single digits. The real profiteers of guardianship abuse, the judges and particularly the lawyers, continue to operate with impunity and they laugh at their victims all the way to the bank. They know all too well that the Florida Bar complaint process (with its billions in reserve from IOLTA accounts) just like the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s process is an obviously rigged system designed to steadfastly protect the status quo and profits of its legal brethren at the expense of anyone with the temerity to lodge a complaint against an exalted lawyer or judge.
There is simply no realistic avenue of redress for victims of the crimes committed daily in Probate, Family and Divorce Courts–the Equity type courts. It is the Perfect Crime.
I have asked myself many times why a self-serving and so obviously corrupt system like probate abuse can thrive for so long in the United States of America when it is so obviously unconstitutional and egregious. In my opinion, abusive guardianship has a single root cause and that is greed for money and the power it brings. Whether it is a greedy family member or a predatory court insider, guardianship abuse is all about money and nothing else. For the sake of profit, lawyers who swear to uphold the law routinely twist and corrupt it. The court insider’s make their own rules, selectively enforce them at their whim, know that they will never be held accountable, know that they are unassailable with partial or full judicial immunity, and they all play along to get along as they endlessly submit outrageous legal bills at outrageous hourly rates that they know will always be approved and paid in full. They appear to be blind, deaf and dumb to their sinister immorality, to the misery they cause to everyone they touch in these courts and secure in the knowledge that their playbook will work every single time to bring them millions in revenue for nothing more than pushing papers around and pretending that their actions are noble and righteous. It is literally a system of brutal asymmetric court warfare against unsuspecting and vulnerable victims and families. The results are obvious and predictable. And pity the lawyer who dares to to buck the system and actually advocate for victims–his career will likely be trashed by the judicial enforcers on the bench.
Dealing with this endlessly corrosive and distasteful issue every day for so long has taken a toll on me emotionally, financially, and spiritually. The incessant legal attacks against me and my wife, the threats, the disappointments and deceptions, the challenges and costs of running a national volunteer organization , the major difficulty of raising funds needed to fight this battle, the unending desperate phone calls from American family members that I still feel compelled to listen to, and the fact that I am going to be 75 years old this year have finally convinced me that this marathon has run its course for me and it’s time to turn the heavy lifting over to the next generation of advocates. It will be an intergenerational struggle.
As of January 31, 2022 I will fully withdraw from my 10 year pro bono public advocacy campaign. This will be the last AAAPG newsletter. The AAAPG Facebook page and Twitter feed will be discontinued. For the near term, our website will remain operational. Our opt in mailing list information may be made available to other select non-profits.
Thankfully, now there are others who can continue this struggle.
Thank you and God bless you.
Dr. Sam J. Sugar