Article, 1021 UTBJ, Vol. 34, No. 5. 43

Authorby Kathie Brown Roberts and Allison Barger
PositionVol. 34 5 Pg. 43

Article, Guardianships in the Media, Can Utah Statutes Protect Against Abuse?

Vol. 34 No. 5 Pg. 43

Utah Bar Journal

October, 2021

September, 2021

by Kathie Brown Roberts and Allison Barger

The Netflix movie I Care A Lot, which premiered in mid-February 2021, begins with the outrageous scene of professional guardian Maria Grayson (Rosemund Pike) knocking on the door of Jennifer Peterson (Diane Wiest) and informing her that the court "has ruled that you require assistance in taking care of yourself." Maria, with court order in hand, tells incredulous Jennifer that Maria is now Jennifer's guardian, and Jennifer is required to leave her home immediately. Jennifer is put into a car, whisked away to an assisted living facility, and drugged while Maria and her cohorts proceed to shamelessly sift through her belongings and ready her home for sale. Aspects of this movie follow the infamous Nevada case of former professional guardian April Parks very closely.

April Parks and her guardianship company, "A Private Professional Guardian, LLC" made national news headlines beginning in 2015, when she, in concert with her husband, a lawyer, and a medical professional, utilized Nevada guardianship statutes to defraud and financially exploit over 150 elderly individuals in the Las Vegas area.

Around the same time that I Care A Lot debuted on Netflix, Hulu premiered Framing Britney Spears, one episode of a docuseries produced by the New York Times. Framing Britney Spears focuses on the guardianship/conservatorship of the famous pop star, which began in 2008, and endures to this day. The documentary questions how such a successful and famous entertainer can be, at the same time, "incapacitated" and subject to an involuntary guardianship and conservatorship. A grass roots movement, #FreeBritney, supporting the termination of the conservatorship, developed from a conspiracy theory in which followers believe that surreptitious signs of protest can be seen on Britney's Instagram page and other social media platforms.

Both of the movies portray the guardianship process as a way to allow criminals to legally exploit vulnerable adults.

April Parks Case

In March 2018, the Clark County, Nevada, Grand Jury returned indictments against court-appointed guardian April Parks and her co-defendants Mark Simmons, Gary Neil Taylor, James Melton, and Noel Palmer Simpson. The 270-count indictment alleges that April Parks, the owner of A Private Professional Guardian, LLC, her office manager Mark Simmons, her husband Gary Neil Taylor, certified guardian James Melton, and her attorney Noel Palmer Simpson collectively committed 117 counts of perjury, seventy-three counts of offering false instrument for filing or record, forty-two counts of theft, thirty-seven counts of exploitation, and one count of racketeering. The fraudulent acts were committed between December 2011 and July 2016. See Indictment, State of Nevada v. James Melton, April Parks, Mark Simmons, and Noel Palmer Simpson, Case No. C-18-329886-1 (8th Judicial Dist. Ct. of Nev, Feb. 14, 2018) (the Indictment); Amended Indictment, State of Nevada v. April Parks, Case No. C-17-321808-1 (8th Judicial Dist. Ct. of Nev, Nov. 5, 2018).

According to a 2017 article by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker, "How the Elderly Lose Their Rights," Rennie and Rudy North became victim of April Parks one morning in 2013, when, out of the blue, April knocked on their door and told them she was there to "remove" them from their home and that they needed to "gather their belongings," just as in the opening scene from I Care A Lot. Apparently, Parks previously obtained an ex parte order of temporary guardianship of the Norths in Clark County and transported them to Lakeview Terrace, an assisted living facility, which housed several other individuals over whom Parks had also obtained guardianship. The Norths' temporary guardianship was granted without notice, without counsel appointed for them by the court, and with a vague medical certification of incapacity from a physician-assistant working closely with Parks. Rachel Aviv, How the Elderly Lose Their Rights, New Yorker (Oct. 2, 2017), available at magazine/2017/10/09/how-the-elderly-lose-their-rights.

According to the article, subsequent to obtaining an ex parte temporary order, Parks's pattern was to then petition the court for permanent guardianship and sell the home and the belongings of her wards. In the case of the Norths, their daughter, Julie Belshe, was not notified of the hearing, did not receive the petition for permanent guardianship, and had been described within Parks's petition as an "addict" who was estranged from her parents. Id...

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