Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New PA Court System Initiative on Senior Issues

In Issue 2 of 2011 (July) of AOPConnected  the newsletter of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, on page 3, I found a column entitled An All Too Common Tale, by Zygmont A.  Pines, Esq., the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania.

He identifies a new "initiative" that I would equate with a "sea change" for the Pennsylvania court system regarding elder abuse issues and controversies.

That initiative "will examine some of the myriad issues, (e.g., technology, information-gathering, fiduciary misconduct, monitoring of guardianships), that have an impact on seniors in our legal system."

He and I have talked in the past about the need for the Pennsylvania court system to respond to the increasing and specific needs of the Commonwealth's aging population.  I anticipate he wants to spread the word about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's new initiative, so he should not object to this Blog's re-posting and highlighting of his column.

This is it:
Last year, in connection with the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice’s report, this column made reference to the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Grimm brothers described their stories as Children’s and Household Tales.  Now is an apt time for another one.

The Old Grandfather and His Grandson is a tale of a very elderly man who was abused and neglected by his son and his wife.  The old man was physically frail and often spilled his soup at the kitchen table.  When the old man with shaking hands dropped and broke his earthenware soup bowl, he was harshly scolded and given a wooden bowl to eat from.

One day the four-year old grandson was found making something with wood.  When the father asked his son what he was doing, he simply said, “Oh, I’m making a little trough for you and Mother to eat from when I’m big.” The man and woman looked at each other and cried.  Thereafter, they brought the old man to the table and let him eat with them. According to the tale, “And if he spilled a little, they did not say a thing.”

This simple childhood tale came to mind when I read the following article on the web.  The story was from South Carolina.  It was captioned: “Parrot’s Chilling Comments Aid Police in Elder Abuse Case.”
A talking parrot provided what could be taken as chilling evidence in the case of a 60-year old South Carolina woman charged with neglecting her 98-year old mother, who was found on the verge of death suffering from severe bedsores.

The parrot was mimicking,“Help me.  Help me.” Then he would laugh.  “We thought he was mimicking the mother when he said, ‘Help me.  Help me,’ and mimicking the daughter when he laughed,” said Sergeant Bonnette.

Anne Copeland died at a hospital Tuesday after being found by authorities in poor condition at her home Monday…Her daughter, Gloria Park Clark, has been charged with abuse and neglect resulting in the death of a vulnerable (Source: ABA Journal, December 2010, article by Martha Neil)
Truth mirrors fiction and vice versa.  The parrot story about poor Anne Copeland could serve as a simple plot line for a “CSI” or “Law and Order” episode.

As for the grandfather’s tale, it is fiction in form only.

The childhood story was reportedly based on an autobiographical novel that the Grimm brothers had read.
Both reflect the timeless theme of elder abuse.

During the last few decades, courts have done exceptionally good work (particularly in Pennsylvania) addressing the needs of society’s abused and neglected children.  The paramount concern has been on the protection of children who depend on others for their safety and welfare.

More recently, some court systems have been paying closer attention to the other side of life’s spectrum, the so-called twilight years, when infirmities and isolation increase one’s helplessness in dealing with the evils of abuse and neglect.  The Conference of State Court Administrators speaks in terms of “the demographic imperative.” Simply put, it is the other face of dependency.

Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for the percentage of people 65 and older.  Recognizing the harsh realities behind this statistic, our Supreme Court has endorsed an initiative that will examine some of the myriad issues, (e.g., technology, information-gathering, fiduciary misconduct, monitoring of guardianships), that have an impact on seniors in our legal system.

Chief Justice Castille recently advised us that the Supreme Court has designated Justice Debra Todd to work with the AOPC in forming a small working group.

It is a promising start.

AOPC looks forward to working with Justice Todd and others.  We hope to learn from court systems (both local and nationwide) that have pioneered good practices in the elder field.  It is an example of our justice system once again adapting and changing and helping, despite austere economic times.
For nearly five years on this Blog and elsewhere, I have advocated for such a focus and for changes to the court system that will protect seniors.  I am thrilled with the possibilities that such an initiative can pursue.