ADVOCATES PETITION FOR U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING TO INVESTIGATE PREDATORY GUARDIANSHIP INDUSTRY
Calls for more aggressive prosecution and the acceleration of federal reform
March 3, 2021 – Flagler County, FL - The number one Netflix movie this past week was I Care a Lot and its star Rosamund Pike just won a Golden Globe. The fictional film exposes exploitative aspects of the guardianship industry which may give you chills, but the real-life case of Dr. Lillie Sykes White is worse. Her family and other advocates have launched a petition for the U.S. Department of Justice and Senate Special Committee on Aging to investigate this predatory industry, aggressively prosecute and accelerate reform at the federal level. The petition and a video statement by Dr. White’s sister and only living sibling, Janie Sykes-Kennedy, as well as Dr. White herself, can be viewed at: https://www.change.org/StopPredatoryGuardianships
“I grew up under Jim Crow laws and the unjustness in this guardianship system reminds me of that,” said 85-year-old Sykes-Kennedy. “Families don’t stand a chance when the court itself is facilitating the exploitation and appeals are based on false statements in court records,” she added.
After spending eight years in a fraudulent guardianship in Florida and over four years isolated from loved ones, former Montgomery County Maryland school supervisor Dr. White died alone on December 30, 2020 of COVID-19. Her abduction and forced isolation by the court-appointed guardian and attorney ad litem silenced her voice, facilitated constructive fraud and put her in harm’s way. No official helped despite substantiated violations of Florida statutes by the court agents.
"I'd like to go to the judge and talk with the judge and let him know my circumstances, and I can do it better than anybody else," Dr. White said one month before she was abducted. "Nobody else can do it like I can do it because you see I'm a victim of it," she added.
On February 25, 2021, there was a status hearing on the White case in front of Judge Terence R. Perkins of the Flagler County Court in the seventh judicial circuit of Florida. Conducted via Zoom, upwards of forty elder justice advocates and family members witnessed the proceedings much to the surprise of the judge and attorneys. All previous hearings were closed to the public. The optics were interesting: at least seven White attorneys preying on the over $4 million estate of a Black elderly woman they kept isolated from loved ones for 1585 days until she died—and the court allowed it. Now, they were in a feeding frenzy to divvy up her estate with their excessive billing and over 1,000 court filings.
Ms. Sykes-Kennedy had requested a financial audit and review of the actions leading up to her sister’s death. Judge Perkins disregarded her motions and effectively closed her out of subsequent hearings, eliminating her visibility into the accounting. When she brought up the issue of “fraud on the court,” the judge indicated he was upholding the previous rulings of Flagler County Circuit Judge Margaret Hudson. On November 1, 2016, Dr. White’s niece sent then Chief Judge Perkins a letter detailing the judicial negligence of Judge Hudson who consistently ignored due process and civil procedure and allowed fraudulent representations by the attorneys. At that time, his response was that his role was solely administrative. Now, as presiding judge, he is actively allowing the spend-down with no push-back.
Even though Judge Hudson was recused from the guardianship case in 2017, she is now presiding over the probate case in Volusia County where Dr. White was moved, locked down and died.
“The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 was a good step but there have not been prosecutions of professional guardians and predatory attorneys to any substantial degree, and the abuses are escalating under COVID-19,” said Dr. White’s niece Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy. “We need the federal government to view these acts as criminal, investigate the lack of oversight by public officials such as the clerk of court, and help families get justice,” she added.
The White case is at the intersection of age, gender and race discrimination and reveals the systemic injustice in the guardianship industry. It is, in essence, court-endorsed racketeering, and estate and human trafficking. Though anyone can be a target, this form of financial exploitation disproportionately affects women and is rising in communities of color. Isolation of the senior is a key enabler of the fraud, allowing the guardian and attorneys to lie to the court and block loved ones trying to defend the elder. In the White case, the team of attorneys blocked Dr. White’s contact with her sister and fifty nieces and nephews, waived her appearance at hearings, voided her estate plan, sold her home, liquidated her assets, and brought unwarranted sanctions of $469,208 against Ms. Sykes-Kennedy based on their frivolous and made-up claims. The Flagler Court signed off on all of it.
“I’ve worked to help humanity all my life and now I’m being attacked and defamed by a group of greedy attorneys who are trying to get rid of me under color of law bullying because I was trying to advocate for my sister's rights," said Sykes-Kennedy. "If this can happen to me with my public record of doing good, God help any other family they get their hands on," she added.
A Howard University alum and Columbia University-trained journalist, Ms. Sykes-Kennedy worked on five continents for over five decades promoting cross-cultural communications and leadership development with her late husband, Dr. James Scott Kennedy. In the late 1960s, they lived in Africa, working at the University of Ghana and producing arts festivals in Senegal and Algeria. In the early 1970s, they were invited by Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to live in Adelaide and introduce “new concepts of people”–African American and African–via theater, radio and other arts, to that continent. In 1982, she joined Muhammad Ali on his trip to the United Arab Emirates for exhibition bouts as one of the few female journalists in his entourage. In 1987, she was one of fourteen delegates invited by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development to go on the first trade mission of American women to the People’s Republic of China. After that, she received a contract to distribute the journal, Building in China, worldwide. In 2010, the President of Senegal invited her to participate in the Third World Festival of Black Arts & Culture in Dakar as a cultural icon and historical thought leader.
Sign the petition: https://www.change.org/StopPredatoryGuardianships
Watch the video statement and makes comments: https://youtu.be/we265xQqNnQ
Learn more about the White case at: https://elderdignity.org/in-lillies-voice/
For more information, contact Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy at 212-901-6913 or email elderdignity(at)hotmail.com.