Little has changed since the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled almost a decade ago that Probate Judge Kaye Christian abused her power by ordering retired economist Mollie Orshansky, creator of the federal poverty line, removed from her sister's care in New York and placed in a District guardianship against her will.
Even multimillionaires cannot prevent a judge from appointing a total stranger to take complete control of their affairs -- and banish family members who object.
That's what happened to five-term D.C. Council member Hilda Mason and her husband, Charles, a Harvard graduate who traced his lineage back to the Plymouth landing. Despite Charles' $22.5 million fortune, this power couple ended their lives in squalor.
Blind, wheelchair-bound and suffering from diabetes and skin cancer, Charles spent his last days in dirty clothing and worn-out shoes, with fingernails so long they curled around his fingers.
"He looked like a hobo," one witness told The Washington Examiner. His frail wife suffered a broken collarbone when one of her "caregivers" ran her over with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
At the time of Hilda Mason's death in 2007, debris and broken furniture littered every room of the couple's once-stately Shepherd Park home. The roof leaked and the house was infested with rodents and insects.
As attorneys helped themselves to the couple's assets, Episcopal Senior Ministries reported that "there appears to be no individual or group that is currently responsible for the cleaning/condition of the house."
According to a Jan. 9, 2001, court transcript, a clearly competent Charles Mason testified before the same Judge Christian that he no longer wanted the Virginia attorney he had previously hired to represent him.
Less than three months later, Charles was declared incompetent after an adverse reaction to a psychotropic cocktail landed him in Suburban Hospital's psychiatric ward.
The judge refused to dismiss the lawyer, but OK'd a settlement agreement allegedly signed by Charles Mason after he had been declared incompetent that prohibited his own wife from "interfering" with his care.
Guardianship abuse is not limited to people with money, as Laura Francois-Eugene, a supervisor at the Department of Homeland Security, learned the hard way.
Her mother's only financial resources are her modest D.C. home and a small monthly Social Security check. But after a fall left the elderly woman temporarily paralyzed, Probate Judge Franklin Burgess appointed a conservator to handle her affairs despite the fact that her daughter had previously been named her legal guardian.
Francois-Eugene told The Washington Examiner she is forced to pay for her mother's food, dentures, medicine and clothing out of her own salary because the court-appointed conservator has been hoarding her mother's Social Security benefits.
The same thing is happening to another 91-year-old woman, a former D.C. Public Schools employee forced into a guardianship after Maryland lawyers characterized her daily walk as "wandering."
"Some lawyers took all my money," she told us, adding that she can't access her own pension or Social Security benefits, even to buy herself an ice cream cone.
The National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse has documented hundreds of cases in which family members are denied any say in their loved ones' care, even as court-appointed fiduciaries are given total control. After the estate is sucked dry, the wards are often dumped onto Medicaid rolls -- if they're still alive.
Advocates call the pattern "Isolate, Medicate, Steal the Estate." They're meeting with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Capitol Hill today seeking an end to well-intentioned guardianship laws gone horribly awry.
Next week: For some, the only way out of the guardianship Gulag is feet-first.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.