Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Expose - Family members say they were shut out

Editor’s note: Investigative journalist Diane Dimond, whose weekly syndicated column on crime and justice appears in the Journal, is preparing a book on the nation’s elder guardianship system. It’s a system designed to protect the elderly from the unscrupulous. But as Dimond discovered, it can be dominated by a core group of court-appointed, for-profit professionals who are accused of isolating family members and draining the elders’ estates. New Mexico is no exception.

Blair and her husband, Clarence “Casey” Darnell, loved horses. They met in the late 1950s when Blair, a handsome, vibrant transplant from New Orleans, attended the University of New Mexico’s anthropology program. She and her 2-year-old daughter, Kris, visited the Darnell stables to buy a horse. But after the animal tossed Blair, she took it back, demanding that Casey break the horse or give her a refund. Casey, a World War II bomber pilot, was smitten by Blair’s spirit. They married at a friend’s North Valley home on Jan. 27, 1958. Casey adopted little Kris, and the couple started their own family on the 17-acre Darnell ranch nestled in the bosque (near what is now Coors and Paseo del Norte), where champion quarter horses were raised and trained. They had three children on that ranch: Cliff, Emily and Mary, in that order. “My mother was active in 4-H and took in lots of wayward kids to come work the ranch,” Mary Darnell recalls. “My dad was vice president of the American Quarter Horse Association and was inducted into the Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2009.” Casey Darnell died in August 2001. Not long after her husband passed away, Blair was kicked by a horse and hit her head on a railroad tie when she fell. She was unconscious for about 30 minutes, but in her tough cowgirl fashion, refused medical treatment. In later years, Mary came to believe their mother’s forgetfulness was a byproduct of a brain bleed suffered during that accident. Emily and Mary say they were more than willing to help care for their mother but say they were shut out after Kris got the court involved. Kris Darnell-Kreger has declined several requests to be interviewed for this story. Under the Uniform Probate Code, proceedings in elder guardianship cases are sequestered, meaning none of the parties is allowed to speak about the case. But the Journal has learned that on Jan. 6, 2010, a petition was filed in the court of Judge Beatrice Brickhouse by attorney Gregory MacKenzie on behalf of daughter, Kris. In it, he painted a dire picture of 78-year-old Blair Darnell’s situation. The petition accused Mary, her mother’s primary caregiver, of seriously neglecting her mother’s medical needs and “self-dealing” by directing her mother into questionable financial transactions. MacKenzie also accused Emily and Cliff of less serious actions that adversely affected their mother. The next day, Judge Brickhouse granted the petition, appointed a temporary guardian/conservator, a so-called court visitor and a psychologist to perform a neuropsychological exam of Blair Darnell. She had not appeared before the judge but was immediately referred to in court documents as “an adult incapacitated person.” No hearing was ever held to determine whether any of the allegations against the adult children was true. By Jan. 7, the system was in full motion and Blair Darnell would lose all ability to control the final years of her life...more

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