Home > Uncategorized > Yet another frustrating morning in probate court for Stan and Ellen McDonald

Yet another frustrating morning in probate court for Stan and Ellen McDonald

Stan and Ellen McDonald spent a morning last week in probate court, and the outcome, as usual, was frustration and disappointment for them.

If any case illustrates the absolute necessity of maintaining guardianship over a person with developmental disabilities, this case is it.

Stan and his wife, Ellen, are trying to overcome a devastating court ruling from a decade ago in which a judge concluded that their son, Andy, an intellectually disabled man, is so dangerous that he must be banned for life from ever returning to his hometown of Sherborn, where Stan and Ellen still live.

We have pointed out that the 2006 ruling by former Probate Judge Edward Rockett contains factual misrepresentations about both Andy and Stan, and that the decision does not take into account changed circumstances in the case, including greatly improved behavior on Andy’s part. That ruling, however, was supported by Andy’s previous court-appointed guardian and by DDS; and Stan and Ellen have found that their opinion of the ruling doesn’t count for much.

Stan and Ellen outside a probate courtroom where they encountered yet another round of frustration and disappointment last week.

Stan and Ellen outside a probate courtroom where they encountered yet another round of frustration and disappointment last week.

In 1986, Stan and his former wife agreed to the appointment of a guardian for Andy as part of the settlement of a longstanding custody battle over him.  Since then, Stan has learned the hard way that once you agree to the appointment of a guardian from outside of the family, it can be difficult if not impossible to regain guardianship rights.  And if you are not a legal guardian, you have little or no standing in probate court.

Andy is now 48 and Stan is now 80; and Stan isn’t sure how much longer he and Ellen will be able to make the trip to visit Andy in his group home in Northborough.

Lately, though, Stan and Ellen have found themselves repeatedly making an even more arduous trip — to the Middlesex Probate Court building in East Cambridge, where they have been fighting what has been a more than frustrating battle to convince the court that there would be virtually no risk in supervised home visits for Andy.  But just getting up the two flights of outside and inside steps in the court building to where the elevator is located now presents a major challenge for Stan.

To say the system is stacked against Stan and Ellen would be an understatement, particularly since, at this point in their lives, they can’t afford to hire an attorney to represent them.  I accompanied them to a scheduled hearing last Thursday in the courthouse.  The purpose of the hearing was to appoint a new permanent guardian for Andy — needless to say another guardian from outside the family.  Stan and Ellen have never met the new guardian, who was appointed on a temporary basis last October.

I can tell you that other than the clerk to the probate court judge in the case, no one at the court house appeared to be particularly helpful let alone nice to Stan or Ellen.  The DDS attorney on the case, in fact, repeated a threat she first made last fall to seek contempt of court charges against Stan if he were to mention to the judge his desire for home visits from his son.

It’s strange because it is apparently perfectly okay for Andy himself, or his court-appointed attorney, to say in court that Andy desires home visits.  Why Stan could end up getting sent to jail for saying the same thing is beyond me.

Last October, there seemed to be a ray of encouragement for the McDonalds.  The probate judge at the time, Megan Christopher, seemed to be open to considering home visits for Andy.  Andy did testify at that hearing and politely asked that he be granted a supervised visit home for a couple of hours.  Megan said she would take it under consideration.

But shortly after the October hearing, Christopher was re-assigned to another courthouse, and all of her cases went to another judge, Randy J. Kaplan.  It’s not that we have any reason to believe Judge Kaplan will be less sympathetic to the McDonalds, but it’s as if the whole ordeal of the October hearing never happened, and the McDonalds had to begin again with a new judge.

Last week, when Stan and Ellen arrived at the probate court, Andy wasn’t there. Andy’s attorney told Stan that Andy had said he didn’t want to make the trip to the court that day.  And then Andy’s attorney let Stan know that she was resigning from the case as of that day.  So, as far as we know, no one in the McDonald family has legal representation in the case right now.

When Stan and Ellen’s case was finally called at close to noon, there was a short conversation between the DDS attorney, Andy’s attorney, and Judge Kaplan at the bench.  The court officer then announced that the hearing would be closed, and all non-parties had to leave.  That included me, but it also included Ellen, who has no legal standing in the case.  This was not the case with Judge Christopher, who had let Ellen, myself, and another advocate for the McDonalds remain in the hearing she presided over last fall.

In last week’s hearing, Stan alone was allowed to stay, apparently because he is on record as having objected to the appointment of the new, non-family guardian for Andy.  So, Stan was by himself in there, without legal representation and being threatened with contempt of court if he said the wrong thing as far as the DDS attorney was concerned.

The hearing itself was over in minutes.  It was essentially continued until June 2.

At this point, we think the only hope for home visits for Andy lies in having an independent clinical evaluation done to determine whether he really is dangerous.  Actually, we have been calling for this for two years.

We don’t think Andy is dangerous and we don’t think anyone who knows or cares for him regularly believes he is.  But whether to have an independent evaluation is a decision that can only be made by Andy’s new guardian.

As usual, Stan and Ellen, the people most directly involved and affected, have no say in it.

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  1. Mary Ann Ulevich
    March 24, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    This makes no sense. Is there someone in Sherborn influencing the court? Is there a restraining order? Does Andy bolt from his home? Why can’t he even talk about his wishes? And thoughts do not mean actions follow. I am sure other family members have been explored for becoming guardian but that maybe could be revisited. May carry more weight. The amount of DDS resources going into blocking this request is daunting…

  2. Anonymous
    March 28, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    This type of court activity needs to be open to the public. The continued reliance on untruths and traumatization of this family is simply indefensible. And the denial of their First Amendment rights is Nazi-like. What’s that you say, it’s not my business? My tax dollars are paying for this–that makes it my business!

  3. Anonymous
    March 28, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    When people try to help they disappear? All the players here need to be named.

  4. Ed
    April 2, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Charles Dickens was right. In many cases, “the law is a ass.” As for DDS, I’m aware of another situation in which a father was not allowed to say anything more than “hello” to staff when he entered his son’s home.

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