Safe Choices 17 – George St. Francis is back in court

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle August 9, 2009

NEWPORT — George St. Francis was back in Orleans Family Court on September 3 to hear Judge Robert Bent warn his new, private guardian that she might be found in contempt of court.

She might also be replaced, Judge Bent warned Janet Reed of Albany, unless she complies with a court order that was designed to govern Mr. St. Francis’ continued treatment.
For Mr. St. Francis, who needs a guardian because of a 1996 Family Court finding that he was mentally retarded, Thursday’s status conference raised the possibility that he will once again find himself under the control of the state and its public guardian program.  His state-appointed public guardian placed Mr. St. Francis in a program called Safe Choices, which in turn put him in a residence called Lowell House.
He spent years trying to get out, and finally succeeded in late July.
Thursday’s status conference was an indication that his freedom might not last long.
The conference was unusual in that Judge Bent brought Probate Judge John Monette into the courtroom to sit beside him on the bench.
He did so, Judge Bent said, because “this case is in transition, and it makes the most sense that both of us be here.”
The transition was necessary because it was up to the Family Court to rule on Mr. St. Francis’ request to be relieved of his public guardian.  But private guardians like Ms. Reed are appointed and controlled by the Probate Court.
Before much was said Thursday, Judge Bent noted that Judge Monette had never had access to a professionally prepared “risk assessment” of Mr. St. Francis.  Like other “consumers” of the Safe Choices program, Mr. St. Francis had been placed there because he was viewed as a potential sex offender.
With the permission of Ms. Reed’s new attorney, Gertrude Miller, Judge Monette retired with Judge Bent to read the risk assessment, which is sealed from public scrutiny.
Judge Bent said he called the status conference after receiving a letter from Jennifer Myka, the special assistant attorney general who represents the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), which oversees the Office of the Public Guardian.
The letter notified the court that, contrary to the order that ended Mr. St. Francis’ public guardianship, he was not receiving services from Sterling Area Services in Morrisville.
Ms. Miller told the judges that was none of Ms. Reed’s doing.
“They have unilaterally terminated services,” she said of Sterling.  “She has taken strong steps to keep those services in place.”
“We’re not taking a position today,” Ms. Myka said on behalf of her client, DAIL.  “But we disagree with the characterization Ms. Miller has made.”
Ms. Myka said that Sterling gave up on Mr. St. Francis’ treatment after Ms. Reed notified the agency on a Monday that he had gotten married over the weekend, and after he failed to show up for a therapy appointment.
“It is surprising, to say the least, that they blame Sterling for what has happened,” Ms. Myka said.
The court has a very specific concern for the public safety in this case, Judge Bent said.  “The court’s order was written with that intent.  The court believed that supervision couldn’t be exercised without professional assistance.”
Judge Bent wondered if the court could replace Ms. Reed as guardian with someone from DAIL.
“Mr. St. Francis is on a new path,” Ms. Myka replied.  “Pushing him back at this point would be really really hard.”
Judge Bent said he would schedule a “show cause” hearing to consider whether sanctions were appropriate.
Those, he said, might include a finding of contempt, removal of Ms. Reed as guardian, or modification or expansion of the court orders regarding Mr. St. Francis’ treatment.
The court, he emphasized, needs to determine “whether the guardian understands her role.  She is in charge of Mr. St. Francis.”
Ms. Miller asked the court for some time to prepare for the hearing.  It might take a few weeks to get Mr. St. Francis’ records from the state, she said.
Ms. Myka wondered if the state should release those records.  The problem, she said, was Mr. St. Francis’ new wife, Kathy McCammon.
“Ms. Miller represented Ms. McCammon in 2003-2004,” she noted, during an earlier attempt by Mr. St. Francis to rid himself of his public guardian.
“I also believe she used to work for Ms. Miller,” Ms. Myka continued, “and now I’m thinking, we’re giving records to Ms. Reed, who will of course give them to her attorney, who is Trudy (Ms. Miller), who represented Mr. St. Francis’ abuser.”
“And his wife now,” Judge Bent cut in.
“I’m concerned about the records being released to Ms. McCammon,” Ms. Myka persisted.
Judge Bent said that Ms. Myka’s charge that Ms. McCammon sexually abused Mr. St. Francis in 2003 was “an opinion of a state agency” and “not an adjudicated fact.”
The charge that the two had sex in 2003 has been denied by both Ms. McCammon and Mr. St. Francis.
Tim Yarrow, Mr. St. Francis’ attorney during his legal struggle to replace the public guardian with Ms. Reed, was permitted to withdraw from the case.
The request, Judge Bent noted, was one “we grant as a matter of course when a case is over — and there was a point in time when we thought this case was over.”
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