County Court Fails the Most Vulnerable

This weekend the Mercury News published an excellent story that exposed abuses by Santa Clara County court-appointed officials who take advantage of elderly and incapacitated adults whose finances have been placed under control of the county.

Investigative reporter Karen de Sá found that some court-appointed personal and estate managers charge expensive and questionable fees, and judges often sign off with little scrutiny. These finance managers basically drew down their clients’ accounts until little to no money was left in the trust funds and their clients were forced to depend on government assistance. In one case, a Belmont dementia patient was charged $1,062 to help celebrate her birthday.

There is also the story of Danny Reed, who not only has some of the worst luck in the world—he was reportedly hit by a car on two separate occasions, leaving him disabled—but also found himself the victim of trustee Thomas Thorpe, who charged Reed more than $100,000 in fees to manage his estate. When Reed disputed the fees and filed a lawsuit, Thorpe then charged him more than double that amount in legal fees—a loophole in the system allows estate managers to bill their clients for defending such charges.

“In theory, they’re looking at a person’s estate and wondering: ‘How much can I make here before they pass away?’” Denis O’Neal, a former deputy Santa Clara County counsel, told the Merc. “Their goal is to tap into that money.”

The article goes on to say abuses like these are “seldom challenged” and have been “routinely approved for years.”

In other counties, bills like the $1,062 birthday bill would be rejected. But Santa Clara County has looser rules due in addition to an “overly cozy” community of private estate managers and watchdogs who lack experience.

Another article in the series reported that one of these court-appointed estate managers quit last year after court officials discovered that he hired a former priest for $50 an hour to take care of a traumatized young man who had been molested for decades by clergy.


  1. Thank you Mercury News, you opened our eyes to this as well as Measure B. Only newspapers have the resources to do the kind of long term hard hitting reporting on such issues. Shame on those who ripped off those who couldn’t fend for themselves.

  2. Dear Matt Miller, if the San Jose Mercury News thinks Santa Clara County Superior Court Probate Department has been, or is, stacking the odds against those who are consumers of private estate managers (private fiduciaries), check out the County of Sonoma Superior Court Probate Department run by Judge Mark Tansil.  Judge Tansil is pro private fiduciary, very rarely lowers a request for outrageous fees, and there is absolutely no recourse for those with memory loss, and those whom are so elderly they cannot manage their own affairs.

    Most recently, Judge Tansil, refused ADA accommodations to a 62 year old woman with severe traumatic brain injury who no longer wants her fiduciary who is both emotionally and financially abusing her. Letters to the Judge have gone on deaf ears, and now this same Judge has ordered the beneficiaries’ caretaker brother not to call, write, email, or meet with the fiduciary Aprille Rafidison, whom is rude, arrogant, and forcing Ms. Jama to live in poverty, while she receives large fees.

    Maybe, the Jan Jose Mercury News can investigate the County of Sonoma Superior Court, or find a reporter who would be willing to.  Please help us up here in Sonoma County.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *