Mitchell proposes plan for seniors

11/03/08 Seán Kinane
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In tomorrow’s election, Democrat Bill Mitchell is running to unseat one-term incumbent Republican Gus Bilirakis in the 9th Congressional District. This morning in Tampa, Mitchell announced a plan to protect senior citizens from financial predators while criticizing Bilirakis for his role as the attorney for one such predator.

Mitchell, a pension lawyer, unveiled his proposal for a new federal statute, the Senior Citizen Protection Act. One aspect of the law would help seniors protect their investments from predatory financial advisors, Mitchell said.

“We want to have a provision that puts a fiduciary standard on those advisors. A fiduciary standard that is similar to that that is imposed on trustees for federally protected pension plans. And that standard requires that folks provide for diversification and provide for liquidity. And that guards against the danger of seniors being put into highly risky and highly dangerous investments.”

A second component of Mitchell’s proposal seeks to protect the liberty of elders from predatory guardians and stems from lessons he learned from the case of Adele Fletcher.

Mitchell is proposing a federal standard that a person who is not a family member must get court approval for a pre-need guardianship. In the case of Adele Fletcher, such a guardianship was set up by Fran Lang, who did what Mitchell called “a second shocking thing.”

“Adele Fletcher was moved from her home -- where she was very happy, with her dog – and moved into an assisted living facility that ultimately was shut down and had a very bad reputation. And that was done really in conflict with a court order. And it was just done by the guardian acting alone. So what we have done in this Act is we have made it a federal crime or a federal offense for a guardian to do that without a prior court order.”

Adele Fletcher received a trust worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gus Bilirakis was Fran Lang’s attorney when she filed her request to declare Fletcher indigent in May 1997. The Mitchell campaign is airing a television commercial critical of Bilirakis’ role in this case.

WMNF made multiple attempts to contact Gus Bilirakis but he was not available. His campaign’s communications director said Bilirakis is a co-sponsor of HR 1783, the Elder Justice Act. Mitchell said Bilirakis’ only reaction to the court in 1997 was that he “stonewalled.”

“He wrote back some letters that did not address what had been raised. And in my opinion I think he did breach his duty of care to Adele Fletcher at that point. … The court then appointed another attorney to look into the whole thing. That attorney investigated what happened; at the end of the day reported that he thought there was a potential civil rights violation. And the court did rule that there was no basis to remove Adele Fletcher from her home and put her in this assisted living facility for six or seven months.”

In his proposed legislation, Mitchell would require that transcripts be made of guardian hearings. It would also give federal attorneys the authority to go after guardians and attorneys who violate the trust of their wards.

Write-in candidate Andrew Pasayan has also qualified for 9th Congressional District race.

Photo by: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Bill Mitchell

Gus Bilirakis

Bill Mitchell campaign’s website “The Truth about Bilirakis,” detailing case of Adele Fletcher

Bill Mitchell campaign TV ad on Adele Fletcher case

HR 1783 – Elder Justice Act, co-sponsored by Gus Bilirakis

Adele Remembered website

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