Lost Hope

Paul Hewitson has spent the Last two years in a place he calls hell.

LaPrade insists that Hewitson was present for the hearing. His client says he wasn't, and the court record confirms Hewitson's version. Roy told the court that her father had been drinking. Hewitson contends that he hadn't, that Roy set him up by planting bottles in the house.

Hewitson never got a chance to tell his story to the court.

Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Edward Bassett made Roy the permanent guardian for her father and agreed that she could send him to a supervised group home where his freedom would be greatly restricted.

Paul Hewitson at Apache Lake in 1998.
photo courtesy of Paul Hewitson
Paul Hewitson at Apache Lake in 1998.
Phyllis and Paul Hewtison enjoy a cocktail in Las Vegas in 1987.
photo courtesy of Paul Hewitson
Phyllis and Paul Hewtison enjoy a cocktail in Las Vegas in 1987.

But the commissioner did seem concerned that Hewitson was not present for the hearing. He ordered that Hewitson be reevaluated in six months to determine if he was able to live in a less-restrictive setting. And he made it clear in court documents that he expected Hewitson to be present in court when the reevaluation was discussed.

Bassett and his staff were on vacation and could not be reached for comment for this story. But Barbara Mundell, presiding judge for the Maricopa County Superior Court's mental health and probate division, says Bassett would be prohibited from discussing the case. She also declined comment.

Chick Arnold, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in mental health and probate issues, is not familiar with Paul Hewitson's case, but he deals with similar situations all the time. Arnold says that not everyone does go before the court in guardianship cases, but he adds that Hewitson should have been allowed to, if that was his wish.

"If the client says, I want to be there,' that's the end of the discussion. He should be there," Arnold says.

Hewitson was not there. A few days after the hearing, Roy showed up at his door.

And that was the last time Paul Hewitson saw his house. He didn't have time to pack.

Hewitson was sent to live at the Golden Days Adult Care Home in Phoenix.

Ronnie Brown, who runs the facility, recalls that Hewitson was not drinking when he came to live with her, but she does remember that he was quite ill. He was also angry at his daughter and grief-stricken over his wife's death.

Hewitson attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a short time. He says he stopped going because Roy refused to take him. His sponsor confirms this and says he offered to give Hewitson rides to meetings, but Roy wouldn't allow it.

"She had him tied down pretty good," the sponsor says. (Roy claimed in court documents that her father refused to attend AA meetings.)

Even without AA, Brown says she saw remarkable improvement in Hewitson. By September of that year, he was pruning her roses, cooking and making his own bed. He never threatened to drive or drink.

After six months, Brown says, Hewitson really should have been given another neurological exam to chart his progress. But Brown didn't need a doctor to tell her what she could see.

"He was moving toward being able to take care of himself," she says.

Brown says she told Roy that her father was ready for a less-restrictive environment. There are plenty of facilities that offer private apartments with group dining quarters and someone to supervise medication, she says.

Roy's reaction?

"She just moved him elsewhere," Brown says.

In November 2000, Hewitson recalls, Roy picked him up from Brown's home, telling him they were going shopping. Instead, she pulled up in front of the North Valley Care Home.

By this time, a government watchdog was involved. Steve Lacy and Dawn Savattone, ombudsmen for the Area Agency on Aging, the state office charged with advocating on behalf of elderly people in long-term care, sent several letters to the court, requesting assistance for Hewitson.

The Area Agency ombudsman serves almost 24,000 people in long-term care — group homes and nursing homes. The Agency received more than 2,000 complaints last year. Some are resolved with a five-minute phone call. Other cases, like Hewitson's, take years.

Lacy and Savattone declined to discuss the specifics of Hewitson's case, but their letters spell out their concerns.

In November 2000, Savattone wrote to the court that Roy, Hewitson's legal guardian, "may have difficulty acting in his best interest, due to interpersonal relationship problems and an inability to be objective when making decisions on his behalf."

"This ward does not believe that his daughter should be his guardian/conservator. He feels powerless, angry and hopeless regarding any chance to regain any control over his life."

Savattone requested an impartial medical assessment, including a neurological examination. There never had been a follow-up exam, despite the court's direction. She also mentioned an upcoming hearing regarding the sale of Hewitson's home and possessions:

"Since this ward is only in his mid 60s, I believe it would be hasty to dispose of personal possessions that may be important to him later, when he may be living in a less restrictive alternative setting."

Two months later, Savattone asked the court to consider granting Hewitson a new attorney.

"Paul stated that his attorney does not help him in the manner that he feels he should. He stated that his attorney seems more interested in his daughter's needs then his," Savattone wrote.

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