The Case of the Missing Guardian
Alabama Seniors need answers about guardianship abuse – starting with where’s Sid Summey?
Intro by TLB Contributing Partner: Terri LaPoint
When I began covering the heartbreaking saga of retired Alabama schoolteacher Marian Leonard who was forced into a guardianship more than 2 years ago, I suspected that this story might go deeper. I had covered several stories of guardianship abuse over the years. It was becoming increasingly clear that there were pockets of corruption in various places all over the country. Senior citizens and disabled adults alike were falling prey to predators masquerading as helpful guardians or conservators, ostensibly to “protect the interests” of vulnerable adults.
Little could I have dreamed how deep the roots of corruption go, or how many innocent victims were becoming casualties of this virtually unaccountable web of human carnage.
Former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik connects the dots between some of the players involved with Ms. Leonard’s case and that of Golden Flake heiress Joann Bashinsky, as well as other victims of the Jefferson County, Alabama, Probate Court. He asks very serious questions which demand answers.
Author: Bernie Kerik
Something is rotten in the County of Jefferson.
On Saturday, August 24, 2019, 103-year-old retired schoolteacher Marian Leonard died in hospice care. She died alone and scared. She didn’t have to.
Barely a month before her death, her court-appointed guardian and conservator, Sid Summey, banned all visitors, including her own daughter, from seeing her. Leonard was not a wealthy woman, but she did own 300 acres of prime land which had been in her family for generations — making her prime prey for Summey and his cronies in the Jefferson County court system.
Shockingly, Leonard was not even a resident of Jefferson County. She was hospitalized there for a simple UTI, and a predatory Department of Human Resources worker filed the guardianship petition while she was there, leaving her a prisoner in a nursing home hours away from any friends and family.
Guardianship and Conservatorship abuse has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to the coverage of Britney Spears’s plight, the widely publicized case of Joann “Mama B” Bashinsky, and the success of the hit film I Care A Lot.
But as the film shows, Guardianship and Conservatorship abuse is not a crime perpetrated by a single corrupt guardian or conservator — it takes a cabal of unethical corrupt individuals to commit this type of fraud — or, in the case of Jefferson, a county.
Numerous sources in Jefferson County, speaking on condition of anonymity due to ongoing legal cases, have said that Summey’s career as a guardian makes Rosemund Pike’s character in I Care A Lot look like a saint. Summey was not the only court-appointed Jefferson County Conservator however; Greg Hawley held the other position. If you are familiar with Joann Bashinsky’s fight to regain her freedom, then you know what Summey’s partner did to her.
But perhaps the most interesting — and possibly incriminating — fact about Mr. Summey is that he seems to have completely vanished from public view.
Summey, despite working for the law firm White Arnold, & Dowd (WA&D), was also listed in a listserv directory of solo legal practitioners and would often answer probate questions about conservatorship and estate planning. Suddenly, in January 2021, he stopped answering emails and no longer appeared on the listserv. Only a few months before, in October 2020, Summey was still featured on the WA&D website. In January 2021, Summey was unceremoniously removed from the webpage.
On February 9, 2021 an administrative order accepted Summey’s resignation as county conservator effective March 1, and he signed all of his cases over to Greg Hawley— who incidentally now oversees all 200+ of Jefferson County’s guardian and conservatorship cases.
It should be noted that it is entirely possible that WA&D’s disappearance of Mr. Summey’s existence had absolutely nothing to do with Summey’s sketchy guardianship practices. He had, after all, only recently folded his own practice in with WA&D, and his removal from their website could have been due to any number of things. Indeed, it coincided with the removal of all traces of his former partner, Karen Hennesy, from the WA&D website as well.
But that doesn’t explain the other disturbing behavior displayed by WA&D. According to the sources familiar with the incident, a strange thing happened during a recent Zoom hearing for one of Summey’s wards. Despite it being his case, Summey did not appear on camera during the Zoom meeting, nor did he ever speak. Yet when the probate judge repeatedly asked the other attorneys from WA&D who were on camera if Summey was present, they simply assured the judge he was. Shockingly, the judge didn’t not press for “proof of life.”
Regardless of the exact circumstances of Summey’s apparent removal from WA&D and the firm’s inexplicably strange behavior after the fact, his unethical behavior as a guardian and conservator fits perfectly within a wider pattern in Jefferson County.
Probate Judge Alan King, who granted Summey power of attorney over Marian Leonard’s affairs — and land — resigned recently amidst scandal due to a number of highly questionable rulings in guardian and conservatorship cases. In May 2020, King retired without warning, immediately sold his house, and relocated to Florida. Two months later the Alabama Supreme Court would rebuke King’s unconstitutional actions in Joann Bashinsky’s case.
The reader may be wondering how Summey was granted power-of-attorney over Marian Leonard in the first place, given her daughter already had that legal right and was perfectly capable of acting on her mother’s behalf. Enter Judge King.
When King appointed Summey as Guardian he simply ignored her existing legal and lawful power-of-attorney. Leonard had previously chosen her daughter, Nancy Scott-Gregory, to this role. Alabama code explicitly states that a court selected guardian should only be appointed if the incapacitated person has not designated a power-of-attorney. The Probate Court should also look first to family, or anyone else who comes forward, before appointing an unconnected third-party to the position.
Unfortunately, the systemic guardianship and conservatorship abuse that plagues Jefferson County did not end following Judge King’s early surprise retirement and Sid Summey’s bizarre disappearance.
A number of individuals claim that both Judge King’s replacement on the Jefferson County probate court and Greg Hawley, the now-sole guardian ad litem for Jefferson County, have continued the unethical practices of their predecessors. In fact, both individuals were involved in the Joann Bashinsky case, which has drawn national attention.
Hollywood movies and high-profile celebrities and politicians have brought the issue of Probate Court abuse to national attention, but the seemingly endemic guardianship and conservatorship abuse in Jefferson County, Alabama is proof that anyone can be a victim of these horrific schemes to deprive people of their life, liberty, and property.
About the author: Bernard Kerik is a former police commissioner and Department of Correction commissioner in New York City.
Terri LaPoint is a Contributing researcher and writer for TLB Project, and we are much better off as a result. Her website is a gem. TLB Highly Recommends you visit Terri at REAL NEWS SPARK !
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