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'Betrayed' by Pa.'s guardianship system

Plus, Fulton County's Dominion voting machine case.

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Thursday, April 20, 2023
'Betrayed' by the system, 'vexatious conduct,' common ground, church 'cover-up,' xylazine reaction, and Puddin' Head Jones. Thanks for checking in.

Struggling to make even the most basic life decisions, 84-year-old Penny Raffa was given a legal guardian shortly after Christmas in 2010. Her family says that's when the real trouble began. 

The guardian, recommended by a lawyer for the Montgomery County nursing home suing Raffa for unpaid debts, hired another attorney, also suggested by the nursing home, to represent Raffa in the debt case.

But the lawyer purposely did no work on her behalf, according to a lawsuit now before one of Pennsylvania's highest courts, and Raffa lost the case. Then, to pay off the debt, she was forced to sell her home. 

Critics of Pennsylvania's guardianship law cite glaring problems with a system meant to protect older adults like Raffa from potential fraud and other conflicts when they are declared legally incapacitated. Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to make guardianship a choice of last resort.

Read the full story: An older Pa. woman was placed under guardianship. Her family says the system betrayed her.

THE CONTEXT: The two lawyers named in the suit, brought by Raffa’s estate after her death in early 2012, have denied wrongdoing. And the tangled sequence of events alleged has not been substantiated.

The state has over 18,000 active guardianships, nearly half of which involve people over the age of 60. Those guardians, who aren’t required to be certified or trained, oversee more than $1.7 billion in assets.

In most cases, almost anyone can petition a court to declare a person incapacitated and have them placed under guardianship.

In Harrisburg, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would mandate older adults have legal representation at guardianship proceedings, and require guardians to undergo mandatory training, certification, and background checks, among other changes.

"Appointing a guardian for a person represents a serious step," state Sen. Judy Ward (R., Blair) said at a hearing on guardianship last month, noting that it results in a "total deprivation of liberty and autonomy."


"I feel like all these employers are gonna cut hours, cut pay, take people’s benefits. I feel like it’s everywhere all over Pennsylvania."

—Medical marijuana worker Ashley Batista of Scranton on the push for more union representation to shore up the shaky industry
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» LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Join us Thursday, April 27 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on what issues and policies are on the state legislature's 2023 docket. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org

As seen on state hospital grounds in Harrisburg by Daniel S. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Pink blossoms on trees lining a walkway.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.IN CONTEMPT: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Fulton County officials and attorneys engaged in "vexatious conduct" by secretly allowing a third party to access the county's Dominion voting machines to help overturn the 2020 election. The court handed down contempt sanctions since the access violated a court order. The county has also been ordered to reimburse the state.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.APPROVAL RATING: A Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found 53% of Pennsylvania voters approve of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's job performance, while 26% disapprove. The Inquirer (paywall) looked at how Shapiro, 49, is taking a "common ground" approach to governing one of the nation’s most politically divided states. Next up: delivering on his bipartisan promises.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.COVERUP CLAIMS: A Pennsylvania grand jury has accused nine men with connections to the Jehovah's Witnesses of child sexual abuse in "what some consider the nation's most comprehensive investigation yet into abuse within the faith," the AP writes. Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said in February that the investigation was ongoing. Critics have long alleged a systemic church cover-up.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.IMPACT DOUBTS: An addendum on Gov. Shapiro joining Ohio in scheduling xyalzine this week amid a surge in overdoses linked to the animal tranquilizer mixed with heroin: Harm reductionist Claire Zagorski noted on Twitter that xylazine has been scheduled in Florida for years and still remains prevalent there. Also: "Xylazine probably isn’t causing fatal overdoses — the big daddy there is still fentanyl." 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.'DEEPLY TROUBLED': The Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Network is "deeply troubled" by the addition of xylazine to Pennsylvania's list of Schedule III drugs, saying the move "will only further criminalize and stigmatize people who use drugs and increase criminal penalties" while also hindering related research. The group wants greater investment in overdose prevention and drug testing supplies. 

OFFICIAL OBIT: Former U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster (R., Pa.) died Wednesday at the age of 91, WTAJ reports. Shuster was chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and initiated numerous road projects, including Interstate 99, aka "The Bud Shuster Highway."

LOW SCORE: Fewer Penn State undergrads trust the university to take reports of sexual misconduct seriously than did five years ago. CDT (paywall) reports a recent survey found a 20% drop among female students

PERFECT SCORE: York native Trinity Thomas has tied an NCAA all-time gymnastics record with the 28th perfect 10 of her career, The Dispatch reports. It came on her last vault event in the NCAA championships.

STOTT STREAK: Congrats to Bryson Stott for besting Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones' 16-game run for the longest hitting streak to begin a season by a Philadelphia Phillies player in the modern era. 

PLAY NEXT: About that nickname. Bleacher Report says Willie Jones got it from a 1933 song called Puddin' Head Jones. Listen here.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Gelatinous

Congrats to our daily winners: Kimberly D., Barbara F., Lynne E., Don H., Susan D., Elaine C., Susan N.-Z., Jon W., Jodi R., Craig W., Bob C., Dennis M., Dianne K., Tom M., Bill S., and William Z.
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