Guardian hearing delayed after reporters try to attend - Albuquerque Journal

Guardian hearing delayed after reporters try to attend

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque judge postponed a hearing Monday for a former client of Ayudando Guardians after two Journal reporters tried to attend his guardianship hearing at the client’s invitation.

In a related development, the former Ayudando client, Peter Grotte-Higley, said he moved on Friday to a new senior living facility near the University of New Mexico that he called “1,000 percent better” than his former residence in a Northeast Heights boardinghouse where, Grotte-Higley said, he had been dismayed by his living conditions.

Peter Grotte-Higley

“It’s a different life,” Grotte-Higley, 81, said of his new home. “I had a full-course meal for breakfast. And the people there are nice, too.”

District Judge Denise Barela-Shepherd had scheduled a guardianship hearing for Grotte-Higley on Monday after the indictment in July of his court-appointed guardian and conservator, Ayudando Guardians. The July 19 federal indictment alleges the firm’s two principals and their relatives used client funds, including client monthly benefit payments, to support a lavish personal lifestyle.

The hearing Monday was scheduled to appoint a new corporate guardianship company for Grotte-Higley – Decades LLC – to replace Ayudando Guardians. Ayudando offices were closed by the U.S. Marshals Service in late August because of the federal indictment.

Grotte-Higley, a Holocaust survivor, was profiled in a Journal story published Aug. 9 in which he lamented what he described as poor living conditions and a sudden lack of spending money from Ayudando. He said he felt like a prisoner after he was barred from leaving the house with two Journal reporters to go to Ayudando offices in Albuquerque to find out about his guardianship case.

Minutes before Monday’s hearing, one of the reporters who wrote the initial story asked Grotte-Higley in a courthouse hallway if he was willing to allow reporters to attend the hearing.

“Definitely,” he responded. “Why not?” The reporters then followed him into Barela-Shepherd’s courtroom at 2nd Judicial District courthouse in downtown Albuquerque.

But before the hearing began, Barela-Shepherd asked the two Journal reporters to identify themselves.

She then adjourned the proceedings, saying she wanted to research the issue further.

“I can’t unsequester this proceeding, because I don’t have enough information,” the judge said. ” I’m not opposed to unsequestering it, but by statute I don’t know that I can.”

Barela-Shepherd asked Decades and Grotte-Higley’s court-appointed guardian ad litem, Ellen Leitzer, to submit briefs setting out their positions and announced her intention to reschedule the hearing. A new hearing date wasn’t immediately scheduled, but she added, “I want this matter resolved immediately.”

Guardianship hearings in New Mexico typically are closed to the public.

But New Mexico law says that the appointment of a guardian for an incapacitated person “shall be determined by the court at a closed hearing unless the alleged incapacitated person requests otherwise.”

State law covering substitution or replacement of a guardian says that generally “the court shall follow the same procedures to safeguard the rights of the incapacitated person as those that apply to a petition for appointment of a guardian.”

Grotte-Higley, a Jewish native of what is now the Czech Republic, hid from Nazi occupiers as a boy during World War II and later escaped with his mother from captivity in a camp run by the Soviet Union. After the war, he found refuge in Great Britain, where he pursued a career in advertising.

He moved to the United States after his retirement and eventually settled in Albuquerque and married. His late wife of 17 years died in July 2015.

A court docket sheet, the only public record available, shows that Barela-Shepherd appointed Ayudando as Grotte-Higley’s guardian and conservator in February 2016. The judge made the decision after receiving reports, including from a physician, that Grotte-Higley was in need of a guardian to handle decisions about his daily living and a conservator to handle his finances.

At some point last year, Grotte-Higley was placed in a four-man boardinghouse in Northeast Albuquerque where he shared a room with another man.

It’s still unclear whether Grotte-Higley was among the clients who lost money in the alleged embezzlement scheme at Ayudando.

Nancy Oriola, CEO of the Decades Group, a provider of elder care management services is Grotte-Higley’s temporary guardian pending a permanent appointment. She confirmed that Grotte-Higley moved on Friday to The Albuquerque Grand Senior Living, 1501 Tijeras NE. The firm worked hard to find suitable housing for Grotte-Higley, she said.

Grotte-Higley on Monday cheered his new life at The Albuquerque Grand Senior Living as a major improvement over his former housing.

“It’s nice,” he said. “I have my own room.”

He is still waiting for word on the status of certain cherished belongings he says are missing, as well as his pension and other funds Ayudando was managing.

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