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Effective Court Practice for Abused Elders. Deana Piazza, Senior Research Analyst Center for Families, Children & the Courts Association for Criminal Justice Research (California) Conference, Long Beach October 17, 2008. Study Overview.

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Effective Court Practice for Abused Elders

Deana Piazza, Senior Research Analyst

Center for Families, Children & the Courts

Association for Criminal Justice Research (California) Conference, Long Beach

October 17, 2008

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Study Overview

  • Two-year research project funded by Archstone Foundation

  • Profiles of four study courts

  • Statewide survey on court response to elder abuse

  • Court curriculum

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Criminal Cases

Civil Fraud and Conversion

Domestic Violence

Personal Injury

Unlawful Detainer

Lawsuits Against Facilities

Adult Adoptions


Mental Health Commitment

APS Initiated Proceedings

Domestic Relations

Cases Regarding Health Care Decisions For Incapacitated Person

Civil Harassment


Judicial Involvement in Elder Abuse Matters

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Limited Administrative Data on Elder Abuse in Courts

  • Elder abuse restraining order petitions increased 59% between 2001-02 and 2005-06

  • Conservatorships under court’s control increased 15% between 2002 and 2006

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File Review: Characteristics of Elderly Litigants

  • Mostly female (2/3 to 3/4)

  • More than half 80+ years old

  • Most likely to be living in own home

    • More likely to be living with others than living alone

  • More than 3/4 of cases had outside agency involvement

  • Physical disabilities, memory loss, cognitive impairment

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File Review: Description of Abuse

  • Types of abuse:

    • Many cases involved more than one type of abuse

    • Financial abuse most common in conservatorships; Emotional abuse most common in restraining orders

  • Alleged abusers:

    • Mostly family members (esp. adult children)

    • More likely to be male

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Specialty Courts & Calendars

  • Consolidation: Elder abuse comes to court in multiple case types

  • Coordination with service providers: Victims & abusers often have health & social problems related to abuse

  • Judicial monitoring: Many abusers are family members & victims want to maintain contact

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Specialty Courts & Calendars

  • 16% of courts had specialized/consolidated calendars exclusively for EA

    • Primarily for restraining order cases

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Alameda County Elder Protection Court

  • Collaboration with system partners (APS, DA, victim/witness, Legal Assistance for Seniors); Elder Access Committee

  • Case manager

    • Service referrals; assistance with court documents; background checks

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Alameda County Elder Protection Court

  • Identification and tracking of cases across departments

  • Late morning calendar to accommodate fluctuations in capacity

  • Direct calendaring

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Florida Elder Justice Centers

  • Dedicated court facility with co-location of agencies serving elders

    • Coordination of service referrals

  • Availability of enhanced communication devices and large-font pleadings

  • Public education and outreach

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Other Calendaring Practices

  • Ventura County

    • Pro per conservatorship calendar; volunteer attorneys available to provide courtroom assistance

    • Elder abuse cases filed under PC 368 heard in Family Violence Court

  • San Francisco County: EAROs heard on DV calendar, elder cases called first

  • Orange County: One judicial officer hears all EAROs, elder cases called first

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Crafting Orders & Sentencing

  • Protect abused person & other individuals

  • Protect assets

  • Maintain independence

  • Maintain relationship between victim & abuser

  • Link parties to appropriate services

  • Make victim whole (restitution, return of property)

  • Monitor compliance

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Services & Accommodations

  • Physical accommodations (e.g., assistive listening devices)

  • Flexible scheduling to accommodate fluctuations in capacity

  • Expedite elder abuse cases on calendar

  • Hearings in alternate settings; closing courtroom to public

  • Testimony & cross-examination via videotape/CCTV

  • May also encompass self-help services

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Services & Accommodations

  • Alameda County EPC: Mid-morning calendar, telephonic appearances

  • Ventura County

    • Probate judge steps down from bench, shakes hands, uses plain language

    • Planning to expand self-help to elder law (L.A. also has elder law clinic)

  • Stetson University College of Law’s Eleazer Courtroom

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Community Partnerships

  • Multidisciplinary teams: Better case coordination, investigation, evidence collection

    • Direct court participation or court support

  • Task forces and coordinating councils

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Community Partnerships

  • Half of courts not involved in any partnerships related to elder abuse

  • One in five involved in community education and outreach or participate on MDTs

  • Common referrals: Public guardian, legal services, DV shelters or programs

    • Courts more likely to make than receive referrals

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Community Partnerships

  • Alameda County EPC highly dependent on network of agencies & service providers

    • Elder Access Committee examines systemic issues

  • Ventura County

    • Court spearheaded development of Elder Law Coordinating Council

    • Court staff participate on Financial Abuse Specialist Team

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Volunteer & Pro Bono Programs

  • Scarce resources combined with need for specialized knowledge

  • Orange County Model Program for Unbefriended Elderly

  • Ventura County volunteer auditor program

  • San Francisco County: Conservatorship classes for non-professionals taught by PFAC volunteers

  • Recommendation for court ombudsman program

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  • Identification/recognition of elder abuse cases

  • Ways to effectively respond to elder abuse cases

  • Beneficial to court staff as well as judicial officers

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State laws concerning EA (46%)

Capacity issues (30%)

Community resources (29%)

Crafting orders (29%)

Court Staff

Communicating w/ individuals w/ capacity issues (57%)

Types of cases involving EA (55%)

Case management & procedural innovations (43%)

Common Training Needs

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Other Key Training Topics

  • Dynamics of elder abuse and family violence

  • Physiological and social aspects of aging

  • Undue influence

  • Adult Protective Services

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For More Information


[email protected]