Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Conservator seeks to overturn court's ruling that man can keep his own house
A San Bernardino probate judge recently denied a highly unusual petition
to revoke a 28-year-old notarized and recorded deed of sale and to
return the property into the estate of the seller. In a stunningly bold
move, the petitioner, conservator Melodie Scott, has moved for another
trial on this matter.
This case potentially redefines the very concept of property ownership and as such may be seen as a precedent setting case.
The revocation of the deed of sale was sought by the conservator of an
elderly woman, Lois Risse, who after nearly three decades sold her home
to a friend of hers, Glenn Neff, with the understanding that she could
live in the house—rent free—for the rest of her life. Lois Risse was in
her early seventies at the time of the sale.
Fast forward to 2012. Risse, then 101 years old, was being preyed on
financially by a bevy of individuals who were accessing her bank
accounts, buying vehicles with her money and apparently even living in
her house, robbing her under the pretext of caring for her.
When Melodie Scott was appointed Risse’s guardian by Judge Michael Welch in San Bernardino Superior Court, she inherited a Pandora's Box of predation and
financial abuse which had greatly reduced the size of Risse's estate.
At that point, Scott made some legally questionable decisions. Rather
than filing police reports against the people who appear to have taken
off with over $70,000 of Risse's assets, she chose to try to persuade a
judge to revoke the deed of sale to Risse's friend, Glenn Neff. Neff,
who now lives in Northern California, has been maintaining the property
and paying the taxes and insurance on the Yucaipa home. Scott has made
it clear that she wishes to get a reverse mortgage on the property in
order to pay for her services as Risse's guardian.
This reporter has reviewed papers from Melodie Scott's own files which
indicate that several individuals withdrew tens of thousands of dollars
from Risse’s bank accounts in fall of 2011 as well as cashed checks
from her accounts for thousands of dollars for inexplicable expenses.
Apparently, one of these individuals purchased a couple of vehicles with
In her quest to make a case that Neff had committed financial elder abuse, Scott had to go back nearly thirty years. She found some checks that
Risse had written to Neff back in the early eighties and ponied up these checks as evidence that three decades ago, Neff financially abused Lois Risse.
Neff has claimed that he took these checks to the bank and cashed them
for Lois. Scott also claims that, nearly thirty years ago, Neff stole a
gun collection belonging to Lois Risse. Both Risse and Neff have
asserted that Risse sold her guns to someone else years ago.
In January, after depositions and a trial, Judge Raymond Haight decided
that the deed of sale was legal and that Neff would be allowed to keep
In an odd misattribution of responsibility, a distraught Melodie Scott subsequently emailed this reporter:
Hey you have another notch for your belt. We lost our trial to keep Mrs. Risse’s home and she has to go to a convalescent home. And no I was
never paid in this file. Go see who else’s life you can ruin.
After the judge ruled against giving Melodie Scott the house belonging
to Glenn Neff, an outburst from Melodie Scott was overheard in the
courtroom in which she cried, “What am I gonna do now? She's out of
money and she's gotta go! She's gotta go!”
It was unclear to those overhearing this where exactly Lois Risse had to
go. Glenn Neff is honoring his promise that Lois can live in the house
and is still carrying the financial burden of the insurance and taxes on
the property. Given Melodie Scott's propensity to withhold medical
care from her clients when they run out of money, one might wonder if
Risse might soon be scheduled for a trip to the Big Retirement Home in
Not content with the judge's ruling, Scott turned around and has filed
for a new trial. In her application for this trial, she alleges that the
initial agreement between Neff and Risse stated that the deed would not
be recorded until Risse died and therefore when Neff recorded the deed
in 2012 he breached the contract and thus de facto nullified the
original deed of sale. The crux of her motion for a new trial lies in a
legal dispute as to whether the early recording of this document is an
incidental or material breach of contract.
Neff has stated that when he realized that Lois's assets were under attack, he recorded the deed.
“My lawyers are already into me for thirty thousand dollars,” states a
battle-weary Glenn Neff. According to Neff, he asked attorney Jack
Osborn, who is the lawyer he initially hired to defend his house against
conservator Scott's petition, whether he could redeem his attorney's
fees if he is successful in derailing Scott's efforts to take the house
away from him. Curiously, Neff reports that Osborn has told him he will
be stuck with the bill no matter who wins in court. In fact, this is
not necessarily true.
Osborn’s affiliations have already been questioned in this matter. When
Neff learned that Osborn had previously represented Melodie Scott, he
confronted the lawyer with this potential conflict of interest. At that
point, a new lawyer was substituted in from the same firm of Brown,
White and Newhouse. Neff states that Osborn never explained the change
of lawyers to him and he suspects that Osborn's failure to disclose the
conflict of interest resulted in Osborn bolting from the case.
Oddly, his lawyers are also billing Mr. Neff for reading the articles being
published about this case. An entry on the attorney's bill for
December 10, 2012, notes that Neff was charged for the following:
“received and analyzed article ...regarding conservatorship of Lois
“I think I am getting screwed every time I turn around here,” stated
Neff in a recent interview. His lawyers have also billed him over $1500
for a deposition of Lois Risse. There is scant legal precedent which
allows for deposing a mentally incapacitated party and the centenarian
Risse has been medically deemed to be what us normal folks would call
On March 6, the motion for a new trial will be heard at 9 a.m. in Dept.
S15P of San Bernardino Superior Court. The underlying implications of
this protracted effort to reverse a decades-old deed of sale has
reverberations for the whole concept of property ownership and
levitates the common understanding of “who owns what” into a
stratospheric legal grey zone. Conservatorships constitute a
Constitutional loophole whereby simply the assertion made before a judge
that someone has mental incapacity may result in his losing most of his
civil rights and all access to his property and funds.
Janet Phelan is an
investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los
Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica
Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other
regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues
pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of
adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the
relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She
also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her
poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea
One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was
published in 2005. She currently resides abroad. You may browse
through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com
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