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In re Guardianship & Conservatorship of Bratton

Supreme Court of Wyoming

July 8, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP AND CONSERVATORSHIP OF WILLIAM G. BRATTON, Ward, ROBERT E. BRATTON, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
JEANNE BLENKINSOP, Appellee

Page 249

Appeal from the District Court of Park County. The Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge.

Robert E. Bratton, Appellant, Pro se.

For Appellee: Mary Helen Reed, McCarty, Reed & Earhart, Attorneys at Law, L.C., Cody, Wyoming.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE[*], DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.

OPINION

Page 250

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶1] Appellant Robert Bratton (Bratton) petitioned for appointment as guardian of his seventy-six-year-old brother William (William). Their sister, Appellee Jeanne Blenkinsop (Blenkinsop), cross-petitioned and asked that she instead be appointed as William's guardian and conservator. When Bratton failed to appear at a pretrial conference, the district court dismissed his petition and appointed Blenkinsop to temporarily assume those duties. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] We summarize the issues presented as follows:

1. Did the district court err in failing to address Bratton's motion for alternative dispute resolution and his motion to quash the proposed order dismissing his petition?
2. Did a second judge err in denying Bratton's motion to disqualify the judge who was presiding over the guardianship/conservatorship proceedings for cause?

FACTS

[¶3] William Bratton suffers from a lifelong mental disability. Although the record contains no precise diagnosis of his affliction, the parties and the guardian ad litem characterized it as akin to Asperger's syndrome, a relatively mild form of autism spectrum disorder.[1] Prior to her death in 2004, William's mother established a trust designed in part to support William in his later years. It provided that he could live in the family home in Cody as long as he was able to do so, and for payment of his living expenses from a Wells Fargo money market account.

[¶4] Blenkinsop and Bratton were the sole trustees, and both had access to the Wells Fargo account.[2] Sometime prior to the filing of their competing petitions to serve as guardian, they took steps to prevent William from accessing the account because he had fallen prey to financial " scammers" who target the elderly and infirm.

[¶5] That particular vulnerability was the one point of agreement in Bratton's petition for guardianship filed on June 29, 2012, and the cross-petition for guardianship and conservatorship filed by Blenkinsop on July 19. Bratton believed that William was mentally incompetent to a degree that rendered him unable to handle his personal affairs, his health needs, and his finances.[3] However,

Page 251

Blenkinsop, while conceding that William was at times unable to care for himself and his property without assistance, asserted that he was generally able to meet his own medical needs in a reasonable manner. She also indicated that she assisted him in all of his financial affairs, and that she had prevented him from having access to large amounts of funds that others could swindle from him. Finally, Blenkinsop reported that she and William agreed that her appointment as his guardian and conservator would be in his best interest. William confirmed this by filing a signed and notarized document with the district court.[4] Blenkinsop contemporaneously moved for appointment of a guardian ad litem to independently meet with and report on William's condition, represent his interests, and make a written recommendation as to whether she or Bratton should be appointed his permanent guardian and/or conservator.

[¶6] On August 2, 2012, two weeks after Blenkinsop filed her cross-petition, Bratton's attorney moved to withdraw from the case for reasons that cannot be ascertained from the record transmitted to this Court. Thereafter, Bratton represented himself.

[¶7] On September 11, Blenkinsop filed a motion alleging that the Wells Fargo money market savings account had been established solely for William's benefit, that only she and Bratton had access to those funds, and that on July 23, 2012, Bratton transferred $10,000 of William's money to a checking account that he controlled. Blenkinsop moved for an order requiring Bratton to return the money. Bratton had named the account in which the funds were deposited the " William Bratton Guardian Legal Fund."

[¶8] The guardian ad litem appointed by the court on September 14 filed a report on December 19, 2012. After reviewing William's medical records and interviewing him and his neighbors, friends, and family members, she concluded that he was bright and independent, and that he had a desire to remain active that was perhaps more important to him than the cleanliness of his home. To illustrate, she noted that he took a summer job in 2012 washing dishes for a local Pizza Hut. Nevertheless, because of concerns that his mental disability might worsen with age, she concluded that he needed assistance to manage his finances and help to care for himself and his home. In regard to his medical needs, she ...


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