By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association hosted a Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 Training session in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday, Nov. 8. The program is a day-long Continuing Legal Education seminar that featured a judge and seven attorneys who each taught an aspect of handling such complex cases.
The training session, titled, “2018 Office of Court Administration Approved Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 Guardianship Training Program,” was organized by Brooklyn Bar Association, Elder Law Committee co-chairs Anthony Lamberti, Fern Finkel and Daniel R. Miller.
“They’re pretty complex proceedings as you are handling people’s affairs when they are incapacitated and unable to handle those affairs,” Lamberti said. “We have a pretty wide array of speakers, many of whom are BBA members who practice in the area and are highly qualified. There aren’t a lot of resources better to help you with this information so that you can get qualified to handle these cases in the future.”
The other speakers included Julie Stoil-Fernandez, who discussed the role of a court evaluator, Michele Lippa Gartner, who covered Part 36 Rules of the Chief Judge, James Cahill instructed on commencement of proceedings, Helen Galette compared Article 17A and Article 81 guardianships, and Justice Ellen Spodek lectured on the hearing itself.
Attorneys who handle Article 81 cases must take this court, or one similar to it offered by other bar associations. The Brooklyn Bar Association typically hosts this training every two to three years and makes the session available online as well for attorneys who cannot make it in person.
Established as law in New York State in 1992, Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law allows the court to appoint a guardian for personal needs or property management for incapacitated adults. The idea is that a guardian is given the least amount of authority to satisfy the needs of an incapacitated person and helps a person only in the areas for which a person requires assistance.
“It’s a very sensitive set of circumstances when you are taking away a person’s rights in essence,” Lamberti said. “They can’t handle their affairs, can’t handle money, make decisions about their own health care. These are complex proceedings, with evidentiary standards and burdens of proof.
“There are also different roles within a case,” he continued. “Everybody has a role and the thought was to enhance attorney’s abilities to perform these roles with programs like this.”
Lamberti chuckled to himself as he thought back to early training programs that he attended out of law school. He explained that because every case is unique it can be hard for attorneys to take on cases by simply reading the law and suggested that attorney’s personal experiences can go a long way to teaching someone how to handle these cases.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg, really,” Lamberti said. “We’re exposing people who don’t practice in this area to these hearings and some of the things that go on. You really don’t get the feeling and learn about how it goes on into these cases until you take a few and get involved. It’s a certain amount of substantive law and a lot of anecdotal application based on what we’ve encountered over the years.”