Hosted by Thomas F. Coleman

Focusing on Freedom & Justice 

Feature Story - Video - Audio

Episode 3

My New Challenge:  Conservatorship Injustices

This episode of the podcast series picks up where the second episode left off.  It describes the shift in the advocacy activities of Tom Coleman after his memoirs were published in 2009.  He ventured into the area of abuse of people with disabilities, especially those with developmental disabilities, with the goal of promoting more effective responses to such abuse by government agencies.  In the course of doing that important work, Coleman was introduced to an extremely challenging set of problems with the probate conservatorship system in California.  After investigating a few specific cases of young adults with developmental disabilities whose rights were violated in these legal proceedings, Coleman dug deeper.  Were these isolated incidents or were the problems more widespread?  His investigation showed that tens of thousands of adults with cognitve disabilities were being victimized in Californi by a system that was intended to help them.  Coleman identified many flaws with the probate conservatorship system and then set out on a journey to correct them.  Through his work with Spectrum Institute, Coleman filed complaints, wrote policy reports, and published commentaries in the legal newspaper.  He approached elected officials.  He spoke at conferences.  A documentary was created by filmmaker Greg Byers tracking Coleman and a small group of advocates as they tried to shake up the status quo.  This episode of the podcast shows film clips from the documentary, with commentaries provided by Coleman about the relevance of each film clip to the larger effort of conservatorship reform in California and guardianship reform in states throughout the nation.

Screenshots from the Documentary Film
and other relevant images 


Mickey's case was what initially caused Coleman to question the conservatorship system in Califonia

The case of Stephen L. exposed massive voting rights violations, prompting a class action complaint with the Department of Justice.

David Rector's case prompted a protest and media blitz about restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of conservatees.

Greg Demer was ordered to spend weekends with his father and forced to attend church, despite his repeated objections to both.  Greg asked Coleman to help him get his social rights protected and to help him get a new attorney since the court-appointed lawyer was not defending his rights.  Coleman filed a complaint with the federal Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Greg's case prompted an audit of dozens of other cases which revealed that court-appointed attorneys were providing deficient legal services to proposed conservatees.  This caused Spectrum Institute to file a class action ADA complaint with the DOJ against the Los Angeles Superior Court which operates the legal services program.  This photo was taken at a press conference held outside of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on the day the complaint was filed.

In addition to writing legal briefs, and filing civil right complaints, Coleman raises public awarness through the media.

Michael Ligouri, a intelligent and aticulate young man with cerbral palsy, reached out to Spectrum Institute for help after a lawyer initiated a guardianship proceeding in New York to prevent Michael from having control over a large financial award he received from a medical malpractice lawsuit.  The money is now being depleted by endless fees for the guardian and attorneys. 

Tina Baldwin, parent-advocate and Spectrum Institute board member shares the guardianship reform message at a WINGS conference in Seattle, Washington.  WINGS is an acronym for Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders. 

As a keynote speaker at the annual policy conference of The Arc of California, Coleman urges the audience to get involved in conservatorship reform.

Coleman has testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the State Capitol in Sacramento.  He and other advocates have met with members of the Governor's Cabinet as well as legislators and staff members.  They all listen politely but so far have take no action to correct the conservatorship system.

Coleman and associates were granted a meeting with lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ to explain the role the federal government could play in investigating ADA violations by state agents in the conservatorship system in California.