Hosted by Thomas F. Coleman

The Freedom Files is a Pursuit of Justice Podcast focusing on a wide range of issues involving liberty, justice, and equal rights, with a special emphasis on people with disabilities whether they are young adults, seniors, or any age in-between.  Episodes will address freedom of choice in matters such as health care, finances, living arrangements, sexual relationships, marital status, social interactions, and recreational activities.  Some episodes will reminisce about past advocacy activities for other causes and issues.  The tactics used and lessons learned while advocating on those issues -- police oppression, LGBT+ rights, hate crimes, family diversity, singles' rights, and trafficking of abused teens -- can be adapted to develop winning advocacy strategies for today's activities which are directed towards conservatorship and guardianship reform as well as mental health rights for people with developmental disabilities.

Episode 1 - July 1, 2021 (Watch or Listen Now)

The Freedom Files: Preview of Coming Attractions

In this premiere episode, host Thomas F. Coleman explains how The Freedom Files will blend past, present, and future with some episodes focusing on current events and the people involved in them while others will recall events and people from the past -- all of which will focus on the pursuit of freedom, justice, and equal rights.  Tom will highlight some of the upcoming episodes.  He will also acknowledge and thank the team of volunteers who are helping to launch the podcast, such as the college interns who are working as associate producers and writing feature stories for each episode as well as the intern who is doing the audio and video editing and other post production work.  Tom's sister, Diane Coleman-Rogers, will appear as a guest to explain why she came up with the idea for the podcast and what she hopes it will accomplish for the causes, issues, and people that it focuses on.  Diane has been a board member of Spectrum Institute for more than 20 years.

Episode 2 - August 1, 2021 (Watch or List Now)

The Domino Effect:  My Life as an Advocate

This episode of the podcast series gives the audience a glimpse into the past of the Tom Coleman and takes a virtual walk down memory lane, reminiscing about life growing up in Ferndale, Michigan, his entry into law school in Detroit, and his move to Los Angeles where he began his lifetime role as a legal advocate at Loyola Law School.  The episode touches on a few phases of Tom's advocacy for various causes -- from his focus on LGBT rights and sexual civil liberties in the 1970s, to privacy rights, hate crimes, domestic partner benefits and recognition of family diversity in the 1980s, and then on to the rights of single people during the next two decades . . . with an unexpected adventure for a few years exposing injustices to troubled teenagers by an industry that abducted and confined them in private boot camps and boarding schools.  This era ended with the publication in 2009 of The Domino Effect, a book of Tom's memoirs as an equal rights advocate.

Episode 3 - September 1, 2021 (Watch or Listen Now)

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 clips from the documentary film, 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.

Episode 4 -  October 1, 2021 (Watch or Listen Now)
Town Hall:  Conservatorship Reform is Long Overdue

This episode of the podcast series focuses on a Zoom Town Hall where victims of the California conservatorship system shared their stories, local elected officials in Alameda County acknowledged the need for reform, and #FreeBritney activists discussed their movement to rid superstar Britney spears of the confines of conservatorship.  Most of the presentations involved the negative experiences that many seniors and their families have had with conservatorship proceedings.  Many of the complaints focused on the greed of attorneys and the complacency of judges.  Before offering several specific proposals to reform key parts of the conservatorship system, attorney Thomas F. Coleman, one of the organizers of the town hall, summarized the injustices experienced by six adults with developmental disabilities.  During this podcast episode, video clips from the town hall will be played, along with commentaries by Coleman about the relevance of each clip to the goals of the conservatorship reform movement.

Dr. Sam Sugar:  An Iconic Warrior for Guardianship Reform

 Sam Sugar is the guest on this episode of the podcast series.   Dr. Sugar is the founder of a nonprofit education and advocacy organization known as Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship.  AAAPG began operating in 2013.  Dr. Sugar and his organization have been in the national forefront of focusing attention on the plight of victims of guardianship abuse ever since.  He is also the author of Guardianships and the Elderly: The Perfect Crime (Square One 2018).  The book is described as a survival guide to understanding, dealing with, and avoiding the economic, physical, and psychological abuses of guardianships.  Podcast host Thomas F. Coleman will interview Dr. Sugar about his reasons for creating AAAPG and his attempts at guardianship reform over the years.  Did anything good come out of the 2019 Guardianship Abuse Forum in Tampa?  Will the 2021 Guardianship Summit have an impact?  Held on April 11-12, the summit was a national interactive forum where thought leaders in the fields of academia, law enforcement, judiciary and advocacy shared their knowledge and expertise with a wide and diverse audience for whom guardianship of a loved one has become a critically important matter.


Different Brains®: Respecting Neurodiversity

During this episode, the host will have a conversation with Harold “Hackie” Reitman, M.D., the founder of Different Brains®, an organization encouraging the understanding and acceptance of individuals with variations in brain functions and social behaviors.  The organization promotes understanding and acceptance of neurodiverse individuals.  Its mission has three pillars: (1) mentoring neurodiverse adults in maximizing their potential for employment and independence; (2) increasing awareness of neurodiversity by producing interactive media; (3) fostering the next generation of neurodivergent self-advocates. Hackie is an author, filmmaker, and retired orthopedic surgeon. The conversation will explore the reasons that he created the organization and the progress it is making to advance its goals. Coleman will ask whether Different Brains® might broaden its agenda to include advocacy for equal rights and justice for neurodiverse individuals.
Disability and Spirituality: Free Exercise of Religion

this episode, the host will engage in a conversation with Reverend William C. Gaventa about spirituality in the lives of individuals with disabilities, their families, those providing care, their friends and extended relationships, and the communities in which they live. Rev. Gaventa is the author of Disability and Spirituality.  As the book description explains: "Disability and spirituality have traditionally been understood as two distinct spheres: disability is physical and thus belongs to health care professionals, while spirituality is religious and belongs to the church, synagogue, or mosque and their theologians, clergy, rabbis, and imams. This division leads to stunted theoretical understanding, limited collaboration, and segregated practices, all of which contribute to a lack of capacity to see people with disabilities as whole human beings and full members of a diverse human family. Contesting the assumptions that separate disability and spirituality, William Gaventa argues for the integration of these two worlds."  Freedom of religion has two separate but related dimensions.  The right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom from religion.  This episode focuses on the exercise of religion and spirituality by people with disabilities.  The next episode will discuss the right of people with disabilities to freedom of choice with respect to religion and spirituality, including the right not to hold religious or spiritual views and beliefs and the right not to have religious beliefs or practices forced on them by others.


Disability and Spirituality: Freedom from Religion

 In this episode, the host will discuss with attorney Eddie Tabash the right of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to religious freedom.  Since spirituality and religion should be a matter of free choice, regardless of an individual's disability status, this right should be respected by those who have control of or influence over the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.  The host will explain how Gregory Demer -- an autistic man living under an order of conservatorship in California -- has been forced to attend church services against his will for the last decade.  The host will ask attorney Tabash about the proper application of the law regarding separation of church and state to help adults with developmental disabilities to be free from the imposition of unwanted religious beliefs and practices. Eddie Tabash is on the Board of Trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State--an organization devoted to preserving equality before the law for both believers and nonbelievers. He also chairs the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry, a worldwide organization devoted secular humanism, atheism, secular government, and scientific skepticism.


Improving Conservatorship Assessments by Regional Centers

In this episode, the host has a conversation with Barbara Imle about the need for regional centers in California to provide more comprehensive and higher quality conservatorship assessment services for adults with developmental disabilities who become involved in these proceedings.  A survey she conducted a few years ago revealed that the quality and scope of these services varied widely among regional centers.  A report submitted by Spectrum Institute to the Department of Developmental Services called on that agency to provide regulations to guide regional centers in conducting conservatorship assessments and to require them to evaluate less restrictive alternatives that may be feasible.  DDS should also monitor regional centers to ensure they are performing their statutory duties, including conducting individual program plan reviews, when they are notified that a conservatorship petition has been filed against a client.  During her tenure as an employee at two regional centers, Barbara gained first-hand knowledge of the disparity in conservatorship evaluation services among regional centers.  While at California State University working toward her Master of Arts Degree in social practice, Barbara submitted a thesis titled: "California's Double-Edged Sword: Exploring Regional Centers, Limited Conservatorship Policies, and Implications for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities."


Barbara Buckley: Mentoring Guardianship Lawyers

A conversation with the executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada about their advocacy and defense services in adut guardianship proceedings.  The Legal Aid Center’s Guardianship Advocacy Program provides representation to seniors and adults with disabilities who are facing or under guardianship to ensure the adult’s legal rights are protected.  In order to provide legal representation to as many adults as possible, the Legal Aid Center developed a training manual that provides advocacy guidelines for pro bono attorneys who take adult guardianship cases through Legal Aid Center’s Pro Bono Project.  The manual warns would-be pro bono attorneys: "Accepting this senior or adult with disability as a client means you must advocate for what the client wants – not what any other person or professional, including you, thinks ought to happen or is in the client’s best interests. (Leave that for the other parties, the guardian ad litem, and, ultimately, the judge.) Your job is to promote what your client wants to the guardian and to the court and to work to make that happen, which might require you to confront uncaring guardians or family members and a sometimes inefficient and impersonal legal system."  Coleman and Buckley will discuss wht these attorneys do and how their advocacy and defense services have impacted the guardianship system.  How are these attorneys trained?  Are their legal services monitored in any way?  How is the Center's Guardianship Advocacy Program funded?



Requiring Courts and Lawyers to Consider Supported Decision-Making

In this episode, the host will have a conversation with Suzanne Bennett Francisco about the work she is doing as co-director of the Supported Decision-Making California Advocacy Project (SDM CAP) for Disability Voices United. The project focuses on supported decision-making policy change for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The two will discuss how to make SDM a reality for more people by requiring judges and court-appointed attorneys to seriously explore SDM before an adult is ordered into a probate conservatorship.  Disability Voices United has said this about Suzanne:  "After years as a special education advocate, Suzanne has partnered with many statewide and national advocacy groups as a subject matter expert in supported Decision-Making (SDM) as an alternative to conservatorship. She provides SDM education and training to self-advocates, supporters, and professionals throughout California. Suzanne authored Supported Decision-Making Teams: Setting the Wheels in Motion (SDM SWIM) which has become a best practice in many states across the country.



Edith+Eddie Documentary Exposes Guardianship Abuse

In this episode, the host will have a conversation with Thomas Lee Wright and Laura Checkoway.  Wright is the producer and Checkoway is the director of the Oscar-nominated and IDA award-winning documentary film Edith+Eddie. The film portrays the final chapter in the lives of an interracial couple and how the misuse of a guardianship proceeding destroyed their relationship -- and them.  Wikipedia says this about the movie: "The film was originally supposed to be a heartwarming love story about America's oldest interracial newlyweds, aged 96 and 95, who married after ten years together. However, the story took a turn when the happy couple was forcibly separated by a court order, mandating that Edith go live with her daughter in Florida."  Clips from the trailer will be shown, as Wright, Checkoway and podcast host Thomas F. Coleman discuss the relevance of Checkoway's insightful comments: "The legal guardianship system was not on my radar before making this film, and so we learn that Edith's rights have been put in the hands of someone who is appointed by the court who doesn't know her. And the issues that arise when that happens are something that plays out before us again in the film. Then I began researching, and I couldn't understand how this could be. A lot of audience members leave the film asking, How on earth could this happen? They come to find out that this is happening to elders all across the country."  Wright is also the editor of a book titled The Family Guide to Preventing Elder Abuse (Skyhorse Publishing 2017). The book offers a wide range of advice: how to reduce the risk of abuse; what to do if abuse is suspected; how to avoid abusive guardianships; and strategies to seek justice for abused elders.


Sexuality and Developmental Disabilities:  Dispelling Myths and Stereotypes 

In this episode, the host will have a conversation with Carli Friedman, Ph.D, and Betsy Burns -- two professionals from The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL).  The discussion will focus on research surrounding sexuality for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the barriers they face, and how human service agencies can support sexuality while at the same time encouraging risk reduction.  What needs to change so that people with IDD can exercise sexual self-advocacy?  How can policy makers and administrators ensure that sexual rights are respected while also reducing unwanted risks?  The importance of sex education will be discussed.  As Betsy Burns has written: "An individual’s lack of knowledge about sexuality violates their inherent sexual rights as human beings and inhibits healthy relationships, sometimes leading to poor decision-making around the expression of their sexuality." According to Dr. Friedman, part of the problem involves stereotyping: "Assumptions about the interests and abilities of people with IDD often result in infantilization. For example, because people with IDD are often incorrectly and problematically associated with the functioning of a child, common stereotypes are that people with IDD are not interested in or capable of relationships and sex."  This podcast will explore how to eliminate or overcome false assumptions. 

Sponsored by: Law Office of Thomas F. Coleman and Spectrum Institute

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