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In re Rocker

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 19, 2017

In re LEON C. ROCKER, an Alleged Disabled Adult
v.
First Financial Bank, as Guardian of the Estate of Leon C. Rocker, Respondent-Appellee. Leon C. Rocker, Petitioner-Appellant,

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 11P34 Honorable Brian L. McPheters, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Turner and Justice DeArmond concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          KNECHT JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Respondent, Leon C. Rocker, appeals the trial court's denial of his petition to terminate the guardianship of his estate. On appeal, Rocker argues (1) the trial court's order denying the petition to terminate guardianship was against the manifest weight of the evidence and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting hearsay. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In April 2011, a plenary guardian was appointed for guardianship of the person and estate of petitioner, Leon C. Rocker. This guardianship was established because Rocker's family members discovered Rocker was suffering from mental conditions and sent more than $100, 000 to individuals soliciting money over the Internet. In August 2013, the guardianship of Rocker's person was terminated in an agreed stipulation by Rocker and his guardian. In February 2015, respondent, First Financial Bank, was appointed successor guardian of Rocker's estate.

         ¶ 4 A. Petition To Terminate the Guardianship

         ¶ 5 In July 2016, Rocker filed a "Petition to Discharge Guardian and Terminate Guardianship." Rocker alleged he was no longer a disabled adult and no longer required a guardian. Rocker further alleged he "has the capacity to perform the tasks necessary for the management of his own person and estate." To his petition, Rocker attached a physician's report, in which two medical professionals, Dr. Timothy G. Roberts and Dr. James M. Whisenand, indicated Rocker no longer suffered from a disability preventing him from managing his estate.

         ¶ 6 B. First Hearing on Petition To Terminate the Guardianship

         ¶ 7 In November 2016, the trial court held a hearing on Rocker's petition to terminate the guardianship. At the hearing, the court heard testimony from Dr. Roberts, Dr. Whisenand, Rocker, and Lauren Kuntz.

         ¶ 8 Dr. Roberts testified as follows. In May 2016, he completed a physician's report, in which he indicated Rocker is capable of managing his own estate. Dr. Roberts has been involved in Rocker's guardianship proceedings since their initiation in 2011. Dr. Roberts initially advocated for the guardianship of Rocker's person and estate because Rocker's mental condition (bipolar disorder) caused him to be unable to manage his person or estate. However, in the past two or three years, Rocker's condition has improved, and Dr. Roberts no longer believes a guardianship is appropriate, despite the fact Rocker makes poor financial decisions. Dr. Roberts testified he is aware Rocker sends money to Internet solicitors, many of whom appear to be involved in scams. However, Dr. Roberts opined Rocker's decision to send money to others is no longer the product of a mental illness; rather, Dr. Roberts believes Rocker is decisional and is making this decision of his own volition. Dr. Roberts admitted Rocker's mental condition is of the type which could make him susceptible to financial manipulation; nonetheless, in his professional medical opinion, Dr. Roberts believes Rocker is capable of performing the tasks necessary to manage his own finances.

         ¶ 9 Dr. Whisenand, who provided a second opinion agreeing with Dr. Roberts's medical assessment, testified as follows. Rocker's bipolar disorder is a condition he will have throughout his lifetime, but bipolar disorder may be effectively managed and go into remission. In Dr. Whisenand's opinion, bipolar disorder does not necessarily make one more susceptible to manipulation, but he conceded that when an individual with bipolar disorder is symptomatic, the individual could be more susceptible to financial manipulation than if he or she was not symptomatic. When he spoke with Rocker, they did not discuss the specifics of his money transfers, but Dr. Whisenand was vaguely familiar with Rocker's practice of sending money to Internet solicitors. Dr. Whisenand indicated he was not concerned with the reasons why Rocker sent money to Internet solicitors; rather, he was concerned with whether Rocker was capable of making decisions free from the effects of bipolar disorder. Based upon his examination of Rocker, he believed Rocker was capable of making decisions free from the effects of bipolar disorder, even if those decisions were poor financial decisions. Dr. Whisenand did admit he believed sending money to Internet solicitors was not in Rocker's best interest.

         ¶ 10 Rocker testified as follows. He is a self-employed gardener and has between 35 and 50 clients. The money he makes from his gardening business is not managed by his guardian, First Financial Bank. He keeps the money, which is generally paid to him in cash or by check. He owns two rental units, which are managed by First Financial Bank through the guardianship, but he believes he can manage the rental units better than First Financial Bank. He receives a weekly stipend of $400 from First Financial Bank to be used for his essentials. He budgets his stipend to cover his essentials without needing to request more money from First Financial Bank. Rocker believes the guardianship should be terminated because he is capable of managing his estate.

         ¶ 11 Rocker testified he sends money to people in need for religious purposes, and he has continued to send money to others throughout the duration of the guardianship to several people. He uses the Internet, such as the website for "Lutheran World Relief, " to locate people in need, and he likes to send money directly to these people-rather than giving a lump sum to the organization-because he likes to talk to them and hear their stories. He communicates with these individuals over the phone or the Internet, and most state they are suffering from illness or extreme poverty. When he began sending money to these individuals, he would wire transfer the funds. Following the death of his partner, John Short, he began using Short's identity to wire money to individuals because several institutions had "cut him off" and would no longer allow him to send wire transfers. Now, he purchases money orders with cash and sends the money orders via Priority Mail. He indicated he wished he had sent money this way all along because "[i]t's untraceable, and there would be no invasion of my privacy with that matter."

         ¶ 12 On at least one occasion, Rocker had sent money not for an altruistic purpose but, rather, because he expected something in return. Rocker's late partner passed away in 2005. In 2014, Rocker was contacted by Prince Unomah Ezekor, who informed Rocker that he had just learned of Short's death and Short had left approximately $680, 000 for Rocker. This sum of money was being held in South Africa by the Bank of England, but Prince Unomah Ezekor needed Rocker to send money to cover taxes, "a gold seal, " and other expenses before the $680, 000 could be released to him. According to Rocker, the money was in transit at some point, but is currently being held in Turkey because the Turkish government requires payment of taxes. Rocker hired a South African attorney, through his contacts with the Bank of England, to represent his interests with respect to Short's estate. He has since sent approximately $800 to $1000 to individuals in connection with this scheme. Rocker believes this story because the Bank of England knew Short's Social Security number and his birth date and other information.

         ¶ 13 Rocker was previously the victim of a scam, created by Patricia Diane Clark, in which he lost $106, 750. Clark is currently serving a federal prison sentence in connection with this scam, and she has been ordered to pay restitution to the victims of her scam. The loss of this sum of money was the event which led Rocker's family to petition the trial court for a guardianship.

         ¶ 14 Kuntz, a trust officer for First Financial Bank, testified as follows. She is the trust officer handling Rocker's guardianship, and the monthly fee for First Financial Bank's trust services is 1.1% of the estate, which equates to approximately $500 per month in this case. His current income is derived from Social Security, an annuity, and rental income of approximately $2900 per month. When she speaks with Rocker, they discuss wire transfers and Rocker's estate, which is currently valued at approximately $420, 000. When Kuntz became aware of Rocker's wire transfers, she contacted local businesses to investigate these transfers. Between January and October 2016, Rocker had wired more than $9600 dollars to individuals in several countries, including Jamaica and South Africa. Kuntz was unaware Rocker had begun sending money orders instead of money wires, but Rocker has indicated to Kuntz he plans to continue sending money to individuals in need. Kuntz does not believe Rocker is capable of managing his finances and therefore believes the guardianship of his estate is still necessary. Kuntz stated she was not concerned about the reason why Rocker sent money to others; rather, she was concerned with the amount of money he sends and "whether or not he would have the resources to continue to take care of himself."

         ¶ 15 Following this testimony, the trial court concluded the hearing and ...


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