In re LEON C. ROCKER, an Alleged Disabled Adult
First Financial Bank, as Guardian of the Estate of Leon C. Rocker, Respondent-Appellee. Leon C. Rocker, Petitioner-Appellant,
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.
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
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
15 Following this testimony, the trial court concluded the
hearing and ...