Woman battles unintended consequences of conservatorship bill - WSMV News 4

Woman battles unintended consequences of conservatorship bill

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Reba Sherrill (WSMV file photo) Reba Sherrill (WSMV file photo)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Reba Sherrill’s legal bill for a lawyer she didn’t want and didn’t hire: $13,469.19.

"Oh my God!" she said when the News 4 I-Team showed her the 11-page detailed bill.

The I-Team first told you about Sherrill's case last week.

Davidson County's Probate Judge Randy Kennedy appointed attorney Cathryn Armistead in August to look after Sherrill's affairs.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center asked the judge to do that since Sherrill was a patient there and was about to be discharged.

Vanderbilt's lawyers told the judge that Sherrill had a borderline personality disorder and couldn't make her own decisions. Vanderbilt’s motion said no family members were able or willing to step in.

The same day Vanderbilt made the request, Judge Kennedy appointed Armistead at $175 an hour to arrange for Sherrill to be transferred to another facility and to handle the financial transactions. It's help Sherrill said was unneeded.

"I didn't want this. I didn't need this. Why should I pay for something that they sought?" she said.

Sherrill hired her own lawyers and went to court Oct. 11. She fought for, and won her freedom.  Armistead was removed as her fiduciary.

The I-Team showed Sherrill what Armistead is billing her for: dozens of legal meetings, emails and phone calls, as well as a trip to Whole Foods grocery store, on the clock at $175 an hour to purchase and deliver food, soap and shampoo.

“Oh my God, you have got to be kidding me; $437.50. Do you know how much food she brought? It was half a bag! Half a bag! Has this woman lost her mind?" Sherrill said.

Armistead charged $437 to make a two and a half hour trip to the store, not including the cost of the food.

Sherrill said Whole Foods could have had delivered the groceries.

“I didn't need her. I didn't need anybody," she said. "Myself and my family should not be penalized for this mess that Vanderbilt created."

How does something like this happen? Who gave hospitals the right to have someone appointed to take over their patient's lives?

The legislature did, in 2013. Rep. Andrew Farmer introduced an amendment to a conservatorship bill that he explained would help hospitals free up bed space.

"If we have folks in a hospital unable to make decisions for themselves, the hospital has the authority to move them from the hospital to a nursing home," Farmer said before the 2013 vote.

Rep. Bill Dunn questioned it at the time, asking why the amendment wasn't debated in the committee system.

"It just sort of sends off alarms when something like this shows up," Dunn said.

Farmer said before the vote that it did not go through the committee system.

"It did not. It did not. It was an oversight on my part. I was approached by Vanderbilt and a couple of other hospitals." Farmer said in 2013.

Dunn watched our story about Reba Sherrill. He said he's concerned about how Vanderbilt used the new law to take over Sherrill's life.

"Just by watching the story it's obvious this was not what the legislature intended," Dunn told the I-Team.

The law gives fiduciaries very limited powers.

Armistead's own bills show she took on far more responsibilities at $175 an hour.

"It's obvious you shouldn't be charging someone 400-plus dollars to go to the grocery store," Dunn told the I-Team.

We found Armistead also billed for conversations with the man Sherrill has been divorced from for 10 years.

“Oh my God! She wrote to my ex-husband! Holy cow!” Sherrill said when she saw the legal bill.

The detailed billing showed Armistead also charged for investigating the value of Sherrill's house.

"And she demanded a key to my home; why? I'm not there," Sherrill said.

The legal bills show Armistead charged for repeatedly contacting Sherrill's attorney in Florida – an attorney who helped Sherrill win a million-dollar settlement after she was hit by a car.

Armistead got the judge to sign a court-order instructing the Florida lawyer to send the $1 million to the court system in Davidson County. That money would then become available to help pay the very lawyers who had taken control of Sherrill's life.

"That's what this whole thing was about. They wanted the money. If I was broke, do you really think they would bother with me?" Sherrill said.

Armistead did not return a call from the I-Team.

"In this case you all did a good job in discovering it, which will allow us to take a deeper look at the issue," Dunn told the I-Team.

Dunn said he wants the legislature to see if what happened to Reba Sherrill is an isolated case or an example of a glitch in the law that needs to be fixed.

"Oh yeah, I'm angry all right. Number one, they claim they are protecting the individual. I don't feel protected Nancy, I feel violated," Sherrill said.

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