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The People v. Christi Schoenbachler

February 29, 2012

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CHRISTI SCHOENBACHLER, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Monterey County Super. Ct. No. SS062140) Trial Court: Monterey County Superior Court No.: SS062140 Trial Judge: The Honorable Terrance R. Duncan

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rushing, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Following a bench trial, the trial court convicted Christi Schoenbachler of grand theft and financial elder abuse, both felonies, and two counts of misdemeanor elder abuse. She claims that there was insufficient evidence for the court to impose the misdemeanor convictions, but that if we disagree then the sentences on those counts must be stayed. As a second alternative, she claims that the trial court erred in convicting her of certain of the crimes as multiple offenses when they constituted but a single offense.

We will order the abstract of judgment modified to stay one sentence, but affirm the judgment as so modified.

Procedural Background

The trial court convicted defendant of financial abuse of an elder (Former Pen. Code, § 368, subd. (e); Stats. 2002, ch. 369, § 2, p. 1424)*fn1 and grand theft (§ 487, subd. (a)), both felonies, and two misdemeanor counts of elder abuse (§ 368, subd. (c)). It sentenced her to two years in prison.

Facts

Defendant and her mother, Lisa Karen MacAdams, are the granddaughter and daughter of the victim, Elsie Brooks, who was in her seventies at the time of the crimes. They drained Brooks's fortune either without her knowledge or by coercion when she lived with or near them in Monterey County from 2002 to 2005, eventually reducing her to near-destitution and, having so reduced her, abandoning her.*fn2

Brooks had been living independently and in good mental and physical health in San Luis Obispo County when she moved to Monterey County in 2002 to live with defendant and MacAdams. She had managed her own finances in San Luis Obispo County and had long shared her financial bounty with her family, including defendant, MacAdams, and a son to whom she lent $320,000 (a loan on which he soon defaulted).

When Brooks moved to Monterey County, she had considerable cash on hand. She had sold her prior residence, a mobile home, for a $68,000 profit. She had an annuity worth $90,000, and she owned a collection of jewelry and gold coins worth about $250,000, according to her estimate at trial. She also had social security income of $950 per month.

Brooks gave defendant and MacAdams authority to draw checks on her bank account with the understanding that they would handle her finances in a responsible and fiduciary manner. She wanted them to handle the finances so that she would not have to deal with them. However, on one occasion she asked to see the bank records and defendant and MacAdams put her off, telling her not to concern herself about them.

At one point Brooks checked herself into a care center called Sun Bridge for physical therapy. Brooks liked to consume alcohol and also hoped that the stay at Sun Bridge would cure her of the habit. She was there for about two months. At the same time, defendant and MacAdams, with Brooks's knowledge, vacated the residence they had shared with Brooks. When Brooks emerged, she discovered that defendant and MacAdams had sold some $200,000 to $250,000 of her jewelry and her furniture--acts that she had not authorized.

When Brooks left Sun Bridge, defendant and MacAdams declined to have Brooks live with them, asserting that they could not accommodate her. They moved her to a facility called Tender Loving Care, a facility that was mice-ridden, filthy, and the abode of other residents who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and would scream throughout the night.

Defendant told Brooks that the only way for her to leave the Tender Loving Care facility was for her to authorize the liquidation of her annuity. In desperation, Brooks agreed to the plan. The annuity was redeemed for $87,000. Brooks expected that the money would be used solely to fund her living expenses, but defendant and MacAdams also used it for their own purposes, including payment of rent and business expenses, without Brooks's authorization.

Part of the annuity money was used, however, to rent a condominium for Brooks and another individual in Pacific Grove, with a rent-sharing arrangement. Later, the other tenant moved out and defendant and MacAdams moved in, sharing the condominium with Brooks.

Eventually Brooks confronted defendant with an ultimatum that she would give her family members no more money. Defendant and MacAdams replied that in that case within three days Brooks would be returned to Sun Bridge (which had been renamed the Monterey Care Center), confined in a hospital, or taken away by the police. Brooks went back to the Monterey Care Center.

On this point, Brooks testified as follows on direct examination:

"[Defendant] had plans to go to Harvard and move back east, and everybody moving right along, and--and it just didn't sit well with me, because of what I just went through for the last year and some, and I said, no, no more money.

"Q. You said that to [defendant]?

"A. I said that to [defendant], yes.

"[¶] . . . [¶]

"Q. Okay. And so what happened when you told her she wasn't going to get this money?

"A. Well, I was told three days, I either was going to be taken away by the police, or I could go to the Peninsula hospital, again, and go into Monterey Care Center, which was [formerly] . . . Sun Bridge.

"[¶] . . . [¶]

"Q. So they gave you three days to get out?

"A. Pack up . . . what I could and get out.

"Q. And so what did you do?

"A. I didn't want to go to the police, and I didn't want to be standing in the street, so I went to the hospital.

"[¶] . . . [¶]

"Q. And . . . when you went to the, to the hospital to check in, what . . . were you able to bring with you . . . ?

"A. Just . . . my suitcase, with a few clothes and my toothbrush, if you will, and that's it."

Some months later, Monterey Care Center staff called Brooks to the facility's front door, informing her "that some members of the family were throwing containers and different things." Brooks saw defendant, MacAdams, and another relative throw boxes of clothing and other items, including her jewelry box, from a van. The lock on the jewelry box was broken and the box was empty. When Brooks gestured to MacAdams to come over and talk with her, MacAdams waved, got into the van, and departed with defendant. Brooks did not see either of her two descendants again until the time of trial.

Brooks's remaining property consisted of the material defendant and the others had discarded onto the sidewalk: three containers of belongings, two boxes of clothing, and the rifled jewelry box. One of the unwanted containers contained "family albums, and [MacAdams's] little baby pictures, which I have, and bronze shoes." Brooks stood on the sidewalk and soon began to cry.

Thereafter Brooks returned to San Luis Obispo County, where she resumed living independently and once ...


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