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Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of Deborah M. v. Deborah M

September 19, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. LPS0085)

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

Conservatorship of Deborah M.



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Deborah M., a Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5000 et seq.) conservatee, appeals the order finding she is gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder and is unable to provide for her basic personal needs of food, clothing, and shelter. She contends the court committed reversible instructional error and counsel's failure to object to the erroneous instruction constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. We disagree and affirm the order.


Deborah has been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, paranoid type. Since 2003 she has been psychiatrically hospitalized eight times. In March 2011, based on a report of Dr. Price declaring Deborah gravely disabled and unwilling to accept voluntary treatment, the court appointed a temporary conservator of the person and the estate. The matter of a permanent conservatorship was then set for trial before a jury.

Deborah's psychiatric symptoms are severe. On a severity scale of one to ten, with one being mild and ten being very severe, Deborah's schizophrenia is a nine. It manifests in extreme paranoia. Her face gets really tight and she gets rigid. She is angry all the time. She is very paranoid, angry, agitated, and accusatory.

Deborah's persecution delusions include a belief that her husband has twice broken her ribs, though there is no medical evidence of such injuries. She has reported 10 separate injuries she claims she suffered when in a locked psychiatric facility. There was a record of only one injury. She believes her ex-husband is poisoning the water in her home to harm her and will not shower because of the contaminated water.

Deborah will not eat because she believes her food is poisoned. At the time of trial, she was only eating one-third of the food provided because she believed it was poisoned. Deborah was also severely underweight. She is five feet five inches tall. When she was with the Turning Point mental health program in July 2010 she weighed 118 pounds; by February 2011 she weighed only 94 pounds. This significant weight loss was attributed to Deborah's food delusions. It could ultimately lead to death.

Deborah does not believe that she has a mental illness, that she needs to work with a mental health treatment agency, or that she needs medication. As a result, each time she is released from the hospital and her conservatorship ends, she stops participating in treatment, stops taking her medication, and decompensates. She then has to be hospitalized again. This pattern was repeated in 2008, 2009, and 2010. She had to be placed in a locked facility because she could not get along with staff in a less restrictive placement. When she is not medicated, her delusions about water and food resurface and are not sufficiently controlled. They are so intense she will not eat anything and will even refuse a sealed bottle of water. She is "completely unable to manage."

Dr. Quinn, the program manager at Nevada County Behavioral Health, testified as an expert in psychology and the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders. Carol Stanchfield, the program director for Turning Point, testified as an expert in mental health and the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of mental health disorders. Deputy Public Guardian Kate Darby testified about her role as Deborah's temporary conservator. Quinn, Stanchfield, and Darby have each had extensive experience with Deborah over the course of her various conservatorships. Each concluded Deborah was gravely disabled as a result of her mental illness.

Stanchfield's conclusion that Deborah was gravely disabled was based on Deborah's pattern since 2008, established over four conservatorships. In each instance, Deborah was hospitalized, and thereafter fully engaged in treatment and maintained her prescription medications. Upon discharge from the hospital, she continued to do well and engage in treatment until the conservatorship ended. Once the conservatorship ended and she was no longer ...

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