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Conservatorship of Person

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fifth Division

October 31, 2019

Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of D.P., PUBLIC GUARDIAN OF THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Petitioner and Respondent,
D.P., Objector and Appellant.


          APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles No. ZE041308, Robert Harrison, Judge. Affirmed.

          Christopher Lionel Haberman, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Objector and Appellant.

         No appearance for Petitioner and Respondent.

          KIM, J.


         The Public Guardian of the County of Los Angeles (County) filed a petition under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS Act) (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5000 et seq.)[1] for reappointment as the conservator of appellant D.P., alleging that he was gravely disabled as the result of a mental disorder. Following a trial at which the jury found D.P. to be gravely disabled, the trial court granted the petition and ordered reappointment of the County as D.P.'s conservator.

         On appeal from the reappointment order, D.P. contends, among other things, that the trial court committed prejudicial error by failing to instruct the jury on an element necessary to the gravely disabled finding. In the published portion of this opinion, we hold that the trial court properly instructed the jury using the applicable statutory definition of gravely disabled. In the unpublished portion this opinion, we address and reject D.P.'s other contentions on appeal. We therefore affirm the trial court's reappointment order.


         A. Petition for Reappointment of Conservator

         On February 26, 2018, the trial court notified D.P. and the County that the one-year LPS conservatorship established for D.P. under section 5350 would terminate on April 24, 2018. On March 9, 2018, the County filed a petition for reappointment as the conservator of the person and estate of D.P., setting the initial hearing on the petition for April 3, 2018. Following various continuances and D.P.'s April 16, 2018, request for jury trial detailed below, the trial court set the matter for jury trial on July 6, 2018.

         B. Jury Trial

         Jury trial commenced on July 6, 2018, with Dr. Loreta Mulokas testifying for the County and D.P. testifying on his own behalf.

         1. Dr. Mulokas's Testimony

         Dr. Mulokas, a board certified geriatric psychiatrist, had evaluated patients with mental disorders for 32 years. She had testified as an expert in court over 100 times.

         D.P. was first admitted to Dr. Mulokas's psychiatric unit at the West Los Angeles Veterans Hospital in May 2017. He was transferred from a medical floor to the “geriatric psych[] ward” due to behavioral issues.

         During the past year, as the regular psychiatrist in the unit, Dr. Mulokas saw D.P. on a daily basis during her morning rounds. She also conducted more in-depth evaluations of him every two or three months.

         In preparation for her trial testimony, Dr. Mulokas reviewed D.P.'s current psychiatric medical records and consulted with the hospital treatment team involved in his care. Based on her interviews with D.P., her review of his records, and her consultations with his treatment team, Dr. Mulokas opined that he suffered from a mental illness-schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. He initially presented with symptoms of paranoia and hallucinations, but had improved with treatment that included psychiatric medication.

         Dr. Mulokas confirmed that D.P.'s schizoaffective diagnosis was consistent with a mental disorder defined in the DSM-5.[2] According to Dr. Mulokas, “[s]chizoaffective disorder diagnostic criteria include psychotic symptoms, which are persistent after mood symptoms are... resolved....” In the past, D.P. exhibited “agitated depression with psychotic symptoms, ” as well as “[paranoia] which led him to hostility, distrust in [his] treatment team[] and in roommates, [and] cause[d] him to become aggressive [and] throw[] things at staff... like feces[] and his diapers....”

         D.P.'s behavior had improved recently, but he “still engaged in socially inappropriate behavior....” In one recent incident, D.P. “exposed himself inappropriately in the day room... [by taking] off his wetted diaper... and [throwing] it on the floor in front of other patients.”

         D.P.'s currently prescribed psychiatric medications to treat his schizoaffective disorder included: a mood stabilizer, depakote; an antidepressive medication, duloxetine; and another antidepressant, trazodone. At the time of trial, D.P. was compliant in taking his medications and did not require “prompting” to ensure compliance. Although D.P. believed that he did not need medication and did not believe he had a mental illness, he accepted the treatment imposed on him. But, according to Dr. Mulokas, D.P. would still stay in bed all day unless “prompted” to get up and move to the day room.

         Dr. Mulokas explained that D.P. did not have “insight into his mental disorder, ” i.e., he did not, or could not, acknowledge or understand that he suffered from a mental disorder for which he needed treatment. In Dr. Mulokas's opinion, D.P. could not treat his mental illness on his own without assistance and could not “provide for his own basic food, clothing, and shelter [needs] without taking [his] medication.” Dr. Mulokas believed D.P. needed to “be treated in [a] secured psychiatric setting with medical privileges... because he ha[d] certain medical conditions which [needed] to be closely supervised and treated.”[3] To her knowledge, D.P. had not “ever successfully lived independently in the community without supervision.” When she discussed with him where he would live if released, he replied, “‘If I go to the street, I will find out.'” Although D.P. had supplemental social security income, he did not have veterans benefits and could not handle his own finances.

         In Dr. Mulokas's opinion, D.P. lacked sufficient insight to be a “meaningfully [voluntary] patient” and he was “currently gravely disabled due to a mental disorder such that he need[ed] to remain in a conservatorship....”

         2. D.P.'s Testimony

         D.P. believed he had schizophrenia and that he was “manic depressive.” He admitted he had depression in the past to the point where he did not want to get out of bed. D.P. also acknowledged that he needed psychiatric treatment and was therefore willing to continue to see a psychiatrist and take his medications on an outpatient basis. He also wanted to continue treatment for his medical issues, including his metastatic prostate cancer.

         According to D.P., if released from the conservatorship, he would coordinate with a social worker to find housing. Before he was hospitalized, he lived on the streets; he was not homeless, he was “a street person.” He received $800 per month in social security benefits and knew where to obtain food and clothing.

         On cross examination, D.P. clarified that he did not believe he had a mental illness; he had “a psychosis....” But his psychosis was “temporary” and could be treated with medication. If he were released from the conservatorship, he would obtain his medication “from some doctor somewhere. Either a pharmacy, the [Department of Veterans Affairs] or a clinic, wherever.” He believed he needed to be treated by a doctor and take medication and promised to “follow up” if released.

         In terms of housing, D.P. explained that he would “work with the [Department of Veterans Affairs], get some type of housing or a room, or whatever.” He believed his $800 monthly social security benefit would be “sufficient on the streets.”

         C. Verdict and Order Reappointing Conservator

         Following testimony and argument, the jury returned a verdict finding that D.P. was “presently gravely disabled due to a mental disorder.” Based on the verdict, the trial court granted the County's petition and issued an order reappointing the County as the ...

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