Marie Long, a 90-year old widow in Scottsdale, Arizona, is stuck in a probate nightmare that has left her penniless and on welfare while the case makes its way through the Arizona legal justice system.
She is now knocking on the doors of the court of last resort. Whether Marie Long gets one more hearing or not will depend on the Arizona Supreme Court's decision; they can either turn down her request for a hearing, or take it up.
The saga began in 2005 when Marie Long suffered a stroke and a family dispute ensued over where she should live and who should take care of her. She ended up in the hands of the Probate Court.
By 2009, her $1.3 million estate had been whittled down to nothing and Maricopa County Probate Commissioner Lindsay Ellis ruled that the estate's fiduciaries were within their rights in taking $840,000 out of the estate. The Sun Valley Group, which is now defunct, took $430,000 for its appointed duties as her care provider and guardian.
Such conflicts of interest are barred by the law, and Commissioner Ellis further complicated matters in the case by sending ex-parte communications to one side in the contested matter. Marie Long's lawyers, who were working pro-bono, appealed to the Superior Court which ruled that Commissioner Ellis was guilty of judicial misconduct, but the evidence did not prove bias.
The case moved to the Arizona Court of Appeals, which said the siphoning of funds from Marie Long's estate was inexcusable and so was Commissioner Ellis' conduct. The case prompted judicial and legislative reviews of the workings of the Probate Court and additional safeguards for protecting the rights of the vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Marie Long herself slipped through the cracks into welfare after her $1.3 million estate was wiped out. The Arizona Supreme Court now has to decide whether the 90-year old widow should get another hearing, and then decide whether she should get back her estate.