I don't often cover stories like this on C&L, but Danny Tate is an old friend of mine who has lived back in Nashville and Arkansas for a long time. He's a very talented musician who has had great success as a solo artist and working for TV and other musicians. However, drug addiction has turned his life into a nightmare -- much of it caused by his own doing, but it led to a scenario that's straight out of Kafka. Drug addiction is a powerful disease and it touches family members mightily, so I can understand his brother's decision to take action, but Danny's never been charged with anything at all and a lot of it has turned downright bad.
How this hearing actually came about, though, is a mystery. There was no motion to set a hearing, according to court records. No process served to Tate. No police reports demanding urgent action. No one seemed to know anything about it except for Tate's brother and his attorney, Paul Housch.
And yet Judge Kennedy — with no evidence before him but David Tate's say-so, and with no notice or due process given to Tate himself so that he might contest the petition — allowed David to freeze Tate's assets in an ex parte "emergency" hearing, filings indicate. In the rap of a gavel, the ruling effectively removed every citizen's right Tate previously enjoyed.
Tate had no idea that the power of attorney he'd signed that summer to give David the ability to pay his bills while he was in rehab had already been used against him. Only days before the hearing, David used it to pay Housch a $25,000 retainer, which the attorney would earn stripping Tate's rights.
A few weeks later, with only 12 days' notice of the follow-up hearing and no ability to write a check to hire his own attorney, Tate showed up to court with a neighbor who had no experience in this area of law simply to plead for a continuance pro bono. Neither Tate nor his neighbor was provided with any of the evidence upon which his disability was to be determined that day. They weren't even given a report submitted a few days before the hearing by the chief witness — a child psychiatrist without any certification in addiction medicine, who nevertheless labeled Tate disabled. Only after the hearing, once his fate was set in stone and the conservatorship was in place, was an attorney of Kennedy's choosing appointed to counsel Tate
What makes this situation much worse is that he has to pay legal fees on both sides, and even if he wins, he'll be broke.
This case highlights an issue that hasn't been mentioned much: Guardianship Abuse.
"Due process in the guardianship system has always been a substantial concern," said Sally Hurme, an attorney and senior project manager with the AARP.
The organization recommends granting the allegedly disabled person the right to come to a hearing, requiring notice of an emergency hearing and an explanation of the emergency, and mandating that a lawyer always be appointed as an advocate for someone said to be disabled.
Hoskins said he believes Danny Tate's case never would have gotten this far if Tate could have gotten a good lawyer from the start.
Unlike the right to counsel in criminal cases, the right to a lawyer in civil cases like conservatorship proceedings is not constitutionally guaranteed.
The fact that he didn't have the right to an attorney during the hearing on competency is unsettling. Once again, I can understand his brother's initial impulse to try and help Danny if that was the case, but what happened afterward is pretty shocking.
Judge Kennedy's decisions in this case are ridiculous. He's ignored evidence from Dr. Robert Murray, the medical director at Cumberland Heights and accepted evidence from a Dr. Kenner, who admits that he has no knowledge of addiction. He once was called as an expert witness and told the court that a young girl killed her mother while she was sleeping.
Danny has brought all of this on by his own behavior, but the laws and the rulings by Judge Kennedy are not consistent and it calls to question how your rights can be stripped away without having an attorney present.
There's a Facebook page designed by a group called Friends for Danny Tate's Defense.
Read the entire Nashville Scene piece for a very in depth account. It's surprising how well written this in depth article is by Brantley Hargrove. I know I shouldn't be because there are great journalists still working, but he covered all sides pretty fairly.
UPDATE: The AP has picked up the story: Rights lost to conservator, songwriter fights back
He is gearing up for a May 24 hearing to determine whether he is competent to take charge of his life again.
This time he'll have a lawyer. The upcoming hearing was ordered by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in December after the songwriter argued he was entitled to a chance to get out of the legal arrangement or appeal it.
David Tate won't say whether he will ask the judge to keep him in charge of his brother's affairs. He maintains that he stepped in to save his brother's life.
More than $200,000 has been spent on legal fees so far, court records show. The upcoming hearing is expected to eat up thousands more.
You may have a different take on it than me and that's quite alright, but what we can agree is that Kafka has nothing on it.