- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

The District will try to recoup money from the estate of indigent people who die in the city's care, often from neglect and abuse, a lawyer for the families of the deceased said yesterday.
Joseph Cammarata, who represents the estates of 10 individuals, accused D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams of going back on his promise to reform mental health care services in the District.
"The District of Columbia failed these people in life, and they're failing them in death," Mr. Cammarata said. "They're in essence spitting on their graves."
In February 2000, Mr. Williams ordered the suspension of liens against the estates of individuals who died in the care of the D.C. government, after a public uproar over the city's actions.
Mr. Cammarata said lawyers representing the mayor and the city refiled these claims against several of the deceased's estates earlier this month.
Mr. Williams "has directed his lawyers to repudiate his public promise, to make a first claim against any monies awarded to these estates, to recover all they can," Mr. Cammarata said.
These claims are a conflict of interest for the city, Mr. Cammarata said, because the District would benefit financially from the death of those in its care.
Peter Lavallee, a spokesman for the city's corporation counsel, called Mr. Cammarata's interpretation "misguided."
Mr. Lavallee said it is normal procedure for cities or states to place liens on the estates of those who receive Medicaid benefits but are unable to reimburse the city for the cost of care.
Mr. Lavallee said Mr. Williams suspended all liens a year ago in order to look at them case by case, and has decided that "liens may be appropriate in some cases."
Tony Bullock, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Cammarata has misrepresented the situation. Mr. Bullock said Mr. Williams remains committed to reforming the city's mental health care services and has made progress in the past year in implementing stricter licensing, monitoring and oversight.
"The city is not trying to dodge its responsibilities, and where we have some responsibilities, we'll own up to it," Mr. Bullock said.
Juanita DeButts, whose brother, Frederick Brandenburg, died in 1997 as a ward of the city, spoke out yesterday.
"I am dismayed and appalled that the mayor has instituted the claim against my brother's estate," Miss DeButts said.
Mr. Brandenburg, 57, was a mentally retarded man who died in the care facility where he lived. A report by the city found that the home was "out of compliance" in their care of Mr. Brandenburg. At one time, D.C. police considered classifying his death as a homicide.
The city is now seeking $440,000 from Mr. Brandenburg's estate.
"He was allowed to die, and nothing was done," Miss DeButts said.
"Where is the integrity? Where is the honesty? Why is Mayor Williams doing this? I don't understand."
In December 1999, another ward of the city died under questionable circumstances.
The U.S. Department of Justice had already reported the city's negligent care of Wayne Moxley, including the use of heavy doses of psychotropic medication, which reached toxic levels in his blood.
The department requested that the District conduct an investigation into Mr. Moxley's death using outside investigators, but Mr. Cammarata said the city conducted its own internal investigation.
The city is seeking $1.1 million from Mr. Moxley's estate.
The 10 families represented by Mr. Cammarata, of Chaikin & Sherman P.C., have filed lawsuits claiming abuse and negligence by the city in its care of the deceased. Each suit was seeking around $10 million per count. Miss DeButts' suit has seven counts.
Mr. Bullock and Mr. Lavallee said five cases against the city have already been dismissed, and one in which the city did not pursue money from a lien has been settled.
In the remaining cases, Mr. Bullock said the city "has to defend itself and the people who live here and pay taxes."
Mr. Cammarata said any awards for the families will ultimately mean greater accountability.
"Compensation is measured by dollars," he said.


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