A Milwaukee couple charged with unlawfully taking title to a mentally incompetent woman's house have won the house back in the state Court of Appeals — at least for now.
Before they were charged with crimes, Orlin and Craig Root-Thalman were involved in a probate court case about their 92-year-old neighbor. In the fall of 2016, social services workers had become suspicious the Root-Thalmans might be financially exploiting the woman, who had no children.
The county's Department of Aging petitioned for temporary guardianship, alleging she was suffering dementia. She had given the couple her home via a quitclaim deed and gave them powers of attorney for her finances and health care in July 2016.
The Root-Thalmans attended a hearing as interested parties.
Milwaukee Circuit Judge David Borowski seemed skeptical of the Root-Thalmans' explanations that they had moved the neighbor to a hotel while they renovated her home so she could move back in and that they were merely trying to consolidate her nearly $2 million in savings from more than a dozen area banks into one account.
Borowski granted the temporary guardianship and voided the July 2016 quitclaim deed conveying the woman's property to the Root-Thalmans. Months later, at the end of 2017, the Root-Thalmans were charged with crimes.
Those cases are pending, but the Court of Appeals late last month reversed Borowski's decision to void the property transfer because the Root-Thalmans were never given notice their property rights might be in jeopardy at the guardianship hearing and never had the chance to hire an attorney or prepare a defense.
"In addition, the circuit court repeatedly prevented Orlin from testifying in response to questions from the attorneys and from the court itself. Craig was not given any opportunity to testify," the court wrote.
The guardian Borowski appointed in 2016, lawyer Eamon Guerin, could still try to undo the transfer on behalf of the woman, in a separate action, the court wrote. He said he expects to pursue an action soon.
In the criminal complaint, prosecutors charged that the filing of the quitclaim deed was a felony: "The deed was false and a sham because J.H. lacked the mental competence to validly execute the deed. She could not, as the deed attests, 'acknowledge' the meaning and import of the deed. By filing this false and sham deed, the defendants committed the crime of Criminal Slander to Title."
Craig Root-Thalman is scheduled for a plea hearing in July.
Orlin Root-Thalman has been vigorously litigating his case. His attorney, Justin Singleton, argued that complaint should be dismissed because prosecutors withheld facts that tended to favor Orlin Root-Thalman and misstated others. He sought sanctions against the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, as well.
A judge ruled against the defense. And Singleton withdrew his motion for sanction.
Benkley filed his own motion for sanctions against Singleton for bringing what the state calls frivolous motions. He sought a reimbursement to the state for more than $1,000 for the time Benkley said he spent responding to the defense motions.
A judge is scheduled to rule on that motion Friday.
Appeals court returns elderly woman's house to couple charged with stealing it
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