Cher Files for Son’s Conservatorship
Celebrity Lawyer Christopher C. Melcher, who is ranked as a best family law attorney in California, explains why Cher is filing a conservatorship for her son Elijah Blue.
Cher’s filed a petition for control of the finances of her son, Elijah Blue Allman, saying his struggles with addiction and mental health have left him unable to manage his money. The 47-year-old Allman receives money from a trust left by his late father musician Gregg Allman, but an LA judge refused to immediately put Allman into the conservatorship that Cher seeking and he is opposing. The court will take up the issue again at another hearing on January 29th. Joining me is top family law attorney Chris Melcher, a partner at Walzer Melcher and Yoda, which was named a best family law firm in California for several years. So is Cher asking for a conservatorship over his finances or over his person?
Conservatorship Over the Estate
Chris Melcher (23:14):
The petition for a conservatorship over the estate, which would give her control over his financial affairs. She did not check the box for conservatorship over the person, which is the most restrictive type of conservatorship that would’ve given her control over essentially his body, where he goes and who he sees, where he lives, medical decisions, those type of things were not requested. It was over financial affairs only.
So this is different from let’s say the Britney Spears conservatorship?
That’s right. Brittany found herself under the most restrictive type of conservatorship possible where all of her liberties were essentially stripped from her and granted to her father because that was a conservatorship of the person and also of the estate.
Well explain why she’s asking for this conservatorship?
Why Cher is Requesting Conservatorship
Chris Melcher (24:15):
A conservatorship over the estate, meaning financial affairs, can be imposed for an adult when that person is unable to resist fraud or undue influence usually because of some kind of health condition. So Cher is claiming that Elijah Blue has a history of substance abuse problems that have been severe. I think Elijah Blue acknowledges that he’s had these problems. I mean, how could he not? He’s been in and out of rehab. So Cher is under the belief that if Elijah Blue had access to all of his money, and apparently there was going to be some other big distributions, I think coming up, that he would waste all the money on drugs or be taken advantage of, and that this was such a severe problem he has, that it could kill him- that it’s not just that his money would be gone- but that he would take so many drugs that he would die. It is the peril or risk that Cher was alleging to grant her financial control over his life.
And so what factors does a judge weigh in determining this?
The first question is in this type of situation is, can Elijah Blue resist fraud and undue influence? So what physical or psychological problem does Elijah Blue have that would prohibit him or keep him from resisting efforts to defraud him or efforts to take advantage of him? That’s the standard under the California Probate Code. The probate code in this particular situation doesn’t say anything about drug or alcohol abuse, substance abuse problems. It’s talking about the inability of an adult to resist fraud or undue influence such that we need to take away that adult’s ability to manage their own financial affairs and place them into the hands of another. So again, she’s a little bit off base in terms of the box that she needs to fit into for conservatorship over the estate because the California probate code doesn’t say that someone who might waste their money on drugs or alcohol needs to have the right to manage that money taken away, that’s not the test.
What Cher Needs to Establish
So here she would need to establish that this substance abuse problem that he has, rises to such an extreme level, that if he had management over his bank account, for example, that someone would somehow convince him to give them all of that money. Basically defraud him or pressure him to spend money on things that a normal adult would not do, taking advantage of some position or trust and confidence, these types of things. She just has not been able to develop that evidence because I don’t think she has this day-to-day relationship with him to know even who these folks are other than the wife that at the time was filing for divorce, that she alleged that certainly would not be an appropriate person to manage his affairs because they were going through a divorce at that time. Cher doesn’t have access to the information to know who are these people who are going to take advantage of him?
Have people in the past taken advantage of him? Why can’t Elijah Blue resist efforts to defraud or exert undue influence over him compared to any other adult? And I would just note that there are plenty of high functioning sophisticated adults who are defrauded. What happens in fraud cases is that there’s con men or confidence men that are experts at obtaining trust and confidence in others for purposes of defrauding them. And it’s humiliating and horrible. But look at the Madoff scam. There were very sophisticated investors who were defrauded by Madoff who don’t need to be under a conservatorship. So this level of inability to resist fraud and undue influence has to be so severe that there are no less restrictive means available other than removing Elijah Blue’s ability to manage his own finances and place them in Cher’s hands.
He also said that he’s been sober for more than three months, is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and is willing to submit to drug tests.
Does Elijah Need a Conservatorship?
Chris Melcher (29:02):
Yeah, that was an unusual request in a conservatorship case, that initial stages like we have right now, the question is whether he even needs one or not. And Elijah Blue is saying, no, I don’t. And that although he appreciates the sentiment by his mother that this is unwelcome meddling and that she should kind of mind her own business essentially is what his response was. He also said that while he has had severe problems with drug and alcohol abuse in the past that he’s been sober, he’s going to AA, and then he volunteered to submit to some testing. Now, the way that I read that response is not to submit to court orders for compliance, but it was just a showing that he recognizes that he has a problem and that he is managing it as best as he can, and he doesn’t need to have his rights taken away from him.
There are other devices legally available to someone who is unable to care for themselves as a result of some severe drug and alcohol problems. And that would hopefully start with somebody voluntarily checking themselves into a rehab program which he has done previously. And the benefit of that is that if he’s doing so voluntarily, there’s probably a better chance of him succeeding because this is his own desire to get help rather than being forced upon him or that he’s going through the motions of a rehab because of some court case that he wants to get out of. And that’s not as probably effective. If someone is unable to do that and has such a serious problem that they’re unable to care for themselves or that they’re a danger to others, then the state of California has the authority to protect him from himself or others by imposing a 5150 psychiatric hold on him.
And again, that’s in a very severe situation, not just for drug abuse, it would have to be to the level where he is unable to care for himself or such that he’s a danger to himself or others. So that is a state imposed mechanism that takes away temporarily his rights for his own protection that is not what a mother would do for a son. So again, that protection already exists for a limited period that the state could do. The state hasn’t done that. And so that would indicate that his problems may not be as severe as Cher claims because why hasn’t the state put a 5150 hold on him?
So I think when Elijah Blue came to court in person, he showed up from the photographs of him walking out, he looked healthy. He was certainly not missing as Cher had insinuated that he had gone missing. He was there in person. I know that Cher did not show up in person. So I think the chances of Cher getting this conservatorship are very low, especially the way that she handled some of the things procedurally it was not a good look for her in court.
Cher’s Attorneys Won’t Share Information
Yeah, there was this strange thing that the judge said that Cher’s attorneys were unwilling to share material with Allman’s attorneys and that she’s lawyers said they had confidentiality concerns and shared the documents instead with Allman’s court appointed lawyer. So he has a court appointed lawyer and his own lawyer.
Chris Melcher (32:37):
Well, he did. These conservatorships are a deprivation of liberty. This is the court taking away somebody’s liberty interests in this particular case, a request to take away ability to manage an adult’s financial affairs and placing them in the hands of another adult. So for this to be imposed, there’s a couple of things that need to happen. One is notice has to be given. It has to be, I think it’s 15 days of notice to the proposed conservatee, Elijah Blue, that he has to be brought to court in person unless he’s truly missing. He has to be brought to court in person so that the court can make its own assessment. The court will also have a social worker do an assessment, and then he has a right to counsel. And so the court will appoint that counsel for him. He also has a right to hire his own attorney. And so when the court made its initial orders that appointed counsel for him, and again, this is really without any opportunity for him to say anything. And then once he found out about it, he hired his own attorney and that attorney contacted Cher’s attorney and said, look, we need all the court papers that you filed.
And they said, no, that is unusual, isn’t it? No, you can’t have the court papers.
Elijah Blue’s Rights Being Violated
Chris Melcher (33:59):
It’s a horrific violation of his rights. And this is what happened to Britney Spears. It was even worse. The court there at the Los Angeles Superior Court violated her rights under the probate code by imposing a conservatorship over her without notice while she was under a 5150 hold and appointed counsel for her. And when she hired her own attorney at Shepherd Mullen, that attorney came into court to advocate on her behalf and was thrown out of court and said, we won’t recognize you. So here, this had the kind of similar bad vibes about it where Elijah Blue, who obviously has sufficient capacity to hire a lawyer, hires a lawyer and Cher’s attorneys, won’t give him the information that he needs to respond to a request to take away his rights, citing his own privacy. I mean, how could Elijah Blue’s privacy rights being violated by providing information to Elijah Blue?
It’s absolutely ludicrous. And so this is an overreaching by Cher’s attorney. And the court was very critical of Cher for doing that because again, the whole concept here is that we have one adult who is in such despair that they are unable to properly care for themselves and can’t resist fraud or undue influence such that Mom needs to come in there and take care of him. But then Mom isn’t respecting the right that Elijah Blue has to at least see the court papers (he saw some of them, but not all of them) and at least see all of the court papers that she had filed that again calls into question her motivations. Why is she doing this? Why is she acting so quickly to take away his financial rights when I think there is maybe some distributions coming in there, so she could get control over them, without giving him a fair chance to even see all of the court papers that she’s filing against him or communicate with his own chosen attorney.
And then I would also note that if his problems are so severe, why didn’t she check the box for conservatorship over the person? Because if he’s such a danger that he’s going to go and take drugs and kill himself, well then why wouldn’t she force him into rehab? Because that’d be the only true way of protecting him. I mean, he doesn’t need a lot of money to get access to dangerous drugs and kill himself, but she’s only sought the control over his finances, but she did not seek the ability to force him into a rehab, which is the help that he would truly need if she were correct. So this is, again, a complete misfire by her. And I don’t know what her true motivations are, but it raises the hypothesis or theory that she is more interested in obtaining control over his finances than truly protecting him.
Elijah Blue’s Next Hearing
The judge obviously denied the conservatorship at this point and scheduled another hearing for January 29th. Are judges much more reluctant to impose any kind of conservatorship in the light of the Britney Spear conservatorship?
One of the benefits that came out of Britney Spears’ abusive conservatorship is that there is more attention being paid on these, at least the celebrity conservatorship cases. And unfortunately for the non-celebrities-who is really watching those cases? It’s really up to the court, the court appointed attorney and the social workers who are doing the investigations that are expected to protect these folks who allegedly need protection so that they’re not taken advantage of by the conservators who are placed in control of their lives. So certainly after Britney, and I think we are seeing a Britney effect here in the Cher case, that the judge is acting appropriately and stepping up quickly and criticizing Cher for not having observed the rights of her son to have counsel of his own choosing. And for that counsel to at least see all the court papers that were filed and they’re taking a much more appropriate look at it.
Because again, as we’ve been discussing here, there are some logical problems with what Cher is asking for. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a parent to have a child who has long-term substance abuse problems. And I’m sure it’s very scary for her and she feels helpless and she wants to act and do all this, and it’s I’m sure horrible what she’s going through in trying to protect her son, but the way she’s going about it is not legally correct and is probably not likely to succeed. And fortunately, we have a judge here on the case that is protecting his rights.
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