How an unwanted guardianship cost a firefighter his freedom and his fortune
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
March 22, 2008
Norman Baker is an American hero who has been detained against his will for more than three years.
His "crime": owning too much property.
His sentence: a court-appointed guardianship on the brink of costing him everything he spent his life building.
His rights in this case: virtually none, significantly less in many ways than an actual law-breaking criminal.
His future if this continues: long-term de facto imprisonment, followed by abject poverty, if he has anything left at all.
A retired firefighter who once helped save a child's life, Norman Baker is not suspected of terrorism. He has never been charged with any statutory infraction, and has never been in any kind of trouble with the law. But he has been stripped of his right to vote and access to his own assets, which appear to have been well in excess of $1 million as little as three years ago.
Until he was placed in a nursing home against his will by the court-appointed attorney he is trying to reject, Norman Baker owned and managed two dozen rental properties, many of which he designed and built himself. He also owned a 33-acre farm, with four horses, an array of tractors and other heavy farm implements, a carefully preserved century-old barn, a restored farmhouse from which he drew steady rental income, and a 3,000-square-foot brick home, which he also designed and built.
All Norman Baker's properties were free of any liens or mortgages. Before he was confined against his will to a nursing home, Norman Baker also had some $250,000 in cash and liquid investments above and beyond his real estate holdings. He rented his properties and lived a quiet, private life.
Today, without writing a check or using a credit card or making a single bad investment, Norman Baker has less than $20,000 in cash. Most of his rental properties are vacant. Some have been flooded. In one, a broken pipe has resulted in a water bill in excess of $19,000. Nearly all his properties, which were once entirely rented, are now vacant. Some have been seriously vandalized. A rental property business, which yielded a steady cash flow, is now bleeding cash every month.
Baker's farm implements—including a tractor owned by his brother---were sold by his unwanted guardian without his permission. The guardian also sold the slate off the roof of Norman’s carefully preserved antique hay barn, which may now be ruined by rainwater. The roof of his farm house has also been damaged and left unmended.
The comfortable brick ranch home Norman built by hand is boarded up and rotting. Its plush carpeting has apparently been stripped out. Its interior fixtures are gone or rotting. The concrete backyard swimming pool whose construction Baker oversaw is cracked and in ruins. When we visited the property, Baker could only peer into the windows of his wrecked home. It is posted against "trespassers."
At one point in his involuntary guardianship, a medical examiner hired at Norman's expense found him competent and recommended that he no longer need a guardian. But the attorney running Baker's guardianship refused to surrender control of Norman’s assets. He then brought back the same medical examiner for yet another examination. This doctor then proclaimed he "changed his mind" and that Norman needed a guardian after all. Norman was then billed some $2,000 for both examinations.
Since then, a Harvard-trained medical examiner has repeatedly tested Baker, who just turned 80. This doctor, whose most recent examination has been videotaped, has consistently found Baker competent to manage his own affairs and to hire his own professional help.
More than a year ago, a physician for the nursing home where Norman has been confined recommended that he be given an immediate discharge to the community. Baker walks three miles a day inside the home, and does his own laundry. He is dependent on no medications.