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Next Kane public guardian pledges less interference

Ulrich holds picture his cousWhitney Zenker who has been Kane County morgue since last October despite next k(cousins) attempts get

Ulrich holds a picture of his cousin Whitney Zenker who has been in the Kane County morgue since last October, despite next of kin (cousins) attempts to get him cremated and his ashes spread at a ranch in Utah. Instead, Zenker was buried in Ulrich's future grave site where he would be beside his wife. Due to the circumstances, Ulrich wanted his cousin to be laid to rest. March 2, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:11AM

John Ulrich was more than a little excited when I told him the news. He used words like “wow” and “fantastic” when informed Christine Adelman is no longer the Kane County public guardian.

Earlier this month, Gov. Pat Quinn’s office appointed Aurora attorney Diana Law to replace the controversial Adelman, who has long been a source of frustration for many in her role as guardian for those the court deems unable to care for themselves.

In fact, Law said it was after reading the series of articles in The Beacon-News in July of 2010 that she saw the need for an attorney, specializing in elder law, to take over the job.

And so she applied.

“I thought it was a long shot,” said Law, who joined her father, Rick, at Law ElderLaw in Aurora in 2006 and is current president of the Kane County Bar Association.

The 33-year-old attorney said she was asked to resend her paperwork a couple weeks after applying, but didn’t hear anything until this spring, when she was informed she’d been chosen to replace Adelman, effective April 12.

That appointment came on the heels of yet another story in this paper — this past March — that chronicled how Adelman handled the estate of John Ulrich’s cousin Whitney Zenker, who died in October. Ulrich, a retiree in Elgin, was upset Whitney’s body had been in the morgue for four months, despite next of kins’ attempts to have the body cremated. Ulrich said Adelman stopped returning calls, and buried his cousin in a grave Ulrich owned without his permission.

These bizarre circumstances are why Ulrich became the latest in a growing number of critics of Adelman and the loosely monitored system under which she operated. That list included wards of the county, friends, family and neighbors of those under the guardian’s control, as well as lawyers working in the system. While most wards agree they need some help attending to financial or medical needs, some have serious concerns about the person in charge of their lives.

“They claim they are protecting me, but they are costing me hundreds of dollars and I never asked them to do it,” C. Elvan “Doc” Olmstead of Elgin said in an interview before he died in March of 2010.

Longtime friends complained they were kept from any contact with the wards.

“If you dare question anything they are doing, how they are spending (the ward’s) money, you are immediately put in the role of bad person,” said Lauren Knight of Elgin, who was threatened with jail time in 2010 if she had contact with a former neighbor she was trying to help.

Shirley Gersh of Aurora insisted Adelman kept her from seeing her beloved friend Peggy, and despite repeated phone calls to the public guardian over the last few years, has been denied an opportunity to “even hold her hand.”

Others vented about how their guardian was overworked and, at times, neglectful of needs. Still more were upset that Adelman, who earned $100 an hour, and her attorneys, who make up to $280 an hour, were costing them significant money, despite sloppy record-keeping.

Adelman could not be reached for comment for this story. But in 2010, she defended her actions by saying that, although her notes could sometimes be hard to decipher, all her decisions were based around a judge’s orders and doctor’s recommendations.

Law says due process for clients and loved ones — with less interference from the guardian — will be a major focus when she takes over the job after her confirmation by the Illinois Senate in the coming weeks. She also insists that Law ElderLaw — which specializes in retirement protection, disability, VA and Medicaid assistance; and consists of 22 employees, including four attorneys and four paralegals — is more than equipped for a role that can be overwhelming.

Law, who says the people of Kane County should “thank Adelman for her years of service,” believes it was the workload that created many problems. “Right now there are 64 cases open,” she said. “No one person can do it all.”

Adelman was working as a tennis pro for the Fox Valley Park District when she became involved in local politics, running unsuccessfully as a Democrat in four elections. She was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich as Kane County’s public guardian in December of 2003. Legislation is pending that would require an attorney be placed in that role, as is the case in Kendall and DuPage counties.

This new public guardian comes with an impressive resume. Law is the youngest president in the history of the Kane County Bar Association and was named the group’s Outstanding New Lawyer in 2007. She was also Illinois State Bar Association Young Lawyer of the Year in 2010 and has been recognized as one of the state’s top lawyers in the area of elder law. Law is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), and serves on the Illinois State Bar Association’s Elder Law Council and Standing Committee on Women and the Law.

The Senate will confirm the appointment in the next week or two, said State Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora, who spoke highly of the new public guardian’s ability to “utilize the people around her.”

He also described her as “one of those people dedicating her life to serving people, rather than exercising power.”

That’s welcome news to many.

Ulrich said after the March story ran, the owner of Lake Street Memorial Cemetery in Elgin felt so bad about giving his grave to Adelman, he offered him a choice, free of charge, of two additional plots — including one for his wife.

Still, Ulrich remains bitter about the way things were handled, as do Shirley Gersh and Lauren Knight.

“Not a day passes when it does not cross my mind,” said Knight. “I am very happy she is removed. But it should have been done a long time ago.”

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