By Lou Ann Anderson
Probate courts’ power is often overlooked and underestimated. Unbeknownst to many, this status generates opportunity to quietly defend or destroy the personal liberty and/or property rights of those coming before such venues. Folks associated with the conservatorship (called guardianship in other states) over Nashville musician Danny Tate would likely have preferred minimized visibility of their actions. Instead of allowing a quiet hijacking of a man’s freedom and property, Tate’s entertainment industry friends are rallying to stop the ongoing depletion of his assets and the continued denial of his basic civil liberties. The friends astutely recognize that what’s happening to Danny Tate fundamentally defiles the foundations from which many American rights flow. These same friends also understand – if this could happen to Danny, it could happen to you!
Askin’ for your help, I’m not refutin’,
Who would have known it would lead to this lootin’?
You took my money, my life and my trade,
Trusting you had a price – the biggest I’ve paid.
With classic country elements like betrayal and pain, this case is perfectly set in Music City, U.S.A. The growing interest in Danny Tate’s plight started with a Nashville Scene article published earlier this year. In Court-Ordered Hell – how an errant judge and a controlling sibling stripped Nashville rocker Danny Tate of his money, his livelihood and his legal rights, reporter Brantley Hargrove chronicles how Danny Tate never dreamed the power of attorney intended for use by his brother David to pay bills while Danny was in rehab would instead be used to initiate and finance a conservatorship action legally stripping the musician of both his personal and property rights.
Think this can’t happen in America? Think again and read on as it happens every day. Conservatorships allow a court-appointed individual complete power over a person, their property or both. They are often used for the elderly, the disabled or individuals incapacitated due to catastrophic accidents or illness. Legitimate need for such an extreme measure sometimes exists. Increasingly, however, conservatorships (guardianships) are being used as a tool, a way in which the legal system is weaponized so as to gain control of a person and their assets for exploitative purposes. Suspected abuse cases often have certain patterns. Danny Tate’s is no exception and it also offers important points of which the public should beware.
This case appears to be an Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) action defined by EstateofDenial.com as the utilization of probate venues and/or probate instruments (wills, trusts, conservatorships/guardianships or powers of attorney) to divert assets of the dead, disabled or incapacitated in a manner contrary to the property owner’s wishes. Danny Tate’s case was initiated using a power of attorney and is being perpetuated through a conservatorship.
Other common elements are the presence of a family member/interested party entry point, an accommodating attorney and a cooperative judge in this case played seemingly and respectively by brother David Tate, attorney Paul Housch and Davidson County Probate Judge Randy Kennedy. A posting at FreeDannyTate suggests that Tate’s case is perhaps not the first conservatorship collaboration of Housch and Kennedy.
Details in the process of Danny Tate’s conservatorship proceedings paint a troubling picture of just how easy it is to hijack a person’s life using legal instruments and today’s court system. The continuation of this situation demonstrates the absolute lack of protection for those targeted in such actions.
The initial freezing of Tate’s assets was reportedly granted in an ex parte “emergency” conservatorship hearing of which Tate was not aware. This freeze thwarted Tate’s hiring of counsel and provided Dr. William Kenner, a child psychiatrist without addiction medicine certification, opportunity at the permanent conservatorship hearing to pronounce Tate as “disabled” with no challenge to Kenner’s lack of credentials, brief investigation and questionable testimony. Upon Tate’s current attorney, Michael Hoskins, filing an extraordinary relief application, the Middle Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed one of Judge Kennedy’s critical case rulings, an act described by Nashville Scene as “meaning the Probate Court had strayed so far from established legal procedure that an extraordinary judicial slap on the wrist was dealt to Kennedy. More remarkable still, Judge Frank Clement, the jurist who issued the Appeals Court decision, used to sit in Kennedy’s seat in Probate Court.”
Two or so years of conservatorship activity has reduced Danny Tate’s $615,000 estate to about $175,000.
Three things are important to note about Danny Tate’s case. First, while conservatorships are often associated with the elderly, that’s not the situation here. This case started with a 50-ish-year-old Tate who historically struggled with alcohol and drug issues yet had maintained 18 years of sobriety only reverting to past destructive behaviors after 2004 shoulder surgery helped incite new challenges – physically as well as in his personal life.
Second point. During his nearly two decades of sobriety, Danny Tate was far from a deadbeat. Though never attaining major “front man” commercial success, Tate is as an accomplished songwriter with decades of recognized marketability and with his songs having been recorded by the likes of Rick Springfield, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Diesel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jeff Healey, David Lee Murphy and Billy Ray Cyrus. In recent years, Tate had found a lucrative niche composing music for shows such as Entertainment Tonight and the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Between current jobs and royalties, he was reportedly making quite a comfortable living until the confiscation of his recording equipment via the conservatorship.
And finally, the size of Danny Tate’s estate should serve as a warning to others. It’s easy for people to believe that while estates of “the rich” – whatever that means – might be targeted, Americans of more modest means are unlikely marks for estate looting actions. The reality is that estates $1 million or less can be exceptionally appealing as they provide enough money to be worth pursuing, but due to high litigation costs, not so much that they can be cost effectively fought.
Danny Tate’s lifelong accumulation of assets was used by David Tate to initiate and now defend keeping his brother in this conservatorship. When the money is gone, interest in Tate’s continued conserved status will also likely cease. In the meantime, Danny Tate has few resources for mounting a defense to attempt regaining what little is left of his estate. Prospective IRA practitioners understand the scenarios in which these cases can play out. They have quickly become evident to Danny Tate along with his friends. The public starting to understand and react to could be key to shutting down heinous estate abuse activities.
As mentioned earlier, following estate abuses cases uncovers easily identifiable patterns. Helpful cover to dishonest acts happens when cases can occur in the quiet confines of friendly courtrooms as well as be perpetrated by those operating under a guise of respectability or professionalism. Exposure of such activities rarely reflects well for the IRA perpetrators which is why increased internet visibility regarding Danny Tate’s case is likely unwelcomed in some quarters.
In late March, Tate’s friend Kevin Montgomery, a self-described world-traveling singer-songwriter/adventurist/dad, read the Nashville Scene article and was so moved by the injustice that he blogged about it as well as helped organize the Friends for Danny Tate’s Defense Facebook group. The group has nearly 2,000 members and is growing. “Free Danny Tate” t-shirts are available and a benefit concert is in the works. All these efforts are additionally supported by a Free Danny Tate web site developed and maintained by another of Tate’s friends. The site provides new information along with context to this assault on Danny Tate’s freedom and property. It’s doubtful that such an organized, well-executed effort has ever been launched and its impact is likely to be significant.
Some people might think their “day in court” is the answer, but familiarity often reveals courts to be an extension of the legal industry brotherhood whose commitment to self-enrichment can overshadow any pretense of fairness. With that, bets are for now better placed on a few thousand Facebook friends who recognize exploitation and looting and aren’t shy in sharing their concerns with a few more thousand of their friends.
Michael Hoskins, Tate’s attorney, best summed up the danger and ramifications of abusive conservatorships saying “just about any local musician with assets and a drug problem could conceivably be stripped of his autonomy based on nothing more than hearsay.” He’s absolutely right. Hopefully people won’t foolishly think that musicians are the only ones at risk.
Free Danny Tate!
Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.