Town hall sheds light on legal options for seniors

They constitute the largest collection of lawyers to be found under any one umbrella in the entire state. Their boss refers to them collectively — and loosely — as “the largest law firm in Nevada.”

Technically, of course, that’s a misstatement, as they constitute the Clark County District Attorney’s Office. Thus, they work for a public agency, and each of the more than 170 lawyers in that office can be deemed a public official.

Now that’s just a small dose of the information District Attorney Steven B. Wolfson imparted at the Informational Town Hall, which provided a couple of hours of stimulating data and some fascinating stories to a Sun City Summerlin audience one evening recently.

Wolfson talked freely about the kinds of cases that pass through the turnstiles of his office, the $65 million budget and the more than 500 additional employees who support the lawyers in their handling of some 60,000 cases a year.

“We have four divisions. Our criminal division gets the most attention,” Wolfson said. “But we also have a family support division. We average collections of about $125 million a year, of which 90 percent goes for child support. We also have a civil division and a juvenile division.”

He broke down the number of lawyers by the types of cases, including murder, sexual assault, gang-related matters and domestic violence. He noted that the newest unit, created several weeks ago, is a team of lawyers that deals only with physical or mental abuse of the elderly, which includes neglect, isolation and financial exploitation.

But the Informational Town Hall was not confined to the district attorney’s office. It included an understanding of the responsibilities of the Public Guardian’s Office, as explained by Kathleen Buchanan, who heads that office. For example, how many of you know that the office even exists? Or that its basic function is intended to assist, in many ways, elderly and handicapped persons who are referred by the courts and who are confronted by any one or more of a myriad of personal problems?

“We live in a very stressful environment,” said Buchanan, “where exploiters are present all the time.” And those exploiters could be anyone from close relatives to cunning outsiders.

She talked about persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Buchanan noted that in Clark County, about 80 percent of the cases handled by her office involve persons with limited or no financial means.

“We see to it that they have a roof over their heads, that they have food, that their bills are paid, and that other personal needs are handled,” she said.

But that’s not all. The evening included a discussion by Clark County Public Administrator John J. Cahill on the subject of wills and trusts and how his office can provide assistance in those areas and especially how it can help answer tough questions.

The Town Hall also included a presentation by Sheri Cane Vogel, executive director of the Southern Nevada Senior Law Program, which offers senior citizens free legal services in certain types of cases. That includes advice on preparing legal documents and an understanding of the right to refusal in health care matters.

The overall symposium, which has become a form of town hall “road show,” has made this team of public officials available in different sectors of the county at various times and will continue to do so, according to Wolfson. In fact, the group even brings along refreshments for its audiences.

But here’s the saddest part: Of the more than 13,000 residents of Sun City Summerlin, less than 30 turned out for the program at the Desert Vista Community Center.

“That’s OK,” Wolfson said in a positive tone. “We’re always available,” he added, indicating that they might return if there’s popular demand.

He explained that the most important aspect of the Informational Town Hall programs is the informal setting, where members of the audience are urged to participate by raising questions, getting answers from professionals and becoming better informed residents.

And on the evening they came to Sun City, the quality of questions gave every indication that the speakers hit home with their respective subject matters.

— Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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