In the hallways of Family Court, women with outstretched arms have prayed over a 21-year-old woman who is in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy.
Friends from the Thai Presbyterian Church have supported Sharona Dagani as she has fought to gain greater control over her $2 million trust fund and for more independence as an adult.
Born Jewish but now an evangelical Christian, Sharona Dagani said her faith is so strong that prayer healed some vision problems.
Her mother and estate guardians, however, worry that Dagani is too immature and susceptible to the influence of others, especially to Dagani’s husband, Greg Dagani, who was known as Greg Nance when he was a member of the Nevada Board of Education.
The couple gained notoriety for disrupting board meetings with their public displays of affection in the summer. After a public uproar, Greg Dagani resigned from the board that sets education policies for Nevada.
Greg Dagani said his relationship with Sharona is like a “dream come true” because he is 50 years old but has attracted a young wife with cover-girl model looks. The couple would like to conceive a child.
But the lawyer for Sharona Dagani’s mother has argued that Sharona needs a court-appointed guardian to look after her welfare, because her husband is an “undue influence.” Sharona is especially vulnerable because she has the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old, according to court filings.
Scott Cantor, the lawyer for Sharona Dagani’s mother, acknowledged that “undue influence” cases are rare and hard to win.
“I have to prove that her free will has been subsumed to the will of others,” Cantor said.
He said Sharona’s situation is analogous to someone being brainwashed into joining a cult.
A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to review results of a new psychiatric evaluation of Sharona Dagani.
Cantor and Sharona’s estate guardians had argued the evaluation was necessary because of bizarre behavior by the couple, such as getting kicked out of group homes for breaking rules, billing Sharona Dagani’s trust fund for the cleanup of a messy apartment, and giving false information to the Social Security Administration.
Greg Dagani was temporarily committed to a psychiatric unit in September after an outburst at a hospital, according to court filings.
In an interview with the Review-Journal, he did not confirm or deny that he was involuntarily committed, but only questioned how court-appointed guardians could have found out the information.
Because of that behavior, Joan Albstein, the mother of Sharona Dagani, is hoping the court will intervene in her daughter’s life.
“If the court system doesn’t protect someone like Sharona, then no one has a chance,” Albstein said.
Guardianship Commissioner Jon Norheim, the judge who has presided over Dagani’s case for three years, has fretted in court that Sharona Dagani “is destroying herself financially,” but so far has deferred to her rights as an adult.
In court, Norheim has called her “a very intelligent woman” and noted that court-appointed psychiatrists have found her cognitive functions to be fine.
Sharona Dagani graduated from high school early and went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for three semesters.
She eventually wants to go to a Bible college to become a preacher.
In January, Norheim exasperated Dagani’s estate guardians and mother’s lawyer when he did not punish Sharona Dagani for violating the judge’s order to get a psychiatric evaluation. She also showed up in court 30 minutes late.
The judge extended the case to this month and said he did not think he had the authority to appoint a new guardian if there’s “no underlying organic” reason, such as a chemical imbalance or a mental illness like schizophrenia.
Since the January hearing, Greg Dagani said his wife has undergone the psychiatric evaluation. He said it will show that she does not “need a guardian,” but Cantor said he was unaware of that finding.
The Daganis invited Review-Journal staff to their house in North Las Vegas to demonstrate they don’t live in the filthy conditions that estate guardians have described in court.
Before the interview, a caregiver was at the house to bathe Sharona Dagani, a partial quadriplegic who has some use of her arms.
The house was clean but empty. The Daganis explained that their only furniture has been donated by their church.
The Daganis complained that they cannot get money even for necessary things like a wheelchair ramp for the front door. They have improvised with an ironing board.
Guardians contended that Sharona Dagani left her ramp at a former group home and could still get it.
Greg Dagani, who does not work, said he has signed a “postnuptial” agreement to protect his wife’s assets.
The Review-Journal asked to see the document, but the Daganis did not keep a copy for themselves and were not sure if the original document was stored at the courthouse or in the possession of an attorney.
Dagani gave little information on how he supports the couple except to say that he has saved his earnings over the years.
“Everybody knows I was a political player,” he said.
The Daganis fault Sharona’s mother and her estate guardians for going after her trust fund, the “gravy train” as Greg Dagani calls it.
Her estate pays the fees of her legal guardians, but access to Sharona’s “special needs trust funds” is so restricted that her mother cannot get to it, Cantor said.
He said Sharona Dagani has been manipulated by people ever since she turned 18 out of the misperception that her trust fund is like a stash of money there for the taking.
In reality, access to the special needs trust fund is restricted to protect the assets over Sharona Dagani’s lifetime and ensure her eligibility for benefits like Social Security and Medicaid.
The judge has imposed a limited guardianship over Sharona Dagani’s estate to make sure she does not lose her government entitlements.
While she has been going to court since she was 18, Sharona Dagani is confident she will triumph, perhaps with some help from the judge.
“In the past he was on their side,” Sharona Dagani said about Norheim. “He’s beginning to see the truth. I’m a responsible adult with a mind of my own.”
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.