Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Age, with his stealing steps, hath clawed me in his clutch!

Age, with his stealing steps, hath clawed me in his clutch! Hamlet (5.1.73-4)

Jonathan Foxx
President & Managing Director
Lenders Compliance Group

Consider a scenario in which an elderly individual, let’s say a well-known writer who published only one novel, a famous novel, had always relied on her sister, a lawyer, to take care of her legal needs.

Only one novel!

And, according to the writer’s conspicuously stated intentions, only one novel would ever be published!

Being frail, the writer eventually had to be placed in an assisted living facility. The sister continued to make sure that the writer’s copyrights, trademarks, publishing agreements, licenses, and many financial affairs, were watched over with devotion, love, and professional integrity. Then the sister, being herself quite elderly, dies.

The sister’s law partner, now handling the writer’s estate, comes across an early draft of the famous novel belonging to the writer, written ages ago but never published, and this law partner takes it to a publishing house and gets it published. The new novel has a different name and spins a different story, using the writer’s famous novel as its inspiration; however, it clearly shows signs of revisions done by a different writer.

Perhaps the writer does not even know that the new novel was published!

Let’s further consider the following facts, as known to us:
  • Writer suffered a stroke in 2007, forcing her to move to an assisted living facility.
  • Last year, her friend said she was paralyzed on the left side, profoundly deaf, 95% blind, and had very poor memory.
  • A public letter written by the writer’s sister – her lifelong protector, and attorney – said “[She] will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”
  • Sister died at age 103, removing writer’s safety net.
  • Staff members at writer’s assisted living facility are banned from talking to the media without the permission of her new attorney.
  • Senior vice president and publisher at the book publishing company said nobody from the company had spoken directly to writer about the book; communication has been solely through her lawyer and literary agent.

The writer I refer to is the eighty-nine year old Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.

She received a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for it!

The new novel is called Go Set a Watchman.

In an insightful article, entitled “Where Is Harper Lee’s Watchman?,” the gerontologist and Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist Rachel Pruchno, PhD, noted that “despite pleas and prodding from readers and the literary establishment for more than half a century, Lee never had published again. She consistently had explained her reluctance to publish a second novel with 3 statements:
  • ‘When you’ve hit the pinnacle, you’re competing with yourself.’
  • ‘I wouldn’t go through all the pressure and publicity I went through with Mockingbird for any amount of money.’
  • ‘I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.’”[i] 

Based on Dr. Pruchno’s experience, “she suspects Lee may be a victim of elder abuse.”

I have written extensively and spoken on elder financial abuse. For instance, I published an article on elder abuse, Elder Financial Abuse: Prevention and Remedies, in October 2013; and Elder Financial Abuse, in August 2012. Both articles are in our firm’s website library HERE and archive HERE. I gave an Interview on Senior Web Radio about elder financial abuse, in December 2013, which I recommend.

The possibility of elder financial abuse in connection with Harper Lee has been noted by Op-Ed Columnist Joe Nocera, in his article entitled “The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Fraud.”[ii] In Mr. Nocera’s view, the publication of the new novel “constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.”  

Mr. Nocera states in his article:

“The Ur-fact about Harper Lee is that after publishing her beloved novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ in 1960, she not only never published another book; for most of that time she insisted she never would. Until now, that is, when she’s 89, a frail, hearing- and sight-impaired stroke victim living in a nursing home. Perhaps just as important, her sister Alice, Lee’s longtime protector, passed away last November. Her new protector, Tonja Carter, who had worked in Alice Lee’s law office, is the one who brought the ‘new novel’ to HarperCollins’s attention, claiming, conveniently, to have found it shortly before Alice died.”

Tonja Carter is currently a partner in the law firm Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter LLC based in Monroeville, Alabama, and is the trustee of the estate of Harper Lee. She was a one-time protégé of Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister. For her part, Ms. Carter has recounted her version of events, involving the discovery of the new novel’s manuscript in a Lord & Taylor’s container stored in a safe deposit box and how it made its way to publication by HarperCollins, the publishing house.[iii]

The new novel sold over a million copies in its first week on sale and now has well over three million copies in print. However, it has largely met with mixed reviews.

The Alabama Securities Commission interviewed Harper Lee about the new book and found no reason to intervene.[iv] Alabama's State Department of Human Resources conducted an investigation into whether Harper Lee was capable of making the decision to release her new book, and it too closed the case, with no evidence of neglect having been determined.[v]

Perhaps this is a case of elder financial abuse. Perhaps not.

But how would we know for sure?

Unfortunately, we are not permitted access to the reports of the interview and investigation.

[i] Pruchno, Rachel, Where Is Harper Lee’s Watchman? (Is Harper Lee a victim of elder abuse?), Psychology Today, June 3, 2015,  I am indebted to Dr. Pruchno not only for her observations, quoted herein, but also for the bulleted schematic of ‘facts’ that I have paraphrased.
[ii] Nocera, Jo, The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Fraud, July 24, 2015, The New York Times
[iii] Carter, Tanya B., How I Found the Harper Lee Manuscript, July 12, 2015, The Wall Street Journal
[iv] Archibald, John, Alabama closes Harper Lee elder abuse investigation, March 12, 2015,
[v] Reed, Jon, State Department of Human Resources closes Harper Lee elder abuse investigation, April 3, 2015,

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