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Woman hiding from Bay Area county

Reta Cook can't get around without the help of her family and a wheelchair but she says she doesn't need Santa Clara County's help with anything.
January 10, 2014 10:04:16 PM PST
Eighty-five-year-old Reta Cook can't get around without the help of her family and a wheelchair but she says she doesn't need Santa Clara County's help with anything.

"I really don't know why they would want to take over my life," Cook says.

In Spring 2008, the Santa Clara County Public Guardian planned to conserve Cook, taking over her financial decisions. It was concerned about how cook was spending her money, including taking a large loan out on her home with hopes of fixing it up and selling it, purchasing cars for her grandsons and a RV for her daughter. Cook also tried getting one of her grandkids into the music business by investing in a hip-hop artist.

"I think that's my right; to spend my money on what I want to spend it on. I had enough. I knew what I was doing," she told the ABC7 News I-Team.

After Cook's primary doctor diagnosed her with dementia, the County also petitioned to take control of Cook's healthcare.

But Cook had one problem with that.

"I wasn't demented at all," she says.

She tells us that's when she decided to get out of Santa Clara County.

"I called my daughter and we immediately made the decision to leave. We had to do something," according to Cook.

In late May 2008, they fled in the RV to Ventura County. Days later, on June 3, 2008, the Santa Clara County Public Guardian officially conserved Cook.

"They had no jurisdiction over her," according to Cook's daughter, Janet Harvey.

Harvey says Santa Clara tried to get Ventura County to take over the conservatorship.

"Ventura County said we're not interested in your mother," Harvey says.

Two doctors and one Ventura County court investigator determined Cook did not have dementia. In court filings, one doctor says, "patient is competent to make reasonable decisions on her own behalf at this time. No psych meds necessary."

The conservatorship of Reta Cook by Santa Clara County ended on December 30, 2008.

Cook and Harvey thought that meant the case was closed.

"We found out that they were paying her care at an assistant place that she was at, out of her money, the first couple of months in 2009," according to Harvey.

The Santa Clara County Public Guardian continued to spend Cook's money after the conservatorship. The County used Cook's cash to pay for assisted living facilities, medical insurance payments and fees to Santa Clara County.

"She had to pay for it out of her money, against her will," Harvey says.

The Santa Clara County Public Guardian's Office refused to be interviewed for this story, citing confidentiality and on-going legal proceedings. In recent court filings, it makes the case that it spent the money in Cook's best interest, saying the Public Guardian had a duty to make sure her bills were paid. However, in a tentative ruling, a Ventura County Judge orders Santa Clara County to pay Cook more than $19,000 for the money it spent after the conservatorship and without her permission.

Cook's not sure she will ever get her money back but she's more concerned about the treatment other people receive under conservatorships.

"I'm sorry for the other people. The people should never have to go through this," Cook says.

Cook and her family have left California and have no plans to return. The Santa Clara County Public Guardian will have its day in a Ventura County court in late January. County lawyers can argue it does not owe Cook the money.


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