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News / Clark County News

Guardianship jury finds man, 72, unable to care for self

By Bob Albrecht
Published: April 1, 2011, 12:00am

After a rare trial, a Clark County jury has found a Vancouver man incapacitated and unable to make decisions about his money and medical care.

Jurors deliberated for more than nine hours Thursday and Friday before deciding shortly after 1 p.m. Friday that a third-party professional guardian should be appointed to make financial and medical decisions on behalf of Richard Morse, 72. The jury’s ruling that Morse is incapacitated means they found him unable to provide for his safety and health and manage his finances.

The case was rare in that it was apparently the first time that 12 Clark County citizens were asked to decide a guardianship case, rather than a judge.

At least 10 jurors were required to find Morse incapacitated in order to strip him of his rights to make his own decisions. Morse preserved some of his rights, but the 10-juror requirement was met on all the “big ones,” said Morse’s attorney, Jim Senescu of Dimitrov & Senescu.

Addressing Superior Court Judge John Wulle, Senescu said immediately after the ruling, “I will explain to Mr. Morse he has essentially lost the rights the jury has voted on.”

One juror sided with Morse on all counts, while another joined to make it a 10-2 margin on some decisions over Morse’s fitness.

Senescu after the ruling returned to a point he made in his closing argument that Morse, a veteran of the Vietnam War, lost rights he once fought to preserve. “That says it all,” he said.

The unusual case was brought by Vancouver Health & Rehabilitation Center, where Morse has been living for more than a year. The center’s attorney, Rachel Brooks, argued during the four-day trial that Morse had problems living on his own and managing his medicine and his health.

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Concerning his finances, Morse has a $600,000 estate yet never has had a bank account, Brooks argued, and he’s not used to paying bills.

Morse was treated at Southwest Washington Medical Center in February 2010 for infected leg wounds. He was discharged to the nursing home.

The center filed the petition for a professional guardian to be appointed for Morse. Under Washington law, a care facility cannot become a guardian, as it would be a conflict of interest.

Brooks defended the center Friday against a backlash it has received from the public since the trial opened.

“Guardianship is not coercive,” Brooks said, adding the center sought the case out of concern for Morse’s well-being.

In a brief interview after the verdict, Morse relied on the same religious convictions his co-attorney, Julie L. Payne, said may have played against him in the eyes of the jury.

“There’s no way the thieves can touch my treasures in heaven,” Morse said.

Brooks argued during the trial Morse held extreme religious beliefs that manifested in his odd behavior and that he also made odd decisions in what to wear — or not to wear — when it was cold outside.

Morse rebuked the jury’s decision, saying his rights were “wrongfully” stripped on the basis of “lies.” He said he believed the fallout of the trial may be that some of his friends will consider him “nutso.”

Senescu said that Morse would appeal.

Specifically, a third-party guardian now will decide when and where Morse gets medical care. Financially, Morse cannot enter into a contract, engage in real estate transactions or sue or be sued.

Morse retained the right to vote, make or revoke a will, marry or divorce, drive a vehicle and make decisions regarding social aspects of his life.

A hearing was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. April 27 to decide on a guardian for Morse.

“I don’t think this is the end,” Morse said. “Now it’s up to the Lord.”