How Bad Can a Gag Order Be?

Gayle Robinson was a Marine Corps veteran and a long-time resident of the Detroit area. She was able to live in the home she and her late husband had lived in since 1956, with one of her sons and a granddaughter. Her life changed dramatically when one of her daughters, for reasons that remain unclear, filed a petition to have a guardian appointed for her. A cursory examination by a non-physician “found” that Gayle was incapacitated within the meaning of the Michigan guardianship laws. Gayle’s own physicians, and her children who did not support the guardianship action, all disagreed; in fact, no medical doctor or psychiatrist has ever declared Gayle incompetent, incapacitated, or in need of a guardian. The Probate Court nevertheless appointed a professional guardian for Gayle. 

Gayle’s story becomes more complicated and far more dramatic after that. Gayle was opposed to the guardian’s plan to make her live in a nursing home, so she fled to California, only to be brought back to Michigan against her will after the court issued orders under dubious legal authority. There have been numerous allegations of financial mismanagement made against the guardian. 

There has also been an order issued that limits Gayle’s contact with her family by allowing only two of her ten children to contact her. Those two children were also ordered by the court to cease and desist all internet communication concerning their mother. All online postings “of whatever nature including links and blogs where information has been disseminated shall be removed”. If any of Gayle’s other children communicated with her “about the Court proceedings, orders or family dynamics in an attempt to attempt to influence Gayle that Child shall be suspended from communication by the directive of Guardian or her staff.” 

The gag order in place can most charitably be described as ridiculously broad. One of Gayle’s children could be in violation of the order, and so be held in contempt of court for asking if a sibling had paid back a loan as promised, or if she was happy in the nursing home (by all accounts, she was not). There is next to nothing that could be said that would not be a potential violation.

Such an order can and should be challenged. Contact with our loved ones, especially our closest family members, is essential for our emotional health. It is also a basic element of human dignity that we be allowed to maintain ties with our family. In my opinion, a judge should not readily allow a professional guardian ply his or her trade in total secrecy and comfort, while depriving family members of their normal connection to the ward and to each other.