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In re Guardianship of Bakhtiar

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

November 20, 2017

IN RE: GUARDIANSHIP OF FOUROUGH BAKHTIAR

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 2013GI00040

          BRADLEY HULL, IV, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          ERIC ZAGRANS, Attorney at Law, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          JULIE A. SCHAFER PRESIDING JUDGE.

         {¶1} Appellant Mehdi Saghafi appeals the denial of his motion for visitation by the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division. For the reasons that follow, this Court reverses and remands.

         I.

         {¶2} The Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division found Fourough Bakhtiar incompetent to care for herself and her property. The subsequent guardianship proceedings proved contentious. This Court summarized those proceedings in a previous appeal as follows:

Mehdi Saghafi and Fourough Bakhtiar are both in their eighties and had been married for over 55 years when Mehdi filed an application for appointment as guardian of his wife's person based on allegations of her incompetence. On the same day, Dariush Saghafi, one of the couple's sons, filed an application for appointment as guardian of Fourough's estate. Another son, Kourosh Saghafi, D.O., executed the statement of expert evaluation appended to both applications. A month later, Fourough filed a complaint for divorce from Mehdi in the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. A couple days after that, the couple's only daughter, Jaleh Presutto, filed an application for appointment as guardian of her mother's person and estate. She appended a statement of expert evaluation conducted by a clinical neuropsychologist. Both experts who evaluated Fourough concluded that she was suffering from dementia. The Lorain County Probate Court subsequently found Fourough incompetent to care for herself and her property and determined that a guardianship was necessary. The probate court appointed Jaleh as interim guardian of her mother's person and Stephen Sartschev as interim guardian of Fourough's estate. Two days later, the probate court issued a judgment entry noting that it had conducted a pretrial during which all parties agreed that a guardianship was necessary for Fourough and that the court had appointed interim guardians. The trial court further prohibited the parties from proceeding with a final divorce hearing at that time.
This guardianship matter proceeded in a highly contentious manner among Fourough's various family members. In addition, other lawsuits pending in Cuyahoga County, including the divorce proceedings between Mehdi and Fourough; a civil action by Kourosh seeking to have Fourough's earlier executed powers of attorney declared invalid; a civil action by Mehdi against Jaleh; and a civil action by third parties against Mehdi and Fourough's guardians surrounding their refusal to transfer their interest in certain real estate pursuant to a real estate contract, all intertwined and served to complicate these matters to a greater extent.
Subsequently, Kourosh filed an application for appointment as guardian of his mother's person and estate. In addition, Mehdi and his sons filed multiple motions to have Fourough evaluated by an independent forensic psychiatrist and independent physician notwithstanding the parties' stipulation of incompetency and agreement that Fourough needed a guardian and that the probate court had appointed interim guardians for the ward and her estate. Mehdi and his sons further repeatedly sought to remove and/or limit the authority of Jaleh as her mother's guardian. The probate court denied those requests. It continued to prohibit the parties from proceeding with a final divorce hearing.
More than a year after the first application for appointment of a guardian was filed, the parties and attorneys involved in this matter, as well as some of the other legal matters involving this family, exhibited ongoing contentious and accusatory behaviors. While Fourough had two interim guardians, she also had her own attorney (Stephen Wolf) who moved to replace the guardian for the estate (Mr. Sartschev) who allegedly was no longer permitted to hold a fiduciary position. Mr. Wolf applied to the probate court to be permitted to "step in and take over as guardian of the estate[.]" Other members of Fourough's family challenged Mr. Wolf's application, asserting that his involvement with this matter, as well as his representation of Jaleh's husband in a criminal matter, prevented him from being a disinterested guardian. Mr. Sartschev informed the probate court that he was required to resign as guardian of the estate, and the trial court accepted his resignation. The probate court further removed Jaleh as guardian of the person and appointed attorney Zachary Simonoff as interim guardian of both the person and estate of Fourough. Mr. Simonoff filed a formal application for appointment as guardian. The probate court issued letters of guardianship of the estate to Mr. Simonoff and denied all other pending applications for guardian of the estate. The court further issued letters of guardianship to Mr. Simonoff as guardian of Fourough's person, pending final hearing on the matter. Again, the probate court ordered that neither the parties nor the guardian may proceed with a final divorce hearing relative to Mehdi and Fourough.
A year-and-a-half after the initiation of this guardianship case, the probate court held a final hearing and issued a final judgment disposing of the pending applications. It denied the applications for guardianship filed by Mehdi Saghafi, Dariush Saghafi, and Kourosh Saghafi. It issued letters of guardianship of the person of Fourough to Jaleh Presutto and letter of guardianship of the estate of Fourough to Zachary Simonoff. [In] addition, the probate court ordered Fourough's attorney, Stephen Wolf, to "file [a] brief with Court on issue of divorce of the Ward." The court granted a 21-day period for responses to Attorney Wolfs brief.
Fourough, through Attorney Wolf, moved for an order allowing Mehdi and Fourough to proceed with a final divorce hearing. The guardian of the estate filed a brief in support. Mehdi filed briefs in opposition to both. Upon consideration of the briefs, the probate court ordered that "the Guardian is to proceed in the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations case through to final divorce."

In re Guardianship of Fourough Bakhtiar, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 15CA010721, 2016-Ohio-8199, ...


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