Scott sought to justify the expenses by saying that Jones was "near death" when she intervened. She told the court that Jones had left a convalescent home "against medical advice," that she was "totally dehydrated and malnourished" and that her garage harbored "thousands of rats," prompting complaints from neighbors.
As for rats, three of Jones' neighbors said in interviews that they never saw or complained about any.
In July, with the conservatorship still in place, a frustrated Roddick filed a petition to end it. A judge refused to hear his arguments, saying he had no standing to intervene.
The judge scheduled a hearing for Dec. 2 at which Jones will be represented by Ortiz.
"I don't know how this is going to turn out," Jones said outside the courtroom. "My age is against me and my hearing is against me."
'Chewing Up Estates'
From the moment seniors are entrusted to a professional conservator, the meter is running.
The law allows conservators to spend their wards' money as they see fit and requires them to submit periodic reports. Courts must approve their fees, but state law sets no limit on their compensation beyond that it be "reasonable."
Reports examined by The Times show that conservators have billed elderly people for what one described as "drive-by" property inspections and for moving furniture around a room.
Frances Dell, 90, paid her conservator $715 for accompanying her to parties and informing her that her favorite niece had died, among other services. "She needed someone to cry with and mourn her own mortality," the conservator wrote in her bill.
Seniors often pay for layers of helpers hired by their conservators — property managers, home-care supervisors, case managers and more. They pay for flowers, chocolates and other gifts that conservators give them on special occasions.
Among the Christmas presents one woman unwittingly lavished on herself: men's cologne and a stocking with her name embroidered on it, misspelled.
"The word is conserve. You're supposed to conserve people's estates," La Mesa probate attorney Richard Schwering said. "Conservatorship is chewing up estates."
The bills pile up even faster when seniors or their families challenge conservators' control.
Wards pay their conservators' legal bills on top of their own because the court does not consider the parties to be adversaries. Even when conservators oppose their clients' wishes, they are assumed to be looking out for their best interests.
Street-smart and self-made, Charles Thomas built an $18-million empire by investing in Burger King franchises and real estate in some of Los Angeles' toughest neighborhoods. After he was diagnosed with Parkinson's-like symptoms, it became clear he would have to hand over the reins of his businesses.
Thomas had a complex family, with children from several marriages. He picked an outsider — Labow — to be conservator of his estate.
She was appointed in September 1998. Just over a year later, Thomas told his court-appointed counsel that he "wanted Frumeh Labow out of my life."