ROCKLAND, Maine — William Dean said his head has been in a whirl since the state temporarily became his conservator three years ago and sold off one home, destroyed a second, sold off prized possessions and killed his cat.
Dean, 70, spoke publicly for the first time Monday about the series of events that led to him becoming impoverished because of the actions taken by the state while it controlled his finances for several months starting in the second half of 2012.
“My head has been in a whirlwind. It’s hard to express,” Dean said Monday from his second floor Pacific Street apartment in Rockland.
Two lawsuits filed by Dean’s conservator and his sister over the actions of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services rest in the hands of Justice Andrew Horton of the Maine Business and Consumer Court in Portland.
Dean, who has resided in the one bedroom apartment since January, said he enjoys the place because it has a view, narrow as it is, of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse and boats in the harbor.
That view, however, pales in comparison to the one he had from the cottage on Castlewood Lane in Owls Head that his parents bought in July 1953. The cottage was the place of many family gatherings, he recalled Monday.
His father, William Dean Sr., died in 1990, and his mother, Alice Dean, died in January 2012 at the age of 102.
William Dean has suffered from mental health issues throughout his life. Among other things, he has Asperger’s syndrome, which makes it difficult for him to interact socially with other people. After his mother died, Dean experienced a mental health crisis and was admitted to the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor in May 2012.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services filed a motion on Sept. 5, 2012, in probate court seeking to be named his conservator and guardian.
The state argued it needed to become conservator because Dean — who had never lived independently — was not capable of managing his finances, stating in its petition to the probate court that he had misspent more than $200,000 from a family trust, that there were tax liens on properties in Owls Head and Rockland he had inherited, and that he had other unpaid bills.
Dean’s cousin Pamela Vose, who is now Dean’s conservator, said Monday that she told a DHHS official in July 2012 she would consider being the conservator and asked that the state not appoint anyone else until she got back to them. Vose’s husband, however, suffered a heart attack that same month, and she was unable to take on the conservator responsibility until August when she telephoned DHHS to say she was ready.
Without letting Vose know, however, the state filed for conservatorship, contending there was “no suitable private party available and willing to assume such responsibilities.” A probate judge in Penobscot County approved the temporary appointment of DHHS as conservator and guardian on Sept. 6, 2012.
Before the end of the year, the state put the Owls Head cottage and the Rockland family home up for sale. Vose and Dean’s sister, Claire Dean Perry, maintain in their separate lawsuits, however, that the state made no effort to try to work with municipal officials in Owls Head or Rockland to make sure the properties would not be foreclosed on because of nonpayment of taxes. The family also argued in the lawsuits that the state could have sold enough items to cover the taxes.
Instead, in January 2013, the waterfront cottage in Owls Head was sold for $205,000, even though the town had the property — 1 acre with 100 feet of ocean frontage as well as the two-story 1,000-square-foot cottage — assessed for tax purposes at $476,840. The Maine attorney general’s office, which represents DHHS in the lawsuits, argues the Owls Head property was not worth the taxable value because of problems with septic and water systems and because it was located next to a property that was in deplorable condition.
In addition, the sale of the home — considered a second home — resulted in a capital gains tax of $31,000 being incurred by Dean.
According to court records, the state moved up the sale date of the Owls Head property by one day after the family found out about the sale and informed DHHS it would be seeking a court injunction to stop the sale.
The state also tried to sell the Rockland home on Broadway, but a pipe broke during the winter when there was no heat and caused major flooding, which then led to an outbreak of mold throughout the home, making it uninhabitable, the family has pointed out in court filings.
After being discharged in June 2013 from Dorothea Dix, Dean lived for a short while at an assisted living facility in Camden, then an apartment on Broadway in Rockland before moving into the Pacific Street apartment that has one room that serves as the living room, kitchen and dining room and one bedroom and bathroom. The main room is painted in white and light peach colors with a lot of light, which Dean said he likes.
A neighbor in the apartment complex is paid to cook meals for Dean, and someone else is paid to clean the apartment.
Because he still owns the Rockland home, the state considers the property an asset that disqualifies Dean for state assistance, even though his assets have been nearly drained. The home was assessed by the city at $177,200, but Rockland Assessor Dennis Reed said he lowered the assessment to $86,400 after going through the home and seeing the damage from the flooding.
In court papers filed earlier this year by attorney David Jenny, Dean had $654,000 worth of real estate that was free of mortgages in September 2012 but less than a year later, after DHHS took over conservatorship, he was down to $20,000 in assets.
“There is great concern that Billy’s funds will run out soon,” Vose said. “It is likely that he will run out of funds before any resolution is reached because DHHS is well aware of Billy’s lack of resources and they are dragging this out as long as possible hoping that when the funds are gone we will by necessity ‘go away.’”
His attorney, Jenny, has not taken one penny for his work and has given up his personal life for more than two years in order to help Dean, Vose pointed out. She said the family has given financial and emotional support, but money, or rather lack of money, is always the elephant in the living room.
She said when the proceeds from the sale of cottage are gone, Dean will be dependent on the state or city, “supposing that there are programs still available to help people in his situation.”
Dean said he was aware the state was trying to sell the Owls Head property while he was in the hospital but did not learn about the sale and the low price until after he was discharged from Dorothea Dix.
“I was not very happy about it,” he said.
But what upsets Dean even more was the state’s decision to euthanize his longtime companion, a 10-year-old Himalayan cat named Caterpillar.
“I get very emotional talking about it,” Dean said. “I got her from a shelter. She picked me out.”
The state has argued in court filings that there were no family members willing to care for the cat, but Vose said that was not the case.
After the lawsuits were filed over its handling of the estate, DHHS withdrew as conservator. Vose was appointed conservator in August 2013.
Among the possessions that the state tried to sell but failed in the wake of the family taking legal action were three musical organs. One was destroyed in the flooding at the Broadway home. Another is being stored in Camden.
The third is in Dean’s bedroom apartment.
That is important to Dean because he is a musical savant, friend and attorney David Jenny said. Dean’s sister said her brother has never had a lesson but is able to play a song if he has heard it once.
After the Monday interview, Dean went to the organ and began playing several jazz numbers.
Family members said he would sing show songs at the age of 2, and his first instrument was an accordion. He would play at family gatherings at the Owls Head cottage, they said.
Dean also is upset the state sold his 2000 Cadillac Eldorado. Dean still can drive but said he has no money to buy another car. The car was sold for $385, even though the book value was as much as $5,600.
Vose said the car was important to Dean because before his mother died he often would drive her to the Owls Head cottage, then stay in the car and watch the ocean. Family members said he does not go for walks in the new neighborhood because he does not like the interaction with other people.
The state has defended its actions and maintained it is immune from liability while acting as the conservator. The lawsuits seek to overturn the sale of the Owls Head home and to return it to Dean. The suits also seek unspecified monetary damages. Jenny represents Vose as Dean’s conservator; attorney Cynthia Dill represents Dean’s sister, Claire Dean Perry
The judge has no timetable for deciding the outcome of the lawsuits.
When asked what he would like to come out of the legal proceedings, Dean had a one-word answer.
“Justice,” he said.