More Links in Health Programs

Judge Denies Daugher's Request

6 Apr 2007

By Tracy Breton

PROVIDENCE - A Superior Court judge yesterday denied a request by a 60-year-old woman to take her demented 90-year-old mother out for Easter dinner.

Suzette Gebhard, a former Democratic congressional candidate who once served as president of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, wanted to take her mother, who is under guardianship and in assisted-living, out to a restaurant Sunday afternoon.

But Judge Alice B. Gibney said during a hearing that "Suzette's track record with the court ... is unreliable at best" and that she was not going to allow Gebhard to take her elderly mother, Laurette Borduas Eifrig, out of Capitol Ridge on Smith Street.

"I can't imagine greater error on my part" than to grant Gebhard's request, said Gibney, who also ordered Gebhard to surrender her mother's passport.

If Gebhard wants to see her mother on Easter, Gibney said, she'll have to go to the assisted-living facility where Eifrig resides and dine with her there.

Gebhard, a former director of the Governor's Justice Commission who holds a doctorate in social work, hasn't been allowed to visit with her mother in recent months unless she is accompanied by a lawyer. As part of a compromise, Gibney agreed to relax those conditions a bit yesterday. She'll now be permitted unsupervised visits at Capitol Ridge - a maximum of two per week - for no more than one hour each. But if her mother becomes agitated by the visits, they will be halted, Gibney warned.

In opposing an outing for Easter, Eifrig's lawyer, Richard Boren, said that while he believes Gebhard and her mother "have a very good relationship ... I'm very concerned that Suzette would take Laurette out of Capitol Ridge and not return her."

He told the judge that his "grave reservations" about Gebhard stemmed in part from her past behavior and her untruthfulness in dealing with him and others. He said Gebhard told him, the FBI and postal officials that she and her mother had never received any of the seven letters he had sent to them last year but that when he went inside her house after her arrest in January, he found all of the letters in a box, inside a folder marked "Boren letters" - a notation, he said, that had been penned by Gebhard.

"That has bothered me ever since," Boren told Gibney.

Gebhard is waging a pitched battle with her younger sister, Francine Ardito, of Reston, Va., over who should have control over their mother and her money. Their court fight, which has resulted in criminal charges being brought against Gebhard, was the subject of a front-page story in The Providence Sunday Journal on March 25.

Eifrig, who is blind and suffers from memory impairment, had been living in Virginia, near Ardito, for 13 years when last May, Gebhard - with no notice to other family members - packed up her mother's belongings, canceled her lease and drove her to Rhode Island. She secreted Eifrig in her Warren home for many months and twice took her out of the country, defying court orders to let a court-appointed guardian and Ardito visit her.

In January, the attorney general's office authorized the Warren police to get an arrest warrant. Firefighters had to knock down Gebhard's door to get Eifrig out of the house and into a hospital for a checkup.

Gebhard was taken to the Adult Correctional Institutions overnight and now faces a criminal misdemeanor charge for obstructing justice. Her trial in District Court is scheduled for April 20.

Both sisters are appealing Gibney's order appointing lawyer Paula M. Cuculo as guardian for their mother. The legal fees in the case will probably cost the sisters and Eifrig more than $100,000 before the matter is resolved.

The trial over the guardianship issue and where Laurette Eifrig will live for the rest of her life is set for May 7 before Gibney.

As part of an interim compromise worked out during yesterday's hearing, Gibney said she would now allow unsupervised visits at Capitol Ridge from Ardito and Eifrig's sister, as well as from Gebhard and Eifrig's granddaughter. Limited phone calls from all of the relatives except Gebhard will also be allowed, the judge said, if Eifrig wants to speak on the phone with them.

Gebhard's lawyer, James T. McCormick, told the court that he had been "reluctant" to press Gebhard's request to take her mother to a restaurant for Easter because Gibney had previously ruled that there were to be no more road trips for Eifrig, and had already rejected Gebhard's request to take her mother out for lunch at the Providence Art Club.

He said the reason he'd filed the motion was because Gebhard had "begged me" to push the issue, saying it was a family tradition to go out for Easter dinner and "her mom would like to go."

Cuculo objected, as did Boren and Ardito's lawyer, Janet Mastronardi.

Cuculo said she had visited with Eifrig last Friday and that Eifrig had been "indifferent" to her daughter's invitation to go out. The guardian said she didn't think Eifrig even knew that Easter was coming up.

Mastronardi said after court that Eifrig is an atheist and "really doesn't care about Easter."

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from The Providence Journal.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top