Lincoln Park nursing home seeks gag order on public guardian about 99-year-old allegedly bilked of $750,000

Grace Watanabe, who has dementia and no living relatives, was moved to another nursing home in 2018 by Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.

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Grace Watanabe

Grace Watanabe

Provided

The owners of a Lincoln Park nursing home who are facing a lawsuit over employees who allegedly stole $750,000 from a 99-year-old woman are seeking to bar her court-appointed guardian from talking to the media.

Owners of Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park contend such communications between Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert and reporters could taint a jury pool.

Golbert took emergency custody of Grace Watanabe, who has dementia, and removed her from the nursing home in 2018 after the alleged theft came to light. A civil lawsuit he filed on her behalf seeking to recover the money is pending.

While not accused of taking part in the theft, the lawsuit alleges nursing home executives were aware of it and didn’t report it to law enforcement.

The motion, filed in September, points to a Chicago Sun-Times story published in September 2019 in which Golbert accused the owners of the nursing home of attempting to delay litigation by refusing to sit for depositions.

“It’s not clear how much longer she’ll be with us,” Golbert said in the article. “And I think they’re hoping they’ll get off the hook if she dies because as long as she’s alive, they know 100 percent that I’ll be going after them aggressively.”

Symphony Residences in Lincoln Park

Symphony Residences in Lincoln Park

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The nursing home contends Golbert’s accusations are “far from complete, accurate, and fair, as they omit, among other things, that settlement discussions have been ongoing since before suit was filed.”

Since the article was published, the motion said, “a number of negative reviews and comments regarding the contents of this article have been left on the defendant’s professional sites, including Facebook, Yelp!, and Google reviews.”

On Tuesday, Natalie Bauer Luce, a spokeswoman for Symphony, said in an email: “Our motion seeks to ensure that this matter is decided in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion as false and inflammatory comments intending to eliminate any possibility of impartiality in this case have been issued regularly. This motion is simply seeking to redirect these assertions to the appropriate venue.”

Golbert filed a response Tuesday contending Symphony executives were trying to unconstitutionally silence him “from shining light on the neglect and financial abuse.”

Golbert separately told the Sun-Times the attempted legal maneuver was “offensive, outrageous, repugnant and an assault on free speech.”

“The public has a right to know which nursing homes are good and which ones are miserable and dangerous,” he said.

Watanabe’s money — allegedly stolen by several Symphony employees through forged checks and by using her ATM card — was spent on jewelry, travel, ride-hailing services and fast food, according to Golbert.

Watanabe has no living relatives and should she die before the conclusion of the civil suit, the beneficiaries of her will — Misericordia and Mercy Home for Boys & Girls — could step in as complainants, Golbert said.

Watanabe was born in Santa Cruz, California, in 1921 and was held in the Poston internment camp from 1942 to 1946 during World War II. After her release, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois in Chicago.

“She’s currently at another nursing home where she’s safe and doing well,” Golbert said.

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