Albuquerque Advocates
Darryl W. Millet
Attorney at Law

3167 San Mateo NE
PMB 289
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110
Phone: (505) 830-2020 Fax: (505) 881-2125

Albuquerque Advocates is a "virtual law office" and provides the following real estate and business law services:

  • Real estate purchase agreements-commercial, residential, and vacant land
  • Real Estate Contract drafting, amendments, demands, and terminations
  • Mortgages and Deeds of Trust
  • Deeds and assignments
  • Business purchase and sale agreements
  • Formation, modification, and termination of corporations and LLCs

Please call (505) 830-2020 or email  to discuss these services.


Response to Albuquerque Journal Articles

In late November, 2016, the Albuquerque Journal published a series of front page articles on guardianship, using the story of Blair Darnell as the central focus. The reporter who wrote the story was not able to obtain detailed information from the people with inside knowledge of the true facts of the Darnell case, due to the sequestration (privacy) rule that makes it impossible for those insiders to speak about the case. Instead, the reporter relied primarily on the biased reports of some family members for the critical details of the story of Blair Darnell’s last few years of life.

In general, there are two reasons why family does not serve as guardian and/or conservator: They are unable to because of geographic location or personal circumstances; or they are so dysfunctional and strife ridden that they cannot put their own issues aside to act in the best interests of the person in need of protection. You may draw your own conclusions about which of those applied in the case of Blair Darnell.

The reporter got the Blair Darnell story wrong in many significant ways. The family was given ample opportunity to participate in the court process, and was represented by multiple attorneys who were able to get the family’s point of view heard by the judge. Many hours were devoted to court hearings over the six-plus years the Darnell case was active.

Left out of the Journal articles is the fact that there were a succession of guardians and conservators for Blair Darnell. There were also many different agency caregivers over the six years of the guardianship. The reason for the turnover was the constant interference and criticism by some family members. The professionals were made weary by the incessant challenges to their authority and actions, and some asked to be replaced as a result.

The Journal article also overstates the value of the Darnell estate, including the value of the farm property sold. The article doesn’t mention that the family interfered with the first prospective sale until the buyer withdrew his offer. The article doesn’t tell you that the next-door neighbor said he was no longer interested in buying the property once the first buyer walked away. Most importantly, the article doesn’t tell you that Blair Darnell was on the verge of running out of money to buy food or to pay for her 24/7 caregivers, and that the sale of the farm property was essential to keeping her fed and cared for.

The Journal article doesn’t explain that the fence around the acre containing Blair Darnell’s home was put there to make it safe for her to remain in her home and sit outside without wandering away, due to her advanced dementia, rather than having her moved to a secure nursing home and away from the farm that she loved so dearly. The article doesn’t tell you that Blair Darnell was able to peacefully die in her own home, with her family at her side, despite the sale of the property over a year earlier.

The sale of the farm included a life estate, so that Blair Darnell could remain in her home until her death. That life estate significantly reduced the value of the property to the buyer, because it prevented him from beneficial use of the property for as long as Blair lived. The price he paid reflected that. Her family history suggested she might live well into her mid-nineties, although sadly she died at 85 years of age.

The Journal article also fails to tell you that the sale of the Darnell farm was consistent with the appraisal of the property done just prior to the sale. The article implies that the property was sold without the assistance of a real estate broker. However, there was a listing agent, a separate buyer’s agent, and a completely arms-length transaction by parties who did not know each other. The buyer spent hundreds of thousands of dollars improving the run-down property before he re-sold it, and the real estate market was much stronger by the time the property was re-sold.

The guardianship process is not perfect, but it is the best system known to legal and medical professions at this time. The dedicated professionals involved in the guardianship process work with one goal: To protect the most vulnerable elderly from abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and abandonment in their time of greatest need.

Please do not believe if your parent is suffering from dementia that enlisting the aid of the courts to make sure he or she is cared for is a mistake. The courts work diligently to ensure the best possible outcomes, and despite statements to the contrary in the Journal article, the courts maintain supervision of the guardian and conservator throughout the case.

Judges who preside over guardianship cases are careful to review all available options and make the best possible decisions when appointing guardians and conservators. In the majority of cases, it is family who is appointed to handle those tasks. When the family cannot or will not take proper care of the elderly, it is important to have a safety net in place to protect those frail elderly persons who have lost the ability to care for themselves. In those cases, professionals fill a much needed role as protectors of the most vulnerable.

The court has given me permission to provide this information to correct the record. It was my great honor to help Blair Darnell live out her final years contentedly at her farm. Fortunately, due to advanced Alzheimer’s disease, Blair was mostly oblivious to the family turmoil that occurred around her during her final years.

Documentation Regarding Albuquerque Journal Articles

As Blair Darnell’s conservator and trustee of the Darnell Trust, I was a central focus in the Albuquerque Journal's November 2016 articles on guardianship. Since Blair Darnell’s family and the Albuquerque Journal have destroyed any privacy the sequestration order might have provided to the late Blair Darnell; and also since Rule 16-106(B)(5) of the Rules of Professional Conduct allows attorneys to reveal confidential information to the extent necessary to refute allegations against themselves; I am providing the following information to refute some specific claims made in the Journal articles.

I will respond in the date order that statements were made in the Journal, with references to the page numbers. Documentation is listed and attached where appropriate.

A. Albuquerque Journal, November 28, 2016, Page A-4

Allegation: Satellite TV was installed because “caretakers complained the elderly woman’s (Blair Darnell’s) television didn’t get enough channels”.

Facts: The caregivers reported (upon my inquiry) that Blair Darnell began watching more TV as she became less physically active. I noted that she had poor reception and limited choices. I decided to have satellite TV installed (cable was unavailable) and had a moderate sized package of channels included to give Blair more choice in what she was watching. The decision was not made to enhance the caregiver’s viewing experience, nor at their request. I felt it was a reasonable expenditure for Blair’s enjoyment.

Allegation: I submitted insufficient documentation of Blair Darnell’s expenses. Included was a quote from a CPA who was given limited documentation by the family and asked for his opinion on the documents he was provided; which was, “If they are to be a financial accounting are inaccurate and substantially deficient . . . nothing more that the printout of a check register”.

Facts: The CPA was called to testify in a hearing on the matter midpoint in the 6-year guardianship case and admitted he had not been given substantial supporting documentation previously made available to the family, and that his opinion would likely have been different had he seen all the documentation that the family was provided.

B. Albuquerque Journal, November 30, 2016, Page A-4

Allegation: I sent an email to the daughter of the deceased mother in a different trust case stated that she was prohibited from coming to my office.

Facts: This is correct, but without proper context. The daughter had inundated me with increasingly argumentative and demanding emails. The daughter, whose home was in Texas, also defied my request that she vacate her late mother’s home here in Albuquerque, despite my insistence that she exit the house so it could be sold. The daughter finally agreed to leave the house when threatened with legal eviction, and was told that she was allowed to bring the house keys to my office, but then must immediately leave the office, as I was not willing to speak to her in person.

I knew that any direct contact with her would lead to a confrontation, due to her extreme emotional upset and the tone of her emails. That emotional upset led to her first, second, and third attorneys firing her as a client. Her fourth attorney was from Texas, and only briefly attempted to advise her, before withdrawing from involvement in the case in frustration at the daughter’s behavior. The daughter filed a complaint against her first three attorneys, the trust attorney that drafted her mother’s trust, her sister’s attorney and me as trustee with the Disciplinary Board, and a separate complaint against Judge Barela-Shepherd.

Allegation: (A different trustee case.) A daughter demanded a forensic accounting. She claims she was denied access to her father as a result.

Facts: As trustee, I agreed to an order for a second, more extensive financial accounting, because several of the adult children disagreed with the first CPA’s findings on how much each adult child had taken from Dad before his death (the total was over $1 million). According to the first CPA, one of the adult children who obtained the most money from her father during his incapacity was the same daughter quoted in the article.

Early in the conservatorship case, the guardian imposed supervision for the daughter’s visits, due to her outbursts and continuing emotional abuse of the father during her visits. The father had actually paid that daughter to move to another state and not return, prior to his incapacity.

The second accounting was not requested or ordered until two years after the father’s death, so it could not have resulted in the daughter being barred from visits with her father.

Allegation: Mary Darnell was ordered to leave the guesthouse on her mother’s property by me as conservator.

Facts: A written caregiver agreement was signed by Mary Darnell and her “significant other” Dick Churchill to provide daily caregiver services for Blair Darnell in exchange for continued use of the guesthouse on the Darnell farm property. However, after less than a month, it was obvious to the guardian that Mary was not providing proper care, was defying instructions from the guardian, and was upsetting her mother, and the agreement was terminated.  

The agreement contained a provision that if it was terminated, Mary would vacate the guesthouse within thirty days so it could be rented to provide income for Blair. The District Court case number for the eviction of Mary Darnell was CV-2011-05945. The case began in Metro Court. When Mary lost, she appealed to District Court, where she also lost. On remand to Metro Court, a writ was issued to remove Mary from the property. Blair Darnell’s estate paid the legal fees to get Mary out of the property.

When she was evicted, Mary removed the washer and dryer paid for by her mother from the guesthouse. A large quantity of wire fencing material also disappeared. Those disappearances occurred before the deputies arrived to evict Mary. She attempted to remove the two rolling trash bins from the guesthouse and Blair’s house, but the deputies arrived in time to force her to take them out of her truck. I was not able to recover the missing items.

I also had to pay for repairs from Blair’s scarce funds because someone flushed diapers down the drain in the guesthouse just before Mary was evicted, and the septic system had to be dug up and cleared, including pipes beneath the house. The interior of the guesthouse had to be extensively repaired and repainted due to its poor condition.

Allegation: Blair Darnell’s house was surrounded by a 6’ chain link fence that “trapped and isolated” Blair Darnell.

Facts: Blair had lived on the farm property since the 1970’s. The guardian believed that removing her from the farm and placing her in a secure Alzheimer’s facility to prevent her from wandering away would likely shorten her life considerably, due to her strong attachment to the farm.

After discussion with the guardian, I agreed to spend the funds to enclose the one-acre parcel containing Blair’s home with a 6’ chain link fence. Approximately 40% of the boundary of the one acre lot already had a 6’ chain link fence. I had the remainder completed so Blair could be outside without fear of her walking away and becoming lost, as is common with Alzheimer’s patients. Blair’s children were given an access code for the electric gate so they could enter at will. Ironically, 80+ year old Blair later climbed over the 6’ fence and was quickly found and returned home. The caregiver on duty was discharged by her supervisor for failing to be attentive to Blair’s security.

C. Albuquerque Journal, December 1, 2016, Page A-4

Allegation: Danny Gentry offered $1.7 million for the 15-acre Darnell farm property.

Facts: Mr. Gentry only provided an affidavit stating he was interested in buying the property, which was filed with the court on April, 2013 while the property was under contract for $1.54 million to Jay Rembe. Mr. Rembe soon thereafter terminated his offer to purchase, citing “continual interference by family members with the sale” as his reason. Once Mr. Rembe terminated, I asked Mr. Gentry for a formal purchase offer. He refused, and said he was no longer interested in purchasing the property. I believe he was a straw buyer, put forward by Mary Darnell in a successful effort to get Mr. Rembe to walk away from his purchase.

Allegation: An attorney hired by the Darnells was quoted as saying that “Millet should have engaged a Realtor to sell the Darnell property”. He based that comment on Mary Darnell’s claim the property was not listed for sale in the Multiple Listing Service.

Facts: The property was listed through Signature Southwest Realtors, agent Linda McCreary; on March 7, 2013, and again on September 19, 2013 after Mr. Rembe terminated his purchase agreement. Both Jay Rembe and the eventual buyer, Tom Stromei, heard of the property through the listings. Mr. Rembe is a Realtor himself, as is Mr. Stromei. Mr. Rembe was self-represented, while Mr. Stromei had a buyer’s agent. I had not met either gentleman prior to the listings taking place.

Allegation: The farm property was worth $5.1 million.

Facts: The farm property was never appraised at anywhere near that value. Mary Darnell once proposed developing the property into large lots for homes, and estimated the value of the land at around $3 million after roads, utilities, and other major costs of development were expended. That proposal was never acted upon. Her theoretical valuation based upon very expensive improvements was unsupported by any expert.

The appraisal done one year prior to the sale, when the possibility of selling the property was first considered, valued it at $1.315 million, plus the value of the main house. The main house was encumbered by a $330,000 reverse mortgage and a life estate in Blair’s favor, making its net value negligible. The sale to Tom Stromei for the entire property was for $1.4 million, subject to the life estate for the main house property.

When Mr. Stromei re-sold the property 13 months after he purchased it, he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars demolishing old corrals and structures, laser leveling the fields, and repairing and improving the ditches. He sold the cleaned-up and fixed-up property in a stronger real estate market. The main house property no longer had a life estate encumbering it. Mr. Stromei’s sale of the property was not a desperation sale, as it was for Blair Darnell when Mr. Stromei purchased the property. At that time, Blair was virtually out of money for her care, and the Stromei cash purchase saved her from insolvency and Medicaid ineligibility.

Allegation: Denny Gentry claims he was given one minute to get off the Darnell property.

Facts: Mr. Gentry came to the Darnell property early in the guardianship, identified himself as a family friend, and proceeded to read me the riot act for becoming involved in Blair Darnell’s life. I listened to a few minutes of his ranting, then explained that I was appointed by the court, could not discuss Blair’s case with him, and would like him to leave. He abruptly stopped talking and left. I did not say I’d “call the law” if he did not leave in one minute. I simply insisted that he leave.

Allegation: Denny Gentry claims he was at the house when (I), “had my hand on the lever, loading up her worn out old car onto a trailer, pushing Blair away with his other hand as she was kicking him in the shins”.

Facts: Danny Gentry was not present when the Jeep was towed away on a two-ton flatbed tow truck by a towing company. I didn’t participate in loading the Jeep, as he described. The plan was for Blair to be gone from the house while the vehicle was removed for disposal. Unfortunately, the caregivers had a miscommunication, and Blair returned home early, catching the tow operator in mid-loading mode.

Blair did flail at me, but I was able to calm her down by explaining the inoperable Jeep was being donated to charity. Mr. Gentry was told about the incident by Dick Churchill, Mary Darnell’s “significant other”, who was present during the event, and repeatedly questioned and criticized my decision to remove the vehicle in Blair’s presence, thus greatly increasing Blair’s level of anxiety.

D. Albuquerque Journal, December 1, 2016, Page A-5

Allegation: The Darnell family initially refused to sign off on a settlement agreement with me when it was time to distribute the trust assets to the kids. They hired a CPA who criticized the accounting I provided the court and the family. They later withdrew the accounting request and signed the settlement agreement, due to the potential cost of the accounting.

Facts: The CPA was hired long before Blair passed away, and his comments years earlier are explained in the second allegation section at the top of the first page above. The family was given every opportunity to put forth any complaints about the actions I took as conservator or trustee, decided not to pursue any claims, and signed a settlement agreement that included a non-disparagement agreement. Since the funds were distributed, they have repeatedly violated the non-disparagement agreement.

E. Albuquerque Journal, December 4, 2016, Page A-6

Allegation: Mary Darnell is quoted as saying, “My mother told me, ‘Get these laws changed so this doesn’t happen to another family’, and I intend to do so”.

Facts: One of the most troubling aspects of this case was the constant barrage of complaining Mary Darnell did to her mother, who could hardly comprehend what Mary was complaining about. Blair was unable to form coherent sentences by early in the guardianship, and did not have the ability to make complex statements like that attributed to her by Mary Darnell. A month or so into my tenure as conservator, Blair struggled to express to me, after giving me a hug, that she “hated Darryl”. It was clear to me she was parroting what she had been told by Mary, but did not connect me to the name “Darryl”. It is my opinion that Mary Darnell never truly understood or accepted Blair’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Allegation: Blair Darnell’s estate was dissipated from $5 million to $750,000 during the guardianship.

Facts: Dan Pick drafted the Darnell Trust, and in August 2001 prepared a funding schedule for the trust, which listed a total value of $1.716 million. That figure included the real estate, stocks, bank accounts, and $198,000 for Casey Darnell, LLC, an entity which was defunct by the time I became conservator. If the value of the LLC is subtracted from the funding schedule, the true value of the trust assets was about $1.518 million. The stock holdings and bank accounts were also nearly depleted by the time the guardianship began, which further reduced the trust’s value. The value of the trust assets distributed to the Darnell family after Blair’s death was approximately $750,000 after more than six years of expensive care for Blair Darnell. Monthly 24/7 caregiver costs ran from $14,000-$16,000. The four Darnell siblings also each inherited several hundred thousand dollars more from three other trusts.

One of the reasons there was $750,000 left in the Darnell trust was that I sued Mary Darnell and recovered $186,560.94 from her that she had taken (less interest accrual) from Blair prior to the guardianship case being filed.

F. Albuquerque Journal, December 18, 2016, Editorial on page A-10

Allegation: The daughters of a ward in another conservatorship case learned that after 25 months in charge, the conservator (me) had not paid taxes on their mother’s vacant land in Texas and foreclosure was imminent. When confronted, the conservator (me) said the family was irresponsible.

Facts: The property was not known to exist by the conservator, because the family did not disclose it to me. When I investigated the matter after receiving a rudely worded email from a family member, the title to the property showed it to be owned by the brother of the conservatee, not the conservatee herself. The tax bills were being mailed to one of the daughters, who had failed to turn them over to me to be paid. Once I verified through a Texas probate attorney that the property belonged to the conservatee, I paid the tax bills. I told the family that they were irresponsible for not forwarding the tax bills, while blaming me for the tax arrearage. The property was worth 10% of what the family claimed, per a Texas Realtor who performed a market analysis for me.

The preceding was sent to the Albuquerque Journal. On Sunday, May 7, 2017, the Journal published a severely edited portion of the above response, but did not print any of the documentation, and continued to argue they had the story right, despite the documentation.