CHARLESTON — A Legal Aid attorney who received The Ronald Nestor Award last month said she considers the honor a special privilege.
"I am very honored and very humbled to receive the Ron Nestor Award, especially since it represents recognition from my peers who work in the area of financial exploitation," Jennifer Taylor said in an interview with the West Virginia Record. "Ron Nestor was a leader in establishing senior services in West Virginia — a trailblazer in an area that previously had been ignored. I consider it a special privilege to be even associated with him."
Taylor said she had no idea that she had been nominated until she received a phone call a few days before the June 7 seminar where she was given the award.
When State Legal Aid ombudsman Suzanne Messenger called to share the news with her, Taylor said she was surprised.
"I believe Legal Aid of West Virginia and several ombudsmen nominated me for the award, but no one ever even suggested to me that they had done so," Taylor said. "I was completely surprised when Suzanne Messenger called to tell me the delightful news. I was present at the seminar and was honored to accept the award in person."
Taylor said the award is important to her because financial exploitation is the fastest growing silent crime of the 21st Century.
"The victims range from a local grandmother whose grandson is stealing all of her resources to Brooke Astor in New York, to, just in today’s news, [Astronaut] Buzz Aldrin, who has filed a financial exploitation claim against his children," Taylor said. "Unfortunately, the cases we see do not make the big time news, but the victims are just as devastated."
Legal Aid of West Virginia's goal, Taylor said, is to provide a voice to those who do not have the ability to cry out at injustice.
"When we can assist a grandmother in recovering her house and assets, when we can provide relief for a gentleman who was a victim of a sweetheart scam, when we can help a victim escape from an abusive household where children or siblings are not only stealing the victim’s money but also inflicting great physical or emotional harm, the rewards are tenfold," Taylor said.
Taylor said she's always been plaintiff-oriented in her practice and is aware of the need for different classes of people to obtain legal services.
"I work part time for Legal Aid and maintain my private practice as well," Taylor said. "In my private practice, I am a guardian ad litem for abused and neglected children, so it was very easy to take a position with Legal Aid to assist abused and neglected adults."
Taylor started out as an ombudsman attorney, representing people in long-term care facilities on a variety of issues.
"Very quickly, I realized that financial exploitation was a predominant factor in most of the cases that came my way," she said. "It was so prevalent that Legal Aid has gone from one part-time attorney dealing with the issue as it affected nursing home residents, to a full-blown Financial Exploitation Unit with four attorneys statewide doing nothing but financial exploitation cases for anyone who is a victim of the crime. This has been a true 'build it and they will come' experience."
Taylor said she is honored, humbled and grateful to be recognized by Legal Aid of West Virginia and her peers. She said everything accomplished in the field of financial exploitation has been a collaborative effort on the part of Legal Aid, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the ombudsmen, the West Virginia Financial Exploitation Task Force members, AARP, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, legislators such as Del. Ruth Rowan and Sen. Ed Gaunch, who have no hesitation in sponsoring legislation that fights financial exploitation, to a whole host of other folks who have supported their efforts in so many ways.
"They are the real heroes, and I am very lucky to be working with them," Taylor said.
The award is given annually to a West Virginian who champions prevention and helps fight elder abuse.