Bertha Bernal, a Prisoner of California Probate Courts, Deserves to Be Reunited With Her Family

Will 93 year old Bertha ever get to see her children again?

Bertha Bernal is a woman who is loved by her children. She is an American citizen with Constitutional and Civil rights that are being infringed upon. She is a also a conservatee under California Probate Court, and has Resident Rights that have been systematically denied and ignored.

(The first article of this series can be read <here>.)


The ‘mother lode’ of documents.

In this series of articles, Frank Report has had exclusive access to hundreds of documents and emails that tell the struggle of the family of 93-year-old Bertha Bernal, a tragic tale of yet another victim of the broken-down California Conservatorship System.

Illegally isolated from her family in the last years of her life, Bertha is suffering from Alzheimer’s and – the family alleges – from elderly abuse, inflicted upon her by a self-perpetuating bureaucracy and by people who exploit the system for their own gain.


Bertha with daughter Cat.

“When are you going to take me out of here?” Bertha’s recurrent pleas break her daughters Sandi’s and Cathleen’s hearts, and fills them with the determination that makes them and their brother Anthony fight so hard for their mom.

It’s a living nightmare for Bertha and her adult children. They are a horrifying example of US citizens lost in the maze of Probate Courts.

“The system is corrupt,” Sandra Cobianchi, known in the family mutated into as Sandi, said without any hesitation.

“Orange County Probate system is corrupt. Their reasons for their behaviors, are not going to be logical”, she says with a sad smile. But rather, they engage in actions that are “a justification to further the horrible situation, keep their jobs and populate the system”.

“There is no good reason. The system is dysfunctional and broken.” Sandi combines the acquired knowledge that there is no apparent legal recourse, with an iron will to keep fighting against all odds.

“It’s happening again and again. It’s like a plague on our senior citizens,” Berkeley City Council member Ben Bartlett, a voice calling for reform, told the Orange County Register.

Investigative journalist Tony Saavedra asks the million-dollar question: “How can legal professionals have such power over the life of a noncriminal, to the point that even family has no voice?”.



There is ample evidence, as seen in the graphic above, that clearly shows Bertha’s preference for her daughters Sandi and Cat, and her son Anthony over the hostile strangers that she is now subjected to.

Bertha’s daughter Sandi spoke exclusively to the Frank Report, sharing the distressing reality of a family fighting the madness in the Conservative System imposed by the Probate Court on her mom.

By relentlessly calling state-appointed people to properly perform their sworn duties, she became feared and hated by them, who repeatedly labeled her “disruptive”, thus progressively mining her image with the probate court.

“Well, if standing up for my mom is disruptive, I will be disruptive all day long!” Sandi reminds us that Board and Care elders have clear residential rights – and that these rights are being denied to Bertha.

The more the family insists on respecting Bertha’s rights, the more the Conservator and Caregivers become restrictive in their arbitrary rules.


Suzette Smith conservator and Maila Soliven, the care giver.

Senior Deputy Public Guardian Suzette E. Smith is the current court-appointed Conservator for Bertha. She has become the nemesis of the siblings, synonymous of everything that’s wrong with the Probate Court’s handling of the situation.

One of the most contested actions of Suzette was to put Bertha in a gloomy, sub-standard home run by Maila Soliven. The relationship got very ugly over the years.

Maila’s hostility towards the family necessitated Sandi to have a police officer escort her during the visits. Photos taken by family members that Frank Report has had exclusive access to, show that, under Suzette’s conservatorship, there is a previous history of very unsanitary conditions.



In November 2019, the siblings fought in Probate Court for Conservatorship and, shockingly, they LOST. Even though the law clearly states that the family is preferred over outside caregivers to be the guardian of an elderly parent.

Actually, Conservator Suzette, burned-out by the constant fighting, was ready to hand over the conservatorship to the family, in return for a promise that they would not sue or file a complaint against them.

But, according to Sandi, the presiding Judge said “No – there is a reason this case came to Probate Court. The trial must proceed”.

The Court, unbelievably, stipulated there was nothing negative about Suzette’s Conservatorship after a one-sided interview with just Suzette!

No lawyer would touch a case fighting a Conservator. The family had to self-represent.

They had to fight for every little detail: to have caregiver Maila allow Bertha to have pictures of the family on the walls of her bedroom – even though it’s a proven medical fact that having family pictures are good for patients with dementia.

Maila’s crew also got rid of a stuffed teddy-bear the family gifted her. “They are afraid of anything that could conceal a nanny-cam”, Sandi ventures to suggest as an explanation.

Maila was always very careful to forbid her resident’s loved ones from visiting unannounced – apparently, because she wasn’t willing to be transparent about what happens there when no family member was watching.



By far, the greatest point of contention was the visitation rights. Two days after Bertha took residence there, Maila changed the “House Rules” demanding that the family give 3 days’ notice before visiting.

Like many Conservators, Suzette abused the powers she was entrusted into, and without any consideration to family member’s feelings, denied family visitations.

The literature of these constant denials is mind-boggling.




The Conservator canceled Bertha’s Kaiser insurance, forcing her to see Dr. Brian Shaw, who worked at a different nursing home which was not Bertha’s residence, and consequently had very limited contact with her. This progressively led to curtailed visitation that gravely infringed upon her resident rights.

On one occasion, the family took Bertha to her brother’s 92nd birthday party. They were 15 minutes late in bringing her back. Read again: 15 minutes. Suzette railed at them and made a big deal of it.

Subsequently, no more overnights stays were “authorized”, and ‘visits’ and ‘out passes’ were limited to 4 hours duration.



Next, the same doctor recommends the curtailing of Bertha’s rights even more, by denying her any out-of-facility visits.

The absurd element is that, by his own written admission, he made these recommendations, not based on direct contact with the patient, but by referring to the notes provided by caregiver Maila.

He merely repeated her narrative, it would seem.

The hostility between Maila and the family got to such a degree, that in all future visits, Sandi felt the need to take along Placentia PD officers to not only ensure her safety but also to be witnesses to give her credibility if a need arises.

Little did she know that the Conservator would argue to the court that “Police being called 28 times” was proof of the daughter’s ‘disruption’, never disclosing to the Judge that it was actually Sandi who called the officers on Suzette’s chosen caregiver, Maila.

When Sandi visited Bertha at the activities center she frequented, the staff there was instructed to not talk to her or inform her of anything, and pictures were strictly forbidden.


 Finally, the doctor commits the final outrage and recommends NO MORE FAMILY VISITS.

What kind of mad medical advice is that?

Here is one of the reasons that the Frank Report calls you to join the chorus for URGENT justice for Bertha Bernal.


Let’s review the faulty process:

* Conservator gets a doctor to make ‘recommendations’ on her ‘needs’ regarding Bertha and her family.

* The doctor has admittedly, a very limited interaction with the patient.

* His ‘recommendations’ are admittedly made based upon notes given by caregiver – not actual and verifiable medical facts.

*Conservator illegally trasmutates the ‘recommendations’ into ‘doctor’s orders’ and curtails Bertha’s Resident Rights.

* Conservator willfully overlooks and ignores the fact that the doctor himself admits his opinions are based on reports from caregiver Maila, and not from his direct interaction with the patient.

* Conservator willfully overlooks and ignores the fact that Bertha has repeatedly said on record that she wants her daughters around.

* Most importantly, Conservator willfully overlooks and ignores the fact that medical recommendations do NOT supersede Bertha’s Constitutional Rights, her Civil Rights and her Resident’s Rights.



Bertha’s godson, respected doctor Gaston R. Molina, Jr., MD, former physician for baseball pros San Diego Padres, has gone on the record in support of his godmother. He states that, family stimulation is vital for Bertha’s mental and physical health.



There is also documented declaration by health care professionals describing the relationship between mothers and daughters as healthy and in no way detrimental to the patient’s well-being.



There are also worries regarding family heirlooms that have gone missing, like this treasured 24k gold ring that has been yet another point of contention between the family and the Caregiver.



So, there you have it: Bertha Bernal is a woman who is loved by her children. She is an American citizen with Constitutional and Civil rights that are being infringed upon. She is also a conservatee under California Probate Court, and has Resident Rights that have been systematically denied and ignored.

Her family can’t see her at all. That’s total alienation of an elderly woman from her family in the last and difficult period of her life.


THAT’S ELDERLY ABUSE – let’s call it what it is.

At the house where she resides, caregiver Maila has “Bertha’s” phone, not Bertha. She is a veritable court-appointed hostage, sequestered away from her family without any visitation rights.

All she has is a 30-minute window for phone calls once a week – and if her children miss the call by even a split second – it’s gone – no retrial. The caregiver doesn’t answer, when the family calls back.

“Why can’t I go to my daughters’ anymore?” Bertha usually asks.



Suzette Smith.


Bertha’s family found, on Facebook, that Orange County has honored Suzette E. Smith for her work. There she basks in glory, posing as a ‘rights advocate’ in social media while reportedly infringing on elderly rights on a daily basis.

In one heartbreaking post, Suzette is supporting a Woman’s March in which the theme – believe it or not – is ‘Families belong together’.

Let’s have Suzette make this empty slogan come true by letting Bertha’s family come back together.


Let’s help reunite Bertha and her family!


On the next article of this series, Frank Report examines Bertha Bernal’s family’s complaints about the current Conservator and Caregiver’s handling of medical emergencies with their Mom, and we look into verifying the family’s claims that they have both been lying to the relatives.

About the author

Frank Parlato


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About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” Parlato was also credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premiered on May 22, 2022. Most recently, he consulted and appeared on Tubi's "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM," which aired January, 2023.

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