Kerri Kasem would like to see Marylanders spared the ordeal she went through during the final years of her famous father’s life.
Before nationally known radio host Casey Kasem died in 2014 at age 82, his daughter was locked in an emotional and legal battle with her stepmother over access to him. She claimed her stepmother, Jean Kasem, had barred her, other relatives and Kasem’s closest friends from seeing him as he was struggling with Lewy body dementia.
It turned out California law was on the stepmother’s side. Kerri Kasem said all the judge could do was to urge the family to go into the hallway and “figure it out.”
Kerri Kasem, 45, is in Annapolis now, planning to testify Wednesday in favor of a bill that would permit Maryland judges to order visitation rights for people cut off from contact with loved ones because of conflicts with primary caregivers.
It will be her third year visiting Maryland’s capital to support such legislation. This year she is expected to be joined by two other relatives of famous people who also had limited access to their famous fathers in their declining years: Travis and Trudy Campbell, son and daughter-in-law of country music star Glen Campbell, and Kelly Rooney, daughter of actor Mickey Rooney.
“It’s a very common sense bill,” Kasem said. “There’s no forced visitation if the party doesn’t want to see the child.”
Since her father died, Kasem has worked to change state laws that allow primary caregivers to isolate sick or disabled people from their friends and relatives — including their children. Her efforts have helped change the law in California and 10 other states.
Now she’s aiming to add Maryland to the list.
Kasem, Rooney and the Cambells support a bill sponsored by Del. Sid Saab, an Anne Arundel County Republican. The legislation has attracted more than 110 co-sponsors from both parties in the 141-member House of Delegates.
Like many bills, Saab’s proposal has slowly made progress. He said the first year he introduced it, the measure did not get out of committee. Last year it passed the House but died in the Senate as time ran out.
The legislation would authorize judges to make it one of the legal duties of guardians of disabled people to preserve family relationships and maintain lines of communication. It proposes giving disabled person’s relatives — and, in some cases, friends — the right to petition courts to order caregivers to allow visitation, phone calls or electronic communications.
Such petitions could be challenged if those seeking visitation have abused or defrauded the incapacitated people or if visits and communications could cause harm. But the legal presumption would be in favor of visitation rights, the bill proposes.
“We wanted the court system to have something in place where there would be a mechanism for visitation rights,” Saab said. The bill’s aim is to resolve such issues without the time-consuming and expensive process of challenging guardianships.
Travis Campbell, 52, said he wished his home state of Tennessee had such a measure earlier than 2016. His father died in 2017 after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell said that for much of that time his stepmother, Kim Campbell, limited his access to his father.
A law such as the one proposed in Maryland “would have enabled me to spend more time with my father,” Travis Campbell said.
The singer’s son now travels the country with Kasem and Rooney advocating for visitation bills. Campbell said he and the others are doing it for “everybody who has no notoriety.”
Those people include Marylanders such as Jennifer Smith Salaj of Potomac, who testified in favor of last year’s version of the bill.
Salaj said her father, who was divorced from her mother, suffered a debilitating stroke in 2006. She said that for years his longtime companion denied her and her sister information about his medical condition. When her Korean War veteran father died in 2015, she told lawmakers, his companion did not inform the sisters and had him cremated rather than buried at Arlington National Cemetery as Salaj said he would have wished.
The experience motivated her to urge lawmakers to pass the bill.
“I wanted to make sure they knew it was a Maryland problem,” Salaj said. “It wasn’t a celebrity problem.”