Supreme Court chief justice tackles guardianship amid complaints


The complaints emanate from all over the state and, really, the nation: Seniors and others found incapacitated by the courts too often are treated like piggy banks by professional guardians who put their fees above the needs of the ward or concerns of loved ones.

Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Monday announced members of a task force that will focus on the growing concern about guardianships in Florida’s courts.

The announcement comes as the state tries to establish for the first time a regulatory authority over professional guardians.

He said few decisions are more challenging to a judge than removing a person’s rights because they are no longer capable of making decisions independently.

The Palm Beach Post, Labarga’s hometown newspaper, has reported extensively on guardianship, particularly how one judge and his wife benefited from it in the series, Guardianships: A Broken Trust. The stories resulted in reforms in Palm Beach County courts. Circuit Judge Martin Colin announced his retirement after the stories.

Colin’s wife, Elizabeth Savitt, continues to serve as a professional guardian despite increasing complaints by loved ones of her incapacitated wards. She has taken tens of thousands of dollars from incapacitated seniors’ bank accounts before a judge approved them, The Post found.

Lidya Abramovici is the former legislative liaison for Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship and says the group has lobbied Labarga for months to get involved as complaints mount from families who see their loved ones and their life savings ransacked by unethical professional guardians.

“The time has come for the Florida Supreme Court to become aware of what is happening in Florida with the injustice to the elderly and the financial abuse,” she said.

Abramovici said two reforms that can help are to cap fees for guardians and their attorneys and to require judges not to overrule advanced directives seniors made before they were declared incapacitated.

Cases to increase

In a news release, Labarga, who lives in Welllington, said he created what he calls the “work group” because guardianship caseloads are increasing in number and complexity.

“As Florida grows and ages, we can expect more and more cases dealing with guardianship issues to come into our courts,” Labarga said.

Individuals found incapacitated by the court are appointed a guardian. If a family member is not available, often a professional guardian steps in with complete control of the senior’s finances, medical decisions and housing.

In Florida and across the nation, many professional guardians have been found to act in their own interests and not those of the incapacitated ward. Families of seniors have found themselves unable to battle professional guardians, who often employ legions of attorneys who are paid out of the savings of the senior.

Balance needed

Highlands County Circuit Judge Olin Shinholser will serve as chairman. He said there is too often conflict between the needs and desires of the ward — often a senior battling dementia — and the guardian, caregivers and even the family.

“Comments and complaints from various stakeholders are indicative that we need to take a closer look at whether the rules and procedures in place accomplish the balance needed,” he said.

State legislators passed laws in the last two legislative sessions to increase the state’s regulation and oversight of guardians.

“This is an appropriate time to re-evaluate our system and determine if the courts are doing everything possible to meet the needs of everyone involved,” Labarga said. “It’s imperative we stay proactive in this area and provide real solutions to emerging issues.”

The work group will tackle a number of guardianship issues, including restoration of capacity for the senior or person put in a guardianship. Costs — which usually mean fees for the guardian and at least one lawyer — will also be addressed.

An interim report is due to the court by October 2017 and a final report is due to the court by September 2018.

“Further evaluating guardianship practices supports the branch’s goal of ensuring that court procedures and operations are easily understandable and user-friendly and supports our mission to protect rights and liberties of all,” Shinholser said.




Next Up in Politics

Rick Scott takes a page from Charlie Crist in latest TV ad
Rick Scott takes a page from Charlie Crist in latest TV ad

Charlie Crist depicted Democratic rival Jim Davis’s empty chair (left) in ads during the 2006 governor’s race; Republican Gov. Rick Scott is reviving the empty-chair theme this year in attacks on Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, trying to paint Democratic Sen. Bill...
Rick Scott: Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford ‘must receive a fair hearing’
Rick Scott: Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford ‘must receive a fair hearing’

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, rivals in November, both say Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations should be heard. (Photos by George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post) Florida Gov. Rick Scott, trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November, weighed in this morning on ...
Protesters heckle Scott over red tide at campaign stop
Protesters heckle Scott over red tide at campaign stop

With the noxious smell of red tide hanging in the air and a fresh wave of dead fish washing up on nearby Gulf beaches, a large crowd of people incensed about the devastating algae bloom that has plagued the region for months directed their anger at Gov. Rick Scott during a campaign event Monday in Venice. Protesters jammed the sidewalk and spilled...
‘I will never roll on Donald Trump,’ says Roger Stone in West Palm Beach
‘I will never roll on Donald Trump,’ says Roger Stone in West Palm Beach

Literally a circus atmosphere for Roger Stone’s speech to a pro-Donald Trump club in West Palm Beach. A camera from Showtime’s political documentary series “The Circus” records Stone’s remarks. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post) With prosecutors interviewing a dozen of his associates, ...
Christie: Sex assault allegations make it tough to have Kavanaugh confirmation vote
Christie: Sex assault allegations make it tough to have Kavanaugh confirmation vote

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault is willing to testify about her allegations before Congress, her attorney said Monday. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times) As the old saw goes: “What a difference...
More Stories