Monday, December 4, 2006

Times Probes Guardianship System

As part of its Your courts, their secrets series, the Seattle Times is now taking a hard look at our state's guardianship system. Yesterday the feature story was about the mismanagement of an elderly woman's affairs by a professional guardian in Spokane, and the frustrations her son had in trying to get access to her court file, which the guardian had had sealed. Maureen O'Hagan, Cheryl Phillips, and Justin Mayo, A son struggles to reveal how lawyer was treating his mother, Seattle Times, Dec. 3, 2006. The Times analyzed the orders sealing files and found that, contrary to the rules, 97% failed to cite compelling circumstances for sealing and 99% failed to weigh the public interest. Thirty-nine percent gave no explanation at all for sealing. Meanwhile, guardians sometimes overcharge and underperform.

A graphic presentation explains How guardianship works -- or doesn't -- and what to watch for.

Today's front-page story looks at the guardianship of a woman who suffered brain damage in a car accident. The lawyer advising the family (the woman's daughter) disclosed that he also represented the guardianship company. At first that seemed to the daughter like an endorsement, but later, when the family was challenging the guardianship company, it looked more like a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, the guardian ad litem who was appointed to review the guardianship had ALSO represented the guardianship company. Cheryl Phillips, Maureen O'Hagan and Justin Mayo, Secrecy hides cozy ties in guardianship cases, Seattle Times, Dec. 4, 2006. After a long struggle -- and over $100,000 in legal fees for the ward -- the ward's sister is now the guardian.

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