Legislation licensing public guardians coming under strict new scrutiny

Protections are result of dozens of families pushing back against system


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – New legislation licensing public guardians -- the people who care for others when their families can't -- is coming under strict new scrutiny after years of complaints of abuse.

The new protections are the result of dozens of families pushing back against the system.

We've followed the saga of Doug Franks and his mother, Earnestine, for the last two and a half years. Earnestine still lives in her Pensacola home, but when Franks and his brother disagreed on her care, a public guardian was appointed. Franks said it has been an irreversible nightmare ever since.

"My mother always says, 'Can you spend the night?' For the last four years, she's been saying that: 'Spend the night,'" Franks said. "We got plenty of rooms, but I can't tell her, 'Mom, I'll be put in jail if I do that.' I can't. I'm sorry."

Franks testified before legislative committees, where this year and last he helped push through new licensing requirements for guardians.

This week, Franks and other victims of guardian abuse testified before the panel, making rules for the new law.

"If they violate these new rules, then they can be disciplined, which can also include the revocation of their license and they'll no longer be able to work as guardians," said Alan Sayler, of St. Petersburg.

There are hundreds of stories across Florida that are similar to Franks' story.

Many accuse judges of being unsympathetic and going so far as appointing their friends as guardians in lucrative cases.

"So this will take it from them, so we can go somewhere and say, 'This is what we are giving you. This person has broken all of your rules and they should be revoked.' Then they will investigate it, where before all we had were the courts," said Kathleen Zargaros, of Tampa.

"And they wouldn't do anything?" asked reporter Mike Vasilinda.

"Nothing. They never do," Zargaros said.

The new legislation is the first effort to monitor and regulate guardians at any level of government. Those like Franks who said they've been abused by the system are seeing their first ray of hope.

The Department of Elder Affairs is accepting written comments on the new rules. The new legislation, which includes the ability to file complaints, is expected to be up and running Oct. 1.