JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The plight of pop star Britney Spears is shining a spotlight on thousands of Floridians who have had their lives highjacked by overzealous and sometimes corrupt guardians.
A first-ever task force to recommend legal changes for incapacitated people being abused by the legal system holds its first meeting Thursday.
Albert Hogue, 90, is back living with his daughter Hillary in her Naples home, but only after a multi-year fight to keep him out of a guardianship initiated by Hillary’s sister.
“These lawyers, they have such cozy relationships with the judge. They file something, and it’s just basically rubber-stamped,” said Hillary.
Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke is the chair of the new task force.
“And Flordia with our elderly population certainly should be a leader in this area, and we’re not currently,” said Burke.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, the task force will look at what’s succeeding in other states.
Hillary, who is also on the task force, believes judges should actually see someone before taking away their rights.
“The alleged incapacitated person is never in court. So here we have a judge who has never even set eyes or spoken to the person who will be more than likely will be losing every single right,” said Hillary.
Burke believes reform starts with more information.
“Judges have no set of troops to go out there and find out if the guardian is doing a good job or a bad job. They are relying on a lot of reports and a lot of paperwork. And so maybe we just need to look at, first of all, creating a database of guardians out there with their credentials, how long they have been a guardian. How many active guardianships they have,” said Burke.
The panel hopes to change what has become the axiom of guardianships: The only way out is to die.
The panel has both advocates for change as well as some members who favor the status quo.