A New Book is on the Way …
As many faithful readers know I stepped away from my long-running syndicated crime and justice column last year to write a book about abuses within state-run guardianship and conservatorship courts. It is a topic that I’ve investigated since 2015, and in addition to devoting several columns to the issue over the years, I have also written long form articles focused on how this secretive system has victimized both the so-called “wards of the court” and their family members.
Realize that the Britney Spears case was not unusual. It is estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million Americans are currently in a court-initiated guardianship. Having been declared incapacitated and stripped of all their civil rights—like the right to hire their own attorney—a ward’s chance of escaping an unnecessary or abusive guardianship is very rare.
The book, “We’re Here to Help: When Guardianship Goes Wrong,” is being published by Brandeis University Press as part of their series dedicated to the Law and Society genre. That series of publications is dedicated to a quote from the University’s namesake, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who once said, “If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”
As my book explains, today’s nationwide guardianship system—designed to protect vulnerable citizens like the elderly or those with physical or intellectual disabilities—has become infected with corruption and is now far from respectable.
In states across the country the system has morphed into something sinister, and today a wide range of citizens, some of whom insist they are not incapacitated, are being caught up in this largely for-profit industry. Judges often conduct quick and secretive hearings and routinely push aside family members seeking legal status to be in charge of their at-risk loved ones. Instead the overworked or uncaring judges appoint professional guardians, conservators and lawyers who then take complete control of the ward’s personal life and finances. Once declared to be a ward of the court the person can no longer decide where they live, how to spend their money, where they can travel, who they can see (including relatives, doctors and clergy), and if there is any disagreement with anxious family members the guardians can ban them from visiting and order the ward to be involuntarily medicated. Reports of overmedication to ensure compliance are not unusual.
While there are good and compassionate people working in the system the staggering amount of money up for grabs has attracted a cadre of bad actors. These people have infected guardianship courts driven by the realization that every year some $50 billion in ward’s estates are put in play. Since the average guardianship (or conservatorship) lasts about six years that makes for an accumulated $300 billion pot of available capital at any given time. And it is being controlled by mostly unsupervised and unaudited court appointees. With that much money available, is it any wonder that the criminal element would be attracted?
My upcoming book is not focused on dry statistics and complex legal descriptions, although every attempt is made to explain in layman’s terms just how the system operates so readers can better protect themselves. The book is focused on the multitude of exploitative and very personal cases I discovered during my years of investigation and research. I will forever be grateful to the victims and their family members who defied court gag orders to tell me their heartbreaking accounts of life under the control of unchecked court appointees. Their stories of the cruelties endured at the hands of compassionless guardians, their loved ones loss of independence and dignity, and the expected inheritances that went to pay total strangers instead of family members are hard to forget.
Readers will learn the real life human toll that has been the result of a system that has run off the rails and is largely controlled by lawyers, guardians, conservators and others who profit handsomely by maintaining the status quo. Included are chapters on recent legislative steps some states are taking to try to improve the system as well as important steps that individuals can take to avoid guardianship or conservatorship.
An American stripped of their civil rights and not allowed to fight for restoration of their freedoms? A citizen left with fewer rights than a prisoner on death row? You may think that in the United States of America something like this could never happen. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. It could happen to you or someone you know.
Release date: October 2023.