The hidden problem of abuse by court appointed guardians (4 Responses)

In 2012 my girlfriend Gretchen Gates was subjected to severe abuse by a court appointed guardian. This abuse destroyed her whole life and led to her premature death. I was also subjected to abuse. I could not believe what happened. This cannot happen in the United States of America.

Despite a blistering complaint to the Court by two of the other parties in the case regarding misconduct by both the GAL and the professional guardian the judge did nothing to discipline either one. This is unbelievable.

At the time, this appeared to be an isolated incident resulting from a bad choice of guardian and the judge sweeping the problem under the rug to hide her own mistake.

In 2014, I filed a complaint with the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs of the Massachusetts Legislature pointing out many problems with the present system of guardianship. Apparently, they considered this to be just an isolated case. Nothing was done.

In 2015 I was doing an internet search and discovered the website Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG.net). This organization was formed in Florida in 2013 as a result of rampant abuse by court appointed guardians fueled by the state’s large population of retired people.

I later discovered another website, National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA). The website is ‘stopguardianabuse.org’. I placed an account of what had happened to Gretchen Gates and myself on this website. There were other cases of abuse listed in Massachusetts.

From reading the information on these websites it became apparent that what happened to Gretchen was not an isolated incident. Abuse of guardianship is a growing national problem because of the aging population. The combination of large assets and dementia makes elders very vulnerable to abuse.

The October 9, 2017 issue of the New Yorker has an article by Rachel Aviv on “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights”. It is about a guardian April Parks in Nevada who had robbed and abused some 400 wards of the court over the last 12 years. This article in a major magazine has helped to bring national attention to the problem.

On January 30, 2018 a hearing was held before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts Legislature on a bill S.1177/H3027 to establish an Office of the Public Guardian to provide guardianship services to the “unbefriended”. This would extend guardianship to a whole new class of people who would be extremely vulnerable to abuse by a guardian. They have no one to report any abuse. No one would know if they suddenly died and disappeared.

There were five people, including myself, who testified against this bill either in person or by written testimony. This testimony contains several unbelievable accounts of abuse by court appointed guardians right here in Massachusetts. I have to admit that if I had not been a victim myself I would not have believe the stories told by the other witnesses.

There are two major problems with this bill:

1. This bill gives immunity to guardians. We need more accountability, not less.

2. A careful reading of the bill shows that all authority is vested in a single individual.

The combination of immunity and the concentration of power in a single individual (dictatorship) could create a system of legalized crime.

Guardianship is a drastic legal action that deprives a person of all their civil rights. There is no reason for doing this to people who only need a limited amount of help but are otherwise able to manage their own lives. Giving a guardian absolute power over another person is an open invitation to abuse of authority. As seen in my case, court oversight is virtually non-existent. On the contrary, judges hide anything that goes wrong to protect themselves.

None of the cases of abuse reported at the hearing on January 30, 2018 appear on any public records of abusive guardianship. There were no prosecutions in any of these cases. This suggests that the problem is much larger than anyone realizes.

The Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary is Senator Brownsberger. His assistant Anne Landry has been working on this bill. She told me in an email “I agree that guardianship should be utilized as a last resort and limited in scope to the areas of need.” This is a step in the right direction. But the devil is in the details.

I have no idea what the Joint Committee on the Judiciary plans to do about this bill. I would like a statement from Senator Brownsberger regarding his position on this bill.

I would also like a statement regarding what the Legislature intends to do regarding the unbelievable things that happened in the cases of abuse reported by the witnesses at the hearing on January 30, 2018.

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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District