Thursday, September 28, 2006
Governor Signs Bills on Handling of Conservatorship Cases
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday signed into law four bills designed to improve the administration of conservatorship and guardianship cases in the trial courts.
The package, collectively designated the Omnibus Conservatorship and Guardianship Reform Act of 2006, will “help ensure that individuals entrusted with the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens are not taking advantage of or harming them,” the governor said in a statement, adding he was “proud to sign this legislation to protect those who cannot care for themselves.”
The bills are:
•AB 1363 by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, which mandates improved court oversight, increased information sharing with relatives of conservatees, and expanded assistance to non-licensed conservators and guardians through conservatorship and guardianship court proceedings;
•SB 1116 by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena, which imposes new requirements for court oversight of transactions related to conservatees’ real estate, and encourages maintaining a conservatee in his or her personal residence by establishing notice requirements and requiring a more thorough review before placing a person in a place other than his or her residence;
•SB 1550 by Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, which establishes a licensing and disciplinary scheme for professional fiduciaries, defined as persons that perform conservator or guardian duties for two or more persons to whom they are not related, as well as persons who act as a trustee or specified agent for more than three people or three families to whom they are not related, and establishes a Professional Fiduciaries Bureau within the Department of Consumer Affairs; and
•SB 1716 by Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina Del Rey, which seeks to prevent financial abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled conservatees and of wards by providing courts with additional oversight tools, including increased access to information regarding assets and financial records, and improved oversight over conservatorships through more frequent court reviews and unannounced inspections.
Increased protection for conservatees and wards has been an issue for several years for advocates, who have pointed to events such as a Riverside County scandal earlier this decade.
Investigations resulted in long prison sentences for a conservator and an attorney who used their positions to steal more than $1 million from people whose property they were supposed to be protecting, and in the retirement of a Superior Court judge who was subsequently censured for misconduct that included using his position to purchase conservatorship property without competitive bidding.
The issue gained steam this session amid news reports suggesting that abuses by conservators and guardians have been more widespread than previously acknowledged and that oversight has been lacking.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George hailed the governor’s action.
“The legislative package signed today will make long-needed reforms in the administration of probate conservatorship cases in California trial courts and will help protect one of our state’s most vulnerable populations,” George said in a statement. “These bills, combined with the upcoming final report and recommendations of the Judicial Council’s Probate Conservatorship Task Force, should make a lasting improvement in the administration of these important cases.”
George appointed the task force earlier this year and charged it with increasing the accountability of family and private conservators and improving court oversight of probate conservatorship cases.
The task force, chaired by Administrative Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren, of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, is expected to make an interim report next month and a final report and recommendations next spring.
William C. Vickrey, administrative director of the courts, promised in a statement that the courts would work with the other branches of government to “ensure that sufficient resources are provided for the courts so that the reforms outlined in the bills are a reality for the most vulnerable people in our state who need additional protection.”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company