Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Guardian Abuse Cases Foreshadow FLDS Children’s Plight

“Can you imagine the government coming in and taking over the lives of all those people?” This question was posed by a talk radio listener with regard to the Texas raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). A “Eureka” moment gave realization that Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) cases examined at EstateofDenial.com - especially guardianship abuse cases – represent similar government takeover actions and offer a unique, applicable perspective.

Mounting evidence indicates the children’s removal from the FLDS compound was likely a prudent move. This column is in no way meant to diminish the gravity of the situation. It is important, however, to point out the dangers governmental intervention can create. Our positions and analysis are based upon guardianship cases, similar actions in which control of a person’s life is taken to theoretically rescue them from danger or exploitation yet the process by which this happens becomes a new source of exploitation, sometimes with government complicity.

IRA cases reviewed at EstateofDenial.com entail apparent unscrupulous execution or administration of wills, trusts and guardianships. In trust and will situations, being a target often becomes evident upon one’s death. Guardianship victims are usually elderly or disabled. Guardianship results from a legal action directed in a probate court venue that assigns an individual, often called a guardian ad litem or conservator, to take control of a person’s affairs – from disposition of their assets (financial holdings, real estate, personal possessions, etc.) to decisions regarding where they live and who they see. The individual, called a ward, has few rights and little ability to affect their life circumstances. With our aging population, conservator appointments seem to be increasing, as also are accounts of guardianship abuse.

Guardian abuse and the FLDS cases both revolve around exploited individuals. Guardianship cases routinely lead to aggressive government intervention. In addition to the original abuse, a new victimization front for the FLDS children is predictable as disposition of their cases becomes a complicated mass of expensive, extensive legal proceedings spawning actions ultimately more beneficial to participating governmental entities and associated for-profit enterprises rather than being of benefit to the “victims” whose welfare the litigious machinations were allegedly initiated to protect.

Investigations leading to removal of a child or adult from their home environments are, and should continue, to be daunting tasks. They will continue as debate sources in the FLDS cases. Government-controlled guardianships can stem from referrals by an estranged family member, neighbor or friend or by Adult Protective Services (APS) inquiries. A recent expose by former NYC Fox 5 reporter Mary Garafolo (http://www.estateofdenial.com/?p=333) shows how this happens. Norman Baker, a retired Ohio firefighter, (http://www.estateofdenial.com/?p=337) also provides a good example of the life changing consequences that can result from seemingly routine inquiries. Government must exercise extreme caution when deeming someone “at risk” and allowing the targeted individual limited legal recourse while causing great loss of liberty and property. A responsible citizenry must stay watchful of a political body exerting such authority. In a free society, prolonged government-controlled custody should never be a simple task.

Another issue faced by the FLDS children and commonly by guardian abuse victims is government-mandated separation of families. Family contact is often limited or forbidden upon the appointment of a conservator. The National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (http://stopguardianabuse.org/) documents these cases. As with guardianship disputes, look for family separation arguments on behalf of the FLDS children to be ongoing, contentious and emotional. It’s tragic if some of the FLDS children have been unnecessarily cut off from their families and the tragedy is no less when guardians create a similar scenario to deny an elderly or disabled person contact with friends and family.

And the self-dealing bureaucratic train will soon be leaving the Gravy Train station! Hundreds of court-appointed lawyers have lined up “for the children” and the state is preparing defense of its institutional interests using folks from numerous agencies. Dealing with this “religious” sect and its collateral issues will help both government and ancillary private enterprises to justify their existence and stay funded for years (i.e., receipt of taxpayer dollars). Governmental agencies as well as some private companies will realize significant benefit as these proceedings wear on. An industry characterized by the appearance of blatant self-interest, opportunism and contrived, lengthy legal proceedings exists in some probate venues. Perry Whatley, a retired Texas refinery worker, spent the last years of his life attempting to extract himself from a guardianship created in this environment (http://www.estateofdenial.com/?p=352). The probate industry has created a business model counterpart encouraging long-term litigation and oversight, the FLDS situation has the capacity to follow a similar pattern.

Finally, as often happens in guardianship cases, costs of this human compassion/legal propriety façade will ultimately fall on the taxpayers. Waste and fraud will be rampant with oversight disjointed. Positive results on behalf of these displaced children will be disproportionate to the resources expended. This is the reality of typical government operations. Probate intervention in guardian cases often ends no better. While a ward’s personal resources remain available, a well-paid cadre of administrators/caregivers find guardianship a satisfying endeavor. With the depletion of funds, the for-profit contractors seek to shift guardianship responsibilities to the government. And like the FLDS kids, the target of the guardianship – the person whose well-being was to be safeguarded - ends up with no better quality of life yet is further under the control of a government bureaucracy, a future to be wished on no one.

For the time being, the government must work to provide compassionate, healthy and safe environments for the FLDS children. State agencies must also be aggressive in resolving this issue expeditiously and without self-motivated delay. The public must be vigilant to help these children avoid new long-term abuse akin to the exploitation sadly endured by many elderly and disabled Americans due to government intervention and predatory guardian relationships.

Lou Ann Anderson is producer of The Lynn Woolley Show, a Texas-based talk radio program. She also is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the probate system and its surrounding culture. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@estateofdenial.com

1 comment:

AskAngela said...

Anytime I start to read something about elder abuse and judical crimes that start off with can you imagine? I cringe.. Yes I can imagine and I am sure anyone who reads this blog can imagine.
What I cannot imagine is these horrendous crimes and acts of cruelty displayed by our judical system ever stopping. Thats exactly what I cant imagine.

Angela ( Avid Advocate for the Elderly)