Anatomy of a Dog-and-Pony Show
Archived here with permission
of the author, Janet Phelan
and Robert Kelly, Publisher,
The American's Bulletin
“Bill to Protect Seniors Gains” announced the headline in the Los Angeles Times on January 27, 2006. Following the four part series in the Times, “Guardians for Profit — when a family matter turns into a business,” the State Legislature had swung into gear.
A four-bill package, collectively designated the Omnibus Conservatorship and Guardianship Reform Act of 2006, was aimed at addressing the abuses that had been uncovered by the Times reporters.
AB 1363 by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, mandated improved court oversight, increased information sharing with relative of conservatees, and expanded assistance to non-licensed conservators and guardians through conservatorship and guardianship court proceedings
SB 1116 by Senator Jack Scott, D-Altadena, focused on new requirements for court oversight of transactions related to conservatees’ real estate, and encouraged maintaining a conservatee in his or her personal residence
SB 1550 by Senator Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, established a licensing and disciplinary program by professional fiduciaries, and expanded the definition of persons who perform conservatorship functions
SB 1716 by Senator Debra Bower, D-Marina Del Rey, provided courts with additional oversight tools for the purpose of preventing financial abuse of elderly and disabled conservatees.
The Times series, which had failed in its initial job of reporting that actions of conservators were resulting in the deaths of clients, had apparently made an impact, nonetheless. These new bills were widely hailed, and Chief Justice Ronald M. George stated, “The legislative package signed today will make long-needed reforms …. 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.”
Governor Schwarzenegger had signed the Omnibus Conservatorship and Guardianship Reform Act of 2006 into law on September 27, 2006.
On August 24, 2007, he exercised his line-item veto to cut the $17.4 million that would have implemented the reforms.
Assemblyman Dave Jones voiced his surprise that the Governor acted to gut these bills without any such recommendation from his own party. “What is particularly troubling is that this is a cut that was not on the Senate Republican cut list. The Governor went out of his way to make that cut.”
And at the end of this exercise in futility, nothing has changed. The Times published a much-touted expose, which actually withheld some of the more grisly facts of conservatorship abuse. New legislation was proposed and, amidst much hoopla, passed by the Legislature and signed into law.
And with the stroke of the pen, the funding for the package of bills was decimated by the Executive of the State of California. And the elderly and vulnerable citizens of California remain unprotected, as laws now on the books cannot be enforced.