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EDITORIAL: Clark County adult guardianship program must better protect wards

If there were any doubts that the Clark County adult guardianship system needs a major overhaul, they were cast aside last week in the first meeting of a 26-member panel commissioned by the Nevada Supreme Court.

As reported by the Review-Journal’€™s Colton Lochhead, the panel is aiming to fix what three of the state’€™s top justices view as a troubled process that has seen some guardians drain hundreds of thousands of dollars from the accounts of elderly and mentally incompetent Nevadans. Yet during the meeting, Jared Shafer, who worked for more than 20 years as the Clark County public administrator and public guardian before starting his private professional guardianship business in 2003, stated that the system “isn’€™t that bad.”

Certainly not for Mr. Shafer, whom Mr. Lochhead wrote about earlier this year in an extensive series on the seriously flawed guardianship system. Mr. Shafer took over as the court-approved guardian for World War II veteran Guadalupe Olvera in 2009. Over the next 3½ years, Mr. Olvera’€™s estate was drained of at least $420,000 — including $240,000 in legal costs as his daughter, Rebecca Schultz, who lives in Aptos, Calif., fought to gain guardianship.

Mr. Lochhead noted that after Mr. Shafer’€™s assessment, one woman at the public meeting shouted, “€œYou used the money to pay lawyers!”€ Many others who attended the meeting, held in a Regional Justice Center courtroom, stood in front of the panel and explained that their family members who had been made wards of the county had been exploited by their guardians.

Indeed, there have been miserable oversight failures of the system that’€™s supposed to protect the estates of thousands of elderly and mentally incapacitated residents. The District Court operation has allowed people to be stripped of hundreds of thousands of dollars while not enforcing guardian reporting requirements and ignoring wards and their families. There is no accountability in the current system, even though the Clark County Commission had at least some knowledge of how bad things were. After Mr. Lochhead’€™s initial reports in April, county commissioners expressed outrage over abuses carried out by court-appointed guardians. But Commissioner Tom Collins also admitted he knew the system was troubled after personally intervening on behalf of a friend whose grandmother couldn’€™t be freed from a guardianship.

That squares with the difficulties of Ms. Schultz, who felt the only solution was to help her father gather a few belongings and flee the state. That led to accusations of kidnapping from Mr. Shafer (no charges were filed) and a bench warrant from Guardianship Commissioner Jon Norheim for Ms. Schultz’s arrest, after she and her father ignored Mr. Norheim’s order to return for a court appearance.

With 8,500 adult guardianship cases in Clark County each year, this long-neglected problem requires much more action, and soon. Removing Mr. Norheim from adult guardianship hearings in May was a good first step, and creating the panel —€” chaired by Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty —€” is also laudable. But there must be more oversight, guardians must be more accountable and wards must receive better protection against financial exploitation.

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