Wednesday, October 4, 2017
New Yorker: Article Focuses on Clark County Nevada to Demonstrate Systemic Failures under State Guardianships
The New Yorker Magazine offers "Reporter at Large" Rachel Aviv's feature in its October 9, 2017 issue, where she digs deeply into concerns raised by multiple cases in Clark County, Nevada where a court-favored, appointed guardian, April Parks, was often involved:
Parks drove a Pontiac G-6 convertible with a license plate that read “crtgrdn,” for “court guardian.” In the past twelve years, she had been a guardian for some four hundred wards of the court. Owing to age or disability, they had been deemed incompetent, a legal term that describes those who are unable to make reasoned choices about their lives or their property. As their guardian, Parks had the authority to manage their assets, and to choose where they lived, whom they associated with, and what medical treatment they received. They lost nearly all their civil rights.
Parks and other individuals, including her husband, were eventually indicted on criminal charges including perjury and theft, "narrowly focused on their double billing and their sloppy accounting," but as The New Yorker piece suggests, the court system itself shares blame for years of failing to impose effective and appropriate oversight over the guardians.
In the wake of Parks’s indictment, no judges have lost their jobs. Norheim was transferred from guardianship court to dependency court, where he now oversees cases involving abused and neglected children. Shafer is still listed in the Clark County court system as a trustee and as an administrator in several open cases. He did not respond to multiple e-mails and messages left with his bookkeeper, who answered his office phone but would not say whether he was still in practice. He did appear at one of the public meetings for the commission appointed to analyze flaws in the guardianship system. “What started all of this was me,” he said. Then he criticized local media coverage of the issue and said that a television reporter, whom he’d talked to briefly, didn’t know the facts. “The system works,” Shafer went on. “It’s not the guardians you have to be aware of, it’s more family members.” He wore a blue polo shirt, untucked, and his head was shaved. He looked aged, his arms dotted with sun spots, but he spoke confidently and casually. “The only person you folks should be thinking about when you change things is the ward. It’s their money, it’s their life, it’s their time. The family members don’t count.”
There are fundamental issues at the heart of this kind of history. Necessary and well-managed guardianships, under the best of circumstances, change the lives of individuals in ways that no person would want for him or herself. But when a guardianship system itself breaks down -- especially where judges or other administrators are unwilling or unable to be self-critical -- the confidence of the public in "the rule of law" is destroyed.
My thanks to Karen Miller (Florida), Jack Cumming (California), Richard Black (Nevada -- who is also quoted in The New Yorker piece), and Dick Kaplan (University of Illinois Law) for bringing The New Yorker piece to our attention quickly.