Judge Eric Brown got an earful - and dozens of e-mails - when he asked the public's opinion on rules to protect the addled, aged and disabled from busy or unscrupulous attorney guardians.
• Don't require us to visit each ward personally at least once every three months, some attorneys pleaded with the Franklin County Probate Court judge. Many attorneys have only a handful of wards, but others have a large staff to work with hundreds.
That rule stays, Brown said.
• Don't require those alleged to be incompetent to open their homes to prospective guardians, who lack legal authority to visit, others said.
Got a point, Brown decided. He told guardians to ask to visit.
• Put as Rule No. 1: "Take no actions which are not in the best interests of the ward," a Texas judge suggested.
Brown agreed that would cover everything. An early paragraph now reads, "In all matters, the guardian shall always consider and act in the best interest of the ward."
Other states have embraced guardian guidelines, and Brown hopes his standards will help the Ohio Supreme Court as it works to do the same.
"These standards will improve the quality of work by the (attorney) guardians," Brown said. "They're going to be better trained. They're going to be more personally involved. They're going to be held to higher standards with regards to ethics and standards."
The rules will be mandatory starting in late summer for attorneys, who are usually paid from their ward's assets. Brown has the authority to impose rules on anyone before his court, though his rules for licensing, training and other requirements apply only to attorneys. The judge hopes relatives and volunteer guardians will still find them helpful.
Brown's rules will forbid the attorney guardians from self-dealing: They can't hire their relatives without court permission. And they must respect a ward's wishes and privacy.
Brown made guidelines a priority when he took office a year ago. As a Common Pleas judge, he'd heard the case of Milous Keith. The retired city worker lost his freedom and allegedly more than $400,000 in assets under an attorney guardianship before Brown found him competent.
Today, Keith is suing his former guardian's law firm, alleging that guardian Jim Hughes sold assets at a loss, hired his father-in-law as a real-estate agent and failed to inventory safe-deposit boxes.
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Opinions Fervent on Rules for Attorney Guardians
Read the Standards of Practice for Attorney Guardians