Nebraska's top judge wants a task force to investigate the justice-system shortcomings that allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to be drained from the vulnerable people an Omaha woman had been appointed to protect.
Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said he will call upon judges, attorneys, auditors, lawmakers, fraud investigators and others to probe what needs to be done to shore up the state's guardian and conservator system.
Heavican said he decided to make the rare move of appointing a task force after reading The World-Herald's April 11 report on the flaws that allowed the accounts of several wards to be emptied.
Authorities say former court-appointed guardian Dinah Turrentine-Sims who has declined interview requests took at least $350,000 from as many as eight wards. The 59-year-old has been charged with theft and abuse of a vulnerable adult in connection with two cases.
Among the flaws, the newspaper found that judges failed to:
* Set bonds insurance that could have protected the assets of the people in Turrentine-Sims' care.
* Scrutinize the care that she arranged for her wards.
* Spot inflated numbers and unusual entries on her accountings.
* Subpoena bank statements statements that showed large cash deposits and numerous casino ATM withdrawals.
Nationwide, Heavican said, court administrators are placing great emphasis on bolstering probate court, the part of the justice system charged with overseeing the health and wealth of elderly and disabled people. It's easy to see why: Fueled by baby boomers, the elderly population is expected to exceed 71 million people by 2030 more than double the number in 2000.
Heavican said the courts' responsibility to protect the elderly and the disabled is no different from their duty to protect children.
“Most of us agree that this issue with guardians and conservators is huge,” Heavican said. “We want a full picture of how this happened and why this happened so it doesn't happen again.”
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