A Tennessee representative is pushing for reforms to the system that is meant to protect vulnerable citizens, but often leaves them destitute and homeless instead.
State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, has introduced a bill that provides more protection to those who could come under the control of a conservator. A conservator is someone appointed by the court to oversee the person's personal and financial affairs.
Three Davidson County cases recently profiled by Channel 4 News show the system robs people of their rights and often drains their bank accounts to pay for attorneys they never chose and in some cases, found they could not fire.
People in conservatorships lose all their rights, including their right to handle their own money, their right to make their own medical decisions, their right to vote, their right to marry and their right to decide where to live.
Ginger Franklin fell under the control of a conservator after she fell down the stairs at her home and bumped her head.
While she was recovering, her conservator put her home up for sale, emptied her bank accounts and disposed of most of her personal possessions. A year later, she was broke and homeless.
The same thing happened to Jewell Tinnon. Her furniture, her clothes and even her paid-for home were all sold at auction. Once she won her release from her conservatorship, she had to move into public housing for the elderly.
Songwriter Danny Tate fought to free himself from a conservatorship. He ultimately lost his fortune.
Odom has introduced a bill to better protect people's rights in conservatorships.
"It's wrong. We need a better process. We deserve a better process," Odom says.
Odom's bill would require more medical evidence before a judge appoints a conservator. The person who would be the subject of the conservatorship would have the right to appear in court personally and would have the right to pick their own lawyer. That is not currently the case.
"That's unbelievable to me," Odom says.
The same judge presided over the Tinnon, Franklin and Tate cases - Probate Judge Randy Kennedy. He did not return our calls asking for comment on Odom's bill.
Odom says his bill does not target Kennedy specifically, just the system itself.
"This legislation obviously cannot undo wrongs that have taken place in the past, but it can try to protect people in the future," Odom says.
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