Having a court-appointed guardian take charge of a person's life means fewer legal protections and potentially graver consequences than being sent to prison, said a medical school professor who is studying North Dakota's guardianship system.
The consultant, Winsor Schmidt, told the North Dakota Legislature's Human Services Committee on Tuesday that North Dakotans in guardianship proceedings should have the right to a lawyer and a jury trial on whether the guardianship is necessary. State law now gives them neither.
In a guardianship case, a judge decides whether the person is capable of making decisions about his or her life. If they are not, a judge appoints someone to make those decisions for them.
"You lose all of your rights. You become a non-citizen," Schmidt said in an interview.
The committee hired Schmidt, a professor at the University of Louisville's medical school, to study North Dakota's guardianship system, and he presented his preliminary report on Tuesday.
His recommendations included providing an attorney at public expense if someone can't afford to hire a lawyer for guardianship proceedings.
"With the criminal justice system, if you're found guilty, at least you know there's a term, and you get out of jail," he said. "With guardianship, it's indeterminate. Once you're (judged to be) legally incompetent, you're incompetent from then on."
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Expert: Person Having a Guardian Appointed by ND Court Should Have Laywer to Protect Rights