Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Orange County commissioner wants closer look into guardianship program

by Greg Fox

In March, WESH 2 Investigates detailed the findings in an audit into how the Orange County Clerk of Courts oversees guardianship, the program that appoints people to take care of the medical and financial affairs of the incapacitated, mostly senior individuals, called wards.

Many of the findings highlighted the handling of wards by former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle, who is now facing trial for aggravated abuse and neglect.

"It was very troubling to see the things we found in our investigations," Phil Diamond said.

Comptroller Phil Diamond found a lack of training for deputy clerks in handling guardian cases, missing or inaccurate information in case files, and courts not being consistently notified when guardians fail to follow the law.

Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell defended her office's procedures.

"The recommendations from the audit really tells me that there's a lack of understanding of the comptroller's office of the guardianship law and the roles and responsibilities of the clerk's office," Russell said.

That's not good enough for Orange County commissioner Mayra Uribe.

In this memo, she wrote the audit "highlights a number of problematic procedures, administrative concerns, and shocking outcomes due in part to these issues."

"I was very disturbed at the findings," Uribe said.

She's asking the mayor to schedule an open discussion so all of the commissioners can weigh in with concerns and solutions.

"What are we going to do to improve it? What are we going to do to make sure that that next person is not taken advantage of?" Uribe asked.

Mayor Jerry Demings believes the commission has no say in clerk and comptroller business, but he's scheduling an informational meeting.

Besides the inquiry from Uribe, the Secretary of Florida's Department of Elder Affairs reviewed the comptroller's report, but does not appear willing to act on it.

Secretary Richard Prudom wrote: "While the findings in the recent audit on The Orange County Clerk of Courts Guardianship Program are deeply concerning… the Department of Elder Affairs'… reach does not extend into the operational processes and procedures of county courts."

Fierle is scheduled to be tried this year.

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