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Friday, Aug 29, 2014

‘Great first step’ for more accountability in guardianships


On behalf of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Association, we would like to thank Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, for his exceptional work this legislative session to add additional scrutiny by clerks over guardianship audits. House Bill 635, sponsored by Brandes and Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, will provide a mechanism for auditors to identify or investigate potential fraud or exploitation of the state’s billions of dollars in guardianship assets.

Since 1989, Florida’s clerks of the court have been directed by statute to audit guardianship reports and advise the court of their audit findings. However, these audits have been limited in scope, checking only for mathematical accuracy, timely filing and a reconciliation of disbursements to court orders.

Some suggest that Florida has already reached a breaking point for fraud in the state’s court-appointed guardianships, using descriptive words such as “profiteering” and “racketeering.”

The protection of our most vulnerable community members should be one of the highest priorities of public servants. And as keepers of the state’s court records and with the current duty to provide cursory review of annual guardianship reports, the clerks are the logical local governmental entity for uncovering waste, fraud and abuse in court-appointed guardianship cases.

With the passage of this legislation, we have taken a great first step toward more accountability and curbing abuse by those who would hold their own self-interests above the interests of those they are sworn to protect.

In addition to allowing for closer monitoring of guardians’ fiduciary and financial responsibilities to the ward, this legislation will allow clerks throughout Florida to create enhanced guardianship audits in their offices, thereby enhancing the courts’ oversight of guardianship cases.

The legislation also would further codify in statute the relationship between the clerks and the court.

We thank and congratulate Sen. Brandes on his advocacy and hard work this legislative session to pass this good bill, making Florida a leader in protecting its most vulnerable population by giving clerks the authority to implement a consistent and successful enhanced guardianship audit program in their counties.

Karen Rushing, Sarasota County’s clerk of court and comptroller, is the legislative chair for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers.

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