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Nancy Smith

Jeff Brandes' Bill Would Help Keep Unscrupulous Guardians in Check

January 14, 2014 - 6:00pm

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, came out swinging Tuesday, filing SB 634, legislation aimed at preventing the abuse of vulnerable Floridians by unscrupulous guardians.

It's a very big deal in his neighborhood.

Brandes is tuned in to bad-apple guardians. He is a member of the Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. More to the point, he is the senator for Pinellas Park, home of one of the most publicized Florida stories of suspected unscrupulousness by a guardian of elderly wards in recent times.

Though Brandes didn't mention the story by name, his bill comes on the heels of the ABC Action News investigation last fall of Pinellas Park City Council member Patricia Johnson. Johnson, who has more than 50 active guardianship cases, is paid $70 an hour each for the time she spends taking care of their business, and was observed by ABC's I-Team over a several-day period doing almost nothing on their behalf.

The investigators spent more than two weeks pulling hundreds of Johnson's bills from court files and entering them into a spreadsheet. They conducted interviews with family members and in assisted living facilities. They discovered that from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2012, her invoices added up to $260,000. That gave her an average annual guardianship income of nearly $87,000 -- with little help to her wards to show for it.

What's more, local judges routinely approve the sale of homes belonging to Johnson's wards -- in most cases, the largest asset these wards have -- without obtaining appraisals from a certified appraiser.

And Johnson has used fellow Pinellas Park City Council member Richard Butler (who was her campaign manager) to conduct nearly all of the sales of her wards' homes since 2010. Many of the homes were flipped for sizable profit.Records show Butler has sold 14 of them for a total of $1,252,500.

Brandes' bill, while not a magic pill to fix the whole problem, would at least provide expanded auditing authority for clerks of court to review the practices of court-appointed guardians.

It is critically important that our elderly and vulnerable citizens are protected, Brandes said in presenting the bill. Families place a special confidence in the guardians who care for their loved ones. Unfortunately, some of these guardians have violated that trust. This legislation will give Floridas clerks of court the tools necessary to protect our most vulnerable from abuse by those who are responsible for their health, safety, and security.

Floridas clerks of court thank Senator Brandes for his support of this crucial piece of legislation, said Sarasota County Clerk of Court Karen Rushing, the legislative chair of Floridas Court Clerks and Comptrollers, in a written statement. By providing clerks with the tools necessary to carry out these audits thoroughly, we hope to bring an end to fraud perpetrated upon those who are most vulnerable and should be protected in a guardianship matter.

The bill allows clerks of court to conduct detailed audits of the finances and criminal history of professional court-appointed guardians and establishes mechanisms by which guardians can be removed from cases in which mismanagement is observed.

Click here to read the bill.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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