Jeff Brandes' Bill Would Help Keep Unscrupulous Guardians in Check

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: January 15, 2014 3:55 AM
Jeff Brandes

Jeff Brandes

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.

Patricia Johnson

Patricia Johnson

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 Florida’s clerks of court the tools necessary to protect our most vulnerable from abuse by those who are responsible for their health, safety, and security.”

“Florida’s 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 Florida’s 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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 

Comments (11)

Kathleen Dunn
9:49AM APR 11TH 2014
Thank you Senator Jeff Brandes, Reform is long overdue and there is much more to do. Many professional guardians are exploiting the very people they are suppose to be watching out for. Professional guardians must have oversite and accountability, they can not be allowed to Abuse their Power!
glenda martinez-smith
11:42AM FEB 8TH 2014
Great bill, long overdue, and great and caring individual Mr. Brandes!!
My husband is suffering under a guardian who refuses to approve the prescribed therapies needed by TBI patients, and my husband is dying a slow and painful death, while the guardian is helping himself to the complete amounts of the VA pension and the Social Security benefits my husband receives each month!! He is exploiting and abusing my husband by preventing my husband from receiving appropriate neurological medical treatment although he knows this will accelerate his death, but does not permit the TBI Neurologist to see him, nor the Orthopedist to see his paralyzing both hands!!! The guardian seems to have the doctor at the facility manipulated, and when I call the nursing home doctor, he refuses to speak with me nor to return my call.
Up to now, the guardian has helped himself to over $343,000.00 from my husband's accounting, plus permitted purposely, his 1.2 million dollar paid home, to be sold for only $358,000.00 dollars!!
The Inspector General at the Court was contacted to investigate months ago and to date we have received no responses at all!! We wonder if the guardian is also influencing the IG?? This is an unbelievable horrible situation which is emotionally draining and hurting us deeply. We hope this bill will help stop the fraud and abuse by these predatory guardians!!
Mary Schuyler
8:14PM JAN 22ND 2014
Am so glad someone is trying to do something. My mom put her boyfriend in Autumn health care for just rehap, Walter Schmeltzer, and they said he was never getting out until they got his 9 homes and all his money. They abused in in every way they could and that was years ago. Because we tried to help him we are never allowed to see him..!! He just sits all alone and isolation is all he gets..they get his 9 homes and all he gets is abuse and loneness. His court guardian is very mean and says he likes his treatment. But that was not what he told us..He has a very abusive guardian...Who does not care if he's happy. If anyone knows a way to help Walter. maryjunemcclain05@yahoo.com
Elaine Renoire
8:41PM JAN 18TH 2014
Reform of unlawful and abusive guardianships is long overdue; and NASGA is pleased to see this bill focused on protecting the elderly and disabled from guardianship abuse.

Thanks again to the ABC I-Team and Adam Walser for fantastic reporting and to the many victims and their families who tirelessly work to raise awareness about guardianship abuse.

NASGA supports Senator Brandes, SB634 and prays this bill passes!
Lori Duboys
7:30AM JAN 17TH 2014
Best News I've heard all year! Go Brandes, go!
Lori Duboys
7:29AM JAN 17TH 2014
Best News I've head all year! Go Brandes, go!
Susan E Reid
2:19AM JAN 16TH 2014
Report on the new bill is good. The bill itself seems toothless at the start. Not to be negative, but a law is only as good as its compliance of enforcement. Who will enforce this? The judges? LOL.
I sure hope it works. But it will be a big culture change in the courts to actually inspect the accountings submitted by guardians instead of rubberstamping them. That's a big part of the problem.
I wish Florida good luck with this.
Maybe your state will start a positive trend. Guardian abuse is an epidemic in the US. These greedy pseudo public servants do deserve to have criminal records -- for the fraud and theft they are perpetrating every day on their wards!
Erna Boldt
9:58PM JAN 15TH 2014
It remains to be seen, if the new guidelines are being oberseverd. Mostly a corrupt judiciary makes their own laws, or follows previous decisions without a new evaluation. Who is going to remind them of any wrong doing?? It is as lawless as Guns in this country
Maryanne Leuschner
9:18PM JAN 15TH 2014
This is exactly what is taking place with my family at this moment in time in Massachusetts and I can not get any help from anywhere to stop it , only thing stopping them right now is the fact that I am in the house and they want me out. so they can get in here and do whatever they want and more than likely to flip it
Heather Riley
8:09PM JAN 15TH 2014
We thank Senator Jeff Brandes for his help and attention to this problem. We wrote letters to EVERY politician in the state who we thought might help and Senator Jeff Brandes responded!
4:37PM JAN 15TH 2014
Now if nursing homes abusive behavior would be as important to Republican's but the Nursing Home industry has favored status so nope, aint gonna happen.

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