A multi-part journalistic investigative series, Maricopa County Probate Court – Life savings, freedom taken away, kicked off in this morning’s Arizona Republic. Written by reporters Robert Anglen and Pat Kossan, it’s worthwhile reading.
Yet the inquiry and its conclusion has that pinch-me Yogi Berra feeling of, “it’s deja vu all over again.” The report talks again about how lax court oversight “allows the assets of some vulnerable adults to become a cash machine for attorneys and for fiduciary companies, which manage their affairs.”
The ground has been traveled before not only here in Arizona but elsewhere. Most recently, for instance, this blog discussed problems emanating from the Lone Star State of Texas, at Of guardianship fees and saving villages by destroying them as well as previously with several posts including, Equal opportunity defalcators and a Maricopa County Probate judge’s ‘ex-parte’ contacts.
So it really is deja vu because the problems are decades old and they go on and on. Indeed, underscoring the unremitting depth and breadth of a national problem have been longstanding advocacy organizations like the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) and more grassroots groups such as the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse and blogs like Estate of Denial.
The new Arizona Republic investigation covers the same ground previously traipsed by its noted columnist Laurie Roberts who since late 2008 has been calling needed attention into the Maricopa County Probate Court system and its oversight of the vulnerable wards under its jurisdiction. The paper’s report breaks its examination into the following 5 areas, which it terms issues:“I. Disputes trigger the problems; II. Fees mount quickly; III. Cozy relationships raise questions; IV. Objectors take the blame; and V. Oversight is lax.”
But even if the latest journalistic broadside at Maricopa County’s Probate Court has that feel of ‘we’ve been here before,’ I still think it’s a good thing the local press is giving the topic another public push. After all, the work of the Committee on Improving Judicial Oversight and Processing of Probate Court Matters is not yet completed.
And while some local probate lawyers I know are unhappy with the Republic and Columnist Roberts, the status quo is untenable. Moreover, the aspirational ideal of famed journalist Eric Sevareid still resonates, “It’s the job of journalists to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
Over the years, I’ve often thought that it’s a job we lawyers should also harken to.