Guardian bill stalls in Senate committee

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A bill to reform Alaska's troubled guardianship system that serves vulnerable adults is stuck in a Senate committee but could re-emerge in a new form next year, its sponsor said.

The changes are too complicated to get through this session, said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks. Interested parties must reach a compromise before he'll push Senate Bill 190.

Guardians are court-appointed to manage the lives and money of incapacitated people. Flaws in the system emerged in the failings of Community Advocacy Project of Alaska.

The private agency worked for fees paid by clients, an arrangement that initially was lauded as a way to help people in need.

But accusations surfaced in court that CAPA stole from a number of clients and failed to account for the money of others. Last week, CAPA filed for bankruptcy. About 30 clients still are owed money.

''The situation we have allowed to develop with CAPA is unconscionable,'' state public advocate Brant McGee told the Anchorage Daily News.

The guardianship bill had one hearing in the State Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. His wife, Jo Kuchle, until recently was the attorney for Fairbanks-based CAPA. CAPA's biggest expense this year was $105,000 in attorney fees to several firms, including Kuchle's, according to an accounting by CAPA.

Therriault said he and his wife had a brief, general conversation about whether legislation was needed. Kuchle told him it was, he said.

They didn't discuss CAPA and his wife's representation of the agency had nothing to do with the bill's lack of progress, Therriault said. The bill is being held at Wilken's request, Therriault said.

Court-appointed guardians hold significant power over mentally disabled wards. If someone doesn't have relatives or friends who can serve as guardians, either a state employee or a private professional guardian is appointed.

Under current law, people aren't supposed to have business dealings with their wards but there are no other standards on who can serve as guardian. No training or background checks are required. Nor are independent financial audits to scrutinize how guardians are spending someone else's money.

The law does require guardians to file annual reports to the court. But they typically get only a quick glance by an overloaded court clerk.

Wilken's bill spelled out that the Office of Public Advocacy ''may not use improper pressure to influence the professional judgment'' of court visitors and other people. It specified that for-profit companies could serve as guardians, which already is happening, and created the category of interim guardians.

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