Nebraska: Wards’ Assets Vulnerable

In December 2007, a motorist struck Wilbur Miller as the 78-year-old Omahan crossed the street.

A retired laborer with little money, Miller spent the next two weeks in Creighton University Medical Center, racking up $100,000 in medical bills.

Eventually, attorneys hired by Miller’s guardian secured a $100,000 settlement from the motorist’s insurance company.

Here’s who was supposed to benefit: Wilbur Miller.

Here’s who ended up with the money:

— Miller’s guardian, who a judge says improperly took $62,700. She is in the Douglas County Correctional Center, facing theft charges in three unrelated cases.

–Two attorneys, who were paid $33,333 in contingency fees.

The lawyers said they earned the fees. One was quick to note that he had worked on eight other guardianship cases for free.

A national expert said such an arrangement amounts to an informal “barter” system: using money from one case to compensate lawyers for work on other cases.

It’s part and parcel of an old-school system in which judges scramble to reward the unsung work of attorneys and guardians, the expert said.

A committee of judges, lawmakers, attorneys and investigators is reviewing Nebraska’s guardian-conservator system and is expected to make recommendations in October.

In such cases, judges appoint a guardian to oversee the health and a conservator to oversee the wealth of an incapacitated person, known as a ward. Attorneys shepherd cases through court, filing documents but having little day-to-day oversight of the ward.

Forty-eight states tap taxes and private grants to help pay for the work that attorneys and guardians do for indigent, incapacitated wards like Miller.

Nebraska is one of the two states that have no public guardian office — and no public funding for such work.

Instead, Nebraska judges allow lawyers to collect “reasonable” fees from those wards who do have assets.

“Across the nation, we’re seeing the same crises, but we’re not seeing the resources devoted to it,” [Brenda]Uekert [a researcher with the National Center for State Courts] said. “It’s a tremendously important issue, but it’s not an easy one to solve.

“Nebraska is just like a lot of other states: It’s got a long ways to go.”

Full Article and Source:
Wards’ Assets Vulnerable

7 Responses to “Nebraska: Wards’ Assets Vulnerable”

  1. Michelle Says:

    >It absolutely turns my stomach. I wish to thank the reporter for this story and NASGA for posting it.

  2. Jim Says:

    >This article describes the "good old boy system"

  3. Anonymous Says:

    >Oh sure, the guardian and the attorneys always profit. The wards are just cash cows.

  4. Connie Says:

    >Good article!

  5. Beth Says:

    >When I see guardians suing in behalf of their ward, I always know the truth. They're suing for their own gain, not their wards'. This article confirms that.

  6. Jessica Says:

    >I am so sorry for Mr. Miller.

  7. Diane Says:

    >I hope this reporter keeps the heat turned up high.

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