FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2014
Contact: David Slattery
Senator Coash introduces LB920 to create the Office of Public Guardian
LINCOLN, NE – Nebraska State Senator Colby Coash of Lincoln introduces LB920 to establish the Office of Public Guardian under the jurisdiction of the Nebraska State Court Administrator. Additional co-sponsors of the bill include Senator Ashford of Omaha, Senator Brasch of Bancroft, Senator Davis of Hyannis, Senator Harms of Scottsbluff, Senator Lathrop of Omaha, Senator McGill of Lincoln, Senator Schilz of Ogallala, Senator Seiler of Hastings, and Senator Watermeier of Syracuse.
Nebraska is the only state that does not have an Office of Public Guardian and relies entirely on volunteers to take care of its most vulnerable citizens. The Office of Public Guardian establishes a director of the Office of Public Guardian, a deputy public guardian, and up to twelve associate guardians. While our state will continue to rely heavily on volunteers, the office will serve as a means of last resort as guardian or conservator for those situations where no family member or suitable individual is available. Additionally, the office will provide training and resources to current and future guardians and conservators.
Late last year, State Auditor Mike Foley released a report highlighting that the present system of obtaining a guardian as inadequate and leaves wards of the state vulnerable to fraud, abuse, and theft. One case of fraud of particular concern mentioned in the report was that of Judith
Widener, a public guardian to more than 600 wards in 60-plus counties across the state. Ms. Widener deliberately mishandled her wards’ finances and was charged with embezzling over $600,000 of their funds by spreading it out to more than forty bank accounts. Coash states, “Her appointment over 600 times was a result of a judge having no other option when appointing a guardian or conservator. It is time for Nebraska to follow others states and provide for an alternative that protects vulnerable Nebraskans.”
“As you look at a 50 state analysis, what you find is Nebraska stands alone and that we have no option other than volunteers. We have a situation where there is no other choice, and that makes it a ripe environment for people like Judith Widener, who will take advantage of vulnerable people,” says Senator Coash of District 27.
“In consultation with interested stakeholders from across the state, I am introducing legislation to establish the Office of Public Guardian that seeks to protect Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens. The effort to create the Office of Public Guardian has been ongoing for several years and in light of State Auditor Foley’s report in November of last year, there is no question that this legislature needs to act quickly to protect those whom are unable to protect themselves,” says Senator Coash.