Sunday, January 15, 2006

Nebraska Supreme Court scolds Douglas County Court "queen of nice" Judge Jane Prochaska for failing to conduct hearings on the competency of an elderly man subject to contested guardianship proceedings On plain error, the Nebraska Supreme Court orders the Douglas County Judge to conduct a prompt hearing on the competency of Mr. Larson who was the subject of the case. the Judge also refused to allow Mr. Larson to hire and fire his attorneys, where it appeared that the "temporary guardian" may have been involved in self-dealing and filed on MrLarson;s behalf a suit to set aside a sale of land the ward had made. In re Guardianship & Conservatorship of Larson, S-05-257, 270 Neb. 837 The supreme court found the issues actually appealed mooted but took the opportunity to chastise often controversial and public Judge Prochaska for her handling of the case: the record before us raises many concerns with regard to the manner in which the court has conducted its proceedings. Most egregious is the court's failure to hold an evidentiary hearing on Larson's competency during the approximately 8 months of proceedings which took place under a temporary guardianship and conservatorship.
While § 30-2626(d) does provide that the 90-day temporary guardianship period may be extended for good cause shown, it is hard to imagine what "good cause" could justify a delay of 8 months. Regardless, it cannot be said that the court's summary conclusions as to good cause and its orders extending the temporary guardianship and conservatorship until further court order qualify as a showing of good cause sufficient to circumvent the alleged incapacitated person's right to a speedy resolution of whether, in fact, a need exists to restrict his or her independence to the extent exercised by a temporary guardianship or conservatorship. Here, Larson has clearly asserted that he is not incapacitated, at least not to the extent asserted by the petition for the appointment of a guardian and conservator. Yet the court, under the advice primarily of the GAL, appears to treat Larson's complete incompetence as a foregone conclusion. Without giving Larson the benefit of an evidentiary hearing to determine competency, the court ignored Larson's expressed wishes regarding Looby's not being his guardian and conservator. The court ignored Larson's expressed wishes as to who his attorneys of record should be. The court refused to allow Larson to dismiss Wilson, despite the fact that Wilson had long since ceased to advocate for her client's expressed desires or to pursue Larson's right to an evidentiary hearing. Instead, the court allowed Looby, for an extended period of time, almost unlimited powers as temporary guardian and conservator over Larson's personal liberty and his financial affairs.
It is clear that the failure of the court to follow the statutory mandates with regard to the limited nature of the powers and duties of the temporary guardian and conservator, as well as its failure to follow the mandate of a timely evidentiary hearing on competency, constitutes plain error.

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