Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers today thanked Senator Jeff Brandes and Representative Kathleen Passidomo on the final passage of House Bill 635, which will add additional scrutiny by Clerks over guardianship audits.
The bill will now head to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.
Since 1989, Florida’s Clerks of the Court have been directed by statute to audit guardianship reports and advise the court of their audit findings. However, these audits are limited in scope – checking only for mathematical accuracy, timely filing and a reconciliation of disbursements to court orders. They do not provide a mechanism for auditors to identify or investigate potential fraud or exploitation of the state’s billions of dollars in guardianship assets – a potential that is growing in Florida.
Some suggest that Florida has already reached a breaking point for fraud in the state’s court-appointed guardianships, using descriptive words, such as “profiteering” and “racketeering.” As keepers of the state’s court records and auditors for each of the state’s 67 counties, the Clerks are the logical local governmental entity for uncovering waste, fraud and abuse in court-appointed guardianship cases.
“The protection of our most vulnerable community members should be one of the highest priorities of public servants,” said Sarasota Clerk of Court Karen Rushing, legislative chair of Florida’s Court Clerks & Comptrollers. “With the passage of this legislation, we have taken a great first step toward more accountability and curbing abuse by those who would hold their own self-interests above the interests of those they are sworn to protect. We thank and congratulate Senator Brandes and Representative Passidomo on their advocacy and hard work this session to pass this good bill.”
“I am excited with the passage of this legislation because I know what it means for our community, our state and our country,” said Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock, who had implemented a similar plan at her office three years ago and has traveled the country discussing how states can implement this unique program. “This legislation is similar to a program we instituted on the local level in Palm Beach County, resulting in two arrests and nearly $3 million in saving to wards of the state whose guardians were not managing their funds properly. This bill is the first of its kind for monitoring guardians’ fiduciary and financial responsibilities to the ward, and we look forward to all of the Legislature and the Governor seeing the positive change it will have on the future of all Floridians.”
Under this proposed legislation, Clerks throughout Florida would be able to create enhanced guardianship audits in their offices. This legislation enhances the courts oversight of guardianship cases, and the legislation would further codify in statute the relationship between the Clerks and the court. Thanks to this legislation, Florida will now be a leader in protecting its most vulnerable population by giving Clerks the authority to implement a consistent and successful enhanced guardianship audit program in their counties.