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Commission on guardianship finalizing report

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 16-member commission appointed to find ways to improve the state’s ailing guardian/conservator system finished its work Friday with a final report expected to be presented to the state Supreme Court next week.

A key recommendation – the purchase of a $600,000 Minnesota computer software program to detect fraud in conservator reports – was revised after the commission learned that the software program so far hasn’t worked in other states.

In its final report, the commission – composed of lawyers, judges, legislators and others – is expected to stress ways to improve accountability and oversight of the system in which court-appointed guardians and conservators, including for-profit companies, make decisions for people deemed incapacitated.

The report is due Jan. 1.

The commission had hoped that New Mexico could adapt a computer system that was “working very well in Minnesota,” said commission Chairwoman Wendy York on Friday. The Minnesota system is designed to detect fraud and suspicious reporting by conservators who handle finances for the incapacitated person and help judges who review such reports annually.

By using a Minnesota “source code” for the computer program, New Mexico would have been saved the cost of creating its own computer program.

“But the fix isn’t quite as easy as we had hoped,” said York, a retired state district judge. “Other states have tried to use the code and have not had success.”

So the commission is expected to recommend New Mexico implement some type of computer monitoring and hire court auditors and special masters to hear complaints and concerns about guardians and conservators.

New Mexico puts oversight of the guardian/conservator system in the hands of the individual judges who hear the cases.

But the courts “currently lack the tools to carry out their responsibilities,” states a draft of the final report presented to the commission on Friday.

In fiscal year 2016, about 500 people in New Mexico were placed under a guardian, conservator, or both, according to court data. The total number of existing cases statewide isn’t readily available.

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