Few people keep secret things they are proud of. This is even more true for governments.
Let’s carve out exceptions for secret knowledge or plans which must be kept hidden for reasons of national security or military advantage, and then say, usually, when governments hide things from their citizens it is out of a sense of shame or failure.
A perfect example is the secrecy that surrounds almost everything about the State of New Mexico’s Judicial Elder Guardianship program. One thing kept hidden is that this is a system which mindlessly supports one side in frequently complex adversarial proceedings on the simple, simple-minded concept of, whoever petitions the court first, gets to frame everything about the case to their advantage.
Cases involving Elder Guardianship center on old people who have been labeled “incapacitated,” who need the Court’s intervention because their family care is “dysfunctional.” There is one other factor in almost all Elder Guardianship cases in which the key word does not have to be in quotes, because it is well-understood and not susceptible to intellectual manipulation. That word is rich. Almost all the old folks for whom state courts and court-appointed guardians and other service providers are summoned into action have lots of money.
That’s because the NM Elder Guardian system runs on the profit motive. Among the small universe of elder care attorneys and service providers there are very few pro bono operators. If there’s not a pot of gold to pay lawyer’s fees and support services, there is little incentive to make a case.
One other introductory thought: the justification offered by the courts for keeping all its actions in guardianship cases under wraps is allegedly to protect the privacy of the old person. But remember, in order to qualify for court-ordered care, the old person has to be judged so “incapacitated” that they become “wards of the court” and lose all their basic human and legal rights including the “right to manage his or her own money, sign a contract, vote, marry, decide where to travel, decide who can come into his or her home and which doctors and medicines can be used.” One has to ask, exactly what sense of “privacy” do such “incapacitated” people have that requires such unaccountable “protection?”
Family members of the old person, including those who may have cared for Mom or Pop for years, can be excluded from the circle of secrecy if they’re the ones accused in, usually a sibling’s, court petition. And, if they, or anyone divulges any of the Court’s secrets, they can be fined or even jailed.
This protects a lot of interested parties — from judges and lawyers to the for-profit providers of everything from medical care to janitorial or dog-walking services — from any outside monitoring. It is, says one judge who’s seen it from the inside, “an honor system.”
But as great investigative reporting by our guest today, syndicated columnist and author Diane Dimond shows, often the NM system of elder guardianship does no honor to anyone involved.
Diane Dimond is a journalist who defies categorization. She gained national prominence on radio and television, covering the White House for NPR local news for WCBS-TV in New York, and doing investigative reporting for MSNBC, among others. Her nationally syndicated weekly newspaper column is distributed by Creators Syndicate. Diane is also a Special Correspondent for Newsweek/TheDailyBeast. Her recent 6-part series of investigative reports about New Mexico’s Judicial Elder Guardianship system was published by the Albuquerque Journal.