Disability and Guardianship Project

Research Focuses on the Rights of
People with Developmental Disabilities

Recent Communications with the Judicial Council of California

The Disability and Abuse Project has conducted an audit of limited conservatorship procedures and cases processed through the Probate Court in Los Angeles County.  What we have found is very disturbing.  Los Angeles may be symptomatic of a much larger problem of personal and constitutional rights violations occurring throughout California, indeed, throughout the nation.

About 30 years ago, the California Legislature established a new system of protection for adults with developmental disabilities.  We call it the "Limited Conservatorship System."  It was a new form of conservatorship (adult guardianship) that provides a delicate balance between protecting vulnerable adults from harm and granting such adults as many rights as possible.  A blend of semi-independence and semi-protection was the goal.  Hence the term "limited" conservatorship since the conservator only receives limited powers over the conservatee.

The procedure for establishing limited conservatorships is supposed to have a built-in set of checks and balances to make sure that a conservatorship is needed, that the right person becomes the conservator, and that the conservatee retains as many rights as possible.  Alternatives to conservatorship, including less intrusive forms of supportive decisionmaking, should be explored. 

There should be a screening out of potentially bad conservators.  A court investigator should interview all parties to the case and close relatives.  A lawyer appointed for the conservatee should do an independent investigation and defend the rights of the conservatee from erosion.  The Regional Center should do its own assessment and should make recommendations to the court.

This all sounds so good on paper.  But what we found are practices that do not match this ideal scenario.  We saw negligence, indifference, and systematic violations of rights.  Courts are not narrowly tailoring their orders so that proposed conservatees retain as many rights as possible.

We have conducted extensive research, sponsored conferences, and published reports.   We are "whistle blowers" who hope to shake up the status quo.  We are offering solutions and seeking ideas from others for major reforms in the Limited Conservatorship System.

This system needs legislative oversight and more funding.  The judicial branch needs to take an honest look at the dysfunctional process it is presiding over.  The executive branch needs to get involved instead of ignoring the ongoing violations of the rights of people with developmental disabilities.

Disability rights organizations need to find time for this issue, even though their current priorities are focused on other areas.  Bar associations and ethics professors need to take a look at the various violations of professional standards that are built into the court-appointed attorney aspect of this system.

Regional Centers need to play a greater role in protecting their clients when they are scheduled to become limited conservatees. 

Please visit the links below to read the materials we have published.  When you read them, you will understand why we are seeking these reforms.  We hope that our efforts will inspire similar reforms in other parts of the nation.  


Justice Denied
Voting Rights Complaint
A Strategic Guide
Sexual Rights
A Missed Opportunity
Training of Court Investigators
One: Examining the System
Two: Denial of Voting Rights

Supported Decision

Special Report on Supported
Decision Making (SDM)

Commentaries on SDM

Background Papers

 Lanterman Act Rights
     Searching Court Records
     Probate Investigation Defects
     Self Help Clinics
     PVP Trainings -- Part I
     PVP Trainings -- Part II

     Voting Rights

     Expanding the Role of
the Regional Center

     Legal Principles on Social Rights
     Social Rights Advocacy
 Areas Needing Improvement
    Assembly Line Justice
Trauma-Informed Justice

 Coalition Report Calls for
Conservatorship Reform

News Release
Excerpts from Report


Letters Sent

California State Bar
Dept. of Developmental Services
California Attorney General
Los Angeles Superior Court

 Letters to the Chief Justice of California

Our reform efforts have focused primarily on the Limited Conservatorhip System in California.  That system is under the control of the Judicial Branch of government.  The head of the Judicial Branch is the Chief Justice of California.  From May to December 2014, we sent several letters to Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye asking her, as Chair of the Judicial Council of California, to convene a Task Force on Limited Conservatorships to investigate the system and recommend systemic reforms to policy and operations.  She referred the matter to the Rules and Projects Committee which, in turn, referred it to a Probate and Mental Health Advisory Committee.  We have never received an official response to our request for Task Force from the Chief Justice, the Rules Committee, or the Advisory Committee.  We are still waiting.

Here are the letters we sent to the Chief Justice:  Letter 1, Letter 2, Letter 3, Letter 4, Letter 5, Letter 6, Letter 7.  Each letter brought new information to the attention of the Chief Justice.

Indiana Reforms Guardianship System

Framework for Legislation on Supported
Decision Making Medical Agreements



A Successful Trip to San Francisco / Nov. 14, 2014

A few of us who are working on the Conservatorship Reform Project went to San Francisco last Friday for a meeting at the headquarters of the Judicial Council of California.  The Judicial Council adopts rules that govern legal proceedings throughout the state, including proceedings involving limited conservatorships.

Along with my colleagues, Dr. Nora Baladerian and Jim Stream, I made a presentation in support of our request for a statewide Task Force on Limited Conservatorships.   Also present was a young man, Stephen, who had almost lost his right to vote, Stephen's mother, and the stepfather of another young man whose First Amendment rights have been violated by the Limited Conservatorship System.

A news story appeared today in the Daily Journal, a statewide legal newspaper read by judges, legislators, and attorneys.  I followed up with a letter to the Chief Justice.  I also sent an email to Judge John Sugiyama, Chairperson of the Probate and Mental Health Advisory Committee -- the committee to which we made our presentation.  That email included a document titled "Ten Statewide Concerns About the Limited Conservatorship System."

Prior to our meeting at the Judicial Council, our group spent some time at the Golden Gate Regional Center.  Many thanks to the Executive Director and the staff for their hospitality.  Also many thanks to Greg Byers, a filmmaker who came to San Francisco to video our activities for a documentary he is working on about the Limited Conservatorship Reform Project.

Other documents submitted to the Committee can be found on the Judicial Council page of our website.

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