DENVER (AP) – Wards of the state are at risk of theft and are sometimes appointed guardians and conservators who don’t get background checks because of failings in the Colorado court system, a state audit concluded Monday.

Those were among several problems highlighted in the audit presented to state lawmakers, detailing how Colorado courts have sometimes failed to properly handle cases involving people the system deems unable to take care of themselves.

The audit surveyed six of the state’s 22 judicial districts and found that in a handful of randomly sampled cases, a nominee for guardian or conservator did not provide a criminal or credit history before being appointed to take care of someone.

In one district, a conservator in charge of 26 cases had not submitted a credit report in six years, the audit said.

A guardian makes decisions regarding the health, welfare, and education of a ward and a conservator manages finances.

The audit, conducted from August 2010 to May 2011, said one Colorado conservator stole more than $2 million in one case, according to a 2010 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office examining instances of financial exploitation and neglect of seniors.

Colorado auditors said they found three cases where conservators reported expenses exceeding what they said they would be spending as part of their financial plan for someone. In one case, a conservator overspent by $44,200, the audit said.

The audit examined 55 cases. While some of the guardians and conservators can be family or friends, some guardians are companies specializing in nursing or social services and some conservators are attorneys or accountants.

Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender said he’s concerned with issues raised in the audit and that fixing them is a priority.

“All I can say is, the facts are what they are and we intend to correct them,” he said.

Bender said the court system is “fundamentally stressed in terms of resources,” noting that the state’s 175 district court judges dealt with 245,000 cases filed in 2011 — from criminal matters to civil cases. Guardianship and conservatorship cases accounted for less that 1 percent of those cases, the audit said, but Bender said they can be time consuming.

“But there’s no question in my mind that we can do a better job and we have a responsibility to do a better job, period, with the limited resources that we have today,” Bender said.

Another issue the audit found was that courts sometimes don’t make sure they get regular reports from guardians and conservators about people in their care. In one case a court did not have contact with a guardian for 10 years and in another case a court did not know that a ward had died in 2003.

Gerald Marroney, state court administrator, told lawmakers judges are receiving training e-mails reminding them of their duties and telling them of the issues the audit found.

Jefferson County Republican Rep. Jim Kerr said because of the court system’s limited resources, officials have to find a way to prioritize to take care of wards of the state.

“From my perspective this is one of those important issues, because a ward is suddenly no longer a person in control of their destiny,” Kerr said.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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