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Families say they have faced criminal charges for speaking out against court-ordered guardianship of loved ones

'It's a system that strips your civil rights,' Karyn Turk says
Posted at 3:17 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 19:00:46-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida's court-appointed guardianship system puts senior citizens under the control of a professional guardian.

In Palm Beach County alone, guardians manage more than a billion dollars in assets. 

"It's a system that strips your civil rights," said Karyn Turk of West Palm Beach, who had to commit her 79-year-old mother to a nursing home after her mother's dementia became too advanced for home care.  

"I fear the word 'guardianship,' more than I fear the word, 'cancer,'" said Hillary Hogue of Naples, who spent years fighting to get her father out of a guardianship program. 

Karyn Turk and mother
Karyn Turk committed her 79-year-old mother to a nursing home because of dementia.

In a guardianship, a senior can be found incapacitated by the court.

A judge can then appoint a professional who will then oversee all aspects of the senior's life — from their health care, to where they live, to how they spend their money.  

The salaries of these professional guardians and their attorneys often come from the life savings of the senior.  

"Do you think a stranger is going to take care of your parent or your child the same way you would?" asked Karyn Turk, who may be Florida's best-known critic of the guardianship system.  

This former Mrs. Florida, and conservative commentator, frequently appears on national television.  

In her private life, she had to commit her 79-year-old mother to an assisted living facility, and she said the care was substandard.  

Karyn Turk
Karyn Turk explains the shortcomings of Florida's guardianship system following a sequence of events involving her mother.

"My mom was found bruised and battered, laying face down on a table," recounts Turk.  

But she said the facility asked for, and a judge appointed, a guardian to manage her mother's affairs.  

After stepping up her complaints about her mom's care, and her guardian, Turk soon found herself accused of a felony.  

Turk's mother gave her power of attorney in 2008 and a decade later, she said she spent $17,000 of her mom's Social Security income to hire independent caregivers at the nursing home.  

But she learned the professional guardian, appointed by the judge, was in charge of her mom's finances.  

And in federal court, Turk found herself charged with Social Security fraud, and was accused of using money on herself.  

With legal costs mounting, Turk pleaded guilty in September 2019, expecting to get a sentence of probation.

Instead, she received a 30-day sentence in a maximum-security federal prison in Miami.  

"I know I'm innocent," added former Leon County, Florida, resident Geralyn Lambou, who had power of attorney over her 90-year-old father.  

Geralyn Lambou, faces charges after guardianship
Geralyn Lambou explains what happened with the guardianship concerning her father.

Lambou transferred the title of her father's car and pickup truck to herself to keep the guardian from selling the vehicles.  

For that, Lambou was charged with two counts of grand theft auto and is awaiting trial. 

"I know, I did it with my dad's best interest at heart," added Lambou. "It was horrifying to me. I've never been in jail before."  

"The system is working as it's designed for the vast majority of proceedings throughout the state of Florida," counters Anthony Palmieri, who is the chief guardianship investigator for the Clerk of Court and Comptroller for Palm Beach County.  

He's also the president of the National Guardianship Association.  

"There are cases, obviously, where the system has failed," said Palmieri who pushed for a new state law passed by the Legislature earlier this month.

The law that awaits the governor's signature creates a statewide database of guardians, the number of cases they handle and their disciplinary records.  

Anthony Palmieri, Chief Guardianship Investigator for the Clerk of Court and Comptroller for Palm Beach County
Anthony Palmieri is president of the National Guardianship Association.

"So it's very difficult to make informed decisions, prudent decisions when you don't have the data," Palmieri said.  

"Once you're in a guardianship, it's basically impossible to get out," said Hogue, one of Florida's leading activists trying to change the guardianship system.  

She said the problem with the guardian database is that disciplinary records are only accessible to judges, magistrates and court clerks.  
Hogue wants a new law, opening the database to the public, especially those with loved ones in a guardian's court-ordered care.  

"A lot of the elder attorneys and guardians do not want to see it go into effect because everything will be open," Hogue said. 

"And I'll go down continuing to fight," said Turk, whose prison stint inspired her to write a book.

She is pushing for a change to a system that more Floridians will enter as our population ages.  

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