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Guardianship Reforms, Witness and Victim Protection Bills Pass House with Support of Attorney General Nessel
October 24, 2023
LANSING – Today, legislation passed in the state House of Representatives to reform Michigan’s guardianship and conservatorship practices and to better protect victim and witness contact and location information in the judicial system, announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. The Attorney General has advocated for passage of both legislative measures and personally testified before House committees this year in support of each.
House bills 4909-4912 institute long-awaited reforms to Michigan’s guardianship statutes, as well as HB 5047 which would create the Office of State Guardian.
Attorney General Nessel testified in support of these bills to the decades of work that have been poured into these reforms dating back to the Michigan Supreme Court’s Guardianship and Conservatorship Task Force, formed in 1998. These bills address many problems that the Department of Attorney General and partner organizations in the Elder Abuse Task Force repeatedly see.
To combat those issues, the legislation will:
- Require a judge to justify on the record why a family member who is willing to serve as a guardian is not suitable. While the law already provides that family members have priority, the modification serves as an additional safeguard to ensure family members get due consideration;
- Eliminate a judge’s ability to prevent a challenge to an appointed guardianship/conservatorship for up to six months;
- Require guardian and conservator certification and increase visitation frequency;
- Establish a clear asset/income threshold for appointment of a conservator;
- Set standards for the Guardian ad Litem report to the court;
- Protect personal items of sentimental value from being discarded;
- Establish a right to attorney throughout the proceedings;
- Establish additional protections for individuals before removing them from their homes;
- Improve the basic standard for medical testimony; and more.
“These bills establish basic dignity in our State’s guardianship and conservatorship oversight. This package is fundamentally about protecting and securing continued rights for some of the most vulnerable adults in our state,” said Nessel. “Our guardianship and conservatorship system must serve to protect our residents, and I applaud the House of Representatives for advancing these recommended reforms from our Elder Abuse Task Force.”
Witness and Victim Protection Bills
House Bills 4738 and 4739 would require that prosecutors redact the personally identifying information of victims and witnesses, including addresses and telephone numbers when turning over discovery to the defense. The legislation clearly outlines the victim and witness personal information that is to be protected including home addresses, phone numbers, and social security number. It also provides a clear process to ensure defense counsels and defendants have access to the victims and witnesses information when necessary to ensure protection of their due process rights.
This legislation has been referred to as the Starkisha Thompson Bills, in reference to the brutal murder of Starkisha Thompson believed to have been in retaliation for her testimony in support of the prosecution of a carjacking of which she was the victim.
“Crime victims and witnesses show great strength and courage when they face their assailants and abusers in the courtroom, and protecting them from further victimization and violence is a critical component of the criminal justice system” said Nessel. “Many victims and witnesses are justifiably afraid to cooperate with police investigations for fear of their personal information being shared with a dangerous offender. These bills protect the most vulnerable individuals in our judicial system by shielding their addresses and phone numbers. I now ask the Michigan Senate to act expeditiously to move these bills forward.”