EMBARGOED UNTIL 3:30 P.M.
LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Ruth Johnson on Thursday welcomed Kerri Kasem, founder and president of the Kasem Cares Foundation, to a special hearing of the Senate Judiciary committee held in Oakland County to discuss guardian and conservator reform.
Kasem is the daughter of the late Casey Kasem, a Michigan native and legendary radio host of the American Top 40 countdown. Kasem was denied access to her father until winning a legal battle to become his conservator shortly before his death in 2014. She feels his death could have been prevented if stronger protections were in place to allow her to be involved in his care sooner.
“When it’s Casey Kasem, Britney Spears, Glen Campbell or Mickey Rooney it makes headlines, but I want people to know that these abuses are happening every day to thousands of families across our country,” Kasem said. “That is why I started the Kasem Cares Foundation to help protect vulnerable individuals who are often cut off from loved ones, isolated and abused. I applaud Michigan for taking up this important legislation.”
Johnson cosponsored a law signed by the governor in 2019 that allows courts to intervene when a guardian is denying access for family or friends to visit an individual under their custody, but said more needs to be done.
“That was a great first step, but there are so many dimensions to this problem,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “The system is ripe for abuse. People are losing 100% of their rights and there is not enough accountability or oversight. We have heard from so many victims and family members that this is a systemic problem in our state and it needs to be addressed with urgency.”
Johnson is the lead sponsor of a bipartisan four-bill package that came out of recommendations from Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force. Among other reforms, the bills would require judges to explain the specific reasons for appointing a professional guardian rather than a family member when doing so. Professional guardians would also be required to be certified, and there would be limits placed on the maximum number of individuals that can be placed under the care of a single professional guardian or conservator.
Johnson also introduced a separate bill that would require a judge to seek an evaluation by a physician or mental health professional before placing someone under guardianship and require that a person subject to a petition for guardianship be present at the hearing.
“We give people more rights in a criminal court when they’ve been charged with a horrific crime,” Johnson said. “Anyone can file a petition for guardianship, and after a brief meeting with a court-appointed attorney, someone can have all their rights stripped without ever undergoing a medical evaluation or being present in the courtroom for the hearing. That should not be happening in America, but it happens every day in Michigan.”
Michigan’s push for reform adds it to a growing list of states, including California, Alabama and New Mexico, that have announced bipartisan initiatives to strengthen protections for vulnerable residents. The current guardianship system has been criticized by advocates, journalists, victims and their families as lacking strong enough safeguards against exploitation.
In addition to Johnson, the other sponsors of Senate Bills 503-506, 526, and 527 are Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake; Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; and Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren.
Editor’s note: The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will meet today at 3:30 p.m. at the Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ Auditorium, 1200 North Telegraph Road, Building 12E, Pontiac, MI 48340.
The hearing will also be livestreamed on Senator Ruth Johnson’s Official Facebook page.