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Conflict of interest in sealed guardianship cases

In the on-going series "Your Court, Their Secrets" investigating closed court records, Cheryl Phillips, Maureen O'Hagan and Justin Mayo of The Seattle Times uncovered conflicts of interest in sealed guardianship cases. "Only a small circle of lawyers practice in the guardianship field. Some say that to make a good living they cannot limit their practice to one side or the other: They must represent guardianship companies as well as the people subject to those companies' control." This leaves wards vulnerable to guardians who profit by working both sides of the system. This vulnerability is compounded by the fact that these court records are sealed. Since 1990, 398 guardianship files have been sealed in the state of Washington. The Times reviewed sealing orders for 376 of those files to find that 97% did not adhere to the proper legal standard for dealing a case: "A judge must find that "compelling circumstances" exist for secrecy; determine that they outweigh the public's right to open courts; and explain the reasoning in a written order."

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