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Outrage: Watchdog For Elderly Gets the Ax

James Locke knows that a lot of kids can’t wait to get their hands on their parents’ money, and that worries him a lot. Unfortunately, Locke’s concern may have cost him his job.

Until recently, Locke served as the probate coordinator with the Probate Unit of California Superior Court of Sacramento County. His job was to make sure that the court regularly reviewed conservatorships to verify that elderly and disabled citizens to whom guardians had been appointed were being cared for properly. But he knew that wasn’t happening.

Locke, 59, testified before a conservatorship task force in 2006 that the Sacramento court was reviewing conservatorships only when a court-appointed guardian—often a son or daughter, or a niece or nephew—filed a required status report with the court. But if a guardian didn’t provide a report, the case would not be reviewed. That meant that Grandma’s money might be going toward something frivolous—like a big-screen TV for the guardian—rather than paying for her nursing home or medication. And the court overseeing her welfare would never know the difference.

“I lived in fear of waking up in the morning and reading a headline about a conservatee being abused,” Locke says. “The opportunity for abuse there where kids get control of their parents’ money is huge. A lot of kids can’t wait for their parents to die.”

As word got out about Locke’s testimony, the probate court got some unwanted attention. Soon, Locke was suspended for a week. Then, he was back at work for a month before he was fired in May 2007. Ironically, all of this occurred just as Locke’s colleagues across the state bestowed a prestigious award upon him for being so good at his job.

“I had caused the court embarrassment,” he says. “And they wanted to get rid of me.”

What’s more, Locke says, he was never allowed any recourse to question his firing. He has filed a complaint in federal court alleging that his civil rights were violated. He wants the termination cleared from his record and to be compensated for damages.

A representative for the probate court declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

Michelle Diament, who frequently writes for theBulletin’sIn the News section, lives in Memphis, Tenn.