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Forum Editorial: North Dakota’s legal guardianship program is a disgrace that demands action

North Dakota has muddled along for years knowing full well that a guardianship service the state depends heavily upon has a criminal and civil court record. It's appalling and shouldn't be allowed to continue.

Editorial FSA
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North Dakota has allowed itself to be in the inexcusable and disgraceful position of depending on a disreputable firm to provide guardianship services to ostensibly protect the interests of vulnerable adults.

We say ostensibly because the firm that the state has come to rely upon heavily for guardianship services has more than a checkered history. As reported by The Forum’s Dave Olson, Tim and Delyte Koropatnicki and their firm, DKK Guardianship and Conservatorship Services, have a criminal record and also have civil judgments for bilking some of their clients.

Court records reveal that the Koropotnickis have demonstrated a repeated pattern of exploiting vulnerable clients for their own financial gain.

The couple, who live in the Pingree, N.D., area, were convicted in 2015 of misusing a client’s electronic benefit transfer card through their company.

In a civil case, which the Koropatnickis are appealing, they were ordered to pay a judgment of $800,000 for breach of trust and fraudulent actions in handling a family trust.

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After being charged in federal court in 2014, a state judge removed DKK Guardianship and Conservatorship Services from a number of guardianship cases — but some of the cases were handed back because of the dire shortage of guardianship services, leaving court officials no choice.

Breach of trust. Fraudulent actions. Misuse of funds. And there’s more.

Last year, a judge found the couple violated their federal probation by continuing to engage in transactions in a family trust. The family lost $150,000 in rental income on land the family owned because of the underhanded way the trust was managed.

Land from the trust was rented at below-market rates to a man Tim Koropatnicki had dealt with personally.

It’s grossly negligent on the part of North Dakota officials that they have knowingly allowed this appalling situation to continue — despite repeated legal actions documenting malfeasance. In response, officials have done little more than shrug.

It’s admittedly a difficult problem to solve, and will require reputable and able people who are willing to assume the responsibility of serving as guardians.

Until the 1980s, counties were responsible for providing guardians, a system that was discontinued. The state rejected the idea of creating a state guardianship program in 2013, deciding instead to provide funding for private guardians, with funding capped at 120 cases.

Clearly, the need isn’t being met, although a new guardianship company supposedly has been attracted to North Dakota and Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota has picked up a few cases.

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During the last legislative session, lawmakers rejected a proposal to create a state guardianship commission, leaving this dire problem unaddressed except for a judicial working group that tries to plug the gaping holes in the system.

There clearly is a need for the state to move — quickly and aggressively — to fill the void. We noted that the South Dakota Department of Human Services allows family members or other interested parties to petition a judge who decides whether the person is suitable to serve as a guardian or conservator.

Failing that, however, the South Dakota Department of Human Services is authorized to step up and fill the important guardianship and conservatorship roles.

Ultimately, this will take legislative action. The next session doesn’t convene until 2023. The North Dakota Department of Human Services should spearhead an effort to identify solutions, with an eye toward implementing any steps that can be taken administratively, followed by legislative proposals.

North Dakota’s failure to provide reliable and reputable guardianship services is an appalling dereliction of duty. It cannot go on unaddressed.

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