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Distinguished Service to the First Amendment

Traverse City Record-Eagle | CNHI News, 2023

Author(s): Mardi Link, Luca Powell, Jan-Michael Stump and Staff | Traverse City Record-Eagle, Eagle Staff | CNHI News


Traverse City Record-Eagle reporters and staff at CNHI News devoted nine months to a special project that exposed serious flaws in Michigan’s court-run guardian and conservatorship program. 

Reporters visited courthouses and interviewed sources across the state, delved deep into public probate records and discovered a disturbing pattern: The courts appointed incompetent, unqualified or unscrupulous actors to serve as guardians or conservators for vulnerable adults. In many cases, the questionable appointees are preying on the people – often the elderly – who they are meant to protect. 

The Record-Eagle team succeeded in drawing public attention to a guardianship system that has resisted reform for more than 30 years and is characterized by gaps and loopholes that have put a highly vulnerable population at risk. The result of the reporters’ work is a fact-based account, supported by emotionally charged, powerfully told personal stories of the victims, of a system still much in need of reform and a state bureaucracy that is unable or unwilling to fix it.  

As a result of the Record-Eagle project there are indications that police and the courts are now more likely to deliver justice for crimes perpetrated by guardians or conservators who overstep their bounds. For example, the newspaper points to one man’s conviction for stealing from the trust of an elderly woman whose story the reporters told. Based on their reporting and examination of the system, the man’s crime likely would have gone unpunished before the special project was published.