We need to be able to trust our elected officials

Published 6:00 pm Monday, April 22, 2019

In Saturday’s paper, we printed a story about a young woman who was recently awarded a large sum of money from a mishandled conservatorship case.  Although she did win her case, the money was always hers, and it was probably something that never should have happened.

Shelbie Hunt, formally known as Shelbie McDougall of Lanett, had a conservatorship placed in her name when she was 4-years-old when her father passed away.

Hunt never knew about this money, and her grandmother was put in charge of the account.

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As the conservator, the grandmother was to manage the account and only make expenditures out of the account that would benefit her granddaughter.

In July 2016, Hunt’s grandmother died, and Hunt, while mourning her grandmother’s death, was tasked with cleaning out her home. When sifting through documents, she came across bank statements with her name on them and decided to see what was going on.

She learned about the account, which her grandmother had depleted all the funds from. Most importantly, none of the money went to benefit Hunt.

Hunt went on a mission to find out what she could do and was turned down by four Chambers County attorneys until she landed with Agricola Law in Opelika.

The law firm was able to call a bond with Auto-Owners Insurance, based in Montgomery, which acts as an insurance policy on the account if the funds are misused.

Hunt won her case, but no amount of money will ease the pain of losing a grandmother and father at a young age. She’s a mother and wife now, so hopefully, the money she was awarded can help provide a brighter future for her family.

Hunt was failed by several people in this case.

Her grandmother, who McDougall said she loved greatly, used the account for personal items rather than using it as required.  The Chambers County Probate Office also didn’t properly do accounting on the conservatorship from 2001 to 2016, so no one noticed what happened.

According to current Probate Judge Paul Story, when a conservatorship is set up, there is supposed to be accounting completed on the account within the first 60-90 days. Then again within a year of the first accounting. After that, accounting must be done at least every three years.

It’s hard to know if this ever happened, but it’s likely it never did. If a proper accounting had been done at any point in 15 years, it’s possible the misuse of funds would’ve been noticed, and

Hunt wouldn’t have had to fight for money that was already rightfully hers.

Any time something like this happens, the old argument is that if it happened to one person, it likely happened to someone else as well.

Story, who took office this year, said this wouldn’t happen under his administration as he is enforcing the law as he can when it comes to conservatorships. Three different probate judges held that position during this timeframe, and it’s obvious those tenures had some highs and lows. This is a major low.

Story had nothing personally to do with this case, but his office should learn from this, and should take the time to investigate whether this is an isolated incident or whether other conservatorships have not been properly accounted for over the years.