DisAbility Rights Galaxy has a great post on a rather scary case pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court addressing whether court-appointed conservators for people with disabilities should be immune from lawsuits. Conservators wield incredible power over their wards and it’s not terribly rare to hear of conservators who financially exploit, abuse, or neglect their wards. In this case, for example, the conservator failed to object to a ward’s institutionalization; I won’t speculate on his motives, but this has in the past happened when conservators felt that institutionalization of their wards would make their job easier.
I haven’t had time to read the pleadings, but I’m a little confused why court-appointed conservators should be entitled to such immunity. It seems that the defendant in this case is comparing himself to a judge, as judges are immune from lawsuits concerning the validity of their decisions (for example, if you are incarcerated based on a judge’s ruling that turns out to have been contrary to the law, you can’t sue the judge for false imprisonment). Judicial immunity makes some sense in that there’s already an avenue – appeal – for contesting bad decisions. Plus, judges are obligated to do justice to both parties before them and are constantly forced to make decisions that are bad for at least one of the parties before them; permitting lawsuits against judges might scare judges out of ruling against wealthy and litigious parties who might later sue them.
Conservators, on the other hand, don’t face any of these challenges. They’re obligated only to their ward, and are under absolutely no requirement to be “impartial.” Their decisions are not directly subject to appeal. They have no obligation to hold a hearing or observe any sort of process prior to issuing a decision. Their role is probably closer to that of an attorney, or to someone holding a durable power-of-attorney. Both attorneys and power-of-attorneys can be held liable for malpractice.