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June 10, 2024

A Judge’s Reflections on NALC

Hon. Selena E. Molina
The PDF which includes endnotes and footnotes in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 45 Issue5.

From May 16th through 17th, I attended my first (but certainly not last) National Aging and Law Conference. It was a remarkable experience; allow me to share.

I attended the conference solo, safe for knowing a few friendly faces from the Commission on Law and Aging. And I was not slated to present, nor host any gatherings. (Shout out to those who were and who performed fabulously!)

Rather, I was able to fly under the radar and remain nearly anonymous. It was a feeling I have not felt in some time. As a probate judge in Delaware, a tight-knit legal community, rarely do I attend a professional gathering without someone approaching me with a smile, outstretched hand, and respectful “Your Honor.” 

But at NALC, very few knew my role in the aging community. And as a “Millennial Judge” as one attendee dubbed me, I expect no one saw me and assumed jurist. It was freeing, a welcome change of pace. I think it also freed panelists to (unknowingly) speak truth to “power.”

I recall vividly one presentation regarding guardianships where a panelist began a statement with “I don’t believe we have any judges in the room so…” before providing some critiques of how many judges approach guardianships. The feedback was well-reasoned and, at least for me, well-taken. I was grateful for the opportunity to receive such honest feedback in the collegial setting created by NALC. But openly hearing these critiques and constructive criticism is only step one. Now I must act. From my pages of notes from session after session, I have dozens of ideas to explore to improve Delaware’s guardianship system and better serve vulnerable Delawareans. I came home rearing to go and have already begun discussions with my fellow probate judges and our administrative staff on improvements we can implement within our state.  

My hope is that we can learn, and grow, from my experience at NALC. Through presentations and networking, I learned of many wonderful projects and improvements in other jurisdictions. For example, I learned of a college program providing companionship for persons under guardianship in Western Pennsylvania, I learned of an elder abuse hotline in Washington, a guardianship bench card developed by the Keck School of Medicine, the guardianship diversion project in Michigan, the guardianship tracking system in Pennsylvania, and Maryland’s comprehensive reviewed of the guardianship pipeline. 

I also received instruction on exploring “capacity for what,” “dignity of risk,” and new frameworks like IDEAL (Maryland’s approach to evaluating and limiting guardianships; identify patient’s needs, evaluate capabilities and resources, assess alternatives to guardianship, and limit guardianship as necessary). 

I could go on and on. The bottom line is this: NALC was an eye-opening, informative, and fun conference and I cannot wait until NALC 2025. See you there!

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