As a court-appointed guardian and conservator for those unable to make their own legal decisions, Julie Dolan’s job often hinges on matters of life and death. With the arrival of COVID-19, the Scott County public administrator lost 12 clients to the virus.
“I had no idea what I was getting into when I took this job,” said Dolan, who was appointed in 2015 by former Gov. Jay Nixon to fill an unexpired term and has since won election to a pair of four-year terms. “I had the legal background for the job, but so much of it also involves providing social services and making health care decisions.”
The small-town lawyer’s daughter attended Mizzou with plans to become an art teacher — a job she held in Memphis, Tennessee before opting for law school at the University of Memphis.
She returned to southeast Missouri to practice law at her father’s Sikeston firm, along with husband David Dolan, a fellow Memphis grad who would later serve as a local prosecuting attorney and is now a long-time judge in the 33rd Circuit, which covers Mississippi and Scott counties.
In his nomination, Judge Dolan notes the outsized impact of the pandemic on public administrators, who may be the closest personal connection their wards have, appointed through probate courts for those who’ve been declared incapacitated — i.e., physically or mentally unable to make sound decisions regarding their everyday requirements of food, shelter, safety, medical care or financial matters.
A guardian is in charge of the physical person, while a conservator oversees financial decisions.
“Most of these people have no family or loved ones to grieve at their death,” he wrote. “Julie and her staff of two caring deputies often are the only ones at funeral services.”
“Making those life and death decisions can take a toll on anybody, but she puts herself 100 percent into taking care of her clients,” the nomination letter continues. “The office usually has 150 clients, with just Julie and her two deputies to handle the legal, financial and medical needs of the wards.”
A mother of two adult children, Dolan is a former member and president of the Sikeston R-6 school board, as well as a past member and president of the board of directors for Legal Services of Southern Missouri.
An active member of the Missouri Association of Public Administrators, Dolan and her colleagues hope to recruit more lawyers into such jobs. County public administrators are elected in Missouri except for those in Jackson and St. Charles counties and the city of St. Louis. Approaching 70 and with her current term expiring in 2024, Dolan said she’s unlikely to see re-election to office in three years.