How judges, probate attorneys, and guardianship orgs abuse the vulnerable
Published: September 5, 2012
In October 2010 Billie Mae Rensberger filed a complaint with the GCB against Ramona Brush and Celina Fuentes, both with the group Family Eldercare, which oversees 382 guardianship cases in Travis County. "Family Eldercare took over my parents' property, their lives, removing them from their family home without our knowledge or forewarning to a nursing home," Rensberger's complaint reads. "My sister and I were blocked from visiting our mother during this time period for a week with no reason give (sic)."
Later that year Rensberger reached a settlement with Family Eldercare in a Travis County court, appointing a family member as permanent guardian, and Family Eldercare gave up all claims to the parents and their estate. Rensberger couldn't be reached by phone or email for comment, but she wrote in an email to the GCB, "As an aside I do not believe this guardianship with attorney ad litems," or court-appointed attorneys, "serves the public good."
The GCB last year also heard the case against Frank Metyko, who stepped down from a Galveston County guardianship program and gave up his GCB certification in lieu of disciplinary action from the board. The complaint, filed by Galveston County Probate Judge Gladys Burwell, alleged that Metyko overlooked or ignored serious lapses by his case manager Silvia Villarreal.
Burwell wrote that Villarreal "allegedly stole funds from wards under her case management." Burwell also filed records with the GCB showing the case manager sold an elderly man's cemetery lot, then later applied for burial fees from the county's indigent burial fund.
"This was me," said Joy Powers, holding up a photo of a broken, battered woman clinging to life in a San Antonio hospital bed. "I wasn't supposed to live. Seems I made a lot of people angry because I did."
In November 2010 Powers was driving her truck on U.S. 83, traveling from Kerrville to the small town of Leaky when she veered off the road, rolling several times. She was airlifted to University Hospital in San Antonio with a broken neck, broken wrist, and massive bleeding in her brain. Initial reports listed the wreck as fatal.
When Powers woke three weeks later she was a ward in Judge Rickhoff's Bexar County probate court.
Eventually two attorneys, one her court-appointed lawyer and another representing an estranged family member who got guardianship, visited the Mesa Vista nursing home in San Antonio, where they'd placed her.
"I thought I'm not even 50 years old, what am I doing here? Most of the people around me were elderly, they had dementia," Powers recalled in an interview this summer. "Those lawyers saw that I was alive and well, but they decided I needed a guardianship anyway. Nobody told me my rights or anything, nobody explained it to me."
With nobody keeping watch over the guardian, Powers, an Air Force veteran, wasn't getting a dime from her VA benefits or Social Security. Within months of getting released from the nursing home, she wound up homeless, crashing on friends' couches and relying on food pantries.
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