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How judges, probate attorneys, and guardianship orgs abuse the vulnerable

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Joy Powers woke from a horrific car wreck to find she'd been appointed a guardian and stripped of her rights. Months later, court-appointed fees drained her life savings

Photo: , License: N/A

A Bexar County court twice investigated whether Jack Hood was incapacitated when he contested a guardianship case involving his wife of 35 years.


"Under guardianship I had no rights. I couldn't go to the bank. I couldn't get any of my own money. I couldn't vote if I wanted to. I couldn't even go get my own doctor care."

Attempting to restore her rights through the courts, however, quickly became a painful and costly struggle, Powers says.

Though she had a doctor's assessment filed with the court saying that she had the "capacity to independently and responsibly make decisions with regard to health care, finances, and living environment," the guardianship remained in place for months. The resistance from her guardian and attorneys, Powers insists, hinged on a lawsuit filed on her behalf blaming an auto manufacturer for her accident, claiming her vehicle malfunctioned. "I think some people are trying to collect on whatever comes out of that," she said.

After Powers became obstinate and frustrated in court last year, and began writing emails to the court investigator and guardian begging to get her life back, Judge Rickhoff ordered her into a five-day psychiatric evaluation at Nix Health, deeming her a threat to others.

"I'm disabled, I'm 50 years old, I was just in the hospital. How could I be a threat?"

A doctor's evaluation, filed in court, later noted, "Joy's failure to respond to requests for information and instead pose her own questions seems to stem from a resistance to the continual imposition of guardianship and the seeking of a successor guardian rather than an inability to process such informational requests."

Powers regained her rights earlier this year, but in the process, she said, "They raided my bank accounts." She's already paid over $30,000 in court-appointed attorneys fees from her limited income, she said. Another lawyer in the case is still seeking an additional $10,000 in fees, she said.

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When Mary Dahlman's mental state began to be questioned in Judge Rickhoff's court, the central disagreement became whether Dahlman was generous or exploited.

Dahlman's guardian ad litem, William Bailey, and other attorneys in court painted the picture of a woman hopelessly aloof, inept, and incompetent, taken advantage of by con men and willing to throw away her sizeable trust on needless and hopeless causes. In a report he filed with the court Bailey outlines how, when asked, Dahlman greatly underestimated how much she'd paid out to close friends and her nephew over a four year period — just over $400,000. Bailey in his report says Dahlman's "lack of a family relationship," is reason for concern, saying she's self-isolated from her grandchildren and daughters, adding, "Ordinarily in life, a relationship with your children and grandchildren would be a source of great satisfaction."

In an interview with the Current in July, Dahlman outlined and justified many of the expenses flagged in Bailey's report as questionable, like a car she bought for her nephew, a friend she paid over $10,000 for French lessons over four years, and large donations to help with remodeling costs at her church. "Why can't I spend my money the way I want to?" she asked.

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