Public testimony to address State Commission on Judicial Conduct (TX)
NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING
1. Call to Order
Click here for live internet access to Tuesday’s hearing.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE: Human Services
NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING COMMITTEE: Judiciary & Civil JurisprudenceTIME & DATE: 10:00 AM, Thursday, March 15, 2012
CHAIR: Rep. Jim Jackson
The Committee will hear invited testimony on the following interim charges:
Study the potential effects on victims of family and domestic violence in the judicial process if courts are allowed to issue agreed protective orders without a finding of violence.
Study and make recommendations regarding the discrepancies in guardianship and child custody statutes. Review potential solutions to the problems
surrounding "arbitrary and capricious" findings by trial court judges.
Jurisprudence Hearing to address 2 new bills Tuesday March 1, 2011
The Senate Jurisprudence Committee will be taking public testimony on 2 bills that should be of interest to all Elderly and Disabled Texans in Guardianship.
SB 286- relating to attorney's fees, the amendments are to include that the court may allocate attorney's fees taxed at costs among the parties as the court finds is FAIR and JUST. If after examining the proposed ward's ASSETS the court determines the proposed ward is unable to pay for costs allocated to the proposed ward for services provided by an attorney, the county is responsible for those costs. The attorneys appointed by the courts are forcing the sale of all assets to payroll attorneys fees.
SB 481- relating to the removal of a guardian of an incapacitated person ordered by the court. This bill has been amended for the court to provide notice and citation of a removal (after the fact) giving 30 days to file an application with the court for a hearing for reinstatement. If you are removed, you will be affected by SB 286 to pay for attorney fees that are FAIR and JUST which allows Attorneys to collect more fees.
Texas residents please join us at the Capitol On Tuesday March 01, 2001 to OPPOSE these bills, and speak up for the disabled and elderly and for yourselves, this is our future under the Texas Probate Code pertaining to Estates and Guardianships.
Texas bill addresses abuse, neglect or exploitation of elderly, disabled
February 16, 2011
The Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee conducted a hearing yesterday on a number of bills including SB 221. Click here to read written testimony that was submitted.
2011 - 82 Legislature / Jurisprudence Committee Assignment
January 19, 2011
Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, today filed a package of legislation intended to reform state programs designed to protect children, seniors and Texans with disabilities.
"As we work to balance the state budget, it is critical that we live up to our responsibilities to protect our most vulnerable citizens," Nelson said. "These reforms will help ensure the safety of children, seniors and Texans with disabilities.
Among Senator Nelson's pre-filed bills are the following:Protecting Vulnerable Texans: SB 220 includes procedural reforms to help families navigate the guardianship system and to protect individuals and their assets while under a guardianship. Key provisions include immediate notification to guardians who are removed by a court and a longer period for them to seek reinstatement. SB 221 strengthens protections against the exploitation of seniors and ensures that law enforcement is notified if a client's home may be left vacant due to the client being removed under a protective order. SB 223 increases efficiencies in long-term care services for seniors and individuals with disabilities, and directs the Department of Aging and Disability Services to ensure that consumers are aware of their options. "I have become extremely concerned by some of the stories I am hearing involving seniors having their lives taken over by third parties, and it is time for us to re-examine the protections that should be in place to protect our graying population from exploitation," Nelson said. "Our guardianship system also needs to be transparent and fair."
The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, under the direction of Chairman Wentworth, met today in the Capitol Extension for invited and public testimony on interim charge 2.
Interim Charge 2: Study the guardianship program implemented by the Department of Aging and Disabilities and the Department of Adult Protective Services, including the efficiency and effectiveness of the program, the relationship between the two agencies, the appropriate
rights for parents, and whether clients and their assets are adequately protected.
The committee convened at 1:04 p.m.
(1:06) Carl Reynolds, director of the Office of Court Administration, testified on the newly created Guardianship Certification Board and its "close partnership" with the Department of Aging and Disabilities Services (DADS).
(1:10) Beth Engelking, assistant commissioner of Adult Protective Services, discussed her agency's guardianship referrals to and relationship with DADS.
(1:19) Chris Traylor, commissioner of Department of Aging and
Disabilities Services (DADS), gave an overview of the agency's
guardianship program and referrals from Adult Protective Services. He said there 820 wards under DADS' guardianship and 393 wards under private guardianship. Currently, it takes 35 days to establish guardianship. Sen. Harris inquired about privacy rights and concerns.
(1:31) Virginia Hammerle, an attorney from Denton County, testified on her concerns of private wards who have assets
and the "severe abuse" of those wards by the Denton County
probate court. She said the $1.5 million in private ad litems
in Denton County is "grossly disproportionate" to other
counties of similar size and population. She said a small group of attorneys and ad litems are engaging in lengthy proceedings
to charge excessive fees, which are paid from the estates of potential wards leaving them "destitute," and Ms. Hammerle provided specific cases as examples of the abuses. She spoke
of past abuses and misconduct by the Denton County probate judge.
(1:40) The committee members and Ms. Hammerle discussed recommendations, ad litem fees, Supreme Court rulings on guardianship, checks and balances, political contributions, Denton County Probate Judge Windle, the 2 appointed examining physicians in Denton County, loss of rights,
the finding of judicial misconduct against Judge Windle,
Judge Windle's "inappropriate" financial relationships with
his wife and other individuals, and local bar association's efforts and support.
(1:59) Judge Tom Rickhoff of Bexar County Probate Court Two testified about the problems in the judicial/probate system.
He stated the system is rife with politics and there is "almost
no supervision" of judicial conduct. He said judges "learn the lesson" of not disrupting the system and the attorneys.
He said a new political problem is "peaking" in which judicial candidates are "unprepared" since they have little to no
jury trial experience. Responding to Chairman Wentworth, Judge Rickhoff said he does not envision any legislative solutions and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is comprised of political appointees and is possibly unconstitutional. Further, Judge Rickhoff said the State
Commission on Judicial Conduct is "led astray by agenda
(2:12) Debby Valdez, an advocate for familial guardianship
and a member of GRADE (Guardianship Reform Advocates
for the Disabled and Elderly), was the first of nearly 3 hours
of witnesses who, gave emotional testimony on the abuses in
the probate and guardianship system and were critical of
DADS, Adult Protective Services, the private "profit-driven"
guardianship system (in particular, GSI- Guardianship
Services Inc.), Tarrant County Probate Judge Ferchill, and Denton County Probate Judge Windle. Other issues were ex parte discussions, attorney ad litems, revocation of parental rights, loss of familial interaction, revocation of familial guardianships, kickbacks, abuse, inappropriate relationships,
sexual assault, the "stripping of civil rights," claims of "homicide," intentional overmedication, onerous appeal fees ($10,000 in Judge Ferchill's court), and theft of assets by ad litems.
(3:38) Commissioner Traylor and Assistant Commissioner
Gary Jessee of DADS were requested by the committee to
answer a specific claim by a witness regarding guardianship
(3:42) Sen. Harris voiced his anger at Commissioner Traylor
and Assistant Commissioner Jessee over the lack of oversight with wards in private guardianship.
(3:47) Emotional public testimony continued.
(4:53) Steven Fields, court administrator for Tarrant County Probate Judge Ferchill, addressed the testimony regarding
GSI, Judge Ferchill's relationship with GSI, ex parte hearings, the lack of notice given to family members with ex parte and revocation hearings, and specific allegations by family members. Mr. Fields stated "emergency situations"
can require ex parte hearings, and family members can
"create problems" for wards under the care of GSI. Mr. Fields said the $10,000 fee is a "security" for court costs in ad litem hearings. Sen. Harris expressed concern regarding overmedication, inadequate monitoring/oversight of wards,
and Judge Ferchill.
Chairman Wentworth said the committee's next meeting will
be in the San Antonio City Council Chambers on August 13th
at 10 a.m and will address interim charge 3.
The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence adjourned at
Austin, May 16th, 2010
Texas guardianship abuse became a topic of significant discussion at a May 12 Senate Health and Human Services committee hearing. Within the committee interim charge to “explore strategies to support the needs of aging Texans,” the hearing, chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), also allowed testimony on “the guardianship program implemented by the Department of Aging and Disabilities and the Department of Adult Protective Services, including the efficiency and effectiveness of the program, the relationship between the two agencies, the appropriate rights for parents, and whether clients and their assets are adequately protected to ensure the state is appropriately identifying seniors in need of protection.”
With guardianships, a person can lose control of their individual liberty as well as their property. While guardianships are often associated with minors or the elderly, the mentally or physically disabled or anyone incapacitated via illness or injury can also be subjected to this legal status. Family members may serve as guardians, but a new industry has evolved and is in a growth mode as courts increasingly support use of government or professional guardians.
Ten individuals provided testimony on guardianship abuse. Secret hearings in which family members were denied or removed from guardianships, bureaucratic bullying and institutional stonewalling were repeatedly described by those appearing before this committee. Cases involving the elderly, the disabled, and the incapacitated were detailed and illustrate the broad expanse of Texans who - without reform - could one day find themselves subjected to guardianship abuse.
A study of probate actions shows guardianships impacting Texans of all ages and serving as a means by which people are stripped of assets along with basic civil rights. Administrative ease and casualness of the current process reveals an incredible threat to an unsuspecting public. The testimony given provides frightening scenarios of which all Texans should be aware.
Click May 12, 2010 to view the testimony. A timeline of those testifying is as follows:
2:28 Kathie Siedel, Fort Worth
2:32 Greg Siedel, Fort Worth
2:34 Kim Manire, Denton
2:38 Susan McLendon, Hallsville
2:43 Sharon Richardson, Mesquite
2:47 Discussion on McLendon/Richardson testimonies
3:08 Lou Ann Anderson, Austin
3:12 Farhat Chishty, Richardson
3:16 Debby Valdez, San Antonio
3:21 Frank Covington, Arlington
3:26 Drucilla Covington, Arlington
In addition to testimony by members of GRADE (Guardianship Reform Advocates for the Disabled and Elderly), Lou Ann Anderson testified on her own behalf as well as a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity Foundation/Texas. AFP is an organization of citizen leaders committed to advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity. With educating and engaging citizens in support of restraining state and federal government growth and returning government to its constitutional limits, Anderson expressed concerns that Texans are increasingly finding their civil liberties and property rights hijacked through probate venues and/or probate instruments including guardianships.
Anderson highlighted many issues detailed in other testimony terming guardianship disputes as part of the “pay-to-play” civil court system which makes pursuit of justice cost prohibitive to many families or short-lived to others as expensive tactical delays can quickly force abandonment of even the most legitimate disputes.
She characterized the regular participation of legal industry - lawyers, judges, other court-appointed personnel - and social services or related workers in these actions as providing a significant advantage due to familiarity with the system and decision-making parties. Meanwhile, families face dependency on legal practitioners whose long-term professional welfare is more contingent upon positive relations with court personnel and opposing counsel than with their own clients.
While the pursuit of assets is an obvious motivation for abusive guardianships, wards without assets appear to have “headcount value” as participants to fill the rolls of taxpayer-funded programs. Michael and Eugenia Kidd, the Richardson couple held involuntarily for nearly a year, were mentioned throughout the hearing as a prime example of how questionable guardianship cases can arise through social service networks.
Those speaking before the committee provided compelling evidence of a need to address naming all the true culprits of abusive guardianships; exposing the lack of recourse experienced by caring, responsible families; acknowledging the civil and property rights violations that occur; and recognizing how these victims can end up a burden on honest, hard-working Texans as they are unnecessarily shifted to taxpayer-financed programs and services.
Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was direct in expressing concern regarding guardianship abuse. “I am keenly aware and angry of these things I am finding out,” she said, “but action on the part of jurisdictions outside the Health and Human Services Committee are more appropriate.”
“You will see some legislation filed in connection with others who have jurisdiction over this issue. Something’s got to change.” Nelson continued. “Rest assured that I do know we’ve got some real problems that we need to fix and in another arena, I will be venting my concerns.”
When asked if there was anything else families could do to help the committee, Nelson asked that people stay involved and communicate as legislators are unaware of some problems until alerted. “I’m very appreciative of advocates,” she said.
The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes January 2011. Legislative updates regarding guardianship and other probate issues will be available at EstateofDenial.com.
For more info:
Is Texas ready to address guardianships and other probate abuse?
(Sept. 9, 2009)
Is Texas’ population growth a “stimulus” for estate looting, probate abuse? (Part 4) (Aug. 3, 2009)Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with
Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation. Lou Ann may be contacted at .
October 11, 2006 Estate of Denial, By Lu Ann Anderson
The Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence held a public hearing on October 11, 2006, to address the committee’s charge of conducting a thorough and detailed study of the following issues:
1. Examine and make recommendations relating to the jurisdiction of statutory county courts, including the development of standardized
language for Chapter 25, Government Code, to confer specific types of jurisdiction on statutory county courts and to ensure the statutes are
clear and concise.
2. Examine and make recommendations to improve court oversight of fiduciaries appointed to make financial and personal decisions for
wards as well as those appointed to administer an estate or trust.
Other links regarding this hearing are as follows:
With testimony from probate judges, attorneys and Involuntary Redistribution of Assets victims, this hearing provides great insight into the attitudes and thought processes of those who work within the probate system as well as those who believe they have been abused by this system. Several judges and attorneys testified that the probate system is well functioning, not in need of major reform and then characterized as “disgruntled” others with unflattering stories regarding their probate experiences. Some memorable testimony includes:
“In the state of Texas right now, the controversial Judge Woods would not like to change a thing. Most judges don’t want to change anything because the probate business in Texas is a cottage industry which allows corrupt, compromised, whatever word you want to use, judges to appoint their cronies to literally plunder and rape estates and basically it’s set up to allow them - and it does allow them – to steal from the dead.”
Jon Sisco, Conroe, TX (04:54:45)
“My advice to families is if you have to go to probate court, hold your wallet because it’s going out the door. Don’t go to probate court under any conditions if you want to see your finances come out in a contested matter. I believe that in some instances there, in my opinion, are ongoing criminal enterprises here. I would love to see the legislature in the next session convene a special investigative body to look into not just the four or five that came up today, but the hundreds of cases that would like to tell you about what happened to them.”
Russell Verney, Dallas, TX (06:50:14)
“These people in these specialty courts, they truly have a probate business. They are running it for profit. And it profits their small group, their small circle… I learned that this circle of friends has a name in HarrisCounty. It’s called the “Tomb Raiders Club” and they pride themselves on making a living out of this particular industry that they have created.”
Van Brookshire, Coldspring, TX (06:56:24)
Listen to these quotes in their entirety and in context – they will be even more impactful than the excerpts above. Listed below are those that testified and the approximate times in which their testimony is featured on the video. Several of those testifying are also subjects of articles in the Estate of Denial (EoD) News Archive section.
This hearing is a “must see” for anyone who values the concept of property rights and believes that in death, the intentions of an individual regarding the final distribution of their assets should be honored. Forewarned is forearmed.
00:01:00 Charles, Alfonso Judge, County Court at Law 2, Gregg County (County Court at Law Association), Longview, TX
Ladd, Rusty Judge (County Court at Law Association), Lubbock, TX
McCorkle, Lamar Judge, 133rd District Court (Self), Houston, TX
Wessels, Bob Court Manager (County Courts at Law, Harris County), Houston, TX
00:09:00 Emerson, Sally Attorney (Texas Family Law Foundation), Amarillo, TX
00:21:00 Norman, Susan Attorney and Counselor at Law (Perry Lee Whatley), Houston, TX
00:27:00 Herman, Guy Presiding Statutory Probate Court Judge (Probate Courts of Texas, Probate Court of Travis County), Austin, TX
00:59:00 Epstein, Michael (Self), Spring, TX
Wukoson, David Lawyer (Self; J. Michael Epstein), Houston, TX
01:38:00 Alpert, Robert (Self), Scotttsdale, AZ
02:33:00 Alpert, Roman (Self), Scottsdale, AZ
02:34:00 Wood, Mike Judge, Harris County Probate Court No. 2 (Self), Houston, TX
04:21:00 Karisch, Glenn Attorney (Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section, State Bar of Texas), Austin, TX
Golden, Alvin (Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section, State Bar of Texas), Austin, TX
Wolff, Harry Attorney, Council Member (Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section, State Bar of Texas), San Antonio, TX
04:27:00 Norman, Susan Attorney and Counselor at Law (Perry Lee Whatley), Houston, TX
04:52:00 Sisco, Jon Sole Beneficiary - Distributee (Herbert C. Sisco Estate), Montgomery, TX
05:05:30 Taub, Carolyn (Self), Houston, TX
05:16:45 Conte, Susan (Conte Family Estate/Trust), Houston, TX
05:40:00 Hardie, Rod (Self), Pearland, TX
06:00:00 Tamborello, Gus Attorney (Self), Houston, TX
06:28:00 Verney, Russell (Self), Dallas, TX
06:54:30 Brookshire, Van (Self; Brookshire Family), Coldspring, TX
07:00:00 Conte, Joseph (Self; Conte Investments), Houston, TX
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