A judge is seeking the removal of a guardian from close to 100 cases after finding she “abused her powers” by requesting that incapacitated clients not receive medical treatment if their heart or breathing stopped — without permission from their families.
In an unusual move, Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe filed a “notice for removal” against Rebecca Fierle in 95 cases at once last week, after determining Fierle had filed numerous “do not resuscitate” orders on behalf of her wards without permission from their families or the court, records show.
Florida law allows a guardian to be appointed by a judge for minors and adults with mental or physical disabilities, who are known as wards. The guardian makes all the determinations for the ward, including legal, financial, estate, housing and medical decisions.
Thorpe held a hearing on Fierle’s removal Thursday afternoon, attended by attorneys representing many of her wards, but news outlets were not allowed inside and the outcome was not immediately clear.
In early July, a guardianship court monitor was appointed to the case to investigate “abuse neglect, threatened harm and exploitation,” according to court records. The findings of the investigation were not made public Thursday.
Thorpe also wants Fierle removed for allegedly compensating herself as a Medicaid caseworker for her wards, which included receiving payments from hospitals and other facilities without disclosing those payments to the judge, court records said.
Fierle also “failed to disclose related interests and employees” and violated practice standards for professional guardians, including considering the ward’s preferences when making medical treatment and end-of-life decisions, Thorpe said.
“The Court finds that Ms. Fierle has abused her powers, developed conflict of interest with the Ward, and become a disqualified person, thereby establishing grounds for removal as guardian of the person and/or property of the ward,” Thorpe wrote in the removal notice.
Attorneys for Fierle filed a motion Wednesday to disqualify Thorpe from the cases because the guardian “has a well-founded fear that she will not receive a fair trial or hearing.”
“Fierle has no knowledge or notice of what witnesses or evidence the Court has relied upon to make its findings, or if the evidence relied upon was under oath, or what witnesses and evidence will be brought forward at the hearing,” the motion said.
Fierle and her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On the website for her practice, Fierle said she was a “professional guardian,” as well as a “certified geriatric care manager for over 10 years.” The site was taken down Thursday.
“I have been working in the elderly and disabled industry in the Central Florida area for over 20 years,” Fierle wrote on the website. “My experience helps my clients and their families tremendously.”
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the typical qualifications of guardians. Most are not attorneys. It also misstated the number of cases in which a “notice for removal” was filed. There were 95.
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