According to an article in the Texas Tribune from September 15, 2010, the parents of an adult woman with Down Syndrome were removed as her guardians in a secret hearing by a Probate Court judge, after they became involved in a dispute with her group home over psychotropic medications for their daughter.
By all accounts, the Covingtons were good parents, caring for their daughter Ceci at home for more than 30 years. Ceci moved into a group home that her parents thought would give her good care, but that changed over time. Ceci began having headaches and tantrums. Her mother took her to doctors who diagnosed her with sinus problems and sleep apnea. Without the knowledge or permission of her parents, the group home began giving Ceci psychotropic drugs, assuming that her problems were psychiatric in nature.
When the parents disputed the need for psychiatric medication, the group home asked the Probate Court in a secret session to remove the parents as guardians for abuse. Secret or ex parte hearings are legal in Texas guardianship cases in emergencies to remove someone from an abusive situation. Not only did the parents lose custody of their daughter, but they were not allowed to see her for two months.
The Covingtons and other parents with similar experiences fought back through the media and the state legislature. In response, the presiding probate judge in Texas is quoted as saying, “What you have going on here is people who have done something wrong coming down to the Legislature, going to the newspaper, instead of trying their case in a court of law. In essence, they’re trying to intimidate judges.”
Looking into Guardianship abuses in Texas is like stepping into a hornet's nest of corruption and bureaucratic malfeasance against the elderly and disabled. According to the Examiner.com in Austin, Texas, state legislative hearings on guardianship included reports of abuses "in which family members were denied or removed from guardianships" and were subject to "bureaucratic bullying and institutional stonewalling".
The Covingtons whose legal bills exceed $55,000, were scheduled to have a hearing about the removal of guardianship for their daughter in October, but it was postponed by the judge. According to the Texas Tribune article, "the judge who first removed Ceci from her parents recused himself from the case in July, following several families’ accusations against him at a legislative hearing in Austin."
In testimony before the Texas State Senate in May, 2010, Lou Ann Anderson had this to say about guardianship abuses:
"I am not before you here today to say that all guardianships are bad or abusive. Sometimes they are needed. However, whether initiated by public or private entities, hijacking the personal liberty and/or property of any Texas citizen for some self-enriching purpose is wrong. Motives may be direct financial gain through 'spending-down' the ward's assets, indirect gain by adding them to an institutional headcount eligible for taxpayer-funded subsidization or a combination of both. In any case, it's time for real dialogue to address naming all the true culprits, 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 into taxpayer-funded programs."
More information on guardianship problems in Texas can be found on the Website for GRADE, Guardianship Reform Advocates for the Disabled and Elderly.