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Few newspapers have published more stories on probate courts and guardianship cases gone wrong than yours truly. Tarrant County’s probate courts, led by Judges Pat Ferchill and Steven King, hear difficult cases, for sure. But the Fort Worth Weekly has spotlighted numerous instances in which people have been stripped of their rights and removed from their homes with little justification. Associate Editor Jeff Prince has written a dozen stories, beginning with “Saving Katia” on July 2, 2008, and as recently as “Torn Apart” on March 16, 2016. He has described how a powerful system of judges, attorneys, bankers, and care providers are overstepping the limits of decency if not legality.

More and more newspapers nationwide have begun scrutinizing their own probate courts and guardianship systems. In Texas, the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express-News are providing the best coverage among mainstream dailies. A San Antonio-based grassroots coalition of activists known as G.R.A.D.E. is relying on social networking to build up their numbers and push for probate reforms. They and other people make frequent trips to Austin to speak at legislative hearings. And why shouldn’t they? Ferchill and other judges attend public hearings to speak in favor of laws that give them more power to tear apart families in the name of greed.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has been more of a cheerleader to the courts than anything. The paper has published stories depicting families who are happy about the court intervening in sticky situations. The paper has written puff pieces about judges. That’s fine –– good things do happen in probate courts sometimes. But the paper has pretty much ignored the questionable decisions being made on a regular basis inside those courtroom walls.

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You know who isn’t ignoring Tarrant County’s guardianship system any longer? Susan Hodges.

Who is she?

Well, there is no reason you would know her. Until recently, she was just a retired nursing home administrator living the slow and easy life in Fort Worth. But something nagged at her. No, it was more than nagging. She has been haunted for years. Her conscience had declared war on her and was using razor-barbed guilt as its primary weapon of torture. Hodges worked at several nursing homes over the years, but it was her time spent in a Fort Worth facility that created her many sleepless nights. Her dealings with the local guardianship program showed her that the judges, attorneys, and caseworkers were more interested in power, control, and money than in doing what’s best for people.

Hodges felt guilty about being unable to protect some of her nursing home residents from decisions made by the local judges and court-appointed lackeys. So she wrote and self-published A Breach of Trust: Your Life Belongs to Them Now, her book “based on a true story” about dealing with the local probate courts.

“It took me this long to write it because I’m scared to death of that court,” Hodges said. “All the other nursing homes I worked in, none of this happened. There is something with [Fort Worth’s] guardianship program that I don’t understand. I don’t want to deal with these people again.”

Hodges based her book’s stories and characters on real events and people, although she used fictitious names. Some characters were composites of different people. But the nuts and bolts of the story were true, she said, including the part about the local guardianship system being a nightmare for people who have the misfortune of becoming elderly and vulnerable. In the book, the author connects heavy-handed tactics of the guardianship system with the premature deaths of patients. And while the first-time author is no Ken Kesey, her book is comparable to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the outrage it inspires against institutional abuses.

Tarrant County guardianship administrators would take control of patients via the probate judge’s rulings. Then, if nursing homes or other institutions did not do exactly as told, the guardians would move the patients somewhere else, Hodges said.

“The courts are very ignorant about what a nursing home is all about,” she said.

Nursing homes become small communities with groups of people forming deep friendships that, in some cases, improve their physical and mental wellness. The probate court seemed to consider money first when making decisions about when and where to move clients, she said. This is hard on old people, who get used to nurses, food, and surroundings. They become close to one another.

“The residents usually start loving the home, and they’re proud of it,” she said.

She recalled supervising a nursing home that was adjacent to another nursing home, and the residents in both homes acted like students at rival high schools, competing with each other to be the best.

But the probate court sees the residents as commodities rather than human beings, she said.

“It’s very gut-wrenching,” Hodges said.

Old people can die quickly when they’re ripped away from their community. Hodges saw it happen. That’s what haunted her the most.

“I’m supposed to be protecting these people,” she said. “I never took another court-appointed [client] from Fort Worth again.”

Later, she left Fort Worth and worked at nursing homes in rural areas.

“You don’t see this in rural areas,” she said.

Why not?

Well, people in rural areas know one another. They run into each other at dinner, at school, at church. If a judge tries to force people into guardianship cases to remove their rights and take control of their lives and bank accounts, every person around hears about it. That judge is unlikely to be reelected.

Tarrant County has almost two million people, making it much easier to destroy lives in anonymity.

Hodges said she complained to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, the agency that licenses and regulates care providers.

“I was told, ‘Hands off.’ DADS does not get involved in anything with the court,” she said. “I got no answers. Everything should be about the residents and not about us and our agendas.”

She wrote the book to warn people about the guardianship program while assuaging her guilt.

“I’m not an author,” she said. “I never intended to write a book. But that’s how much this affected me. This program needs scrutiny. They do what they want. They are protected by the judges. We’re at their mercy.”

The afterword of Hodges’ book credits articles written by Prince as an inspiration for her book. “Check them out,” she writes, “and see the real faces of the folks who have been sucked up by this scheme.”

The book is available at Amazon.com and at Hodges’ website: www.abreachoftrust2016.com.

16 COMMENTS

  1. The public is basically unaware of guardianship abuse, until it touches them personally or their loved ones. By then it’s too late – the family is torn apart and the nightmare never ends.

    NASGA is pleased to see another book on the subject which will raise awareness and inform the unwary public before they or their loved ones fall victim.

    Thank you, Susan Hodges.

    Join the national movement to reform unlawful and abusive guardianships and conservatorships. Join NASGA!

  2. Susan: Thanks for writing this book. My mom was a victim of Judge King. My brother took her to court after my dad passed and basically called her an idiot in front of everyone. Then Judge King, being the smug SOB he is told me that I was a detriment to my mom’s health and well being and that I was not to be a part of her life anymore without my brothers permission. It took me until last year to get to see my mom We need to get rid of these judges or hold them accountable for their actions.

  3. We do not have to have close ties to benefit from
    a compassionate/loving touch. We should all
    look out for each other. I was touched by your
    comments, thank you. I pledge to do my bit
    until their thinking changes so that the elderly
    and vulnerable will always feel love and respected.
    Joyfully yours,

  4. Thank you Ms. Hodges for your story. It was well written and encourages the need to continue reforms to Guardianships here in Texas. I have had many sleepless nights for years as the former Director of GRADE after being contacted by numerous people throughout the state and other states about the human suffering that is occuring to our most vulnerable populations and their families being affected by laws in guardianship. It once was a good law that seems to have excluded the intent of “protection” once an industry of guardianship services was established, created and promoted by our state legislators, and public officials. Although I am no longer affiliated with GRADE, I continue to work on reforms to guardianship and many other issues as a parent of a young adult with disabilities. I continue to work in collaberation with many of our legislators, state agencies and organizations of the disability community to preserve and protect the rights of people with disabilities and their families. However your story certainly highlights what is in store for our futures as we continue to age. With that said, your story is greatly appreciated in educating and informing the general public about what and who Guardianship seems to be designed for. Many thanks to Jeff Prince and the Fort Worth Weekly your story on “Torn Apart” certainly hit home for me, protecting my daughter from a fall has become my top priority which seems to be cause for losing a child to the industry of guardianship and the many who profit in providing services to this vulnerable population.

    Texas Legislative Liaison and Advocate- NASGA

    Join the national movement to reform unlawful and abusive guardianships and conservatorships. Join NASGA!

  5. Thanks for sharing your struggles. I learned from three
    wonderful people that you can make any situation better
    by believing in one another. I believe in you because I know
    that you will never stop fighting against self serving people
    who will gleefully destroy anything that gets in their way –life
    means nothing to them. Joining with you, I too will continue the
    fight. I owe it to Gracie, Ari, and Dale who taught me the meaning
    of being an American–trustworthy, loyal to their fellow man, and
    always making a better place for all of us. God bless you. Joyfully,
    Susan

  6. We were one of the lucky ones to escape, but not before tremendous stress and loss of health and useless waste of money in defense.
    All I know is that their time is coming: through death, through accident, or through election. Or maybe they will be declared incompetent? We don’t know God’s plan, but we trust it is perfect.
    Bless you for your sacrifice, Susan, and all the others willing and able, Jeff, GRADE NASGA, to bring the corruption and abuse to light.

  7. Thank you Fort Worth Weekly for having the courage to keep this topic in the forefront. Having gone through horrific probate battles in New York, (we live here in Houston now), I firmly believe this will be the next new movement based on scandal in this Country. Probate court ‘launders’ money by the millions, and there are no watchdogs to oversee at all.

    In our case, my daughter is Autistic and was fleeced with the aid of a corrupt Judge and felonious attorneys, and nothing I did made a bit of difference. It’s still going on – nine years later- and my daughter has suffered immeasurabley.

    May I just take this moment to ask the readers to check out a petition I’ve started on Care2Petition: Appeal to Preet Bharara, U.S.Attorney in NY, to Investigate the Abrupt Stop of the District Attorney’s Investigation into Fraud of a Disabled Young Woman’s Inheritance.

    There is nothing but truth in this book. Thank you.

  8. WOW! I can not believe how rampant and unchecked this has
    become in our country. We must do everything possible to
    keep anyone getting in front of these courts. Then we can
    limit/stop the victim count. It truly sickens me that it is happening in
    all cities and seems to them “business as usual”. Please, I plead &
    encourage you to help me get this story out. Use my book/story
    in anyway you can to help get your own message out. Every elected
    official/judge must know we are watching and we are to going to
    demand zero tolerance where our elderly and vulnerable are concerned.
    I am currently working with all the physicians I know my( in my area) and
    pleading them to not deem anyone incompetent until they are sure guardianship
    will never be involved but instead have a trust worthy person in place first.
    Many of them are becoming more aware of what is happening and they
    will be a very important part of our line of defense for getting this shut down
    once and for all. Thank all of you again for your commitment. Every one
    of you are very special indeed. Joyfully, Susan

  9. This is an excellent article … and I am happy to know that more and more testimonies and articles are being written to STOP abuse of the elderly.

    WE MUST make ALL ATTORNEYS/JUDGES civil and criminal responsible for their actions and STOP the The State of Texas from STRIPPING the invested monies from their abilities to produce income for the wards of the State of Texas .. and the State of Texas from PLOWING THROUGH ALL OF THE FUNDS AND THEN THROWING THE WARD AWAY when they have spent ALL OF HER MONEY.

    EVERY LAWYER appointed by the court is a LIAR .. they strive to incite controvsery between family memebers to STEAL the funds from the families.

    I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO NAUSATED by a court and I mean ANY probate court I have been around. Their actions are CRIMINAL .. and the doctors used to incapacitate the Wards are just as criminal as any other person used in the process.

  10. Thank you Susan and Fort Worth Weekly! We need more information on this international crime. Two books that backup and confirm your response to professional guardianship fraud Susan are: GUARDIANSHIP: HOW JUDGES AND LAWYERS STEAL YOUR MONEY by Michal Larsen and THE WORST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD: THE TRAFFICKING OF CHILDREN AND PARENTS THROUGH U.S. FAMILY COURTS by Keith Harmon Snow. The professionals involved go far beyond just judges, lawyers and guardians in this multi-billion dollar yearly racket. It will only be through public awareness and working together – and main media support – that we can hope to see a difference. I appreciate your courage and wisdom in publishing your book Susan – and hats off to the Fort Worth Weekly! Janet

  11. One more thought…Susan, I sincerely hope you are Facebook-ing all of this….the best vehicle for the public to view. There are movements going on all over the Country…Florida, in particular. You can google Dr. Sam Sugar (I’ve forgotten his group name), but he is very active with this subject. Blessings.

    • Susan. Excellent. Job. Thank. U. For. Allowing. The. Holy. Spirit. To. Speak. The. Truth. Through. You. Loud. &. Clear. You. &. Jeff. Are. Amazing, Susan. U. Told. My. Story. “. Inheritance. Hijacking “. Must. Be. Stopped. I’ll. Do. My. Best. In. Jesus. Name. In. Memory. Of. My. Mother who. Was. Incompacitated. In. Judge. Kings. Corrupt. Criminal. Probate. Court. &. Susan. My. Mother. Is. Gone now : I. Put. Your Book. As. My. Cover photo. On Facebook : I. Love. U. Guys. My mother. Would. Too, Jeff. No. Court. Date. Yet. I’ll. Let. U. Know : We. Must. Stop. Them. Jeff. We. All. Know. It. It’s. Criminal

  12. Susan. You. Told. My. Story. Thank. U. For. Allowing. The. Holy. Spirit. To. Speak. The. Truth. Through. You. Loud. &. Clear. Your. Amazing. Jeff. My. Hats. Off. To You. As. Well. Excellent job. Jeff. I’m. Still. Waiting. On. A. Court. Date. I’ll. Let. You. Know. I. Love. U. Guys. &. My. Mother. Would. Too. : she. Was. My. Life. Once. Again. Thanks. From me. &. My. Mother. “. In. Memory. Of. Thelma. Lee. Porter. Mcknight /. I’ll. Stop. Them. In Jesus Name.

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