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Judge Pat Ferchill retires. Tarrant County

Tarrant County Judge Pat Ferchill announced his retirement effective Aug. 31 after sitting on the bench for 35 years in Probate Court No. 2. Ferchill was two years into a four-year term that expires in 2018. He will continue to sit on the bench as a visiting judge until county commissioners appoint his successor.

Some people might shed a tear for Ferchill’s departure, we suppose. Probate courts resolve some sticky family dramas at times.

“The county is going to miss him more than they’ll know after he’s actually gone,” Associate Judge Lin Morrisett told us on the phone this week.

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You know who won’t miss him? The families who have described how a guardianship system overseen by Ferchill and fellow probate Judge Steven King have ripped apart families unnecessarily in the name of greed and power. The first case we examined in the Fort Worth Weekly involved Kathie Seidel, a mother who adopted a child from Russia but later lost custody after a guardianship hearing was held by Ferchill without Seidel being present (“Saving Katia,” July 2, 2008). After that article appeared, dozens of families called the Weekly to describe similar horror stories of a powerful court system under the influence of money-hungry attorneys and healthcare facility operators more interested in lining their pockets than doing what is best for families. Associate Editor Jeff Prince has written numerous stories about the probate system and has compiled a long list of local families who describe being victimized by the probate courts.

Frank and Chila Covington were one of those families. Ferchill removed them as guardians of their Down Syndrome daughter, Ceci, without bothering to let them know that their parental rights were being questioned. Yep, the court has that power and wielded it like a baseball bat against them in 2009. The Covingtons’ crime? They did not want caregivers at a group home to give powerful psychoactive drugs to Ceci.  The doctors had given her anti-depressants after she had become cranky and emotional. Chila said pain from fibromyalgia and a tooth abscess had caused her daughter’s outbursts. “Both of these diagnoses were discovered after we got her back,” Chila said.

The Covingtons say Ferchill’s decision to remove them as guardians was a way to pad the pockets of attorneys and caregivers who profit from working with Guardianship Services, Inc., the program that Ferchill and his attorney buddies helped establish in 1998 allegedly to provide help for people in need.

Ferchill just wanted to send people to Guardianship Services, Chila said.

“We were just somebody else he could manipulate,” she said. “It is just greed.”

The Covingtons spent about $400,000 in a years-long fight to regain custody of their daughter.

Ferchill “devastated our lives with lies,” Chila said. “They decided to control my daughter’s destiny by saying she was psychotic.”

Kathie Seidel (with son, Greg) battled Ferchill for years. Photo by Jeff Prince.

Another local woman, Dorothy Luck, was put under guardianship after the probate court decided she wasn’t mentally sound enough to manage her financial affairs correctly. Luck is elderly but quite sharp when it comes to her personal and financial affairs. But all it took was one complaint from a relative (who had a vested interest financially) and Luck found herself having to defend her abilities to take care of herself (“Grabbing the Purse,” Sept. 3, 2013). She proved herself capable time and again, but she couldn’t stand up against a court system so powerful that it can remove a person’s rights at will.

Over the next year or so, court-appointed attorneys charged about $500,000 to Luck’s bank account while, a’hem, valiantly fighting to protect her money from … uh … herself.

Seidel spent a decade fighting against Ferchill and the probate court’s methods, first as a lone voice in defense of Katia and, later, as part of advocacy groups such as G.R.A.D.E., or Guardianship Reform Advocates for the Disabled and Elderly, a group formed to help protect people from overzealous probate judges. Seidel died from cancer a few weeks ago, on August 16, at her Fort Worth home. She still blamed Ferchill for putting her family through hell unnecessarily. Shortly before she died, she e-mailed Prince.

“Things are pretty dicey with physical problems,” she wrote. “Of course, it is hard to do any letting go where my children and other loved ones are concerned. It won’t be difficult to let go of the physical challenges.”

After that first quick paragraph, she dived into the topic that drove her to rail against a powerful system for the last decade of her life. Her adopted daughter was put under guardianship, removed from her home, and prevented from seeing her mother for years.

Guardianship Services “is being informed this week that I am terminal in hopes that we can get more visits with Katia,” who is 30 years old now and living in a group home, “and to prepare her for my death,” Seidel wrote. “It kills me to think of what K will go through in having so little family support through the grief she will encounter … also, I want her to be able to go to grief counseling  –– but am doubtful she will get it. We worked for more than six months trying to find money and a high-profile attorney to advocate for her knowing this might be coming.”

She ended her e-mail by expressing fears that the probate court would toss one more indignity her way as she was dying.

“If there is retaliation toward me (threatening to put me under guardianship), I have written a letter,” she said. Her son, Greg, “knows the location of it, and you may be interested in it.”

Seidel’s friends say she would have appreciated knowing that Ferchill will no longer sit on the bench.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m just taking a wild guess here….does anyone know for certain, possibly, maybe, some how, some way, the Honorable Judge could be one of those Tea-Bagging Republicans???? Wasn’t he one of those fur-balls raising Hell about Hooters… suggesting they were not entitled to be treated like other hard-working, stand-up Americans ? Is he any kin to Mayor Price and her high-handed, well connected, Tea-Bagging bullies ? When will we ever learn?

  2. Thank you for this story. The guardianship laws in Texas are being reformed. In the last session a little accountability was added to the law. Next session even more restriction on the judges and lawyers who profit for probate are in the works.. This and many other probate judges fought and lost…we might she a rash of retirements as the gravy train is ending. Please support G.R.A.D.E. http://www.guardianshipreform.org/

  3. I am trying to gain guardianship of my daughter so I can bring her to Tennessee with me and her family. Guardianship services inc. now has guardianship over her and this company is all about money not whats in the best interest of the person. I need help.

  4. My Mother was put under Guardianship Services after the nursing home she was in called and made complaint on Me for protecting my Mom from them. I gave them notice I would be taken her home and they used Guardianship as a way to stop me. This nursing gave my Mom repeated blood infections over a 6 week time frame. I was my mothers medical power of atty decision maker. These drugs left my Mom blind and deaf overnight. I applied for Guardianship. The record shows that I was suitable but the court Social Worker Arlene (who was close friends with the Social Worker at the Nursing Home my Mom was in.) recommended that Guardiaship Services be place as Guardian. Arlene S. and the floor nurse sent my Mom to Lancaster Hospital and they locked her up on the psych fl. I requested she be checked for a bld infection they did check her and she again had one. They treated her for 10 days and finish up her 30 day stay in the psych ward. Arlene said they sent all the Wards there for mental evaluations there. There was no court order to lock her up this way. She was in the psych ward for approx 12 days before we could see the Dr to check her for a blood inf. This is way she seemed psychotic. She was having delirums from the infection and the antipsychotic drugs she was given. Arlene never let the courts know this case was based on negligence and abuse of the Nursing Home. We (family) that was at court was never allowed to speak The decision was made in the chambers of Judge Ferchll. When they came out the Guardian from Guardianship Services was sworn in and the hearing was over. The guardian was not protecting my Mom. But Arlene was to go to for Court 2. All my complaints she answered by saying the Judge would not micromanage the Guardianship. We were talking about my Moms life. I was never allowed to speak to the Judge. My Mom was never removed from the drugs so she never regained her sight or hearing. Upon getting my Mom the Guardian moved her to a Nursing Home that would say Mom was terminal although she wasnt. They made her fit the criteria for hospice by documenting lies. She was in Hospice for 6 weeks and was given a terminal injection that put her in a coma. Once in the coma they let her starve and dehydrate and she died 4 days later after the inj. This Guardian changed my Moms chosen beneificiary to herself and collected all Moms insurance monies. No one listen to the family. This was in 2002. To this day I have proof but noone listens because they say she was in Hospice. This is a kangaroo Court and Money is all they ever been about. They protect Nursing Homes from lawsuits by putting loved ones in Guardianship even when there is a suitable , able and willing family or friend.

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