News media, investigators kicked out of court hearing

REPRESENTATION — Circuit Judge Margaret W. Hudson, center, accepts the reasoning of lawyers representing former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle July 29. As a result, Hudson closed a hearing about Fierle’s open guardianship cases in Volusia County. Three members of the news media and three state investigators were asked to leave the courtroom.

Editor’s note: Professional guardians are court-appointed to care for the financial and medical needs of clients, called “wards,” who are incapacitated or incapable of making decisions themselves, and who have no other family or friends willing or able to take on the role.

News reporters and state investigators were expelled from a July 29 court hearing in DeLand regarding the open Volusia County cases of disgraced former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle.

An investigation by the comptroller of Okaloosa County in early July found that Fierle had filed a DNR, or do-not-resuscitate, order on a ward against the person’s wishes and the wishes of the family. The ward subsequently died in the hospital.

At the hearing in DeLand, Circuit Judge Margaret W. Hudson said she wanted to keep open the status conference on Fierle’s seven Volusia County cases.

“I’m trying to keep the hearing as open as possible,” Hudson said, adding, “Some aspects are appropriate to be closed.”

For example, Hudson said, it would be appropriate to close the portion of the hearing that might involve details about the three still-living former wards of Fierle’s who live in Volusia County and may have active DNRs on file.

But it was the court’s understanding, Hudson said, that “... a deceased person does not have privacy rights.”

Lawyers for Fierle disagreed. They referred to federal regulations, but were not able to provide the specific citations.

Because the court needed to proceed with orders that day — orders to revoke Fierle’s guardianship, and to revoke all DNR orders, among others — Hudson accepted their reasoning.

She said, “... the court will accept representation that is the status of the federal law.”

Hudson questioned how the four former clients of Fierle’s who have died would be represented. Their cases are still open because their affairs have not been settled.

Recently filed court documents show that all four deceased wards had DNRs. Only one of the four had a DNR on file before Fierle took over their affairs.

Hudson asked Kathryn Welch, of the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, if she would be serving as counsel for the deceased wards.

“I don’t know how we would represent them,” Welch said.

Without next of kin stepping forward, Hudson said, the court will have to appoint a guardian ad litem — someone to represent the dead in the legal procedures Fierle’s cases are now embroiled in.

After allowing the news media an opportunity to comment on the record, Hudson closed the hearing.

Three members of the news media, and three investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, were asked to leave.