Tags: American | Slavery | Probate | Court

The Spirit of American Slavery Lives On in Probate Court

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Friday, 08 Apr 2016 01:10 AM Current | Bio | Archive


Marcia DiZenzo was only 46 years old when she says she fell ill and was admitted to a hospital in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. That was some four years ago and DiZenzo was never returned to her rented condo near the beach.

Instead, she says she walked out as a ward of the state of Florida under the command of a professional guardian.

“I didn’t have health insurance at the time and somebody filed an emergency guardianship petition with the local court while I was hospitalized,” said DiZenzo who moved to Florida from Connecticut for the sunny climate.

DiZenzo is among the 58% of Americans who became wards of the state based on a probate court order of emergency temporary guardianship, according to the Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), an advocacy organization in Florida.

“Probate courts in America have a sordid history,” said Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of the AAAPG in Miami. “They were the primary mechanism for dealing with legal issues in the slave trade until slavery was abolished in 1865. These equity courts committed and continue to commit egregious abuse against the most vulnerable in society.”

When slavery was legal in the U.S., bounty hunters would travel across state lines to reclaim runaway slaves while slave masters thought nothing of heartlessly alienating children from their parents by selling them off to other slave owners. Although DiZenzo is of Italian-American and not African-American descent, she says her family experienced something different but very similar.

“My dad was successful in relocating me back to South Port, Connecticut but the guardian followed us and threatened to charge him with kidnapping if I was not extradited back to Florida,” said DiZenzo of her 86 year old father who has since passed away.

Hiring a personal attorney to fend off an emergency temporary guardianship requires a considerable amount of money, which DiZenzo didn't access fast enough while she was sick.

"When I called the bank to inquire about my bank account, customer service refused to disclose any information," she said.

That’s because once under guardianship an individual becomes a ward of the state and loses all rights, even financial ones.

“A guardian has the power to help themselves to the assets of wards without any oversight," Sugar told Newsmax Finance. "The guardian’s power is total and cannot easily be challenged. They are lord and master over that person's life, assets and existence and in some cases guardians buy and sell wards to one another.”

Court appointed attorneys are mandatory for people who find themselves entangled in guardianship proceedings depending on the state.

“The legislature in Texas is concerned with ensuring that a proposed ward is represented by an attorney who has special experience in handling guardianship matters," said Don Ford, an attorney and partner with Ford + Bergner, a boutique law firm that specializes in litigating and appealing guardianship cases across the state.

"In determining whether you want to rely on the court-appointed attorney or instead choose a privately-retained attorney, if possible, the proposed ward should carefully consider the quality and expertise of the lawyer and also the facts of the particular case.”

In Harris County, a retired nurse named Doris Davis was reportedly admitted to a hospital emergency room after experiencing a reaction to new medication.

There, a psychiatrist deemed Davis incapacitated and the 87 year old subsequently became a ward of the state under the county’s guardianship program, according to Monica Shaw, a distant relative of Davis who works as an assistant at a law firm.

“It’s my understanding that she was overly medicated, not allowed to call family or friends and was transferred to a retirement home from the hospital against her will,” Shaw told Newsmax.

“She had several bank accounts and CDs that have since been liquidated and the county guardianship program sold her house, which is awaiting approval from Judge Mike Wood who has authorized the county guardianship program to spend $6,500 a month from her estate.” Judge Wood declined to comment because he told Newsmax that the case is pending.

In response to circumstances like Davis and DiZenzo, Glynnis Walker Anderson is organizing a movement called Gray Rights.

“Aging women are the most vulnerable but entire families are affected,” said Anderson who wrote the book "Stealing Joy: A True Story of Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse and Fraud." “Relatives, spouses, children and grand-children, employees and the community at large are also impacted.”

Still in Florida, miles away from her Connecticut family of origin, DiZenzo has adjusted to life in the American South but believes she has lost her inheritance.

“The sale of my parent’s home was to be split four ways between me and my three siblings,” Dizenzo said. “I was supposed to get $120,000. I haven’t seen a penny.”

Juliette Fairley is an author, lecturer and TV host based in New York. To read more of her work, Click Here Now.

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Marcia DiZenzo was only 46 years old when she says she fell ill and was admitted to a hospital in downtown Jacksonville, Florida.
American, Slavery, Probate, Court
814
2016-10-08
Friday, 08 Apr 2016 01:10 AM
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