DeLAND, Fla. - A Central Florida professional guardian under a state criminal investigation failed to appear in a Volusia County courtroom Monday afternoon for a case management conference on seven guardianship cases she had filed in that county.
Instead, Rebecca Fierle's attorneys showed up and asked the judge to order the proceedings to be closed to the public. Also in the courtroom, were two investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has launched a criminal investigation into Fierle.
Judge Margaret Hudson granted the motion, but not before ordering that successor guardians needed to be placed in Fierle's three guardianship cases where the people are still alive.
News 6 has spent two weeks trying to get Fierle to answer the question of why she ordered do not resuscitate orders in cases in which people wanted to live.
Time after time, News 6 went to Fierle's geriatric management office in Orlando, to get results for the people who say they are her victims.
Even those coming to visit the office, located on Hillcrest Street, refused to talk or answer our questions about the investigation ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The staff locked the door during each and every one of our visits. So News 6 called the office, sent messages to Fierle's social media accounts and called and emailed her attorneys multiple times. No one ever returned our requests for comment.
News 6 also went to Fierle's home in Ocala to see if she was there. No one answered the door.
Last week, Fierle was in a Hillsborough County courtroom facing a judge to answer questions about a guardianship she had in that county.
But she refused to answer any questions from a Tampa television reporter when approached outside the courthouse after her hearing.
On July 12, News 6 talked with the daughter of Steven Stryker. Her father's death is at the center of a state criminal investigation.
State investigators say Fierle placed a do not resuscitate order on Steven Stryker, despite his wishes. He choked and died when the DNR prevented hospital staff from performing life-saving measures.
"He didn't deserve this," Kim Stryker said from her home outside Washington D.C. "He specifically expressed that he did not want to have a DNR on his health records."
As a result of the state investigation, an Orange County judge removed and revoked almost 100 do not resuscitate orders from cases handled by Fierle, stating she abused her power.
A week later, Fierle resigned from more than 30 cases in Seminole County.
While Fierle did not attend the closed hearing, some of her former clients did.
"The can of worms is just opening up for her," said Jack Meagher, a former ward of Fierle's.
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs, and more specifically, its Office of Public and Professional Guardians, is the group that is supposed to train, appoint and monitor the more than 500 registered guardians statewide. Three years ago, a law was passed, giving that office the power to investigate complaints made against any of those guardians and to partner with the courts to do so.
Under the statewide investigation alliance, the OPPG could refer a case to an investigator with the inspector general's office or one of the six court clerk's offices located across the state, which could then issue written reprimands or letters of concern.
They also have the power to suspend or revoke a professional guardian's registration.
But OPPG Executive Director Carol Berkowitz submitted her letter of resignation two weeks ago, just days after a state report revealed guardian Fierle placed do not resuscitate orders against the wishes of one of her wards.
The latest annual report by the Office of Public and Professional Guardians says the office received more than 140 legally sufficient complaints against registered professional guardians in 2018, and about half that number in 2017.
In Fierle's case, the OPPG gave her a written reprimand twice before. But her guardianship was kept in place until this month, when she was removed and effectively resigned from all her cases.
On Friday, the head of the Department of Elder Affairs Richard Prudom announced his department has made immediate administrative changes to try to improve response times on complaints. He said he will pursue legislative changes to ensure that neglect and abuse such as this never occurs again.
At the same time the state was investigating, so was the Orange County comptroller's office.
"This whole guardianship system has been set up to protect people," Phil Diamond, the Orange County comptroller said. "It protects you if you are elderly and can't take care of yourself. It is supposed to protect you if you are a minor and you can't take care of yourself and that's the whole point of having guardians and our concern is that's not what happened here."
Diamond said his office was asked by a court monitor with the 9th Circuit Court to step in and investigate.
He said his audit department reviewed 30 cases in one week and discovered Fierle failed to provide receipts for reported work, failed to report businesses she worked with that had familial ties
and failed to report to the court nearly 70 cases in which she was a guardian.
"What's disturbing is to see vulnerable people not taken care of the way they should be," Diamond said. "There's a reason for all the rules that are in place to protect people, and if the rules aren't being followed, it means people could be taken advantage of. It means they might not be taken care of and that really defeats the purpose of a guardianship."
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