In response, the Spectrum Institute filed a class action complaint with the Supreme Court of Texas on April 9, 2018.
“Our complaint calls the attention of the judiciary to documented deficiencies in the guardianship system — deficiencies that place respondents at risk of abuse and neglect,” said Tom Coleman, a civil rights attorney who founded the Spectrum Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting equal rights and justice for people with disabilities.
The complaint seeks to protect individuals whose rights are being violated by the system and who are unable to file such a complaint with the Supreme Court due to the nature of their cognitive and communication disabilities, which include adults who have been adjudicated wards and whose cases are active and adults whose cases are pending but have not yet been adjudicated as wards of the state.
“We reviewed the Texas Constitution, state statutes, rules of court, and reports that have been published by government agencies documenting deficiencies in the adult guardianship system in Texas,” said Coleman, who produced Pursuit of Justice, a film that exposes the nationwide abuses of seniors and people with disabilities under guardianship.
“We also searched the websites of the Texas Judicial Branch and the State Bar of Texas.”
Because the Texas Supreme Court is a public entity within the meaning of Title II of the ADA and a recipient of federal funds under Section 504, the complaint requests the Supreme Court to make the necessary modifications in policies and practices to bring the state’s adult guardianship system into compliance with the requirements of the ADA and Section 504.
A copy of the complaint has been sent to various state agencies and organizations, including the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
Court statistics reveal that more than 54,000 adults are under an order of guardianship in Texas. Most of them are men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities while many are seniors experiencing cognitive decline and others are adults of various ages whose cognitive functioning has been impaired by an injury or medical illness.
“Court appointed attorneys are often under the control of the judges in the probate court who order the payment of their bills so the attorneys are incentivized to please the judge not their disabled clients, which creates a conflict of interest and a scenario for potential abuse and neglect,” Coleman said.
The population of seniors in Texas has increased by more than 19 percent since 2012 to nearly 3.4 million. The number of vulnerable adults with disabilities — between the ages of 18 and 64 — has risen more than 6 percent since 2012 to 1.7 million and will likely increase an additional 16 percent by 2025.
Because such increases in both populations are predicted for future decades, it is expected that guardianship caseloads will increase, according to Coleman.