Crime Ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle asks judge to pause lawsuit by family of man who died under DNR
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Disgraced ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle is asking a judge to pause a lawsuit recently filed against her by the family of a client who died while under her care, citing the criminal charges she’s facing in connection with his death.
Both the lawsuit and the case brought against Fierle by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement center on a common accusation: She signed a “do not resuscitate” order for ward Steven Stryker against his wishes and those of his daughter, health care surrogate and a psychiatrist.
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Because the suit and criminal case are so similar, attorney Kara S. Graham argues in a newly filed motion, Fierle would have “no plausible ability to defend herself in this new civil proceeding without forfeiting her constitutional rights in the pending criminal proceeding.”
“The most important factor is the degree of overlap between the criminal charges and the civil claim. Here the events, essential facts, and general allegations to be determined are the same," Graham wrote. "Equally important, [Fierle] is the key witness in both proceedings.”
Stryker, a 75-year-old Navy veteran, died last May at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. Fierle wasin February on charges of aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person after a lengthy FDLE investigation.
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Despite Stryker stating “several times" that he wanted to live, Fierle signed the DNR and opted to have his feeding tube capped May 9, 2019, FDLE said. Stryker, who was using a feeding tube because he had difficulty swallowing, aspirated and went into cardiac arrest, the suit said.
Stryker’s daughter, Kimberly Stryker, in her lawsuit alleges Fierle “preyed” on his vulnerability and abused him. She is also suing AdventHealth Orlando, where Stryker was a patient when the hospital petitioned a judge to declare him incapacitated and appoint Fierle his guardian.
“This case is about how Rebecca Fierle and AdventHealth — who were both trusted by hundreds of vulnerable adults and the Florida court system — took advantage of Steven Stryker... and robbed him of his right to live,” said the lawsuit, filed in March in Orange County Circuit Court. “As a result of their negligence, abuse, and neglect, Mr. Stryker died.”
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Graham’s motion to stay the lawsuit was filed Wednesday. No hearing has been set and Circuit Judge Kevin B. Weiss has not filed a ruling.
A probe of Stryker’s death by the Okaloosa Clerk’s and Orange Comptroller’s Office, details of which were first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, sparked a scandal that embroiled Florida’s entire guardianship system.
Investigations found Fierle had routinely abused DNRs and unearthed conflicts of interest in her handling of cases, as well as that AdventHealth Orlando had paid her nearly $4 million over a decade to care for vulnerable patients, an arrangement not allowed without court approval.
Meanwhile, the Sentinel inrevealed in Florida’s guardianship system and that govern guardians.
State lawmakers have since reformed the guardianship system, addressing several loopholes the Sentinel’s reporting exposed, including by requiring guardians to get a judge’s approval before signing, prohibiting them from seeking their own appointment to specific cases and revising provisions related to conflicts of interest.
Fierle, who had an office in Orlando and had been assigned hundreds of wards across at least a dozen counties, resigned amid the scandal. She is still under investigation by the FDLE, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Attorney General’s Office.
She has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
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