New Court Filing Argues the State's Guardianship System Puts the Disabled at Risk

click to enlarge Thomas Coleman (left), appearing on a talk show aired by the Arc of Riverside County, said failings in the guardianship system put the disabled at risk of exploitation and abuse. - COURTESY OF THE SPECTRUM INSTITUTE
Courtesy of the Spectrum Institute
Thomas Coleman (left), appearing on a talk show aired by the Arc of Riverside County, said failings in the guardianship system put the disabled at risk of exploitation and abuse.
A group that advocates for the rights of the disabled has filed a class action complaint with the Texas Supreme Court arguing that the state's adult guardianship system violates parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Spectrum Institute, which made similar court filings in Missouri and Washington, says Texas' state-appointed attorneys are often unable to adequately represent people placed in guardianship — typically those with mental impairments that prevent them from looking after themselves. What's more, attorneys may have financial incentive to aid probate judges at the expense of the people they're representing, according to the filing.

Officials with Texas Health and Human Services, which administers a state guardianship program, declined comment on the filing since the appointment of attorneys is a court function.

"In many cases, someone in the prison system has more rights to make decisions about his own life than someone in guardianship," said Thomas Coleman, Spectrum Institute's legal director. "He can make decisions about his own medical care or about his finances. In many cases, these individuals cannot. That makes them especially vulnerable."

Without adequate court representation, disabled people face the risk of exploitation, abuse and neglect at the hands of their caretakers, Coleman added.

Currently, 54,000 Texas adults are under guardianship in the state and more than 4,500 cases are filed annually, according to Spectrum Institute. The majority of people under guardianship in the state have intellectual or developmental disabilities, but some are seniors experiencing cognitive decline. Both populations are expected to grow over coming years.

The population of Texas seniors has increased more than 19 percent since 2012 to 3.4 million.

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