TAMPA, Fla. — Embattled professional guardian Rebecca Fierle is demanding a jury trial in response to a pair of felony elder-abuse and neglect charges filed against her.
- Guardian is charged with elder abuse and neglect in ward's death
- Her attorneys filed motions asking for jury trial, entering not-guilty plea
- Legislation strengthening safeguards for wards pending in Legislature
Fierle was arrested February 10 amid a more than nine month criminal investigation that remains active and ongoing, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state Attorney General’s Office.
Attorneys for Fierle filed a series of motions Thursday asking a court for a jury trial, waiving an arraignment appearance before a judge, and entering a not guilty plea in Fierle’s behalf.
Spectrum News has reached out to the attorneys, Warren Lindsey and Tad Yates, for comment.
The morning after her arrest, Fierle refused to answer questions asked of her as she walked out of the Marion County Jail.
Spectrum News obtained video of Fierle's arrest from a deputy's body-worn camera. In it, she tells deputies she anticipated her arrest but that she and her attorneys had worked out a deal to turn herself in. Fierle is also seen at times seemingly at ease and laughing.
State prosecutors have charged Fierle with felony counts of elder abuse and elder neglect. The charges stem from the May 2019 death of 74-year-old Steven Stryker. At the time, Stryker was among hundreds of seniors whom judges had appointed to Fierle to care for as a professional guardian. Guardians manage the affairs of people who have been judged unable to manage their own affairs.
State investigators say Fierle placed a "do not resuscitate" order against Stryker’s wishes and ordered his feeding tube capped against the advice of doctors — actions that prosecutors say directly led to Stryker’s death.
Fierle is currently facing felony charges out of Hillsborough County, because Stryker died in a hospital there.
Subsequent investigations determined that Fierle placed "DNR" orders on many of her senior wards, often without their approval or knowledge.
Fierle has faced criticism from state investigators, the Orange County Comptroller’s Office, and one of the many judges who appointed Fierle to guardianship cases.
"She has executed numerous ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) orders on many of the Wards under her supervision without family or court permission,” Orange County Judge Janet Thorpe wrote in a July 2019 emergency motion. "She has been compensated as a Medicaid caseworker for her wards, having received payments from hospitals and other facilities without disclosure or court permission."
Fierle was also the focus of two Orange County Comptroller investigations: One questioned Fierle’s handling of her wards' assets; the other uncovered evidence indicating AdventHealth paid Fierle almost $4 million.
Stryker’s family had long accused Fierle and AdventHealth of improperly petitioning the court for guardianship in the first place.
Spectrum News's investigation into the claims of neglect and failures within the state’s guardianship system prompted Florida Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom and Gov. Ron DeSantis to take action. Prudom told Spectrum News that his office has been involved in crafting legislation to give more safeguards to seniors. That legislation is now pending in the Florida legislature for the 2020 session.