ORLANDO, Fla. — Eraida Miller is a Cuban immigrant who fled her native country for the U.S. more than 50 years ago on an initial quest for freedom. Now, she says she's again fighting for her freedom — this time from the state court system and her appointed professional guardian.
- 87-year-old woman wants freedom from emergency temporary guardian
- Health committee ruled the former educator is mentally incompetent
- Spectrum News got rare access inside courtroom during guardianship hearing
- ELSEWHERE: Guardian Charged in Ward's Death Gets Arraignment Hearing Date
“The freedom that I came here seeking was taken away from me," Miller said.
For months, our ongoing Watchdog series "Senior Care in Question" has exposed problems with the state of Florida’s professional guardianship program. Now, for the first time, we were given rare access inside a courtroom during a guardianship hearing, this one in Brevard County.
Miller, 87, says she wants her current guardian removed and her daughter named as her guardian.
“I want to be free. I don’t want the court. I don’t want a guardian," she says.
But that decision isn’t hers.
Court documents show Miller's daughter, Karen, petitioned the court in October for a guardian to help with her mother’s care because at the time, she thought her mother was being taken advantage of by a friend.
Brevard County Chief Judge Lisa Davidson appointed Danica Scuderi-Carluccio as emergency temporary guardian of Miller.
A short time later, a court-appointed committee of health professionals examined Miller and concluded she is mentally incompetent.
“The reports that came back, we were all shocked. They basically have her completely, mentally gone, and I don’t agree with that," Karen Miller-Berling said. "I think that she can function but just needs to be supervised."
Miller-Berling has since petitioned the court to become her mother’s guardian, asking that Scuderi-Carluccio be removed. But it’s not that simple.
“The guardian is contesting my petition for guardianship, so we are both fighting over my mother,” Miller-Berling said.
As we joined them in court, Miller pleaded with the judge about her mental capacity, asking that she be placed in the care of her daughter.
"I have a mind of my own, and you have made me incapacitated, damn it," she said angrily.
“I am not incapacitated..." Miller cried. "I do my checking account, my billings."
The judge ultimately continued the hearing, pending another health evaluation. She also says she wanted time to explore the possibility of Miller being placed in her family’s care.
“Unfortunately, I can’t give you a comment,” the guardian, Scuderi-Carluccio, said.
Although Miller's court-appointed guardian wouldn’t talk to us after the hearing, her attorney did.
“As you may know, guardianships are private matters, and professional guardians are not allowed to comment on their case,” Attorney William Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Miller says it's crystal clear what is happening.
“I want all this guardianship canceled. I want to be free. If I have two or three more years to live, I want to live happily,” Miller said. She holding on to hope that the sweet sounds of her piano will fill her home again.
One week ago, Scuderi-Carluccio's attorney filed a motion requesting she be removed as Miller's temporary professional guardian. That motion also recommends that Miller's daughter, Karen, not be appointed guardian of her mother.
Meanwhile, Miller-Berling filed a response to the guardian’s recommendations in that motion, laying out reasons why she is the best person to care for her mother.
At last check, the judge has not granted the guardian’s motion for removal of guardianship.