Judge David Dally promised a ruling next week after motions were argued Wednesday in a lawsuit against Rita Hunter, former Jasper County public administrator, and St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
The lawsuit was filed by Kenneth Hall, now of Monett, who contends that Hunter and St. John’s acted improperly in actions that made him a ward of the public administrator’s office.
Attorneys for Hunter and the hospital contend that the suit in Jasper County Circuit Court in Joplin should be dismissed.
Lynn Myers, a Springfield attorney who is representing several plaintiffs in actions against Hunter, said Hall was declared incompetent in 2006 after a probate court hearing of which relatives were not notified and that Hall was not allowed to attend.
“They could have contacted his relatives; phone numbers for his mother and his daughter were in his pocket,” Myers said. “He was appointed a guardian without prior notice at a hearing held without his presence and without him having the opportunity for a jury trial.”
He said the facts of the case are similar to those involving Emma France, whose guardianship was declared void by Probate Judge David Mouton after he ruled that provisions of state law were not followed in actions that made her a county ward.
After Hall, who was 39 at the time, was made a ward of the county, he was placed at Magnolia Manor, a nursing home in Purdy in Barry County. His case was transferred in 2007 to Barry County for supervision by the Barry County public administrator. He is now independent, after his guardianship was ended in August 2009.
Myers said St. John’s was named in the case because the hospital, while Hall was a patient, petitioned to have the public administrator named as his guardian. Myers contended that the hospital erred by including a medical certificate describing Hall’s condition as part of the open court file.
Joplin attorney Jason Higdon, representing St. John’s, said the hospital should be dropped from the case because Myers’ filing failed to show that the hospital “conspired with the public administrator to deprive (Hall) of his civil rights.”
“They must show there was a meeting of the minds, and we don’t believe the petition comes close,” he said.
Both he and Doug Harpool, a Springfield attorney representing Hunter, said the case should be declared moot because the guardianship had been set aside.
Harpool also said Hunter was not responsible for any legal deficiencies.
“If there were legal problems, they weren’t the fault of Rita Hunter,” he said. “She’s not a lawyer. There were two lawyers and a judge in the courtroom. It’s not fair to hang it on her.”
Myers is asking for a declaratory judgment ruling that Hall was improperly made a ward of the county, and for the return of money spent from his estate during that time. Damages also are being sought.
The state started an investigation into operations of the Jasper County public administrator’s office after Rita Hunter left at the end of 2008 and took all the office files with her. Federal agencies took over the probe several months later.
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