Photo: Tom Reel, Staff / Staff photographer
by John MacCormack, San Antonio Express-News
The monthslong legal tug of war over Charlie Thrash, 81, a wealthy San Antonio man who is mentally incapacitated, took a decisive turn Friday that left his girlfriend Laura Martinez on the outs.
After a three-day hearing, Probate Court Judge Oscar Kazen issued a temporary injunction against Martinez and her family that forbids any of them from coming within 500 feet of Thrash, the longtime owner of a specialty car repair shop on West Avenue.
Kazan also ordered Martinez and her adult children to vacate Thrash’s spacious home in Shavano Park by April 28 and to relinquish any of his assets they may still possess. Still at issue is a $100,000 Corvette, believed to be hidden in Junction.
In their closing arguments Friday afternoon, lawyers for court-appointed guardians Mary Werner and Tonya Barina reminded the judge of the extensive evidence of exploitation presented during the hearing.
“Laura was trying to scare Mr. Thrash that the guardians were out to get his money. The truth is, the only people out to get his money were the Martinez family,” said Laura Cavaretta, attorney for Barina, the guardian of Thrash’s estate.
“We believe that if our requests are not granted, Mr. Thrash will continue to be intimidated and his assets drained,” she added.
Philip Ross, the lawyer for Martinez, 54, and her adult children, told the judge they were the only ones who truly cared about him.
“They were doing everything they possibly could for Charlie without asking for payment in return,” he said.
Earlier, while testifying, Laura Martinez became emotional on the witness stand.
“Charlie is the most important thing to my whole being,” she said Thursday through tears. “The reason I’m here is to defend Charlie and fight for him. Charlie has capacity and should have his civil rights respected.”
The two guardians, who were appointed by the probate court to protect Thrash and his estate, had frequent conflicts with the Martinez family.
Throughout the litigation, the Martinez family and Ross had sought to end the guardianships, claiming that Thrash, who was found to be mentally incapacitated in 2017, has somehow recovered his mental competence.
His estate is worth about $3 million. According to Laura Martinez, who began dating him in 2012, she is the sole beneficiary of his will.
An investigation by Texas Adult Protective Services concluded that Martinez was exploiting Thrash financially and isolating him from his family and longtime friends.
Dr. Raymond Faber, a psychiatrist, had found Thrash in 2017 to be “totally without capacity” to care for himself or handle his business and financial affairs.
Thrash did not attend the hearing and has not been in contact with the Martinez family since March 6, when he was removed from the home in Shavano Park that he shared with Martinez and two of her adult children.
Werner, his personal guardian, said she took the dramatic action because she had become concerned about his physical safety.
Since then, he has been staying with a relative somewhere in Bexar County.
“He’s happy, telling funny stories. He thinks he’s the biggest comedian,” said Barina, guardian of his estate.
Martinez was briefly married to Thrash last month, despite a court order forbidding him from making such important decisions.
The marriage was soon annulled by Judge Kazen. A March 5 adoption by Thrash of two of her adult children was also voided by another judge on the same grounds.
Kazen’s decision on Friday replaces a March 14 temporary restraining order.
The motion by the guardians for the restraining order claimed that threats had been made against them by the Martinez family; that the guardians’ attempts to take control of Thrash’s assets had been stonewalled; and that assets of his estate had been converted to the Martinez’s benefit.
“All five Martinez family members are living rent-free in the Ward’s property, some are or were driving the Ward’s vehicles, and made extensive retail purchases using the Ward’s funds,” read the motion.
The simmering conflict flared several times during this week’s proceeding, prompting Kazen and his bailiff to scold Martinez family members about improper courtroom conduct or alleged aggression directed at court officials.
“Your client and Mr. Martinez circled the parking lot, yelling profanities at my staff,” Kazen said on Thursday to Ross, after court investigator Elaine Damian complained about an incident involving Michelle Martinez and her father Mario Martinez.
“That ends today. You will not touch my staff,” said the judge, who threatened to bring a contempt action.
Much of the evidence and testimony during the hearing had to do with financial records, a Go Fund Me account opened in January purportedly by Thrash to raise money for an attorney, how Thrash’s business was operated and the whereabouts of various business records and Thrash’s property.
In her testimony, Laura Martinez acknowledged that fair market value for the shop dictated a monthly rent of between $3,500 and $5,000 a month, but said that the lease terms reflected Thrash’s wishes.
The slow pace of the proceeding, originally set for one day but stretching to more than 20 hours, eventually provoked judicial comment.
“Someone described this as a slow burro ride up a mountainside. It’s more like a three-legged burro ride up a mountain,” Kazen groaned Friday morning, his eyes on the clock.
And despite the fact that the Martinez family had on March 14 been ordered to turn over all of Thrash’s property, various items were still unaccounted for when the hearing began Wednesday.
By Thursday, however, missing items began to reappear, including a valuable watch, an $8,000 check from an insurance company and boxes of business records.
The capper came Thursday afternoon when Brittany Martinez, 26, revealed to the judge that she had three of Thrash’s missing guns in her car, and that some were loaded.
“We went from a Rolex to a check to guns to one bag of jewelry,” marveled Kazen, who called in a sheriff deputy to assist with the transfer of the weapons.
The mystery of how Thrash’s 2016 Z06 Corvette ended up in Junction in a storage area owned by Ross was also finally clarified.
Laura Martinez said she and Thrash drove it there to keep it out of the hands of the guardian of the estate.
“He was scared. He wanted to take it away and hide it. He said for the millionth time, ‘I do not want Tonya around my cars,’” Martinez said.
Near the close of the hearing, Kazen issued a stern order to Ross to bring the car back to San Antonio at his own expense.
“Mr. Ross, you have until 5 p.m., Tuesday. That fiasco ends,” said the judge.
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Judge orders girlfriend of incapacitated millionaire to vacate his estate