|Rebecca Fierle ignored reporters questions after she was released from the Marion County jail Tuesday. The former guardian is accused of abusing and neglecting a ward who died while in her care, 75-year-old Steven Stryker. (Monivette Cordeiro)|
Rebecca Fierle, the former Orlando guardian accused of abusing and neglecting an incapacitated client whose death sparked a statewide scandal in Florida’s guardianship system, may not stand trial until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, her attorney said Tuesday.
And a lawsuit filed against Fierle by the family of her dead ward, Steven Stryker, will be delayed even longer after a judge granted her request to put the civil trial on hold until her criminal case is resolved.
During a hearing Tuesday conducted by conference call, attorney Barry Postman argued Fierle would lose her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself in the criminal case if she was forced to first defend herself against the same accusations in the civil trial.
The disgraced guardian is accused of aggravated abuse and neglect in the death of Stryker, a 75-year-old man who died at a Tampa hospital in 2019. Medical staff were unable to attempt to save Stryker’s life because Fierle had signed a “do not resuscitate” order against his wishes and the protests of his daughter, health-care surrogate and psychiatrist.
Despite Stryker stating “several times that he wanted to live,” Fierle signed the DNR order and opted to have his feeding tube capped May 9, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Stryker, who was using a feeding tube because he had difficulty swallowing, aspirated and went into cardiac arrest, the suit said.
He died May 13.
“If she testifies in a civil case, she’s going to be compelled to testify in a criminal case,” Postman said. “There is an absolute prejudice.”
But Robin Treto, the attorney representing Stryker’s family, said moving forward was important not only for his client but also for the “elderly and the vulnerable in our community to get justice and reform.”
In his ruling, Circuit Judge Kevin B. Weiss said it was an “undisputed fact” that both cases are based on the same circumstances. The order requires check-ins on the status of Fierle’s criminal case every six months starting in January.
Weiss’ order does not apply to the other entities being sued — AdventHealth Orlando and Geriatric Management, Fierle’s business. Stryker was a patient at AdventHealth Orlando when the hospital petitioned a judge to declare him incapacitated and appoint Fierle his guardian.
Without telling the court, Fierle billed AdventHealth nearly $4 million over a decade for services she provided to 682 patients and sometimes double-billed her wards for the same services, according to an audit by the Orange County Comptroller’s office.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady suspended all in-person jury trials in March but, as of early July, courts are allowed to loosen those restrictions when local public health conditions improve — though no courts in Florida have met the criteria.
“It does not appear that there will be any — no one knows for sure — jury trials in the rest of this calendar year in criminal cases, at least,” said Warren Lindsey, Fierle’s attorney in her criminal case out of Hillsborough. “We expect the case to be resolved sometime in calendar year 2021.”
Fierle has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
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