ORLANDO, Fla. — A retired engineer who spent seven years in guardianship after being diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia has had all his rights restored by a judge who found no evidence he “lacks the capacity to make his own decisions and care for himself.”
A different judge determined Doug Keegan was incapacitated, stripped away his rights and put him under the care of a professional guardian in 2014.
Keegan’s family hired an attorney after they became concerned about his heavy drinking and objected to his marriage to a woman from Kenya, who they alleged was exploiting him.
Both Keegan and his ex-wife deny that was true.
“It’s a nasty business”
After trying to get his rights restored for years, Keegan finally prevailed and is speaking out about what he considers serious flaws in Florida’s court-appointed guardianship system.
“Let’s shine a light on it and let’s stop it. It’s a nasty business,” Keegan said.
Keegan said he had never heard of guardianship before a stranger showed up at his condo to evaluate his mental health.
“All of the sudden, they’re coming into your house and they’re walking off with everything you own,” Keegan said.
Keegan lived for seven years under the control of professional guardians and their attorneys.
Guardians and attorneys are paid from the assets of those under their care.
Keegan’s guardians and attorneys were paid more than $200,000 from the sale of his condo and car and from his significant retirement savings.
Keegan, who was 54 years old at the time, was put into a memory care unit at an assisted living facility before breaking down a door and being banned from that facility.
For the past two-and-a-half years, he’s lived alone in an extended stay hotel, for which he was charged nearly $500 a week.
His bike was his only form of transportation.
Keegan wasn’t allowed money, only a restricted debit card to make purchases from at a few stores that don’t sell alcohol.
“I’m allowed Denny’s, McDonald’s, Subway, Golden Corral, Chick-Fil-A. And then there’s a Dollar Tree I can go to,” Keegan said when we first interviewed him late last year.
In her order restoring Keegan’s rights, Judge Leticia Marques said Keegan’s living situation offered proof of his ability to care for himself.
“The guardian himself placed the ward in a living situation in which he must care for himself and make the daily decisions involved in doing so. The ward has done so for a significant period of time. The annual accounting receipts indicate he regularly dines out, he has a membership at Planet Fitness, goes for haircuts, dental visits, etc.,” the order said.
“He scored perfect”
Judge Marques granted Keegan a hearing based on a cognitive evaluation performed by Dr. Gil Lichtshein, a psychiatrist who examined Keegan last year.
The I-Team reported late last year that other judges refused to consider Dr. Lichtshein’s report after Keegan’s guardian’s attorney Kyle Fletcher objected to the psychiatrist being hired to perform the exam by Keegan’s attorney without Fletcher’s knowledge or approval.
“I don’t know whether he’s competent or not, but I just know this… he didn’t do a thorough job,” Fletcher told the I-Team in December.
“He scored perfect. To me it doesn’t warrant any further workup,” Dr. Lichtshein said of Keegan after his release from guardianship.
Fletcher said in December he didn’t believe Keegan was capable of caring for himself.
“He’s incapacitated, which means he actually doesn’t understand anything you say,” Fletcher said.
Keegan’s attorney Leslie Ferderigos disagrees.
“This is a man that has been living on his own in a motel across the street from a large liquor store. And I got the guardian to admit he only sees Doug once every three to four months,” Ferderigos said. “So to me, if you believe someone doesn’t have the capacity, you certainly wouldn’t be allowing them to live in the manner that they’re living.“
Attorney Fletcher based his opinion of Keegan’s incapacity on a 2015 diagnosis.
“Dementia is not something that improves with time”
“Dr. Sieg, who is a psychiatrist, in other words, he’s a medical doctor, determined that he had frontal lobe dementia,” Fletcher said.
Dr. Sieg’s report says he didn’t talk to Keegan’s regular doctor.
Keegan said Dr. Sieg interviewed him at his home for less than an hour before diagnosing him with a serious, degenerative brain condition.
“There was no objective testing. There was no MRI or brain scan or anything along those lines. And they kept sitting on this diagnosis,” said Ferderigos.
Dr. Lichtshein recently testified in court that Keegan isn’t incapacitated and never had dementia.
“If he really had dementia or some major cognitive impairment years ago, he wouldn’t be better today. He would be the same or worse. Dementia is not something that improves with time, it only intensifies or worsens with time,” Dr. Lichtshein said.
The judge agreed.
Her order said, “Dr. Lichtshein testified that he found no evidence of the Ward being cognitively impaired or limited in any way in making decisions. The court is satisfied with his explanation that he conducted no further testing or inquiry because the Ward did not evidence any signs of impairment warranting further testing.”
“I was at the office when I got the order and I ran out of the room and was telling everybody ‘Oh my God he’s free!’” Ferderigos said.
Fletcher said in court he was concerned that Keegan would make bad decisions again if his rights were restored.
“Guardianships are not made to be AA programs. Guardianships are not made to pick and choose who you’re supposed to marry. That is way over-reaching,” Ferderigos said.
Before the judge’s ruling, Fletcher filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider holding a hearing to restore Keegan’s rights, based on attorney Ferderigos hiring Dr. Lichtshein without properly consulting him and other technical arguments.
“It should not be that contentious. You’re talking about somebody trying to restore their rights. Why on earth would somebody be zealously objecting to that, when there’s a doctor’s report saying this person is fine?” said Ferderigos.
Fletcher also submitted a final $20,000 bill to the court, charging Keegan $375 an hour for his services.
Keegan says he hopes, in the future, others won’t pay the high price he has, as a result of Florida’s broken guardianship system.
“It takes people like you and me and others to look at the mechanisms of what’s going on and say ‘all right, we need to change this.’ We need to change this.”
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.