HOUSTON – A New York woman and actress Juliette Fairley has sued Houston and Dallas-based probate attorney Don Ford for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, alleging that malfeasance led to her losing a custody case in which her father, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, was instead placed in an old-age home whose care she alleges is substandard.
“I could get much better care for my father,” Fairley told The Record.
Fairley said she was also ordered by Bexar County Probate Court Judge Gladys Burwell that she had to pay $20,000 in cash to be her father's guardian.
"This put a price tag on my due process rights and a bounty on my father's head," she said. "Because I could not afford to pay the $20,000 by the Bexar County Probate Court as ordered by Judge Burwell, I was eliminated from being my dad's guardian."
James Fairley currently resides at the Lakeside Assisted Living and Memory Care Center in San Antonio.
The breach of contract suit was filed on May 31 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas. An initial pre-trial conference is scheduled for Aug. 25 and Judge Lee H. Rosenthal has been assigned the case.
The complaint states that Ford, a partner with Ford Bergner, whom the plaintiff hired in 2015, was unjustly enriched, failed to account for money paid and refused to turn over the case to the plaintiff's successor counsel.
“Because of this it led to what amounted to an unauthorized court order,” Fairley said.
An amicus brief, a legal document filed in court by a non-litigant who has a strong interest in a case, was filed with the court on July 13 by the nonprofit watchdog group Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianships (AAAPG). The allegation said that the Ford Bergner law firm made use of an outdated (obsolete) Estates Code in appellate briefs that were filed with the 4th District Court of Appeals in San Antonio and that the attorneys also delayed the plaintiff's ability to file a Petition for Review with the Supreme Court.
On July 3, Ford Bergner moved the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit for lack of jurisdiction claiming that she lives in Texas. However, the plaintiff’s counsel Don Cheatham filed an opposition on July 24 with a New York City electricity bill as an exhibit.
An El Paso attorney, Kenneth Krohn, though not named specifically in the plaintiff’s lawsuit, was the attorney who filed her appellate briefs last year, Fairley added.
Fairley said she was devastated by the way she was represented by Ford Bergner.
“But I am moving forward with new counsel to improve the end of life circumstances for my father, who is an American war hero,” she said.
Fairley is also suing the Lakeside Center.
She is represented by a federal attorney Gregory Canfield of San Antonio, and in the Lakeside suit Jerry Simoneaux, a Houston attorney.
A request for comment by Ford went unreturned by press time.