ST. PETERSBURG — Lisa Cook-Gordon stood up to address the judge.
Her elderly aunt had been exploited before, she said. Now, the court-appointed guardian who oversaw her aunt’s affairs was facing a criminal charge of exploitation of the elderly, accused of financial malfeasance in another case. Cook-Gordon told the court on Wednesday that she was willing to act as her aunt’s new guardian to safeguard her interests.
“I don’t want anything to happen to her,” Cook-Gordon said.
The niece wasn’t the only one in court concerned about their relatives’ interests. Those cases were once overseen by Traci Hudson, who was arrested on Nov. 15. The courtroom learned that Hudson no longer represents any of their loved ones.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell told a smattering of lawyers, family members and curious bystanders that Hudson had resigned from all 26 of her guardianship cases after her arrest last week. The judge accepted her resignations and appointed new guardians and lawyers to each case.
Campbell said the new representatives will review all of Hudson’s old cases to make sure there are no financial improprieties. No such allegations were raised in court, however.
“This has been a phenomenally quick turnaround," the judge said. "We wanted to make sure that none of our wards were left without a guardian during that interim time.”
Missing was the woman who triggered this mass legal intervention: Hudson, a 51-year-old professional guardian from Riverview who stands accused of swindling half a million dollars from an elderly Pinellas Park man for whom she made financial and health decisions.
She was freed from the county jail after posting $250,000 bail. Her attorney, Richard McKyton, told the Tampa Bay Times that there is no evidence of malfeasance in any of her guardianship cases. His client has pleaded not guilty to the exploitation charge.
Hudson was not 93-year-old Maurice Myers’ legal guardian. But she did have power of attorney over his legal affairs and served as his healthcare surrogate before he died in 2018. Her arrest threw her 26 guardianship cases in Pinellas and Pasco counties into uncertainty.
She was arrested after a lengthy investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office that alleged she had taken about $540,000 from Myers while acting on his behalf over an 11-month period.
Once Myers’ daughter handled his affairs, but she died unexpectedly in October 2017. Staffers at the nursing home Myers lived in reached out to Hudson, who they knew from her work with other residents. She met with him, and he signed over his financial and healthcare decisions to Hudson in November 2017, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Power-of-attorney and healthcare surrogate go through a different legal process than a court-appointed guardianship. Those roles are decided by judges responding to petitions. Then, if approved, the guardians must submit spending plans, property sales and other matters with the court for approval and monitoring.
But the mechanism by which Hudson oversaw Myers’ affairs takes place out of the public eye and away from government oversight, barring a complaint of wrongdoing. That’s how state regulators were tipped off to the Myers’ case.
Still, as a “precautionary measure,” the judge said, she issued orders in each of Hudson’s guardianship cases essentially asking her to explain herself. Campbell added that Hudson resigned as a guardian with the state’s Office of Public and Professional Guardians as well as from her post as president of the Guardian Association of Pinellas County.
Hudson runs a business called Florida Guardianship Services, records show. She completed a 40-hour course and exam to become a guardian in early 2016.
Court records show Hudson’s wards were mainly in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Like Cook-Gordon’s aunt, some had been exploited before, including an 88-year-old woman who lost more than $30,000 to the popular Jamaican lottery scam. Some had no known family members. Others had loved ones who were out of state or unable to care for them.
In the case of Cook-Gordon’s aunt, she said she was erroneously told by an attorney that it would be a conflict-of-interest for her to serve as her aunt’s guardian because she was also a beneficiary in the will. But she now intends to become her aunt's new guardian.
“My aunt has been through so much," Cook-Gordon said. "To give her from one exploiter to another is ridiculous.”