A class action lawsuit filed today in Jasper County Circuit Court claims Jasper County Public Administrator Rita Hunter has failed to properly maintain the money and property of her wards.
The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Lynn Myers of Springfield, said the lawsuit was not filed this week to coincide with next Tuesday's election in which Mrs. Hunter is opposed by Angie Casavecchia Ashens and Monty Morgan.
Myers said work on processing the lawsuit has been ongoing since January while he was dealing with the case of 95-year-old Emma France, whose daughter was charged with kidnapping her mother after the mother was placed against her will in a Kansas facility. "I know it's close to the election, but I have been working on the facts for quite some time."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mrs. France, Guy Sesler, and Treba Benson. Named as defendants are Mrs. Hunter and Charlene Kelly, deputy public administrator. The petition indicates that the class includes 450 to 500 wards of Mrs. Hunter. Myers said his research through the wards' files indicates that in at least five instances property was reported missing, two of those cases involving weapons, though in one of those two instances, the weapons were reportedly sold for $4,000.
From the lawsuit:
-That defendant Rita Hunter has testified that as public administrator her job is to take care of every aspect of her ward's life.
-That as conservator, defendant Rita Hunter and her deputies are to manage and care for all the assets of the ward and use them for the benefit of the ward.
-That as conservator, defendant Rita Hunter and her deputies owe a fiduciary duty to the ward to manage and care for all the assets of the ward and use them for the benefit of the ward.
-That Jasper County is a first class county in the state of Missouri.
-That defendant Rita Hunter and her deputies are paid salaries for their work as the public administrator for Jasper County, Missouri.
-That defendant Rita Hunter and her deputy Charlene Kelly have failed in their fiduciary duties to the wards as a class in that:
A. Defendant Rita Hunter has charged and received from the wards' estates more than the reasonable compensation allowed under the law for personal representatives.
B. That defendant Rita Hunter charged her wards' estates between 300 percent and 1,000 percent of the county's cost for salaries.
C. That the State of Missouri has set the reasonable compensation for defendant Rita Hunter at approximately $59,000.
D. That the defendant Rita Hunter has charged the wards' estates not based upon the actual time spent, but an arbitrary time amount.
E. That the defendant Rita Hunter and her deputies have failed to take and maintain inventories of personal property of the wards.
F. That the defendant Rita Hunter and her deputies have failed to pay the cost of care for her wards even at a time when there were monies in their name.
G. That the defendant Rita Hunter has failed to maintain, rent, or sell the real property of her wards, and has allowed some of the real property to be taken by the lenders.
H. That the defendant Rita Hunter has paid her deputy Charlene Kelly directly from the wards' estates to prepare tax returns for the wards, a service for which defendant Charlene Kelly is already paid a salary for and which is already the duty of the public administrator acting as conservator for the wards.
-That the acts of the defendants Rita Hunter and Charlene Kelly were outrageous in that they disregarded the rights of the plaintiffs and the wards making up the class in this action.
In the demand for relief, the lawsuit says:
That because of the defendants' breach of their fiduciary duty toward the plaintiffs and the wards making up the class in this action, the plaintiffs and the wards making up the class in this action have suffered monetary damages in that monies have been taken from their estates improperly and not used for their benefit, and personal and real property has been lost, damaged and not used for the benefits of the ward, all to their damage.
Because of this, the lawsuit asks "for the court to remove the defendant Rita Hunter as conservator in all the estates, or enjoin her from the above conduct in the future.
The lawsuit calls for Mrs. Hunter to be removed as conservator, taking care of the wards' money, but not as their guardian, Myers said.
(The video that accompanies this post has technical difficulties due to the roar of the air conditioning unit outside of the Jasper County Courthouse in Carthage.)