Washington Heights Immigrant Battles for Freedom – NBC New York

Jose Verdugo makes dinner for his children every night in their Washington Heights apartment. He works long days at New York City construction sites, recently became certified as a home health aide and got his driver’s permit.

What he doesn’t have is control over his financial affairs.

In 2009, under the advice of a personal injury attorney, Verdugo, an Ecuadorian immigrant, says he agreed to a court-appointed guardianship in Manhattan. He had suffered brain trauma in a 2003 industrial accident and eventually won a $5 million dollar settlement. Verdugo says he is now fully recovered and has tried for the past several years to free himself of the guardianship, without success.

“No one is listening, they just ignore me,” he told the I-Team in Spanish.

Last October, Verdugo’s daughter Fatima filed a petition to compel the current judge in her father’s case, Justice Carol Sharpe, to hold an immediate hearing on the termination of the guardianship. The court papers note he “remains captive to a guardianship he neither needs nor needs nor wants,” and contends that the Judge’s failure to act “shocks the conscience.”

Marc Alhonte, an attorney helping the family pro bono, said: “Here’s a Latino immigrant being deprived of his civil rights. Bottom line is that it’s an abuse of the system.”

Sharpe’s guardianship rulings have come under fire in another recent case. Friends of an elderly Upper West Side resident, Paulette Kohler, with no family, said they were banned from visiting the 93-year-old for months. The allegations: One of the friends was suspected of elder financial abuse. None appear to have ever been substantiated and the women now have access, although the guardianship remains in place.

A spokesman for the courts said Judge Sharpe’s priority is protecting those in guardianships. She has now ordered a hearing for Thursday, November 3rd, in Jose Verdugo’s case. He says he is hoping his voice is finally heard.

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