(WSVN) - It’s remarkable … a single father raised her ’till she was 12 and he developed Alzheimer’s disease. She then cared for him while going to middle and high school. Now the state has put the father in a nursing home and wants to throw the daughter out of the family house and sell it. It’s problems like this is why we created Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser 20 years ago.

When Suzanne was 12 years old, her life changed in a way no child or parent would want…

Suzanne Swasey, caring for father and house: “He was a good dad, and when he became ill, that is when it kind of threw me off.”

Suzanne’s father Vernon developed Alzheimer’s and she had to take care of him and their house … while also going to middle and high school.

Suzanne Swasey: “And I would still stay up to cook and make sure he eats, and I also had homework. I wouldn’t go to sleep until 2 in the morning.”

Despite all that, Suzanne graduated from high school near the top of her class, but she had to quit college … to work to help her father.

Suzanne Swasey: “I just want to be with my dad and be able to take care of him.”

When Vernon’s Alzheimer’s deteriorated so badly, he wandered away from the house and DCF decided he needed full-time care in a nursing home. When the state seized Vernon’s bank account, Suzanne had to get two jobs to pay her father’s mortgage.

Suzanne Swasey: “And I paid for the house as well, the mortgage, lights, water.”

But the people appointed by the court to watch over Vernon want to sell the family home and throw Suzanne out. Suzanne says it’s because they want the money the sale would bring.

Suzanne Swasey: “They can pay for his expenses, his living expenses, but at the same time, they were looking to get paid through all of this.”

Well Howard, can the State of Florida sell Vernon’s house and throw his daughter out of it?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Yes they can. It’s probably not what the father and daughter would want, but the law doesn’t bring compassion into a decision. The law only deals with the financial bottom, and the state can use the money from the sale to pay, among other things, the court-appointed guardians and attorneys. But there is a way out of this for Suzanne. If she can pay the bills and maintain the property, then the judge could let her stay in her father’s home.”

Suzanne headed to court by herself to try bring her father home and keep their house.

But the state brought three attorneys to face her. Judge Mark Speiser decided that was not fair.

Judge Mark Speiser: “I’m not going to have the hearing today. I’m going to give her an additional time to get an attorney.”

We then asked Alan Cohn of Greenspoon Marder to represent Suzanne for free, and he was nice enough to say yes.

Alan Cohn, helping Suzanne: “It sounded to me like there was a lot of people against one young girl. She wasn’t being double-teamed but triple-teamed, so I felt she needed someone to help her.”

Back in court, the attorney appointed by the state to represent Suzanne’s father didn’t want us to record what happened.

Jacqueline Trumbore, attorney for father: “I’m not going to argue confidentiality in particular with the media, especially with the camera on my face.”

Judge Speiser said we could stay…

Judge Mark Speiser: “This is a public court room. We are allowed to have one camera in here.”

Since her father’s condition has worsened, Suzanne agreed to stop trying to bring him home and let him stay in a nursing home … but Cohn argued she should be allowed to stay in the family’s home.

Alan Cohn: “She’s been living in this home since the first grade. She is paying the mortgage, she is paying the expenses.”

Trumbore said Suzanne should be thrown out and the house sold.

Jacqueline Trumbore: “I don’t think the property is being adequately maintained. There is some liabilities issues. I think there is more than one tenant.”

Suzanne has brought in a renter to help cover the mortgage. Cohn said, “Let’s get insurance in case that person got hurt.”

Alan Cohn: “I will have my client and I will help her see if we can obtain liability insurance on the property.”

The judge gave them 45 days to see if they can get the insurance. If Suzanne can, she can stay in her home … for now. Suzanne is grateful for that and the attorney who volunteered to help her house.

Suzanne Swasey: “I feel as though he is a blessing. Having Alan involved, it makes it easier instead of me going in there by myself.”

We will keep on eye on Suzanne and see if she and Alan can craft their way through this. And I asked Howard legally, how could Vernon and Suzanne have avoided her having to fight to keep their house. Howard says legally, there is not much they could have been done.

Housing a problem you want to throw out? Wanna court some help? Contact us. We can be the guardians of your rights … and we work for free. You can’t beat that.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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