“Oh my God,” Hatch said over and over again, shedding tears. “I’m so happy to go home today. I deserve it. It’s over. My God, it’s over.”
For more than a year, Margaret Jean Hatch, whom everyone calls Jenny, had been under a temporary guardianship and living in a series of group homes, removed from the life she knew. Hatch wanted to continue working at a thrift store and living with friends Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, who employed her and took her into their home last year when she needed a place to recover after a bicycle accident.
Legally, Hatch’s case came down to two questions: Was she an incapacitated adult in need of a guardian, and, if so, who would best serve in that role — her mother and stepfather, or Morris and Talbert?
But for national experts on the rights of people with disabilities, several of whom testified on Hatch’s behalf, the case was about much more. It was about an individual’s right to choose how to live and the government’s progress in providing the help needed to integrate even those with the most profound needs into the community.
In the end, Newport News Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh said he believed that Hatch, who has an IQ of about 50, needed a guardian to help her make decisions but that he had also taken into account her preferences. He designated Morris and Talbert her temporary guardians for the next year, with the goal of ultimately helping her achieve more independence.
“For anyone who has been told you can’t do something, you can’t make your own decisions, I give you Jenny Hatch — the rock that starts the avalanche,” her attorney, Jonathan Martinis, exulted after the decision.
Since the case began a year ago, Hatch had run away from several group homes.
“She said she got treated like a child,” Talbert testified earlier in the week. “She just kept saying she hates it here, she hates it here, ‘Please come get me.’ ”
He and Morris hired Hatch to work at Village Thrift, one of several businesses they own, five years ago and took her into their Hampton home in March 2012 after the bicycle accident, which landed her in the hospital with a back injury.
Talbert and Morris said that 21
2 months later, they allowed a caseworker with the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board to take Hatch to a group home because they believed it was the only way she’d qualify for a Medicaid waiver, which would entitle her to an array of in-home and community-based services. On Aug. 6, after the Medicaid waiver was approved, Hatch returned to live with Morris and Talbert.
Two days later, Hatch’s mother, Julia Ross, and her stepfather, Richard Ross, filed for guardianship.