Former public administrator denied access to files

CARTHAGE, Mo. | Jasper County’s prosecutor has refused to allow Rita Hunter, former public administrator for the county, access to files about her former wards’ estates.

Federal authorities are looking into Hunter’s office after the Missouri Highway Patrol began investigating her in January, after she left office. Hunter took all the files of wards under the care of the public administrator’s office when she stepped down, but later returned about 30 boxes of files.

Additional files were recovered after officials served a search warrant.

But Hunter says she can’t answer questions from the court about former wards’ estates if she can’t get access to the files.

County prosecutor Dean Dankelson says the U.S. attorney’s office has asked him to keep the files locked away.

“Those records belong to the public administrator’s office, it’s just that I had the space to store them,” he said. “If the current public administrator needs them for her duties, she would have the ability to access them. But as far as anyone else, my position is there will be no access without a court order.”

Questions have been raised about Hunter’s handling of the property and finances of her wards, and also about final settlements on the estates of about 300 wards.

Final settlements filed on Hunter’s behalf late last year — and objections filed by Gretchen Long, attorney for new administrator Angie Casavecchia — have not yet been before a probate judge.

Long said she is not pushing for her objections to go to court while the investigation of Hunter’s office is under way.

Hunter said her attorneys have made repeated requests for access to files so she can answer questions about final settlements.

“I can’t answer questions before the court or do anything else without access to the files,” Hunter said last week when appearing before Probate Judge David Mouton. “My attorney has requested that repeatedly, and would have someone in the room with me.”

A Carthage law firm is being paid by the county to represent Hunter in cases not covered by liability insurance.