GREENBELT – A 10-year-old orphan who filed for bankruptcy in an effort to save his family’s home from foreclosure will not have his day in court until he has a legal guardian.
A federal bankruptcy court trustee Tuesday delayed a decision on Shawn Powell’s bankruptcy petition until Jan. 12, after a Prince George’s County Circuit Court hearing on guardianship for the boy and his brother.
The ruling came as a disappointment to the attorney representing Shawn, who he said may be the youngest person ever to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection.
“I was hoping to get this over with. Shawn has missed enough days of school coming to court as is,” said Brett Weiss, the attorney.
The hearing may be pushed back yet again, however. Another family member stepped forward Tuesday and said she will fight to be named guardian of the boys, who are currently living with an uncle.
Shawn, his 12-year-old brother Ray Jr., and 9-year-old sister Tracy, were orphaned in February when their father, Ray, died of liver disease. Their mother, Patricia, had been killed in a car accident almost exactly a year before.
After their father’s death, Tracy went to Silver Spring to live with a half-sister, Tasha Kelly, 19. Shawn and Ray Jr. stayed in the family’s Laurel house, where their uncle, Jeffrey Powell, now lives with them.
Shawn filed for bankruptcy in August to avoid eviction until the family could collect on the father’s $100,000 insurance policy. The insurance company has said it will not pay out the policy until a court-appointed guardian completes a claim form.
Powell has petitioned for guardianship of the boys and that case is set to be heard Dec. 18 in county circuit court. But Kelly said Tuesday that she plans to file her own circuit court petition requesting guardianship of all three children.
Kelly, the daughter of Patricia Powell, said she is filing for custody because it is “the right thing to do.”
“[Jeffrey Powell] is not fit to raise those kids. He can’t take care of them. He can’t even take care of himself,” she said. “Those kids have been through so much. They are too young to keep going through this.”
Kelly said she only found out about the case on television. She accused Powell of distancing her from her brothers and attempting to gain custody of the boys for financial reasons.
“It’s not healthy for him to keep them away from their family. He thinks if he can have the boys, he can get the money and have somewhere to stay,” she said.
“I don’t want the house. I don’t care what happens to the house. I think the money should be put in a trust fund until the boys get old enough to decide what they want to do with it,” Kelly said.
Powell denied having financial motives and said he was only trying to be there for the kids since no one else was.
“As I see it, I’m the only one who has been there for the boys,” he said. “Any money that comes to them goes into the house.
“If I was after money, I would move us all to an apartment instead of trying to save the house,” he said.
Powell, 36, who said he is unable to work because of a stab wound he suffered two years ago, has been caring for the boys with the $484 monthly disability checks he receives. The boys receive $327 a month in Social Security.
Powell said he was surprised by Kelly’s opposition to his custody petition.
“It’s a surprise to me but that’s what happens when money gets involved,” he said. “If she wants to fight, then I am ready. It’s nothing I can’t handle. It’s nothing I haven’t been through before.”
Weiss said he is confident the court will grant guardianship to Powell.
“As a practical matter, the boys have been living at home with Jeff. That’s their home. It’s very unlikely a judge will change that,” he said.
Kelly, who said she works for both Montgomery County Recreation and Parks and a day-care center, said she put off her college plans to care for Tracy and is willing to do the same for Shawn and Ray Jr.
“I know it’s going to be hard. I know it’s going to be a lot, but it’s what my mother would have wanted me to do,” she said.