FORT WORTH — When Kristy Ward hired attorney Kimberly Ashley-Stevens to handle the adoption of her son two years ago, everything seemed to go smoothly.
So Ward said she was shocked when she recently was told by court officials that they were forced to overturn the adoption because Ward's signature was forged on crucial court documents. The case is one of several handled by Ashley-Stevens that had questionable signatures.
"It has devastated my life. My son is my whole life," Ward testified. "We hired her to help us, not to hurt us, and that's what she did."
State District Judge Tom Lowe temporarily suspended Ashley-Stevens' law license on Wednesday after hearing testimony from Ward, three judges and several family law attorneys who questioned the validity of signatures on documents in cases handled by Ashley-Stevens.
The state Commission for Lawyer Discipline asked to temporarily strip Ashley-Stevens, 40, of her license because it believed she posed a "substantial threat of irreparable harm to clients or prospective clients." Two adoptions handled by Ashley-Stevens have been overturned, and Ward said she is worried that her son's biological mother will resurface and try to regain custody.
Concerns about Ashley-Stevens' cases surfaced last year after it was discovered that former state District Judge Frank Sullivan's signature had been faked in an annulment. A search of court records this year found other cases with questionable signatures.
Ashley-Stevens has been indicted on the charge of submitting the document with Sullivan's fake signature to the courts. She also has been indicted on charges of handling documents with a forgery of Ward's signature and with the counterfeit signatures of two attorneys.
Sullivan, state District Judge Jerry Hennigan and Associate Judge Lisa Beebe testified Wednesday that until the recent allegations, Ashley-Stevens was thought to be a competent attorney who was skilled enough to fill in as an associate family court judge.
Still, the courts rely on attorneys to handle business properly, Sullivan and Hennigan said.
"I trust lawyers until they give me a reason to distrust them," Sullivan said.
Attorneys Karen Baylor and Lindsay DeVos said their signatures were forged on court documents in the Ward adoption — DeVos said her name was even misspelled. Attorney Terry Hickey said Ashley-Stevens told her in the courthouse Wednesday that she signed Hickey's name to an adoption document. But Hickey said she had never been involved in that case.
Attorney Alicia R. Johnson, who was forced to represent Ashley-Stevens at the last minute because Ashley-Stevens' attorney became ill, told the court that the proceeding was premature because of the pending criminal case and that the allegations against her client were based on speculation.
Ashley-Stevens declined to testify because of the criminal case, which is scheduled to go on trial in October.
After immediately taking away Ashley-Stevens' license, Lowe said he was considering the appointment of a custodian to oversee the reassignment of the attorney's current clients. Ashley-Stevens agreed to have all of her cases referred to other lawyers by June 2.