Widow of FF Denied Benefits Due to Transgender Status
Thomas and Nikki Araguz on their wedding day.
The Houston Chronicle via YellowBrix
July 26, 2010
WHARTON, TX — A judge Friday agreed to temporarily bar the allegedly transgendered widow of a Wharton firefighter from spending or collecting his death benefits.
State District Judge Randy Clapp ruled after hearing from Nikki Araguz that she received a check for $60,000 on Thursday, about a 10th of the total cash expected because of Thomas Araguz’s July 4 death in an egg farm inferno.
The firefighter’s parents have filed a lawsuit alleging that the marriage is void because Nikki Araguz was born a man.
Their attorney, Chad Ellis, said family members got what they wanted in Friday’s hearing and expect to go forward.
“Nikki Araguz is someone who has conned people her entire life,” said Ellis, an attorney for Simone Araguz, the firefighter’s mother. “We are getting daily reports that Tommy Araguz was not the first person who this has happened to. She has deceived other men into thinking that she was born a woman.”
If the marriage is voided in Texas, he said, all of the proceeds will go to Tommy Araguz’s two sons from a prior marriage.
He said Thomas Araguz testified in a deposition two months ago that he did not know his wife was born a man, which was flatly disputed by Nikki Araguz.
“I had been completely honest with him about my entire history: legally, financially, physically, mentally, and medically,” Nikki Araguz said after the hearing. “And I have evidence to prove such facts.”
She said she looks forward to the outcome of the case.
“My husband and I loved each other very much,” she said “When all of the evidence is presented, the whole world will know that I am Mrs. Capt. Thomas Araguz III, and I’m now a widow.”
Nikki Araguz’s attorneys have declined to comment on their defense but said they expect to file an answer to the lawsuit detailing their strategy in the coming weeks. No one allowed to spend
Attorney Darrell Steidley noted that family members who are suing Nikki Araguz also cannot accept or spend money associated with the death, including from private organizations.
“I think now it’s a more even playing field,” said Steidley. “We look forward to the next big step, which is our response.”
Thomas Araguz’s sister, Raquel Araguz, scoffed openly when Nikki Araguz broke down several times as she testified.
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Raquel Araguz said after the hearing. “She’s just a liar. Everything she said was a lie, and it just disgusted us.”
Friday’s hearing was the first step in litigation to determine whether the two were legally married. $600,000 in cash
The judge also heard from a Houston Fire Department community liaison who said the family can expect about $600,000 in cash, which ordinarily would be split between Nikki Araguz and the firefighter’s two sons. The family can expect other benefits as well.
Clapp also ordered that the firefighter’s gun and his captain’s badge be held in trust during the litigation.
In court, Nikki Araguz’s birth certificate, indicating that she was born a man, and an affidavit in which she changed her name were admitted into evidence.
The law that generally determines gender in Texas is a 1991 court case, Littleton v. Prange, which held that three factors – a person’s gonads, genitalia and chromosomes – determine gender at birth.
Nikki Araguz’s attorney, Phyllis Randolph Frye, who is transgendered, said she hopes this case will end that law.
“If the legal chips go where I hope they go, I hope that we can get Littleton overturned or rendered toothless,” she said.
Cristan Williams, a representative of the Transgendered Foundation of America, said her organization is accepting donations for Nikki Araguz’s living expenses and legal bills because her assets were frozen.