Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Conservative activists agitate for probate reform

Local conservative investigative journalist instigates change in abstruse system which often encourages probate disputes

An attorney who serves as counsel for Texas State Technical College at Waco allegedly persuaded McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis to sign a false letter testamentary.

His actions led to an estate of more than $100,000 being placed in the name of a false heiress who in turn wrote him a check for $5,000, according to a multi-count Grand Jury indictment returned in 54th State District Criminal Court.

Attorney Ray Rushing will face the charges following an Attorney General's investigation which yielded the indictment in June.

According to the allegations, Mr. Rushing swindled the rightful heiress to the estate of Eugene Handly, Jean Tarlton, by persuading an elderly and ailing Mr. Handly to sign his estate over to Melissa Adler.

"I'm denying the charges and I look forward to having my day in court, when I can present my case and clear my name," said Mr. Rushing. The case is still pending. If convicted, he and Ms. Adler face penitentiary and state felony jail time.

Few of the hotly disputed cases involving lawyers' alleged abusive practices involve so straightforward a set of allegations.

Consider the long history of the Anna Nicole Smith battle for half of the $1.6 billion estate of her 88-year-old husband, Howard Marshall II, a Houston man who met her at Rick's Cabaret where she had been stripping under various stage names such as Miss Nikki following her arrival from Mexia and the subsequent recognition of her formidable zaftig attributes as a Playboy Playmate of the Month.

The battle for the estate lasted far longer than the marriage; in the end, Mr. Marshall's son, almost twice his step-mother's age, prevailed and Ms. Smith received only $88 million, a sum that was under appeal in the Supreme Court when she suffered an untimely death in 2007 at a Florida resort due to over medication with insomnia drugs. Her estate has still received no benefits because the matter is still under federal court scrutiny.

Then there are the ongoing disputes over reclamation of art works looted by Nazis during World War II. According to activist journalists in the growing blogosphere who cry out for tort reform and an end to behind the scenes probate maneuvering, “The U.S. Justice Department seems bent on undermining decades of efforts to secure a modicum of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs, at least with respect to Nazi-looted art.

“Inexplicably, the Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court to deny a rehearing of Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California was powerless to extend the statute of limitations for claims involving Nazi-looted art. The Supreme Court in June did as it was asked and declined to take the case.” So, the Norton Simon Art Museum will get to keep the plundered art and sculpture looted from Jewish victims of Nazi hatred, after all.

Allegations of murder most foul often accompany the lawsuits, motions, filings and pleadings in the decades-long cases. There have been wrongful death judgments denied by judges who found that the cause of the deceased was probably murder on the part of the defendant in the civil suit! It happens every day.

Perhaps one of the saddest Texas cases is the ongoing saga of the Hamp Williams estate.

Mr. Williams was a black Civil War veteran who parlayed a government veterans land grant into alleged ownership of thousands of acres of timber land in Panola County. A Sheriff in the county seat of Carthage allegedly murdered his son, shot him down in cold blood, and the family fled to Texarkana during the backlash of racism that followed the ugly period of Reconstruction.

Over the years, according to their case, control of the trust that holds title to the land was taken over by a cartel of oil and gas interests led by the Shreveport, Louisiana Glassel family trust, an enterprise which later became cotnrolling in the energy trading firm known as Enron.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Hudnall family, heirs of Hamp Williams, a family that is now far flung in California and Chicago, “A Bill of Sale Conveyance" acquired by The Final Call for the development of Enron Oil and Gas Carthage Inc. dated March 31, 1995, shows well-drilling agreements with then-Enron Vice President Andrew N. Hoyle "at a measured depth of 9,700 feet on the Schlumberger Electrical Log in the Carthage Unit Well No. 27, M.S. Potts Survey, Panola County, Texas.”

M.S. Potts, or the Mary S. Potts Survey, is also known as land abstract 922, one of the known parcels of land originally owned by Hamp Williams, according to the Hudnall/Guthrie lawsuit.

According to the Railroad Commission Office in Austin, Tex., abstract 922, known as the "discovery well," is said to have anywhere from 40-60 active oil wells on the property. Remaining parcels of land, roughly 13, alleged to belong to Mr. Williams also possess wells on them, say his descendants.

"Enron and/or affiliates unlawfully, through false pretenses and without permission or consent from the Plaintiffs, the rightful and lawful owners, caused to be placed several assignments, lease agreements, and royalty leases for the minerals on the subject property; actions performed with oppression, fraud, malice and with reckless indifference to the rights of the Plaintiffs," says the suit filed by the family.

The family has successfully attached their claim to a bankruptcy suit and they are seeking more than $50 billion in money damages.

One of the heirs wrote a local journalist about the matter:

my name is William G Hudnall we have an estate in Carthage Texas Panola county placed in trust by my great grand father Hamp Williams abst 922 mary s potts survay called the Carthage unit ;Erso; Glassell and Glassell Production company the main office is in Huston texas .called EOG .Glassell producing co. 1021 main st Huston texas .Alford C Glassell 111 the third trustee the third generation trustee .they said that there was to much money for niggers and would not approve a distrabution they put the Glassell trust on top of the 6 Hamp Williams trust and the district clerk has been supressing the Hamp Williams trust for many years ; every time we send an attorney there they buy them ; this is a part of the Enron Scandle Enron Oill and gass of Huston texas is cvontrolled by Alford C Glassell the third Our Trustee who has breached many times cant get a lawer to fight them 300 lawers employed by our ferm and none are working on our behalf ;I live in San Jose California ... trust has been abused sence 1942 Will you please help ;The Lawers For Glassell are Venson and Elkons Being paid by our estate to fight us ; and to keep us away PLEASE HELP ; Talk soon

The Tea Party-affiliated organization Americans For Prosperity has similar interests as the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation to try to bring about reform. Chief among their ideas include creation of a separate “solicitor” class of non-lawyer practitioner to shepherd estates through the probate process without the folderol of lawyers generating billable hours while practicing legal protectionism.

Essentially, their position is that by erecting a barrier to practicing law without a license, the legal profession and judiciary is throwing a stumbling block before the public that prevents anything like fair competition in the constant disputes that are seemingly often exacerbated by – you guessed it – the legal profession.

A local policy advisor, Lou Ann Anderson is a working journalist who is a producer for the blog http://www.EstateOfDenial.com and regularly updates news items on the National Examiner.Com pages as the Austin Legal Examiner.

She may be reached at info@estateofdenial.com

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