AL attorney jailed for contempt, probate judge set for jail

Brock jailed for contempt
Attorney connected to Phillips case failed to show at court
Stephanie Nelson
October 14, 2009
Andalusia Star-News
Covington County Probate Judge Ben Bowden yesterday ordered a Conecuh County attorney to spend 24 hours in jail for contempt.

Bowden’s ruling presented yet another legal problem for Evergreen attorney John Brock, who in August pled guilty to third degree perjury for his role in the probate case of Cary Douglas Piper, and is being suspended by the state bar as a result. It was from Piper’s estate that former Covington County Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips was found guilty of stealing $1.8 million. Phillips was convicted in October 2008 of theft and ethics charges and sentenced to three years in prison. She has exhausted her appeals options and is to surrender to authorities no later than Oct. 24.

In the contempt case, Brock was hired in March to represent Sonya Scott in the probate case of her stepfather, Sanders Clark Jr.

Clark, who lived on Dunson Street in Andalusia, died in September 2007; his wife passed away in May 2007. Probate records indicate neither had a properly recorded will on file at the Covington County Courthouse.

Clark’s father, Sanders Clark Sr., and his sister, Marcy Terry, filed their claims on the estate through the probate court immediately after Clark’s death. The estate was valued at less than $100,000.

Clark’s stepdaughter made a claim against the estate and presented a handwritten will witnessed by only person.

The case progressed until June of this year when the parties involved were required to present themselves before Probate Judge Ben Bowden to determine the validity of a handwritten will made by the Clarks.

Brock failed to appear at a hearing Sept. 10 hearing set for Scott to present her case. The hearing was conducted without him, and aside from a small reimbursement of expenses, Scott’s claim against the estate was denied.

Probate records show that testimony about Brock’s absence was included in that Sept. 10 hearing.

Brock subsequently was ordered to appear before Bowden to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. At that hearing Wednesday, Bowden found him guilty.

Bowden’s order stated Brock’s explanation for his absence was found “to be lacking and borders on untruthful. The hearing in question concerned an objection his client’s claims filed on (the estate). Ms. Scott testified she learned of the hearing from Mr. Brock … For Mr. Brock to now claim he did not believe the hearing concerned him and his client is unbelievable.

“Mr. Brock has a lack of candor with this Court in connection with the Piper Estate. This history, along with his failure to appear in this case, combined with his explanation of that failure, concern the Court that he fails to understand the importance of his relationship and duty to a court of law,” Bowden’s order states.

The order stated a finding of contempt is necessary to address Brock’s “documented lack of respect for this Court.”

Brock was taken to the county jail where he was to be held without bond for 24 hours. He was also ordered to pay a $20 fine plus court costs.

Bowden, when asked, stated it would not be appropriate to comment on an ongoing case.

In a certified letter from Brock to Bowden included in the probate file, Brock stated that he is being suspended by the Alabama State Bar today, Oct. 15, 2009, and presented a motion to withdraw from the Clark case.

Bowden granted the motion to withdraw in his contempt order.

Phillips could stay in county jail
Meeks: Former judge may have to await transfer to state prison
Stephanie Nelson
October 12, 2009
Andalusia Star-News
At the end of her 15-day deadline, former Covington County Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips will follow the same process “as anyone else booked into the county jail,” Sheriff Dennis Meeks said Monday.

Phillips, who was convicted in October 2008 of theft by deception of $1.8 million and intentionally using her position for unlawful personal gain and sentenced in November 2008, was notified Friday her appeals request was denied by the Alabama Supreme Court. As a result, she must now surrender to the county sheriff within 15 days.

When she arrives, it will be business as usual, Meeks said.

“First, she has to turn herself in, and I’m sure she’ll wait until the 15th day to do that,” he said. “Now, that could be five minutes before midnight on Oct. 24. Until then, the ball is in her court.

“Once she arrives, she will face the same booking process as anyone else,” he said.

Meeks said once the booking process is completed, Phillips would be placed in the female section of the county jail because “I have nowhere else to put her,” and wait until the state’s Department of Corrections gives notice it will accept her.

“What happens is her transcript is sent up, which will place her in their system,” he said. “From there, it will go to the transfer division, who has a 30-day window to tell us when to bring her.

“She’s technically a state prisoner already,” he said. “We will just be housing her, and from that point, she’s basically in a holding point until the DOC calls for her.”

At the time of her transfer, Phillips will be sent to the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, where she will begin serving two concurrent sentences of 10 years, which were split for her to serve three years incarceration. Once released, Phillips must undergo three years of supervised probation.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price, who issued the split sentence, will retain jurisdiction over the case, which means he could enter an order to release Phillips before her three years are up.

Meeks said he has had no communication with Phillips and does not know when she intends to turn herself in.