CT probate judge withdraws from race; church beneficiary status to be examined

Nugent asks for hearing on validity of trusts
Mary Ellen Godin
September 28, 2010
The Record-Journal (CT)
http://www.myrecordjournal.com/latestnews/article_b7518ab4-cb0b-11df-abbe-001cc4c03286.html

SOUTHINGTON –Attorney John T. Nugent the former conservator for Josephine Smoron, has asked the probate court for a hearing on three churches’ request to decline interest in two trusts he created.

The trusts, created weeks before she died in June 2009, were funded with some cash and about 90 acres of prime land. After her death Nugent became trustee.

But Smoron had two wills. A 1996 document names members of the  Scripo family and a 2004 will that named her caretaker Samuel Manzo and left a smaller share of the estate to Scripo. Both parties have attorneys fighting the creation and funding of the trusts.

The churches have since declined any interest in Smoron’s property. But Nugent also signed a purchase agreement with a local developer to sell him property for $1.5 million. An attorney for the developer said the sale contract is valid regardless of whether the sale is completed by the trustee or a beneficiary.

Nugent claims that the trust still stands as is, because the churches missed a one-year deadline to appeal the May 12, 2009 decree that created the trusts and therefore have to accept its terms.

Censured Probate Judge Ends Election Bid
September 28, 2010
WTIC News
http://wtic.cbslocal.com/2010/09/28/censured-probate-judge-ends-election-bid/

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A Connecticut probate judge has withdrawn his bid for re-election days after an independent panel censured him for a “grave injustice” in the handling of a woman’s will last year.

State probate leaders on Tuesday said Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello has made the right decision by ending his candidacy.

The Council on Probate Judicial Conduct released a report last week saying Meccariello ignored the woman’s wishes to give her estate to her caretaker.

The report says Meccariello instead gave Josephine Smoron’s dairy farm in Southington to three Catholic churches that want to sell the property to a sports complex developer for $1.5 million.

Smoron was 92 when she died last year. Her 2004 will left her estate to caretaker Sam Manzo, who is suing to overturn Meccariello’s decision.

Meccariello acknowledged making mistakes.

Probate Judge In Smoron Case Drops Out Of Re-Election Race
Ken Byron
September 27, 2010
Hartford Courant
http://www.courant.com/community/southington/hc-southington-meccariello-0928-20100927,0,7836577.story

SOUTHINGTON — — Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello has dropped his bid for re-election, a week after a state probate council censured him for his handling of a valuable estate that an elderly Southington woman wanted to leave to her longtime caretaker.

Meccariello said Monday that he was dropping out because widespread attention from the Josephine Smoron probate case has complicated his work as a probate judge as well as his re-election campaign. He said that even if he won re-election, the Smoron case could continue to be a distraction.

“It’s a sad decision, but this way I’m no longer a lightning rod for the probate system,” Meccariello said. “This is the best thing for the system as a whole.”

Judge Meccariello Withdraws From Probate Race
Rick Green
September 27, 2010
Hartford Courant
http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2010/09/judge-meccariello-withdraws-fr.html

Bryan Meccariello, at the center of a controversial altering of a dying woman’s will, pulled out of the probate court race for Cheshire and Southington today.

“I was just notified by our registrar of voters,” said Cheshire Town Clerk Carolyn Soltis. “From what I understand he has withdrawn.”

A state oversight panel found Meccariello, a Democrat, guilty of judicial misconduct earlier this month.

More later.

Conn. probate judge abandons re-election bid after being censured
Associated Press
September 27, 2010
Daily Journal
http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/7fbc61baf84449e797ac0e95beacb19b/CT–Probate_Judge_Censured/

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut probate judge has withdrawn his bid for re-election days after an independent panel censured him for a “grave injustice” in the handling of a woman’s will last year.

State probate leaders on Tuesday said Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello has made the right decision by ending his candidacy.

The Council on Probate Judicial Conduct released a report last week saying Meccariello ignored the woman’s wishes to give her estate to her caretaker.

The report says Meccariello instead gave Josephine Smoron’s dairy farm in Southington to three Catholic churches that want to sell the property to a sports complex developer for $1.5 million.

Smoron was 92 when she died last year. Her 2004 will left her estate to caretaker Sam Manzo, who is suing to overturn Meccariello’s decision.

Meccariello acknowledged making mistakes.

EDITORIAL: Impeach This Probate Judge
September 27, 2010
The Hartford Courant
http://dailyme.com/story/2010092700002533/editorial-impeach-probate-judge.html

Sept. 27–How badly does a Connecticut probate judge have to misbehave before the Council on Probate Judicial Conduct really lowers the boom?

As outrageous as his conduct was, as destructive as it was to the public’s trust in the probate system, Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello last week was only censured by a weak-kneed Council on Probate Judicial conduct.

Judge Meccariello deserved harsher discipline for his mishandling of the estate of Josephine Smoron. He deserved the ultimate that the council could hand down — a recommendation for impeachment.

The judge should resign his office immediately or face impeachment by the General Assembly — unless the voters in the newly combined Southington-Cheshire probate district throw him out in the Nov. 2 election.

And if state prosecutors aren’t looking for possible criminal conduct on the part of one or more people involved in the virtual hijacking of the Smoron estate, they should.

This is a frightening story.

Josephine Smoron executed a will in 2004 that, except for a small bequest to Kathleen Scirpo, bequeathed her real and personal property, which was worth more than $1 million, to Samuel Manzo, her longtime caretaker. Ms. Smoron, who died at 92 in 2009, had no children and was never married.

Her intent as written in the 2004 will was plain enough, and the Council on Probate Judicial Conduct noted that from the evidence it reviewed during a lengthy investigation, “there is no doubt that Ms.Smoron was competent to execute that will.”

The council further noted that in a will dated Dec. 12, 1996, Ms. Smoron included the following language: “Any church or churches which may have been named in any prior wills are also intentionally and not inadvertently omitted.”

Nevertheless, in 2009, with Ms. Smoron ill and dying, a deal was cooked up in Judge Meccariello’s probate court with Ms. Smoron’s court-appointed conservator that transferred her assets to two trusts.

Upon her death, the proceeds of the trusts were to be given in equal parts to the three churches excluded by her in the 1996 will.

The churches, in turn, planned to sell the Smoron dairy farm to a developer who wants to build an $18 million sports complex there.

In what the probate council has rightly called “a grave injustice,” Mr. Manzo, the man Ms. Smoron wanted to inherit her property and other assets, was instead disinherited by the action of the probate court.

Further, Mr. Manzo was not even notified of the May 12, 2009 hearing at which the trusts were approved.

What’s more, at hearings on the complaint ultimately brought by Mr. Manzo, Judge Meccariello absurdly denied knowledge of the 2004 will — an assertion easily disproved by the evidence.

Finally, this was not Judge Meccariello’s first trip before the Council on Probate Judicial Conduct. In 2007, the judge was “publicly admonished” in a matter involving the boundaries between his roles as a probate judge, a land investor and an attorney representing developers. His activities, the council said, “gives the appearance of impropriety” and “constitutes an unfavorable judicial practice.”

In the Smoron matter, Judge Meccariello thwarted the intent of the testator, let her assets go to unwanted beneficiaries and lied to the disciplinary council about his knowledge of the prior will.

The council’s language in its censure was appropriately harsh.

It said he engaged in judicial misconduct, that he brought the judicial office in disrepute, that he failed to “perform properly the duties of his office” and so forth.

But harsh words lose their sting if that’s all there is. After the censure, they let him right back in his probate courtroom.

How can the public have confidence in a system like that?

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  • CZavodjancik

    The fact that this is taking this long to get resolved is rediculous. I feel bad for Sam Manzo. Will he have to pay taxes for all this time when this is finally settled?
    What about the town of Southington what will come of all this? To my knowledge this is a first? Lots of questions…