Rick Green on Smoron estate mess

Smoron Farm Probate Mess Slowly Getting Cleaned Up
Rick Green
December 9, 2010
Hartford Courant

Gradually, the mess surrounding the Smoron Farm in Southington – where a probate judge and court-appointed conservator attempted to subvert the will of an elderly woman – is getting cleaned up.

A state grievance panel has found probable cause in a complaint filed by Sam Manzo, the caretaker who was supposed to inherit Josphine Smoron’s farm until John Nugent, the conservator, and Bryan Meccariello, the judge, engineered a deal that funneled the lucrative parcel of land to a local developer.

Meccariello withdrew as a candidate for re-election as Southington probate judge after he was sanctioned by a judicial oversight panel. As a result of the probable cause finding, Nugent faces a trial early next year that could mean disbarment for the veteran lawyer.

This sordid case is the latest example of why we need to keep a closer watch on both our probate judges and the lawyers they appoint as conservators.

This poor woman’s will was effectively nullified without her ever being consulted by her lawyer. Meccariello, when he approved the changes, held a court hearing where he was the only one present. Smoron died shortly after Meccariello’s decision in the case.

In a decision released Wednesday, the grievance panel found that Nugent failed to ever meet with Josephine Smoron, even though he was her court-appointed conservator in charge of all her finances. He changed the will to make three local churches the beneficiaries of Smoron’s estate and then made a deal with a developer to acquire the land.

According to the grievance committee’s finding, there is probable cause that Nugent violated a number of rules of professional conduct for lawyers, including “failure to abide by a client’s decisions” and a failure to “attempt to ascertain information necessary for proper representation” and failure “to protect the client.”

Nugent’s lawyer, James Sullivan of Hartford, told me that “the facts surrounding this case have been misuderstood. We look forward ultimately to setting the record straight and clearing up the confusion.”

Manzo is represented by Meriden lawyer Barry Pontolillo and Eliot Gersten of Hartford, who are fighting to return the farm to its rightful heir. Manzo’s appeal is now in Superior Court in Hartford.

The problem that remains is that Smoron’s estate, valued at somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million, is still in probate court and, as it stands, will still go to three local churches and then to a local developer who has a signed agreement to buy the land and develop it.

The churches have said they don’t want the land or the money. The developer still wants the land to build a sports complex – for which he has already obtained local zoning approvals. And Nugent is still fighting for the bogus deal. But the grievance panel’s finding is sure to help Manzo’s case.

I’ve been telling you about this Southington scam for nearly a year. It is still far from getting straightened out. But Manzo, who still lives on the Southington farm and takes care of Josephine Smoron’s cows, is moving closer to justice.