Smoron estate dispute takes sharp turn from messy to messier

Rogue Lawyer Makes Probate Mess Even Messier
Rick Green
February 17, 2011
Hartford Courant,0,1277270.column

It would be difficult to find a more dubious lawyer to represent you than Jacek Smigelski.

He’s been caught overcharging clients. He lied to a judge. He often fails to show up in court. There’s a long record of his habit of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. He is facing a 15-month suspension of his law license.

Earlier this week a judge ordered him to come up with the nearly $300,000 he owes in connection with one of his client-scams — or face arrest on Feb. 28.

How does this rogue lawyer keep getting clients? How does he still have a law license?

Which might be the story, were it not for the fact that Smigelski is closely involved with the infamous Smoron Farm case in Southington, a tale that has taken another turn for the weird: Smigelski is now messing up a solution to this probate court outrage.

The Smoron Farm, you will recall, was given to longtime farmhand Sam Manzo under the will of Josephine Smoron, who died in 2009. But under the questionable oversight of former Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello, Smoron’s estate was dramatically altered and a plan devised to funnel the coveted property into the hands of a local developer, Carl Verderame. Local planning officials even approved Verderame’s proposed sports center development, despite the fact that the land is still tied up in court.

Meccariello — who left office in disgrace to form (what else?) a probate consulting service — was censured by a state oversight panel for removing Manzo from the will. The lawyer who changed Smoron’s will, John Nugent, hired Smigelski to represent him in court and in mediation proceedings designed to clean up the mess that Meccariello created.

Instead, Smigelski has assisted Nugent in blocking a resolution that would allow Manzo to inherit the farm.

“I’m trying to figure out what he’s doing. I want to get this resolved,” said Hartford lawyer Elliot Gersten, who is representing Manzo.

Most observers agree that Smoron’s original will, which gives the farm to Manzo, should be adhered to. But Nugent and Smigelski are balking, using delaying tactics, filing motions and wasting court time, to block this sensible solution. Nugent, meanwhile, also faces disbarment proceedings for his role in the Manzo case.

Smigelski “knows he has certain rights within the system,” said William Sweeney, who represents Stanley and Kazimierz Kosiorek, two brothers who were charged outrageous fees by Smigelski in a case that dates to 2006. “He pushes those rights until the very end.”

In the Kosiorek case, a Superior Court judge found that Smigelski engaged in “unethical conduct willfully and intentionally” when he paid himself a huge fee in a probate case — more than $65,000 for overseeing a transaction in which the Kosiorek estate received $155,300 from the sale of a house.

“Smigelski knew when he calculated his bill that he was charging an excessive fee,” Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman concluded, noting that the lawyer had been reprimanded on four different occasions since 1997. “He knew that his conversion of the funds … was likely to place his client in a significant position of financial disadvantage.”

Smigelski now owes nearly $300,000 in interest, fees and penalties from the Kosiorek case. He could be in jail within a couple of weeks if he doesn’t pay. That still leaves Manzo wondering what will happen to the crumbling old Smoron Farm, which sits alongside I-84 near Queen Street.

In addition to the lingering uncertainty about the will, the developer who was to purchase the farm under the shell game perpetrated by Nugent and Meccariello is suing for his right to buy the land.

Manzo told me Thursday he is still living in the old Smoron farmhouse and taking care of the dozen cows on the farm as well as a calf — Josie B. — born last fall.

“They still don’t want to give it up,” Manzo said of Smigelski and Nugent. “It’s disgusting.”

It sure is.