Jury incorrectly invalidated Mobile lawyer’s will, say lawyers for beneficiary
February 22, 2011
Marion “Tut” Wynne, who represented Judy Harold at the trial in December, urged Probate Judge Don Davis to toss the jury verdict.
“We had evidence of an original will that was submitted to the court,” Wynne said. “We had three witnesses who testified, including a notary public.”
Among the witnesses was prominent Mobile lawyer Richard Horne, who rented office space to Brunson. Horne testified that he personally witnessed Brunson sign the will, which left everything he owned to Judy Harold, his longtime girlfriend.
“To say that (Horne) participated in some sort of will forgery is just beyond the pale to me,” Wynne said Monday. “I submit that simply didn’t happen.”
Davis said he would rule at another time. If he upholds the verdict, Harold could take the case to the appeals courts. Otherwise, Brunson’s children would inherit the estate under a formula set out by state law.
Mary Beth Mantiply, who represents daughters Katie Brunson and Micki Brunson, said a jury’s verdict is presumed to be correct under state law.
She contended that she offered an “overwhelming amount of evidence” at the trial, including testimony from a handwriting expert, who said Brunson’s signature on the will was forged, and a computer expert, who testified that the will was created on Brunson’s computer two days after his death on March 10.
Mantiply also reminded Davis of testimony that Brunson was an English major and perfectionist, who never would have drafted a will that she said had some 25 errors.
In addition, Brunson’s daughter’s middle name was misspelled in the purported will, Mantiply said.
Brunson was a colorful figure in Mobile’s legal community. According to friends, he partied hard — too hard. He lost his license for several years following a federal drug conviction that resulted from his arrest in the 1990s with a sport utility vehicle full of marijuana.
Murnie Raley, Joseph Brunson’s half-brother, testified that Joseph told him on Jan. 31 of last year that he had a will leaving his estate to his children.
Davis also delayed ruling on motions to make Harold pay Mantiply’s attorney fees and to appoint Katie and Micki Brunson administrators of the estate.
Harold also faces a proceeding before Domestic Relations Judge Donald Banks over a $100,000 life insurance policy that changed the beneficiary from Katie and Micki Brunson to Harold about a year before Joseph Brunson’s death.
Mantiply contends that, too, was a forgery and that even if it was not, it would be invalid because it would violate a decree that was part of Brunson’s divorce from the girls’ mother.