Farm caretaker sues over probate mess (CT)

Sam Manzo, the Southington farm caretaker hoodwinked out of his inheritance, is fighting back.

Manzo is now suing the lawyers who were supposed to adhere to the wishes of Josephine Smoron, who died nearly two years ago.

Faithful readers know I have made a big deal out of the Smoron Farm case because I believe it illustrates some of the fundamental failures of our probate courts, which too often operate without proper oversight. If there’s any justice in the world, the folks who engineered this con game will pay for their actions, which have shaken confidence in the probate courts.

Smoron wanted to give her farm to Manzo, who had been taking care of it with her for years. But as the 90-year-old Smoron lay dying, the lawyer appointed as her conservator, John Nugent, altered her will, diverting the estate’s assets to a developer who sought the property.

When the double-dealings came to light, the probate judge who approved the change in the will, Bryan Meccariello, was forced to withdraw from his re-election race. He was censured by a probate judicial oversight panel.

Nugent faces possible disbarment for his role in the case.

Manzo, who still lives on the Smoron Farm in Southington, is still trying to unravel the mess created by Nugent and Meccariello.

Under the changes made by Nugent and approved by Meccariello, the estate would go to three local churches, who would in turn sell the farm to a local developer. The churches have disavowed any interest in the property. The developer, Carl Verderame, is also suing to enforce a purchase agreement he made with Nugent. That agreement was never approved by a probate judge.

“The poor guy has been through hell,” said Eliot B. Gersten, one of Manzo’s lawyers. “He’s been disinherited and that’s what this is all about.”

Barry Pontolillo, another lawyer representing Manzo, said they are trying “to help Sam get back to square one.”

According to one of the two suits Manzo’s lawyers filed in connection with the case, Nugent “never met Ms. Smoron; he had not reviewed her probate file; he had not spoken with any of her relatives or friends and he did not discuss the negotiations or sale with her.”

The lawsuits “are meritless,” said Hartford lawyer James Sullivan, who represents Nugent. He said a case now before the state Supreme Court raises questions about whether Nugent, as a court-appointed conservator, can be sued.

Peter Ponziani, who represents Matthew Lefevre, another lawyer who worked with Nugent, declined to comment. Valerie DePaulo, Smoron’s court-appointed lawyer, who is also being sued, was not available.


Farm Caretaker Sues Over Probate Mess
Rick Green
May 19, 2011
Hartford Courant,0,984107.column