A Superior Court judge has vacated court orders that prevented a Southington woman from leaving her estate to her caretaker, sending the long-simmering Smoron Farm controversy back to Probate Court.
The decision this week by Judge William H. Bright means that Sam Manzo may finally inherit the ramshackle 90-acre farm — valued at about $1 million — that Josephine Smoron bequeathed to him in two wills, one in 2004 and another in 1996.
Bright’s ruling “allows our client to work to get the property that he should have had three-and-a-half years ago back under his control,” said Manzo’s lawyer, Eliot Gersten. “It is pretty clear that each and all of the lawyers have some responsibility for this mess. … Justice delayed is not justice denied.”
The estate now goes back to Probate Court, this time before Hartford Probate Judge Robert Killian, who will attempt to mediate a resolution and resolve questions about Smoron’s will. Manzo, meanwhile, has malpractice lawsuits pending against the lawyers involved in the case.
The case might have gone unchallenged if Manzo, who worked for Smoron on the farm for years, hadn’t started filing complaints during the summer of 2009. At one point during the long-running dispute, a probate judge ruled that the court had no authority to reconsider a decision that blocked him from inheriting the old farm, located adjacent to I-84 near Queen Street.
Instead of following Smoron’s will, Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello in May 2009 approved creation of two trusts proposed by Smoron’s court-appointed conservator, John T. Nugent. This effectively disinherited Manzo — despite the fact that the elderly and frail Smoron sought to give Manzo the bulk of her estate. Instead of making sure Smoron’s farm went to Manzo, Nugent arranged for three local Catholic churches to benefit from the sale of the property to a local developer.
Valerie DePaolo, appointed by the Probate Court as Smoron’s lawyer, and Matthew LeFevre, hired by Nugent to assist him, also received a sharp rebuke from Judge Bright. Numerous state statutes were ignored in the handling of the case, which has drawn wide attention.
“There is no question that the trusts are inconsistent with Ms. Smoron’s 2004 will, and even her 1996 will,” Bright wrote in an opinion dated March 19. “The fact that nobody among Attorney Nugent, Attorney LeFevre, Attorney DePaolo and Judge Meccariello appears to have given serious thought to any of these issues is difficult to understand.”
“Each seems to have assumed that one of the others was considering what was best for Ms. Smoron. As a result, it appears to the court that nobody did,” said Bright, who concluded that the attempt to create the trusts “should have never been filed.”
Although Manzo was named in the will, Meccariello held a hearing on May 12, 2009, to consider creation of the trusts. No one, besides Meccariello, attended the hearing. Manzo was not told about it.
“The court heard no testimony regarding whether the trusts were in Ms. Smoron’s best interests,” Bright concluded. “The court infers that Judge Meccariello issued his order on May 12, 2009 without conducting a hearing of any kind.”
Meanwhile, Bright also challenged why Nugent would seek to put much of the assets of a 92-year-old woman, living near death in a nursing home, in a trust where she would not have access to income from it. Smoron died in June of 2009, a month after her will was changed.
“Why the conservator would even think to leave his conserved person in such an untenable position is hard to imagine,” Bright wrote. “The proposed trusts would be of no benefit to her whatsoever.” Smoron died in June 2009.
Manzo, meanwhile, has remained on the farm taking care of Smoron’s cows.
“After four years it is coming to a close. It wasn’t right for them to do this,” Manzo said. “After what I went through, I’m just very happy.”
Judge Rules In Favor Of Caretaker In Smoron Farm Case
Southington Estate Will Go Back To Probate Court
March 20, 2013
The Hartford Courant