Officer’s disputed inheritance ‘a matter of official corruption,’ says lawyer (NH)

BRENTWOOD — A legal dispute over a police officer’s estimated $1.8 million inheritance is ”a matter of official corruption,” so “the media and the public” have a right to know the details, said Portsmouth attorney Paul McEachern, during a Rockingham County Superior Court hearing on Monday.

The hearing before probate court Judge Peter Hurd was held in response to a motion filed by Hampton attorney Gary Holmes, who petitioned the court for a protective order to shield evidence in the case from public view.

In 2012, Holmes wrote a new will and trust for the late Geraldine Webber, transferring the bulk of her assets to Portsmouth police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin. The estate is being disputed by multiple parties who allege Webber had dementia when she executed the new estate plans and that Goodwin unduly influenced her before she named him her primary beneficiary.

Webber died Dec. 11, 2012 at the age of 93.

Holmes’ attorney Ralph Holmes (no relation) argued in court Monday that his client has a duty to maintain Webber’s privacy, that her personal records are protected by state and federal laws, and that Gary Holmes’ communications with Webber are protected by attorney-client privilege.

He said “the press is not a party to this case” and Webber was not a public figure, so case law allows for details to be kept confidential.

Representing the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Shriners Hospitals for Children, attorney David Eby told the judge Holmes must demonstrate “special circumstances” in order for records to be sealed and that he failed to prove any exist. While Webber was not a public figure, Eby said, allegations that Goodwin used his “power as a police officer to unduly influence” her have “generated a lot of interest” in the case.

Eby said there’s evidence that Goodwin introduced Webber to Holmes, who wrote the new will and trust, which then benefitted Goodwin.

“The public has a right to know what happened in this case, “Eby said. “It involves a police officer and perhaps the police department itself.”

McEachern told the court Goodwin used his position as a police officer to influence Webber and he read aloud a police report documenting a call when Goodwin disputed a physician’s report that Webber had dementia.

“He came to know her strictly in his capacity as a police officer and the public has a right to know,” McEachern said.

McEachern represents clients who were beneficiaries of a will Webber signed in 2009 through Portsmouth attorney James Ritzo, but were omitted, or named as lesser beneficiaries in the will and trust she signed with Holmes.

Attorney Lisa Bellanti appeared on behalf of Webber’s disabled grandson, who was named in Webber’s 2009 will as an heir, but was omitted from her last will and trust. Bellanti said her client wants the case to be heard in the public, is her sole heir, and he believes she did not have the mental capacity to endorse the new will and trust.

Representing Goodwin, attorney Chuck Doleac said he disputed the allegations about the Portsmouth officer, but would address them at a later time. Goodwin has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Ten lawyers appeared for Monday’s hearing, including Portsmouth City Attorney Robert Sullivan, who told the court the city takes no position on whether or not evidence should be sealed. In Webber’s 2009 will, the Portsmouth police and fire departments were each designated to receive one-quarter of her estate, after the sale of her home and other assets. In the will and trust Webber endorsed through Holmes, the departments are each named as $25,000 beneficiaries.

At the conclusion of Monday’s hearing, the judge said he’d take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling at a later time.


Officer’s disputed inheritance ‘a matter of official corruption,’ says lawyer
Elizabeth Dinan
October 21, 2013