Jury sides with caretaker in ‘Wizard of Oz’ actor’s estate case (MO)

CLAYTON St. Louis County jurors returned a quick verdict in favor of “Wizard of Oz” actor Mickey Carroll’s caretaker on Friday, rejecting claims that she owed money to his estate.

Carroll’s nieces and nephews alleged the woman, Linda Dodge, took advantage of him and isolated him from family while enjoying meals, trips and other perks that came with his fame.

They had sought up to $249,000 that they alleged she drained from Carroll’s account through that manipulation, plus punitive damages.

But after a week-long trial, jurors took less than two hours to decide in favor of Dodge on the claims of conversion, undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty.

“I did love Mickey Carroll, and it showed in court,” said Dodge, in reacting to the verdict.

Dodge had defended her relationship with Carroll, saying it was a friendship that developed over more than 20 years and benefited both of them. Her attorneys argued that Carroll was fully cognizant in spending his money, and did so generously.

Jurors were instructed to find in favor of the plaintiffs if they believed the family’s claims were more likely to be true than not true.

Carroll was the stage name for Michael Finocchiaro, who played one of the Munchkins in the famous movie. He was 89 when he died in 2009 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

This week, Dodge’s attorneys called witnesses to paint Carroll as a generous man who couldn’t spend money fast enough.

They said he dined out almost daily and tipped just about everyone in the restaurant. He also donated heavily to charity, including giving about $26,000 to the Normandy Police Department in one 14-month period.

It was at a charity event that Dodge, 54, said she and her husband first met Carroll and offered him a ride home. There were many rides over the years. The couple also ran errands for Carroll and his disabled nephew, spent holidays and birthdays with them, and in Carroll’s final years, took over his physical care.

“Ms. Dodge was there for the good times with the decedent, but the flip side is she was there for the bad times too,” said one of her attorneys, Christopher Blaesing, in closing arguments.

He challenged the plaintiff’s attorney’s suggestion that Dodge isolated Carroll from his family.

“How do you socially isolate someone from people who have already abandoned him?” he asked.

Blaesing also questioned why a private investigator for the estate was never able to show money going into Dodge’s pocket.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Patrick J. McCarthy, reminded jurors how Dodge would drive Carroll to the bank, where he would withdraw $500 to $1,000 almost daily.

He asked them to question whether it was Dodge’s influence that caused Carroll to change his phone number three times, making him unreachable to family.

McCarthy told them to draw their own inferences, particularly in light of the perks. In Carroll’s company, Dodge got to meet Albert Pujols and Bob Costas and gained special access at various sports and “Wizard of Oz” events, he said.

“Linda Dodge wanted to take over every aspect of Mickey’s life,” McCarthy said.

Afterward, Carroll’s family said they had sought the money for his disabled nephew.

A $100,000 equity loan on Carroll’s home — which Dodge claimed no role in — was returned to the estate as part of a settlement with the bank in the same lawsuit, they said.

Attribution:

Jury sides with caretaker in ‘Wizard of Oz’ actor’s estate case
Jennifer S. Mann
May 16, 2014
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/jury-sides-with-caretaker-in-wizard-of-oz-actor-mickey/article_26b8ad7e-6ed7-53ad-b5ab-746825dc69a7.html

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