Judge Denies $1.4M County Clerk Estate "Conspiracy"

A Forsyth County judge completely dismissed a lawsuit on that claims a Winston-Salem lawyer, Forsyth County clerks and others conspired to steal $1.4M in assets from a Winston-Salem woman who had been declared mentally incompetent.

Judge John O. Craig of Forsyth Superior Court granted a motion to dismiss Susan Frye, Forsyth County Clerk of Court, from the lawsuit that Reginald Alston, a Winston-Salem attorney representing the estate of Mary Thompson, filed on Oct. 20, 2015. Mary Thompson was a former nurse and businesswoman who died Oct. 2, 2014.

The lawsuit alleged that Bryan Thompson, a public administrator in Forsyth County, was illegally appointed guardian of Mary Thompson’s estate.

The lawsuit alleged Thompson, Forsyth County clerks and others formed a criminal conspiracy designed to gain control of Mary Thompson’s estate and steal $1.4 million in assets from her.

In addition to Thompson and Frye, the lawsuit also named as defendants William Speaks, an attorney who represented Thompson’s niece, and Fred Flynt, an attorney appointed as Thompson’s guardian ad litem.

Everyone except Frye had been previously dismissed as defendants in the lawsuit. Alston had sought several things on Tuesday — to revive claims against the other defendants, add the state of North Carolina as a new defendant and amend the lawsuit. Craig denied all three of those things on Tuesday after a hearing.

Attorneys for Bryan Thompson sought sanctions against Alston and Doris Tucker, the current administrator for Mary Thompson’s estate. Calvin Brannon, Mary Thompson’s brother, had been the administrator of the estate, but he died in November 2015.

Craig didn’t make a decision on that request and decided to take it under advisement until either one of two things happened — Alston declined to appeal Craig’s decision after a period of 30 days or Alston does file an appeal and the N.C. Court of Appeals issues a decision, which could take a year.

Tuesday’s hearing was the latest in a long and contentious battle that started in 2007, when Mary Thompson’s family first challenged Bryan Thompson’s appointment as guardian of the estate.

The challenge has also resulted in two different opinions from the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The dispute centers on how Bryan Thompson was appointed. Leslie Pope, Mary Thompson’s niece, filed a petition on April 7, 2007, seeking to have her aunt declared mentally incompetent and to have a guardian appointed to oversee the estate.

Teresa Hinshaw, an assistant Forsyth County clerk, held a hearing on April 26, 2007, and later signed an order saying that Mary Thompson was mentally incompetent and another order appointing Bryan Thompson as guardian of the estate.

Alston has argued that those orders were invalid because Hinshaw failed to file-stamp, or enter those orders with the clerk’s office.

If the orders are invalid, then Bryan Thompson was never officially the guardian of Mary Thompson’s estate, Alston has argued.

And if Bryan Thompson was not the guardian of the estate, then anything he did on behalf of the estate was illegal, the lawsuit alleges. In 2014, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the appointment of Bryant Thompson was “without legal authority” precisely because Hinshaw’s order on mental incompetency was never entered into the clerk’s office.

Frye has said this was a mistake and it had been standard practice in 2007 for clerks not to stamp orders that had been prepared and executed by representatives in the clerk’s office. The issue, she said, has since been fixed.

Alston, however, has argued that this was not a mere error.

In the lawsuit and other court documents, Alston has argued that Bryan Thompson, several Forsyth County clerks, Speaks and Flynt conspired together in a criminal enterprise to illegally take over the estates of Mary Thompson and other people and steal their assets.

Alston said that Bryan Thompson stole monthly retirement checks, social-security checks, commissions and all of her real and personal property. Alston estimated the value of her estate at between $1.4 million and $1.6 million.

At the hearing, Alston argued that Craig should reconsider his previous decision because he had newly-discovered evidence that Bryan Thompson’s attorneys had lied.

He said that they had previously argued that an order of issuance of letters was an order of appointment. He called that a misrepresentation.

Craig, however, said that is not newly-discovered evidence and that Alston has argued the invalidity of the order appointing Bryan Thompson from the very beginning of the lawsuit.

Pamela Duffy and Andy Fitzgerald, both attorneys for Bryan Thompson, argued that Craig should sanction Alston and Tucker for continuing to pursue the lawsuit, even after most of the claims had been dismissed and Mary Thompson had died.

Duffy said Alston had continuously made inflammatory and false allegations against Bryan Thompson that have hurt his reputation.

She pointed out that the Winston-Salem Journal and The Chronicle have both reported on the case.

Duffy also cited what she contends are several factual inaccuracies in Alston’s allegations. One is the value of Mary Thompson’s estate.

She said it was not $1.4 million. According to a motion Thompson’s attorneys filed, Mary Thompson had 48 properties. At one point, they were valued at about $1 million. But by 2012, a bankruptcy report indicated a net value of $66,120, the motion said.

Bryan Thompson sold seven of them, and then, after Bryan Thompson filed for bankruptcy on behalf of the estate in 2011, the bankruptcy trustee sold 12 other properties, Duffy said in court. Another 29 properties were legally abandoned, Thompson’s attorneys said in court documents.

Craig asked whether there was any evidence that Bryan Thompson bought a car, house or anything else with money from the estate. Duffy said there was no evidence.

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