A Hays woman poised to collect half of her late boss’ $20 million estate if an addendum to a will she claimed to have found had been deemed valid, has lost at the Kansas Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals opinion released Friday:
Upheld the 2016 ruling by Senior Judge William “Buck” Lyle that the codicil, or addition, to Hays millionaire Earl O. Field’s will, switching the bulk of his estate to employee Wanda Oborny was fake.
“We are fully convinced that a rational fact-finder could have found it highly probable that Oborny or someone other than Field, at Oborny’s behest, signed the purported codicil instead of Field,” the Appeals Court concluded. “Oborny’s testimony was often inconsistent. She had a history of taking other person’s money,” the ruling said.
Reversed the 2016 ruling by Senior Judge Jack Burr that granted Oborny’s motion for attorney fees in the amount of approximately $1 million. Burr would have allowed the payment to Oborny’s lawyer, Don Hoffman of Dreiling, Bieker and Hoffman, Hays, to be taken from the estate. Fort Hays State University Foundation was the primary beneficiary of Field’s valid will, and it objected to Burr’s ruling.
The Appeals Court stated: “No one asserts that Oborny’s counsel acted in anything but good faith. But the controlling legal question is whether Oborny herself acted in good faith and with just cause” when she had the fake codicil filed in probate court.
Did not grant the request to award Hoffman legal fees for handling Oborny’s appeal of Lyle’s decision. Those fees amounted to about $134,048.
Judges Kathryn Gardner, Michael Buser and G. Gordon Atcheson heard the appeal when the Court of Appeals conducted court business at Sterling College. Oborny was not present for the hearing, but attorneys for Oborny and Fort Hays State presented arguments.
Oborny was a part-time bookkeeper for Field, who was 98 when he died on February 19, 2013.
“Oborny was not present when Field died because she had to ‘run to the bank,’ ” the Appeals Court ruling said. Oborny testified she went to Field’s office in a bank building on the evening he died and happened to discover two typewritten letters - one addressed to her - that changed his intentions for the estate.
Oborny’s testimony was inconsistent and the experts enlisted by Fort Hays State’s legal team argued the handwriting, typed letters, and reconstructed shredded letter incriminated Oborny.
Oborny’s friends Kathy and Steve Little were the signed witnesses on the fake codicil. Oborny and the two Littles had a telephone conference that lasted nearly an hour on the day Field died.
Kathy Little said later she could not recall what the conversation was about.
Two FBI special agents visited the Little’s home on the morning of Aug. 20, 2015. On Aug. 21, the bodies of the couple turned up at a nearby state park from a murder-suicide that took place Aug. 20.
When a Hays Police Department investigator searched the Little’s home Aug. 21, the couple’s adult son showed him a federal subpoena for Steve Little to appear before a grand jury the following month.
Kathy and Steve Little gave videotaped depositions in the case before they died.
In the appeal, Oborny contended that Lyle “drew impermissible inferences from the irrelevant fact that the Littles died in a murder-suicide after being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” the Appeals Court ruling noted.
Oborny claimed Lyle erred in “stacking” two inferences to impeach the Littles’ testimony.
The Appeals Court discounted that objection.
Oborny continues to face federal charges of mail fraud related to the Field will. That trial is expected to take place this year in Wichita.