Editorial: What is truth in case of estate vs. clerk’s office?

Editorial: What is truth in case of estate vs. clerk’s office?
November 05
00:00 2015

Our series on an Oct. 20 lawsuit against the Forsyth County Clerk of Court’s Office, a local attorney and others, alleging that a $1.4 million estate belonging to a retired African-American nurse was allegedly squandered when that attorney was illegally appointed as her estate guardian, has certainly touched a nerve in our

community, and rightly so.

Far too many of our elderly citizens have lost their life’s savings, property and other valuable assets under questionable circumstances. And if that isn’t outrageous and painful enough, when our government, funded by taxpayers, allegedly aids and abets these crimes, then it certainly hits a sore nerve in our community that has been an open wound for generations.

So when The Chronicle became aware of the fine legal work done by local attorney Reginald D. Alston, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the estate of the late Mary Ellen Brannon Thompson, we knew the issues raised, and the facts therein confirmed, had to be brought forward for the entire community to see.

To be fair, the ultimate allegation in the lawsuit by Ms. Thompson’s estate, that her assets had been squandered, has still to be proven in a court of law.

But the facts that have brought us to this point, facts confirmed by no less than the N.C. Court of Appeals, should have any rational person asking serious and tough questions of our Forsyth Clerk of Courts Office and the woman elected by the people to manage it, Susan Frye.

Now Frye wasn’t the Clerk in 2007 when many of the alleged fraudulent actions in the suit took place, but she’s zealously defending them now. Big mistake.

According to its website (, “The Clerk’s Office provides administrative support for the judicial operation of the Forsyth County Courts …” That means all administrative support for our county court system must comport with state statute, and longstanding rules that codify legal procedure in doing the public’s business.

But according to a February 2014 ruling by the N.C. Court of Appeals on aspects of this case, our Clerk of Courts Office was pretty much making up its own rules when it came to determining whether Mary Ellen Brannon Thompson, the retired nurse with the $1.4 million estate in property and cash, indeed required a guardian to handle her estate matters.

Legally, Thompson was first supposed to be found incompetent if warranted, and then the Clerk of Court appoints a guardian for her estate. But the reverse happened … the guardian, local attorney Bryan C. Thompson (no relation), was appointed first, and only then, two days later, did the clerk issue a court order declaring Mary Thompson incompetent.

The state Court of Appeals shook its head at this, because that meant Bryan Thompson’s appointment was illegal then in the first place, since Mary Thompson had not yet been legally declared incompetent.

To make matters worse, none of these orders from the Clerk’s Office then had been file stamped with date and time, as legally required to make them official. All of this happened in 2007, so in the intervening years until the day Mary Thompson died in October 2014, the lawsuit alleges that attorney Bryan Thompson was managing her estate affairs illegally.

And estate attorney Reginald Alston contends that his probe reveals this has happened in many other cases over the years.

To add insult to injury, Clerk Susan Frye, who admitted previously in 2014 that this was “…an inadvertent error” needing to be corrected, now defends all of this, saying these procedures were pretty much the practice back then, but she’s cleaned them up now, so no worries, no fraud.

No fraud? We’ll let a judge or jury decide that.

But the people’s verdict is in: our Clerk of Courts Office is too vital to our city, county and community, to allow an elected official to play fast and loose with the facts. We call on the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, the N.C. State Auditors Office (which conducted a financial audit of our Clerk’s Office in September 2014 and found internal controls there so lacking, the report stated that while it didn’t find evidence of fraud, the likelihood of fraud if new procedures weren’t implemented, was great); and any other applicable state (or federal) agency, to hold the Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court Office accountable for how it has, and continues to conduct the people’s business.

What we know so far is totally unacceptable.





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