A CHRONICLE EXCLUSIVE: Forsyth Clerk Of Courts Office, others sued, accused of fraud

A CHRONICLE EXCLUSIVE: Forsyth Clerk Of Courts Office, others sued, accused of fraud
October 23
00:00 2015

Above: Forsyth County Superior Court Building

By Cash Michaels
For The Chronicle

Copyright © 2015  by The Chronicle

The estate of a deceased African-American retired nurse is suing Forsyth County Office of Clerk of Court, several local attorneys, and two insurance companies, alleging “a pattern and practice of fraudulent acts taking place…” that resulted in the loss of over $1.4 million in the deceased woman’s assets.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 20th in Forsyth County Superior Court by attorney Reginald D. Alston of Winston-Salem, on behalf of the estate of Mary Thompson through administrator Calvin Brannon, her brother, is asking for compensatory and punitive damages from seven defendants, some in excess of $25,000 each.

This case, if successful, could point to an alleged pattern of questionable practices in the Forsyth County Clerk of Courts Office involving various clerks in the Special Proceedings and Estate Departments, where allegedly otherwise competent people were being erroneously, and illegally deemed incompetent and “funneled to personal and estate guardians for personal gain,” sources say.

The Chronicle is currently investigating several other alleged cases.

In North Carolina, state statutes mandate that when an adult is legally determined to lack the mental and/or physical capabilities to care for themselves and their finances, they are, after a “special proceedings” hearing by the county Clerk of Courts Office, appointed a general guardian (either a person, agency or corporation that petitions the Clerk) to oversee whatever personal affairs deemed necessary until such time that adult is capable to regain control.

It is during these quasi-judicial special proceedings hearings that sworn testimony is taken from all interested parties to present evidence, and legally determine if the adult in question is indeed incompetent, and in need of assistance from a guardian appointed by the Clerk.

Those involved usually include a legal representative for the adult (otherwise known as a guardian ad litem, appointed by the Clerk), a medical expert to determine the level of competence after examination, any “next of kin” who may oppose the claim of incompetency, and the person who has made application to become that adult’s guardian, whose duties are defined by law, especially in matters of health and finances.

According to the lawsuit, in March 2007, retired nurse and businesswoman Mary Thompson “…was free to live and manage her own affairs… until her niece,” through “… the misuse” of the woman’s business power of attorney, “… deceptively placed Thompson” in a Kernersville nursing facility, even though she had “… no [legal] authority” over Thompson’s health care.

The suit further alleges that the niece knew of Thompson’s $1.4 million in assets in Forsyth and Rowan counties, in addition to various monthly Social Security and retirement payments. Thompson moved to revoke the business power of attorney to stop her niece from further unauthorized action, but in April 2007, the niece filed for a special proceeding in the Forsyth Clerk of Courts Office to have her aunt “…declared incompetent coupled with a request that [the niece] be declared the guardian of [Thompson’s] estate.”

The suit states that even though Thompson’s “next of kin” – Brannon and his sister, Carolyn Davis – were notified of the niece’s guardianship application and no medical evidence proving incompetence was ever presented, Thompson was declared incompetent by the Clerk’s Office on May 3, 2007, per a later discovered signed document , something her two siblings knew nothing of until six months later because they were never informed of a rescheduled special proceeding in the matter.

Years later, that Clerk of Court ruling was deemed “legally inoperative” by the state Court of Appeals in February 2014 because there was no record of the mandated special proceeding taking place with the next of kin present; and the May 3, 2007 document declaring Thompson incompetent was never filed stamped, again as legally required in order to prove that it was properly entered into the court record.

Thus, Mary Thompson should not have been declared legally incompetent, the appellate court said, and all actions thereafter were invalid.

But the allegations didn’t stop there.

The suit then alleges that inexplicably, an attorney named Bryan Thompson (no relation to Mary Thompson), who documents show has been appointed guardian in many other incompetency cases listed in Forsyth County Court records, had someone in the Forsyth Clerk of Court Office to “… sign a guardianship appointment in his favor on May 1, 2007 without giving notice to Mary Thompson and her next of kin as it is required …” by state statutes. The suit further claims that attorney Thompson knew that his “… guardianship appointment in his favor was fictitious … [and] used it to fraudulently obtain possession and control over the assets of Mary Thompson in May of 2007.”

Also of note, according to the suit, attorney Thompson was erroneously appointed guardian to Mary Thompson on May 1, 2007, even though the Clerk’s Order of Incompetency was not issued until May 3, 2007, which is legally impossible since incompetency must be legally established first prior all guardianship appointments.

The suit also contends that the appointed guardian ad litem who was supposed to represent the legal interests of Mary Thompson, attorney Fred Flynt, “failed” to act in any way to protect her legal rights.

Calvin Brannon, Thompson’s brother representing her next of kin, filed motions in March 2012 declaring that attorney Bryan Thompson’s guardianship was invalid, but a Superior Court judge ruled that Clerk of Court Susan Frye was proper in denying those motions.

The February 2014 N.C. Court of Appeals ruling reversed the Superior Court judge’s order, finding that all of attorney Thompson actions regarding the estate of Mary Thompson “…were without legal authority.” But in October 2014, Mary Thompson died, and attorney Bryan Thompson, according to the estate lawsuit, “… did not return the assets that he took by fraud from Mary Thompson valued at $1,486,415.49.”

Brannon’s lawsuit seeks all of his sister’s assets returned to the estate, and holds liable attorney Thompson; Office of the Clerk of Court; guardian ad litem Fred Flynt; along with two insurance companies on the bond issued to protect Mary Thompson’s assets as required by law; and two other attorneys for their alleged roles in what the suit maintains was a case of fraud.

None of the defendants had responded to the lawsuit by this posting.

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