A year ago things looked pretty bleak for attorney Ben Kuehne here in Miami and a couple of Georgia lawyers who were arrested and apparently spent a night in jail after their client was forced to forfeit estate assets under Georgia’s Slayer Statute [click here]. All were on the receiving end of criminal prosecutions for arguably doing nothing other than getting paid for representing unpopular clients.
Fast forward a year: the Kuehne prosecution has caved in on itself [click here] and in a ruling that should warm the hearts of probate lawyers everywhere, Georgia’s Supreme Court confirmed in Levenson v. Word (No. S09G0336) that you can’t use a Slayer Statute to target lawyers for simply doing their jobs. Florida’s Slayer Statute comes up with some frequency [click here, here], so the threat of being targetted in the same way the Georgia lawyers were targetted can’t be shrugged off by probate lawyers in this state. One day you may need to refer to the Levenson opinion.
Here’s how the Levenson opinion was reported in ‘Slayer Statute’ Doesn’t Bar Lawyers From Keeping Fees Paid by Executrix, Judges Rule:
Georgia’s defense bar on Monday welcomed a state Supreme Court decision confirming that legal fees paid to two attorneys by the executor of an estate prior to her subsequent guilty plea for murder of her husband could not be clawed back to the estate.
The court ruled that Georgia’s “slayer statute,” which forbids a murderer from profiting from the death of his or her victim, could not be used to bar access to the deceased’s assets until there has been a guilty plea, conviction or other “clear and convincing evidence in any judicial proceeding.”
“We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously got it right,” said Christine Koehler, president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which had filed an amicus brief and supplied additional counsel supporting attorneys Gerald P. “Jerry” Word and Maryellen Simmons as they sought to retain $75,000 in fees paid to prepare a death-penalty defense for Debra Post. Post pleaded guilty in return for a life sentence in the Oct. 25, 2001, murder-for-hire of her husband, Jerry Post, in Douglasville, Ga.