Justice Larry Starcher
CHARLESTON – West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals should not have taken the side of the daughter of wealthy lawyer Ralph Haines in a struggle over his will, according to Justice Larry Starcher.
In dissent from a majority opinion, Starcher blamed Linda Haines for hostility between her and the executrix of the estate, Pamela Kimble.
"The majority allows the wrongdoer, or person with unclean hands, to profit from doing wrong," Starcher wrote.
The majority, by 3 to 2, ordered Hampshire County Circuit Court to remove Kimble as executrix and allow Haines to act as executrix and sole heir.
Starcher wrote that, "…the decision suggests that a beneficiary may foment a hostile relationship with an executrix named by a testator, thereby resulting in the removal of a testator's appointed executrix."
Ralph Haines made millions as West Virginia's top probate lawyer. Applicants for the bar had to answer his questions on wills and estates.
His own will named his daughter as beneficiary and Kimble, his secretary, as executrix.
Linda Haines soon petitioned to remove Kimble.
"The fiduciary commissioner, a local attorney who knew the parties, refused to remove Mrs. Kimble," Starcher wrote.
Linda Haines asked the county commission to remove Kimble, Starcher wrote, and the commissioners refused.
Linda Haines asked the county commission for a rehearing, Starcher wrote, and the commissioners again refused to remove Kimble.
Linda Haines asked the circuit court to remove Kimble, Starcher wrote, and the court refused.
Starcher wrote that the majority assumed to have greater knowledge and wisdom than local decision makers who knew all the parties.
He wrote that the majority substituted its judgment "for that of those who really knew what the case was all about."
Although the majority ruled that the primary intention of Ralph Haines was to leave all to his daughter, Starcher wrote, facts supported the opposite conclusion.
"I believe the testator's primary intention in the execution of his will was to appoint Ms. Kimble as executrix," he wrote.
Had there been no will, he wrote, the daughter would have inherited all the estate.
"The testator, being well versed on the administration of wills, obviously elected not to permit his estate to be administered by his daughter," Starcher wrote.
The value of the estate was believed to be about $10 million, according to the majority. Legal fees consumed nearly a million dollars, the majority wrote.