CHARLESTON - Frustrated by ignoring their repeated inquiries, including a directive by the state Bar he communicate with them, a Washington state couple is moving to have a Parkersburg attorney removed as executor of an estate to which they are heirs.
Since his appointment last summer to the estate of Paul W. Smith, Mark Baker and his wife, Beth Agnew, from Steilacoom, Wash., say they've had little to no contact with Joseph P. Albright Jr. about the status of the estate's settlement. According to the Wood County Clerk's Office, Smith, who died on June 29 at 100, in his will named Albright as his estate's executor.
Albright formally qualified as executor on July 28 after posting a $250,000 bond.
Since Albright's appointment, Baker said neither he nor Agnew have spoken personally with Albright despite leaving at least five messages with his secretary between Nov. 6, 2008 and Feb. 3. On the latter date, Baker left a message saying he would be filing a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, if Albright did not return his call by the close of business.
On Feb. 6, Baker said Albright did call him back leaving a voice-message that he was out of the office on Feb. 3. However, by then Baker and Agnew made good on their promise to file an ethics complaint.
In response to their complaint, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachel L. Fletcher Cipoletti in a letter dated Feb. 13 said she was dismissing it because Agnew failed to state how Albright had committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
However, she did direct Albright to communicate with Agnew and Baker within the next 15 days, and provide her written verification of his effort.
When he heard nothing from Albright by March 3, Baker says he called ODC to inform them of Albright's communication failure, and to inquire about further recourse against him. After leaving several messages, and a threat to contact some members of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm when his calls weren't promptly returned, Baker says he finally got an answer on March 13.
According to Cipoletti's assistant, Betsy Casto, Baker says Albright called ODC informing them he was " 'close to wrapping up the estate and would have checks out in the next couple of days.'"
Also, Baker says Casto told him that if he wanted ODC to pursue an investigation in Albright's handling of the Smith estate, he would have to file a renewed complaint.
On March 30, Baker says Agnew filed a renewed complaint. In the meantime, they've been in touch with one of the other beneficiaries to Smith's estate and are mulling their options including petitioning the county commission to remove Albright as executor.
"As we still haven't received any updates from Mr. Albright," Baker said, "we feel as though we have no choice but to retain another lawyer to handle the estate."
A check of records in the Wood County Clerk's office shows that as of March 30, Albright has yet to conduct an appraisement of the Smith estate. An appraisement is required before any money can be distributed to the estate's beneficiaries.
Two previous mishaps
Records show that Albright has a history of failing to adequately handle estate settlements. On at least two occasions in the last 10 years, ODC has cited him for lack of communication and diligence in estate matters.
The first came in October 1999 when ODC closed a complaint filed by Genevieve R. Cross. In the complaint she filed 18 months earlier, Cross alleged that Albright was not moving fast enough in settling the estate of Jeanne Johnson, to which Cross was named as both an heir and caretaker of the property in Johnson's will.
Though the county commission refused Cross' request to have Albright removed as executor, they did order him to provide her a key to Johnson's house, and finalize appraisement of the estate.
In response to Cross' ethics complaint, Albright first told ODC in September 1998 that the appraisement was taking longer than expected due to complicated stock and retirement programs. Later in July 1999, he said all but the house had been appraised.
Though noting that estates can "sometimes take a long period of time to settle," ODC found that Albright committed a Rules violation by failing to adequately communicate with Cross. Instead of bring a formal statement of charges against him, ODC cautioned Albright "to diligently handle such matters in the future and to be more careful about explaining matters to heirs."
The next came in January 2007 when the state Supreme Court reprimanded Albright on a six-count statement of charges stemming from three different clients. One of those clients was Rita A. Ramsey of Orlando, Fla., a beneficiary to the estate of Clyde Curtis Carter.
Records show following his death on Dec. 16, 1985, Carter's grandson, Kenneth Clyde Carter, was named executor of the estate. However, for reasons not immediately clear, Kenneth Carter was removed as executor, and Albright's father, Joseph P. Albright Sr., was appointed as his replacement on July 19, 1999.
Because of his election to the Court the next year, Albright Sr. had to relinquish all his cases. Records show in April 2003, Ramsey, Clyde Carter's step-granddaughter, signed paperwork giving Albright Jr. permission to become the estate's new executor.
After 15 months of no contact, Ramsey lodged her complaint with ODC. In the course of its investigation, ODC discovered that by June 2006, Albright still had not qualified as executor.
In addition to the reprimand, the Court ordered that Albright was to settle the Carter estate and provide ODC a written report every three months until the settlement. Because of their relationship, Justice Albright was disqualified from hearing the case.
On March 20, Justice Albright died in Pittsburgh due to complications of esophageal cancer.
Ironically, records show that Albright Jr. did not qualify as executor of Carter's estate until July 28, the same day he did for Smith's. Likewise, Albright has yet to conduct an appraisement of Carter's estate.
In addition to the renewed one filed by Agnew, Albright has six complaints pending with ODC.