Former Justice's son faces contempt charge

By Lawrence Smith | May 29, 2009

CHARLESTON - After two years of inaction, the state Bar is asking that a Wood County attorney be held in contempt for failing to abide by a previous order instructing him to settle a nearly quarter-century old estate case.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, petitioned the state Supreme Court on April 16 to hold Joseph P. Albright Jr. in contempt for failing to comply with the Court's Jan. 10, 2007, disciplinary order. It was then, the Court reprimanded Albright for mishandling the cases of three clients, including Rita A. Ramsey, a beneficiary to estate of Clyde Curtis Carter.

Along with paying the cost of the disciplinary proceeding, the Court ordered that Albright "complete the matter for Mrs. Ramsey and ... provide a status report to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel every three months ... until such time as he concludes Mrs. Ramsey's matter."

On March 29, 2007, records show, ODC sent Albright a letter asking him for a status on the Carter estate. In his reply dated April 10, Albright said he had drafted a suit to declaratory judgment to file in Wood Circuit Court to not only declare the beneficiaries of the funds held by the fiduciary commissioner, but also for the commissioner to produce a report.

However, three months later, Albright failed to file the judgment as Ramsey, in letter dated July 9 addressed to ODC, said she had not heard from him. Following a letter addressed to Albright's attorney Sherri D. Goodman the next day again inquiring about the Carter estate, Albright on July 20 provided a petition to compel distribution of funds and declaratory judgment "he had plan to file with the court."

That same day, records show, Albright sent the same petition to Ramsey at her home in Longwood, Fla. Though she replied to him 10 days later with some questions about the petition, Ramsey said she never received any answers from Albright.

After two letters sent to her on Sept. 20 and Oct. 5, Goodman on Oct. 10 informed ODC that Albright had informed her via e-mail that he scheduled a hearing on the estate for Nov. 1 and provided notice to Ramsey. Twelve days later, Goodman notified ODC via e-mail that Albright had yet to file the petitions, but planned to do so after the hearing, which had been rescheduled for Nov. 8.

On Jan. 23, 2008, records show, ODC e-mailed Goodman for an update. After acknowledging the message a day later, Goodman on Jan. 25 said that Albright "had completed the necessary steps and was awaiting a decision from the County Commission to finalize the estate matter."

However, on April 8, ODC received a letter from Wood County Commissioner Rick Modesitt saying that while the November hearing did take place, the commission rejected Albright's proposed order. Though it is unclear if the commission rejected the order immediately or shortly thereafter, Modesitt's letter stated Albright had yet to provide the commission with both a corrected order, and an accounting of the estate beginning on Jan. 6, 1986.

The commission set June 26 as a deadline to provide them with the requested information.

Again, on Sept. 18, ODC asked Goodman via e-mail to provide a status on the estate. On Sept. 22, Goodman replied saying Albright "was planning to distribute the funds from the Estate within the next ten days."

Prior to receiving Goodman's reply, Modesitt, in a letter dated Sept. 19, stated that $2,406.32 had been transferred from Carter's estate into Albright's account. Also, he stated the commission had again requested an accounting from Albright.

After receiving Modesitt's letter, ODC forwarded it to Goodman asking for an immediate update of Albright's work. Records show on Oct. 14, Goodman finally replied saying that she "had left a message for [Albright] requesting the status of the disbursements of the Estate."

When it received no reply by February, ODC warned Goodman that if Albright had not settled the estate within 20 days, it would file a contempt petition. On March 3, Goodman, via e-mail, informed ODC Albright had yet to return her phone call from the immediate week, and she would be sending him a letter that same day.

She asked that any petition be placed on hold until Albright received her letter, records show.

After not hearing from either Goodman or Albright, and conducting a check with the Wood County Clerk's probate office on April 15 that reveled the Carter estate was still open, ODC filed its petition. In it, ODC asked the Court to immediately suspend Albright's license until he settled the estate.

Double trouble

Shortly after Goodman asked ODC to place any contempt petition on hold, Albright's father -- Justice Joseph P. Albright Sr. -- died on March 20 after a battle with esophageal cancer. Prior to his election to the Court in 2000, records show Albright Sr. was appointed executor to Carter's estate in July 1999.

For reasons not immediately clear, Albright Sr. replaced Carter's grandson, Kenneth Clyde Carter, who was appointed executor shortly after the elder Carter's death.

Records show Ramsey in April 2003 signed paperwork giving Albright Jr. permission to become the estate's new executor. After lodging her complaint a year later, ODC in its investigation found that by 2006 Albright had yet to qualify as the estate's new executor.

It was not until July 28, records show, did he qualify as executor. A check The West Virginia Record made with the probate office on May 26 showed Albright had yet to close the estate, including conduct an appraisement.

Because of their relationship, Justice Albright was disqualified from hearing Albright Jr.'s disciplinary case.

As of presstime, Goodman had yet to file a formal reply to ODC's contempt petition. She declined a comment when contacted via telephone.

In addition to ODC's action, Albright is at risk of having his license suspended for failing to complete mandated continuing legal education. Albright was among nearly 60 attorneys who's names were submitted in April to the Court by the Bar's Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Commission for immediate suspension until they could provide proof of CLE completion.

The Court has not yet ruled on the Commission's petition or set a date to hear arguments on ODC's contempt petition. It adjourns on June 25.

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