CHARLESTON - Provided he can prove to their satisfaction a quarter-century old estate dispute has been finally settled, the state Supreme Court has decided to put off its suspension of a Wood County attorney.

The Court on Nov. 25 ordered the suspension of Joseph P. Albright Jr.'s license. The suspension came at the request of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, who petitioned the Court on June 3 to hold Albright in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of a previous disciplinary order.

Records show Albright was reprimanded in January 2007, for mishandling the case of three clients including Rita Ramsey, a Longwood, Fla. woman who alleged she had not heard from Albright for over year concerning the settlement of the estate of her step-grandfather, Clyde Curtis Carter. Among the directives of the Court's reprimand was for Albright to complete the Carter estate, and update ODC quarterly of his progress.

When the Court heard ODC's petition on Sept. 25, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel said she attempted to no avail to get Albright to provide her a satisfactory reply to his progress on the Carter estate. It was not until 20 minutes before oral arguments began that she said Albright's attorney George Chandler handed her documents showing Eugene T. Hague, a Parkersburg attorney, and fiduciary commissioner appointed to the Carter estate, accepted Albright's proposed settlement the previous day.

Due to his 11th hour compliance, the Court decided to hold-off imposing the suspension until March 2010. Pending final resolution by the Wood County Commission, which is scheduled to consider the Carter estate settlement in January, the Court would then decide what action to take against Albright.

A 25-year ordeal

Records show following his death on Dec. 16, 1985, Carter's grandson, Kenneth Clyde Carter, was named executor of the estate. However, 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. In April 2003, Ramsey signed paperwork giving Albright Jr. permission to become the estate's new executor.

Albright, records show, formally qualified as administrator of the Carter estate on July 28, 2008.

According to Hague, Kenneth Carter was removed as the estate executor, and Albright Sr. named as administrator, when Carter absconded with some money belonging to the estate. During his time as administrator, Albright Sr. made a concerted effort to find the remaining money belonging to the other beneficiaries, and distribute that to them.

Distributing the funds become problematic, Hague said, when Albright Sr. discovered an account where Kenneth Carter was entitled to some certificates of deposit. In addition to Albright Jr. taking until last year to qualify as administrator, Hague said the CDs became a problem given Carter's history, and the inability to locate other heirs who were entitled to them.

Nevertheless, both Hague and Chandler say all known proceeds have been paid to all beneficiaries. Albright did not charge a fee for his services.

The reason the Commission will not decide to accept his report until January, Hague said, is that they only hear estate cases at the beginning of every quarter after a notice has been published in a newspaper of record two consecutive weeks the previous month. Had Albright submitted his proposed settlement no later than Sept. 1, the Commission could have considered it in October, Hague said.

Regardless if the Court imposes or vacates the suspension in the Spring, Albright still has to answer to 10 other clients who've lodged ethics complaints with ODC. Among those is a complaint lodged in February by Mark Baker and his wife Beth Agnew of Washington state who allege they've heard nothing from Albright concerning the settlement of the estate of Paul W. Smith who died in June 2008.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 34973

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