Raleigh attorney accused of mishandling Boone woman's estate

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 27, 2012

CHARLESTON – A Raleigh County attorney faces disciplinary charges she failed to diligently settle an estate of a Boone County woman.

The Lawyer Disciplinary Board on Sept. 30 filed a single-count statement of charges against Karen E. Acord accusing her of violating seven Rules of Professional Conduct. The statement accuses Acord of dawdling in not only settling Anna Beatrice Elizabeth Diem's estate, but also turning over records and assets to the heirs when ordered to do so by the court.

A statement of charges acts as an indictment for disciplinary purposes.

Five-year battle

According to the statement, Diem, a Colcord resident, in her will dated Oct. 23, 2004, named Acord, 56, a sole practitioner in Beckley, as her estate's executrix. Acord became executrix following Diem's death on Oct. 27, 2007.

Eleven months later, two of the estate's beneficiaries -– Melissa Perry and Rachael McKnight, Diem's foster granddaughter and foster daughter, respectively -– petitioned the Raleigh County Commission to have Acord removed as executrix. They maintained she failed to "perform any work in advancing the closing of the Estate other than taking care of the disposition of two cats."

A month later on Oct. 6, Perry filed an ethics complaint against Acord that ultimately led to the statement. In her complaint, Perry accused Acord of, among other things, not getting properly bonded before becoming executrix, issuing checks to herself from the estate while neglecting to pay its bills and failing to respond to requests for information from the heirs.

According to the statement, Acord on Dec. 2, 2008, filed suit in Raleigh Circuit Court seeking an injunction enjoining the Commission from removing her as executrix, and Perry and McKnight from interfering with her duties. Two weeks later, Perry and McKnight countered with a suit seeking a court order removing Acord as executrix.

Though not formally consolidated, both cases were assigned to Judge Robert A. Burnside, Jr. During a June 22, 2010, pre-trial hearing on the cases, Burnside ordered Acord removed as the estate's executrix, and for her to turn over all of the estates records and assets in her possession to McKnight.

When Acord informed him of her intention to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court, Burnside placed a stay on his ruling. The Court on Sept. 22, 2010 refused to consider her motion voiding Burnside's order.

After granting her additional time to file a full appeal of his ruling to the Court, Burnside on April 20 lifted the stay on his previous order, and gave Acord until May 2 to comply with it. When she failed to turn over all the records and assets by the next day, he held her in contempt.

During a May 19 hearing, Acord admitted she had yet to comply with Burnside's order and "would continue to refuse to do so." Until she agreed to comply with his order, Burnside ordered Acord be incarcerated at the Southern Regional Jail in Holden.

Though he gave her until May 31 at 3 p.m. to self-report, Burnside extended the deadline twice, once until June 27, and the other until June 30. The extensions were due to Acord filing a writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court on June 1 which it denied on June 22.

According to the statement, Acord delivered the contents of a safe deposit box Diem had at United Bank in Beckley to Robert Sayre, the special commissioner Burnside appointed to oversee Diem's estate. Later on July 7, Acord delivered to Sayre $25,442.33 Diem had at the Whitesville State Bank.

Also on July 7, Acord notified Burnside she intended to keep the original records of the estate's administration and seek additional relief with the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, on July 19 Sayre issued a report to Burnside he believed Acord turned over to him all assets belonging to Diem's estate.

'Persecuted' by heirs

In her response to Perry's complaint, Acord denied any wrongdoing, and said she was being "'persecuted'" by both Perry, and McKnight. Also, she said the money she received from the estate was for "minimal travel expenses," and the estate's assets were ready to be distributed when she was removed as executrix.

Nevertheless, the Board found that her failure to timely settle the estate, and comply with Burnside's orders were clear and convincing evidence of serious ethical violations. The Board charged Acord with violating Rules dealing with diligence, conflict of interest, safekeeping of property, declining or terminating representation, fairness to opposing party and counsel and misconduct.

An evidentiary hearing on the charges against Acord is scheduled for Jan. 31 in Beckley.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 11-1356

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