The stakes have been raised in a lawsuit against a former northern Indiana judge and an employee of his law office accused of swindling the estate of a deceased client whose will bequeathed more than $700,000 to local charities — money the charities say they never received.
An amended complaint filed this week against one-time Jasper County Judge and now-resigned attorney Robert V. Monfort, his Monon law office and an employee seeks treble damages —meaning a potential award exceeding $2.3 million — plus attorney fees and costs. Further, the charities who claim they were cheated of bequests have asked the court to also name a spouse of one of the parties as another defendant in the suit.
Monfort, his law office and employee Teri Hardin are defendants accused in a lawsuit of defrauding the estate of former client Rose Jennette Nagel, who died in 2017 at the age of 90.
According to the suit, the widow’s estate assets of more than $775,000 that she intended to be donated to Catholic schools in Rensselaer instead went into the trust account at Monfort’s law office. The suit claims Monfort and Hardin — who was also the personal representative of Nagel’s estate — began distributing the money to themselves.
Vince Antaki of the Reminger law firm, who represents Monfort, and Hardin’s attorney, Harry Falk of Kentland, did not respond to email messages seeking comment regarding recent filings in the case, and they have yet to reply in court filings. Falk has moved to withdraw his representation of Hardin, asserting he may become a witness concerning what happened with Nagel’s original will, which the charities say is missing.
No criminal charges have been filed against either Monfort or Hardin. The matter has been referred to a special prosecutor, John Wright of neighboring Benton County. IL left messages Thursday seeking comment from Wright.
Facing an attorney discipline complaint arising from his unethical handling of Nagel’s estate and that of another former client, Monfort resigned from the practice of law more than three months ago. Monfort’s resignation required him to acknowledge an attorney discipline investigation against which he could not successfully defend himself if prosecuted.
Charitable Allies of Indianapolis, which represents Jasper Newton Foundation, moved this week to file a first amended complaint raising fresh claims against Monfort and Hardin and asking Special Judge Mary R. Harper in Jasper Superior Court to grant treble damages and other relief.
Harper already has sanctioned Monfort and Antaki for misleading the court in this case and had set a hearing for Sept. 9 to determine attorney fees for Charitable Allies and to rule on a motion to compel discovery served on Hardin. That hearing was continued to Oct. 9. The plaintiffs have petitioned for attorney fees of more than $71,000 related to the sanctions.
The amended complaint alleges that in conveying Nagel’s file from her former attorney to Falk, “Hardin removed the Original Valid Will from the Hardin Legal File and either negligently or intentionally destroyed, mutilated, altered or concealed the Original Valid Will,” causing a different will to be entered into probate.
Further, the amended complaint alleges Monfort was a member of the Jasper Newton Board during the period in question and owed the board a fiduciary duty. “Hardin, Monfort and Monfort Law violated their duty to the Foundation by remaining silent on the distribution of the Estate assets in a manner that contravened the instructions under the Original Valid Will,” the amended complaint says. The complaint alleges the estate assets totaled more than $775,847.
Among other claims, the amended complaint seeks treble damages under the Crime Victim’s Relief Act for claims of counterfeiting, forgery or deception.
Separately, the foundation last month moved to add Hardin’s husband, Jesse Hardin, as a third-party defendant. Among other things, the foundation alleges Jesse Hardin interfered and prevented his wife from satisfying discovery, particularly related to accounts she allegedly opened with proceeds from Nagel’s estate. Court filings say Jesse Hardin has objected to providing details about those accounts on the grounds that some of them are held jointly.
The motion to name Jesse Hardin as a defendant posits where some of Rose Nagel’s money may have gone.
“During the time period when (Teri) Hardin was opening checking accounts and transferring Estate assets in violation of her duties and obligations as personal representative, Hardin purchased a 1966 Chevy Chevelle SS 396 4 speed classic car valued at approximately $78,400.00 … for the Proposed Defendant as a ‘sort of a retirement gift,’” the filing says. “Based upon information and belief, (Teri) Hardin purchased the Vehicle, which she gifted to (Jesse), with Estate assets.”