Will missing in estate fraud suit against disgraced lawyer, assistant

The original will at the center of a six-figure estate fraud case is missing, according to recent court filings in a civil lawsuit. Charities alleging the law firm that handled the estate absconded with the money also have subpoenaed the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission for records in the related ethics case that led to the recent resignation of attorney and one-time judge Robert Monfort.

The civil case involves the estate of Rose Nagel, who died in March 2017. Nagel left estate assets of about $775,000, all but $1,000 of which was intended to go to Catholic schools in Rensselaer through a fund at the Jasper Newton Foundation, according to disciplinary and court records. Nagel was represented by Monfort’s law office in Monon, and the commission accused Monfort and former law office employee Teri Hardin, who served as Nagel’s personal representative, of “distributing funds from Nagel’s estate to themselves.” Neither Hardin nor Nagel has been criminally charged.

Monfort, a former Jasper County judge, resigned from the practice of law in June rather than face a disciplinary proceeding. In doing so, he acknowledged that there was a disciplinary proceeding alleging misconduct and that he could not successfully defend himself if prosecuted.

In Jasper Newton Foundation, Inc. v. Teri L. Hardin, Robert V. Monfort, et al., 37D01-1808-PL-703, both Hardin and Monfort have objected to motions to compel discovery seeking bank account information, among other things. Meanwhile, a motion to withdraw filed by Hardin’s attorney July 31 indicated that Nagel’s original will cannot be located.

According to the filing, when Jasper Newton Foundation sought production of the original will, Hardin told her attorney that after Nagel died, her will had been left in the files of her prior attorney, Michael Riley, who died in June. Attorney Harry J. Falk of Kentland had taken possession of Riley’s files around May 19 and entered an appearance for Hardin in the foundation’s lawsuit about a week later.

“Hardin affirms that (she) does not have the original will of Rose Jennette Nagel and … that the last time that Hardin saw the original will … was when it was left with Riley,” Falk’s motion to withdraw says, noting that the files “were picked up by Hardin to courier to Falk.”

Later searches of the files in Falk’s office also failed to turn up the will, nor did the disciplinary commission have the will, Falk’s motion to withdraw says, “which Riley was asked to send to them.”

Falk moved to withdraw his representation of Hardin, citing Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7: “A lawyer shall not act as an advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless … disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.” Special Judge Mary Harper on Wednesday set a hearing in Jasper Superior Court for Sept. 9 on Falk’s motion to withdraw.

Separately, Jackson Newton Foundation on Monday subpoenaed the disciplinary commission for records including bank account information related to its disciplinary investigation of Monfort. A spokeswoman for the Indiana Supreme Court said in an email Friday that the subpoena “will be taken before the full Commission in due course.”

Harper last month sanctioned Monfort and his attorney, Vincent Antaki, for false statements and attempting to mislead the court in the litigation. Jackson Newton Foundation is represented by Indianapolis-based nonprofit Charitable Allies Inc. Harper also will hear the motion to compel Hardin and the foundation’s petition for fees and costs related to the sanctions at the Sept. 9 hearing, according to online court records.

The same day Falk moved to withdraw his representation of Hardin, he also filed a motion for mediation on her behalf. Harper has not yet ruled on that motion.

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