Probate Court Judge’s Administration Letters Challenged

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The Judge Vinton Holder of the Monthly and Probate Court has come under fire for issuing two letters of administration to two different parties involved in the legal battle for the right to administer the affairs of the intestate estate of the late Edward F. Cassell.

Judge Holder’s first letter of administration, dated April 9, 2020 and subsequently registered by the Archive on June 30, the same year, was issued to Mrs. Marron D. Cassell, widow of the deceased, who has been living in the United States of America (USA) for over ten years.

Mrs. Cassell’s letter of administration was issued on her behalf by the Clark and Associates Law Firm under the request of late Cllr. Samuel R. Clark, while Judge Holder’s second letter of administration, dated May 13, 2020 and registered by the Archive on May 25 this year, was issued to George S. Popei, brother of the late  Edward Cassell.

Popei’s letter of administration, signed by Attorney Leroy E. Gonqueh and Cllr. Gbuuvia K. Kolubah respectively, was issued based on the request by the Cooperative Law Firm.

Prior to Edward’s death, the deceased had issued a [will] to Popei, based on which the Cooperative Law Firm asked Judge Holder to issue the letter of administration to Popei, which he did. For Mrs. Cassell, there was no [will] submitted to the court that prompted Judge Holder to issue her the letter of administration, according to the court document.

The controversy surrounding Judge Holder’s two letters of administration resulted from arguments between Mrs. Cassell and Mr. Popei, which prompted late Cllr. Clark to file to the court an ‘Action for Accounting.’

Surprisingly, during the exchanges of legal pleadings (complained documents), it was when Popei’s lawyers discovered that Judge Holder’s letter of administration issued to Mrs. Cassell was allegedly marred by fraud. In their contention, Popei’s lawyers argued that Cllr. Samuel R. Clark was not aware of the letter of administration that appeared on the law firm’s letterhead.

“The complaint filed by Late Cllr. Samuel R. Clark on June 25, 2020, on his law firm’s letterhead, was not signed by the deceased, but by someone else who criminally impersonate as the deceased,” Popei noted.  They added, “The Late Clark never filed any complaint before the court. As such, the court should conduct an investigation to determine who signed the complaint as Samuel R. Clark to have that person prosecuted according to the law. “

While a search for the alleged impersonator was ongoing, and during one of the hearings of the matter, the name Cllr. R. McDonald Garnett of the Garnett and Associate Law Firm surfaced as a replacer of the late Cllr. Samuel R. Clark. Cllr. Garnett’s intervention came on August 19, 2020, when he used his law firm’s letterhead, ‘Garnett and Associates,’ to write Judge Holder not to go ahead with the matter on grounds that he is ill.

Cllr. Garnett’s request for excuse dated August 19, 2020, with a copy in possession of this paper reads: “Your Honor, the Senior Lawyer, in this case, Cllr. Samuel R. Clark died a few days ago and I am very ill trying to seek herbal medical treatment.”

The letter further says, “Kindly reassign the case to enable me properly represent my client’s interest in the said case mentioned supra.”

In a stern argument, Popei’s lawyer said to their dismay, a request for continuances (postponement) was filed by Cllr. R. McDonald Garnett Sr, using his law firm letterhead, Garnett and Associate Law Firm Inc, “without requesting the court for notice of an additional counselor change of counsel in line with section 1and 2 of the Civil Procedure Law of Liberia.”

That law provides that, “If an Attorney dies, becomes physically or mentally incapacitated or is disbarred, suspended or otherwise becomes disabled at any time before the final judgment, no further proceeding shall be taken without leave of court in the action against the party whom he represented until 30 days after notice to appoint another Attorney has been given to that party, either personally or in such manner as the court directs.”

However, Popei’s legal team argued that Cllr. Garnett has informed the court of the death of Cllr. Samuel R. Clark, but instead of requesting for changing of counsel or notice of additional counsels, he is asking the court for continuance in contravention of the law.

“Garnett used his own letterheads rather than the Late Cllr. Samuel R. Clark’s.  Therefore, Cllr. Garnett’s request for excuse should be dismissed and ordered removed from the file of this court and continue with the investigation,” Popei added.

A letter of administration is a formal document issued by a court of probate, appointing a manager of the assets and liabilities of the estate of a deceased in certain situations.

A senior Supreme Court lawyer explains that courts are often asked to rule on the management of a deceased person’s estate. Generally, this is a routine matter for probate courts, which are created specifically for this purpose.

“Individuals generally determine the distribution of their estate in a will, which usually specifies an executor to carry out its directions. But where the decedent has left no will or the executor named in a will is unable or unwilling to serve, the court must appoint an administrator,” the senior lawyer said.

He adds: “This appointment is made by issuing a short document called letters of administration, which is a decree that serves as evidence of the administrator’s authority.”

The Intestate Estate of the Late Edward F. Cassell is situated on two lots in Paynesville City, outside of Monrovia.

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