Judge Adds Layer To Estate Fracas
Chelsea — The legal battle for control of the estate of a Thetford man killed by Vermont State Police has intensified, with parties questioning each other’s motives in court papers, and questions arising about whether the man’s son, long ago adopted, has a right to enter the fray.
The move complicates an ongoing battle between Macadam Mason’s mother, who was appointed to administrator his estate last year, and a West Fairlee woman with whom Mason fathered a daughter.
An Orange Probate Court judge recently asked attorneys in the case to consider whether Mason’s 19 year-old biological son, who was adopted by another man in 2001, is a potential heir.
The son, who was 7 when he was adopted, has not asked to be a part of the case. Rather, during a recent hearing in the ongoing dispute, a judge inquired whether the man could make a separate claim.
The son, listed in court documents as Forest Swift of New Hampshire, could not be reached for comment.
The attorney for Mason’s mother, Rhonda Taylor, has submitted written arguments contending that state law makes clear that once adopted, an individual forfeits legal right to a birth parent’s estate.
Meanwhile, Corinna Magalhaes, the mother of a 9-year-old girl Mason fathered, contends that the law is just as straightforward about allowing a direct descendant control of a parent’s estate.
Mason, 39, was killed in June 2012, when State Police troopers responded to the Sawnee Bean Road home that he shared with his girlfriend Theresa Davidonis after he called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and threatened to hurt himself and others. State Police have said that a trooper who encountered Mason ordered him to lie down on the ground. Instead, Mason moved toward the trooper with a closed fist, according to the police account of the incident. The trooper fired his stun gun, striking Mason in the chest and killing him.
Taylor’s attorney, Robert Appel, of Hinesburg, Vt., recently submitted filings arguing that Magalhaes was required to assert a claim within 30 days of Mason’s death to come forward, and having missed that window has no right now to intervene.
Additionally, he said, Taylor has not done anything that legally would justify a judge removing her as administrator of the estate.
“She has devoted much of her time and energy over the past year to both protecting and advancing the interests of her son’s estate,” Appel wrote. “There is no allegation made ... that (Taylor) has committed any malfeasance or is, in any way whatsoever, unsuitable to continue to perform the duties that the Court has assigned to her. Quite the contrary is true.”
Moreover, Appel wrote, Magalhaes came forward only once she understood that Mason’s estate could include a potentially lucrative settlement or lawsuit, and not just Mason’s meager personal effects.
“It would appear that Ms. Magalhaes’ interest in the estate of Mr. Mason was peaked once she learned ... that the principal asset of the estate was the value of a wrongful death action,” Appel said. “She apparently expressed little, if any, interest in the estate’s administration when it was thought that (Mason’s) principal assets were a car and numerous paintings done by the decedent of only ‘sentimental value.’ ”
Appel could not be reached for comment.
Magalhaes’ attorney, Rusty Valsangiacomo, of Barre, declined to comment.
However, in court filings, Valsangiacomo has sought to conduct a pre-trial interview with Rhonda Taylor in support of his claim that she engaged in “misconduct,” and “breached ... her fiduciary obligations” by pushing to sue the police, instead of entering into settlement negotiations with the state Attorney General’s Office.
The legal dispute has put off any potential civil lawsuit against the State Police in connection with Mason’s death. Following an internal probe, state Attorney General Bill Sorrell cleared the trooper who fired the stun gun of criminal wrongdoing.
Davidonis and her son, Aleks, who witnessed the shooting, have said that Mason never threatened the troopers, but instead raised up his hands to surrender, with his open palms facing outward.
Davidonis is currently pursuing her own lawsuit, claiming she suffered emotionally from witnessing the event, and that police trespassed on her property when Mason was confronted. With no legal ties to Mason, Davidonis has no standing to sue police for actions that caused his death.
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.