Courts Round Up

Arkansas

Ark. Legislature to consider $1.5M claim

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) ? A $1.5 million claim against the state Highway and Transportation Department is headed to the Arkansas Legislature for consideration during its session next year.

The state Claims Commission sided with 33-year-old Jeremy Kirkland of Des Arc, who was injured in an ATV accident in Prairie County in December 2007. Kirkland's ATV plunged into a 3-foot-deep ditch near Arkansas Highway 33, and he was initially paralyzed below the waist. He's since learned to walk again, but his lawyers say he'll have numerous medical problems for the rest of his life.

Earlier this month, the Claims Commission found that the highway department was negligent, noting that there was "substantial evidence" that crews had left the construction site at the end of the day with no warning signs that work was underway.

Highway officials contend that Kirkland's injuries were his own fault, not the department's. The agency says it's still considering whether to appeal to the Legislature to overturn the award.

Connecticut

Lawsuit filed over Buckley family trust fund

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) ? Six children of the sister of the late conservative columnist William F. Buckley are accusing their father of stealing money from a trust fund their mother set up using some of the Buckley family fortune.

The children of Aloise Buckley Heath, a West Hartford resident who died in 1967, filed a lawsuit against 95-year-old Benjamin Heath in June in Hartford Superior Court. They accuse him of transferring more than half the money out of the trust.

It's unclear how much money is in the trust, which Aloise Buckley Heath established with her share of assets from her family's oil, gas and mineral rights. Some public records indicate that millions of dollars may still be at stake, The Hartford Courant reported Friday. The children are heirs to the trust.

Messages were left Friday for Benjamin Heath's Hartford-based lawyer, John Gale.

Heath could not be reached for comment. The phone number for his home in Newport Beach, Calif., is unlisted.

Aloise Buckley Heath was 48 when she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1967. In her will, she named Benjamin Heath as executor of her estate.

She gained notoriety for trying to "out" communists at her alma mater, Smith College, and she contributed frequently to Ladies Home Journal, the National Review, Reader's Digest and other magazines.

Six of the couple's 10 children are suing, while four have opted not to join the lawsuit. At issue is the "Hembt Trust."

William Buckley Sr. began acquiring oil rights in several countries in the 1920s in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, as well as the Caribbean, and formed the Catawba Corp.

Each of the elder Buckley's surviving children got nearly 10 percent of Catawba's assets when he died in 1958.

In 1981, Catawba paid an $800,000 fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency had filed a lawsuit alleging that companies controlled by the Buckleys defrauded shareholders of six other oil rights companies in which the family had a stake to, in effect, pad Catawba's coffers.

The SEC also ordered Benjamin Heath to pay a $22,500 fine for his role in that scheme, and he's now facing similar allegations lodged by his children.

His children's lawsuit accuses him of transferring more than 50 percent of their mother's trust to a private account called the Westmont Royalty Trust, in which they have no stake.

"The allegations work together in that the conduct of the various trustees was concerted and collaborative, one trust feeding the assets to another trust hence, involving the activities of the trustees," the lawsuit says.

Heath has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, and a decision is pending.

Court documents say Heath hasn't lived in Connecticut for 30 years and he hasn't had any contact with anyone in Connecticut since he left.

Heath also says in court filings that the royalty interests from Aloise Buckley Heath's trust fund are not subject to the lawsuit, because they are in property that is not in Connecticut.

Arizona

Arizona family sues over kin's shattered casket

PHOENIX (AP) ? A suburban Phoenix family is suing after their father's body slipped from a shattered casket when it was dropped into a grave during a burial ceremony.

Lawsuits filed by the children, wife and two dozen family members of 50-year-old Robert Gowdy Sr. claim a strap on a casket-lowering device snapped as family was gathered around a grave last year, dropping Gowdy's coffin and breaking it open. Cemetery workers ran away, the family said.

Two family members tried to lift the casket but the bottom dropped out, exposing that it was made of stapled-together particle board, according to the lawsuit against the city of Mesa and its workers, the funeral home, casket company and device-maker.

The Gowdys said they had contracted with the funeral home to purchase a solid wood casket. The funeral director for the Preston Funeral Home in Phoenix told them the model wasn't available, and offered an upgrade to a better model, they said.

City Attorney James Fritz blamed the casket's sharp edges for breaking the strap and said in court documents that the city wasn't liable. A call seeking comment from the funeral director wasn't immediately returned on Friday.

Six days after the May 10, 2008, incident, family and friends gathered for a second burial. The suit says Roxanne Gowdy asked to view her husband's body one last time and was "mortified" to find him dressed in a black pinstripe suit he never would have worn and mismatched clothes. The funeral home had apparently redressed him because his original burial outfit was soiled.

Roxanne Gowdy referred questions to her lawyer, who didn't return calls.

North Dakota

Fargo may pay more than $1M in traffic case

FARGO, N.D. (AP) ? Traffic fines may cost the city of Fargo more than $1 million.

Federal court documents say the city may have to pay that amount to settle a lawsuit over traffic fines that have been ruled illegal because they exceeded the amount allowed under state law.

Court documents show 13,900 people have filed valid claims for reimbursement under a class action lawsuit. The total amount paid would be slightly more than $1 million, with an average payout of about $75.

A hearing is scheduled Monday before U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson. If he approves a settlement, both sides would have 60 days to appeal before payments can be made.

Erickson also will decide how much of the plaintiffs' attorney fees the city must cover. The city has agreed not to challenge attorney fees unless the total exceeds $350,000.

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