Judge tells squabbling plaintiff's lawyers to sue each other, allows complex probate case to continue

David Yates Apr. 14, 2009, 9:35am

Plaintiff's lawyers embattled over who gets to represent a deceased man's estate were told by a local judge to sue each other in order to sort out the mess.

Judge Bob Wortham, Jefferson County 58th District Court, made the recommendation during an April 9 hearing over one of the lawyer's motion for a continuance in a controversial probate case.

The hearing was part of legal proceedings surrounding the estate of Emery Bowie, who died Aug. 9, 2007, without leaving a will. Aside from probate issues, family members are at odds over different contracts that have been signed with various attorneys.

Since his death, Bowie's family and their lawyers have been warring over the estate and quarrelling over who is entitled to receive the bulk of possible proceeds from a recent wrongful death lawsuit filed in Jefferson County.

At the start of the hearing, plaintiff's attorney Alto Watson added to the drama by accusing Judge Wortham of blatant partiality, arguing that the judge had no right to hear the case since he had previously been a lawyer for the Reaud, Morgan and Quinn law firm � one of the four established firms pining over the estate.

Wortham, who is not presiding over the probate issue but was ordered to umpire the continuance hearing, told the Record he was the only local judge willing to hear the case "because of all the commotion" the lawyers are currently raising.

He added that if he did not step in, an out of county judge would have to be brought in.

Moreover, court papers show Wortham was ordered by Judge Olen Underwood, judge for the Second Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, to make a ruling on the continuance issue so the case could be kicked back to Jefferson County Judge Ron Walker's probate court.

Toward the end of the hearing, Wortham told the lawyers that their disputes were unfairly keeping Bowie's family tied up in court. He then denied the motion for continuance and told the lawyers they could sue each other all they want after the family's litigation had been allowed to run its course.

Watson, who represents Bowie's mother Peggy Brown, was seeking a three month continuance in hopes of gathering witnesses and evidence that might help Brown retake control of the estate from Bowie's wife Sharecka Bowie.

The first to seek control of the estate, Brown filed an application to be appointed temporary administrator on Aug. 28, 2007, requesting an "immediate appointment" because of "possible litigation arising from the death of" her son.

In February 2008, Sharecka Bowie, who is represented by Wyatt Snider in the probate matter, openly challenged Brown for control over the estate.

She filed a wrongful death suit that includes an injunction prohibiting tampering with evidence, which Sharecka claims made it no longer necessary for Brown to act as a temporary administrator.

Soon after, Judge Walker appointed Sharecka Bowie as administrator and divided up Emery Bowie's estate between her and his 3-year-old son, Cayden Bowie, who is not related to Sharecka, court papers say.

Court documents show Judge Walker's ruling led to consecutive appeals filed by Watson, which respectively argued that Brown was the rightful administrator and that Walker lacked jurisdiction and erred in not transferring the case.

The first appeal was denied, but on Jan. 19 the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals issued in a memorandum opinion a finding that the trial court erred by denying Brown's motion to transfer, and that the trial court's finding that she is not a creditor of the estate is against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, reversing and remanding Walker's rulings.

Subsequently, the case was transferred to County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Alfred Gerson, who also appointed Sharecka Bowie as administrator, which in turn helped lead to the continuance hearing held in Wortham's court, court papers say.

The lawsuit

On Aug. 19, 2008, Sharecka Bowie filed suit against her late husband's employer Standard Constructors, claiming the company failed to keep him from being killed while he was operating a bulldozer.

On behalf of Sharecka, the suit was filed by attorneys Chris Portner of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, and Charlton Hornsby. Both attorneys, along with Wyatt Snider, Sharecka's probate attorney, were at the April 9 hearing.

In addition to Standard Constructors, the bulldozer's manufacturer, Caterpillar Inc., and the company that maintained the equipment, Mustang Machinery Co., were all named as defendants in the suit.

Court documents show that Bowie was killed Aug. 9, 2007, while operating a bulldozer at the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur.

A report from KBTV-4 said that the accident happened near the gate inside the plant.

Bowie, 25, of Port Arthur, was working on a project to reroute Alligator Bayou off Savannah Avenue, the report said.

"Sources say Bowie was getting off a bulldozer when his foot accidently pulled the lever, causing the bulldozer to move forward," the television station reported. "According to sources, the move forward knocked Bowie off, causing the bulldozer to run over him."

During the hearing, Watson, who is an attorney with the Law Offices of Gilbert T. Adams, objected to the Reaud, Morgan & Quinn law firm collecting a possible 40 percent from the estate when the firm had been previously fired by the Bowie family.

The firm had been brought in by attorney Hornsby and Sharecka, who Watson says was only Bowie's wife for two months before he died.

Another attorney, Stella Morrison, who was supposedly the family's original attorney until being fired by Sharecka, said that the whole case was about greed, remarking that "money is the root of all evil" and that's what happened in this case.

On top of denying the motion for continuance, Wortham ruled that Hornsby and Porter would have to amend their contract with Sharecka, and that she was entitled to one third of the estate while Emery's son was entitled to two thirds.

After the ruling, Watson told Wortham he was overstepping his bounds by ruling on the contract issue when he was not asked to, promising after the contract was amended "they would end up right back here."

Watson said he believes Brown signed a contract with Morrison which supercedes Sharecka's contract.

Probate case No. 95264
Civil Lawsuit case No. E182-248
Appellate case No. 09-08-00204-CV

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