Protesters claiming a Provost Umphrey attorney "stole" their asbestos settlement money gathered in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 10, in hopes of attracting a lawyer brave enough to tangle with the renowned law firm.
Clutching a sign saying "Provost Umphrey stole my grandma's estate," Willie Watson told the Record that a public protest was his last resort. Watson, a Brenham resident, said he has gone to the county and federal courts and the District Attorney for help to obtain the proceeds from the settlement but received only dismissing remarks and letters.
According to court documents, Watson's grandmother, the late Annie Wilridge, had an asbestos suit filed in 1998 in Jefferson County probate court. Her case was handled by Provost Umphrey attorney Warren Clark and assigned to Judge Carl Griffith.
When the case settled, Watson claims Clark refused to tell Wilridge's descendants the amount of the settlement and alleges the attorney has not redistributed any of the settlement money.
"I haven't received a dime," Watson said.
"We've been out here talking to people all morning who say they are in similar situations," Watson said. "Every one's afraid of Provost Umphrey."
Watson claims he has been told that Provost Umphrey is "untouchable" and that the firm "runs this town."
Because the settlement information was not disclosed, Watson said he has no idea how much he is entitled to, but said he thinks the attorney made millions off of his grandmother's death.
Calls to Clark by the Record were not returned.
In 2004, Watson wrote Judge Griffith in hopes he could make Clark release the settlement amount. In response, Griffith wrote that he had received Watson's letter and there was nothing he could do to help. Watson presented this letter to the Record.
Watson then pursued another option and filed a civil suit against Clark in federal court. The case was assigned to Magistrate Earl Hines, Eastern District of Beaumont, who on April 18, 2007, kicked the case back to Jefferson County, asserting his court had no jurisdiction. Watson also presented Hines' order to the Record.
Once in Jefferson County, Watson's case died.
"We demand justice," Watson said. "Everyone is too scared to help us. We have to let the people know how crooked Provost Umphrey really is."
According to the Provost Umphrey Web site, Clark's areas of practice include small estate wills, powers of attorney and probate and the administration of estates involving probate law and tort law.
Probate No. 74,812.
Federal case No. 1:07cv30