Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Judge: Unseal records in Karoly case

But decision means contested wills remain sealed for now.
By Joe McDonald Of The Morning Call
Lawyer John P. Karoly Jr. on Friday lost a bid to keep all records sealed in a pending legal fight over the wills of his brother and his wife, killed in a February plane crash.

In a split decision, Northampton County Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden ruled the disputed wills are not public for now but denied Karoly's attempt to keep all related court papers secret.
Karoly has argued they should not be made public because they contain ''absolutely false and wholly fabricated allegations'' that could hurt his and other people's reputations.

The Morning Call, represented by lawyer Robert Clothier of Philadelphia, argues the documents should be public.

McFadden agreed in part, ruling the disputed wills will not be released for now while lawyers and experts examine them. The process could last months.

In explaining her decision, McFadden said they must be ''preserved for expert review and investigation.'' The reports from the experts are due by Aug. 15.

Peter Karoly, 53, a leading medical malpractice attorney and businessman, and his wife, dentist Lauren Angstadt, 54, were killed Feb. 2 in a small plane crash in Massachusetts. Two wills, dated 1985 and 2006, have been filed.

The battle over the wills is playing out in Northampton County Court because the couple lived in Bethlehem.

Two of Karoly's sisters, Kim Luciano of Kissimmee, Fla., and Joanne Billman of Moncks Corner, S.C., have filed objections, called caveats, but what they are contesting has not been made public.

McFadden's court order, obtained by the newspaper after the courthouse closed Friday, states they are public documents.

Karoly, who has said he is a beneficiary in the 2006 wills of his brother and his wife, said his sisters' objections are for financial gain and ''out of personal animus with the intent to embarrass, humiliate and harm'' him ''and his professional standing in the community and his professional practice.''

In rejecting Karoly's argument, McFadden said Karoly failed to ''connect the embarrassment he sought to prevent to any specific injury.''

''Additionally, there is no basis for concluding that an attorney is entitled to greater protection of his reputation,'' the judge wrote.

A lawyer familiar with the wills, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, earlier told The Morning Call that Peter Karoly's 1985 will liquidates his law practice and evenly divides the couple's estate among members of both families. A second will dated 2006, the lawyer said, gives John Karoly his brother's law firm while dividing the rest of the estate among nieces and nephews.

Last month, a Karoly half-brother, Michael Karoly, 21, of South Carolina, filed a complaint with Bethlehem police claiming the second will was fraudulent. The Northampton County district attorney's office declined to take action, saying it was a civil matter.

Neither John Karoly nor any of the other nearly dozen lawyers in the case was available for comment Friday evening.
source : www.mcall.com

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