Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Karoly blasts documents in will fight

Court papers filed over brother's estate have false claims, he says, and should be kept secret.
By Tyra Braden Of The Morning Call
Lawyer John P. Karoly Jr. says documents contesting what he claims is his brother's only valid will should remain secret because they contain ''absolutely false and wholly fabricated allegations'' that could hurt his and other people's reputations.

Joining Karoly in his motion filed in Northampton County Court were several others who say they are beneficiaries of lawyer Peter J. Karoly's estate, which includes his Allentown law firm.
On Wednesday, Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden held a hearing to determine whether all documents should remain sealed. She and the eight lawyers present, including Karoly, agreed no information contained in the court papers would be disclosed during arguments. Several of the lawyers cited case law to support their positions.

The Morning Call believes the documents should be made public and was represented at the hearing by lawyer Robert Clothier of Philadelphia. He told McFadden he was ''hamstrung'' because he had been unable to review legal briefs filed by the other lawyers.

Still, Clothier said, blanket orders sealing court files ''are considered very suspect.'' The newspaper, he said, has a right under the First Amendment and common law to have access to judicial records.

McFadden will rule later on whether to lift the veil over assets left when Peter Karoly, a leading medical malpractice lawyer who owned the now-defunct Allentown Ambassadors baseball team, and his wife, dentist Lauren Angstadt, died Feb. 2 in a plane crash in Massachusetts. Two wills, dated 1985 and 2006, have been filed.

Two of Karoly's sisters, Kim Luciano of Kissimmee, Fla., and Joanne Billman of Monks Corner, S.C., filed a caveat. Because it is sealed, what they are contesting cannot be determined.

But John Karoly's motion says he is a beneficiary in the June 2, 2006, wills and testaments of Peter Karoly and Angstadt.

Besides making false allegations, his sisters filed the caveat for financial gain and ''out of personal animus with the intent to embarrass, humiliate and harm'' John Karoly ''and his professional standing in the community and his professional practice,'' the motion says.

Further, according to the motion, making the documents public would ''adversely and irreversibly affect the privacy and reputations'' of the people involved.

Many of the allegations in the caveat, the motion says, could involve attorney-client privileged information, ''which is barred from public disclosure in any event.'' The motion also says pretrial and discovery matters are not judicial records and therefore not open to the public and should be sealed.

Before the hearing, The Morning Call received copies of the motions filed by John Karoly, six other people who have identified themselves as beneficiaries and Dr. John J. Shane, who says he is not involved in the dispute but claims the caveat contains an ''untrue reference'' to him that embarrasses and defames him.

One of the lawyers, who has asked not to be identified, said last month 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.

A Karoly half-brother, 21-year-old Michael Karoly of South Carolina, filed a criminal complaint with Bethlehem police last month, alleging the second will was fraudulent. The district attorney's office reviewed the complaint and declined to take action, saying a probate judge should determine which will is valid.

Besides Shane, joining John Karoly in his motion to keep the documents sealed are Jason Azar and Joseph J. Karoly, as guardian for Alexa Karoly, a minor, all represented by lawyer Philip D. Lauer of Easton; lawyer John P. Karoly III, Joshua Karoly and Gregory Azar Jr., all represented by lawyer Gary S. Figore of Easton. Shane is represented by lawyer Richard J. Shiroff of Easton.

Lawyer Christopher Reid of Easton, who represents Billman and Luciano, noted at the hearing it would be illogical to keep the documents secret because there are 28 ''potential beneficiaries'' of Peter Karoly's will.

John Karoly Jr., of South Whitehall Township, cited numerous legal cases and repeatedly said there was no ''public interest'' in the matter. He also noted, as is disclosed in the motion The Morning Call received, that numerous people would be embarrassed if the newspaper gained access to the sealed filings.

As they were leaving the hearing, the lawyers declined to comment.

Peter Karoly, Angstadt and Michael Milot of Heidelberg Township died when Karoly's private plane crashed on approach to New Bedford Regional Airport, 60 miles south of Boston. Karoly and Angstadt lived in Bethlehem.
source : www.mcall.com

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