When it comes to the dead or the elderly, greed knows no legal or ethical boundaries.
I sat in New Britain Probate Court on Thursday morning as a lawyer sought to justify a slick shell game that would pilfer an inheritance from a Southington farmhand and hand it to the Catholic Church. In the process, a choice parcel of Southington farmland would be turned over to a local developer.
The problem is that Josephine Smoron — who died in June of 2009 — made it clear that under no circumstances did she want her farm to be sold to benefit the church.
"Any church or churches which may have been named in prior wills are also intentionally and not inadvertently omitted," Smoron wrote in a 1996 will that left her property to a Middletown man, Sebastian Scirpo, and her farm caretaker, Sam Manzo.
Scirpo died in 2002 and a later will in 2004 handed the entire farm to Manzo, who remains on the property.
All of this would seemingly make it at least somewhat obvious that the farm goes to Manzo — or perhaps to Manzo and members of the Scirpo family.
But this is probate court, where misdeeds pass unchallenged, like ships in the night.
Last May — when Smoron was dying in a nursing home — John Nugent, a local lawyer appointed by probate to watch over her estate, quietly approached Southington Probate Judge Bryan F. Meccariello with a motion to create two trusts containing all of the Polish farmer's property. Upon Smoron's death, the property would go to Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in New Britain, Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in New Britain and Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Southington.
At a court hearing attended only by Meccariello on May 12, 2009, the judge approved creation of the trusts, despite the fact that the action effectively disinherited Manzo. Lawyers for Manzo, Scirpo and Smoron relatives were given no opportunity to raise questions. They weren't even told of the hearing, which took place with Meccariello recording the proceedings and citing case law into the tape recorder.
All of this might have gone unnoticed, except that Manzo got a lawyer and started raising questions, and I started writing about the travesty. Before long, Meccariello recused himself and ordered a new hearing on the matter.
A probate oversight board investigation is underway.
Barry Pontolillo, Manzo's lawyer, told me after the hearing Thursday that the solution to this mess is obvious.
"All we have to do is get the church to realize that greed is one of the seven deadly sins."
I suspect the church knows a great deal about this topic. It's Probate Court that doesn't get it.
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In Smoron Probate Case, Greed At Its Ugly Worst