Working to Protect a Mother's Last Gift

Date: August 17, 2009

By: Caryn Tamber, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

When George J.'s mother left money for him in a trust to be controlled by his cousins, she was trying to make sure he had enough to continue enjoying concerts and sporting events.

But the cousins stopped paying, and George, an elderly, developmentally disabled man, had to go to court.

The Arc of Baltimore recently honored Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP associate Anna S. Kelly, who worked pro bono to help George J. win his case at the appellate level.

Stephen H. Morgan, executive director of the Arc, which aids people with developmental disabilities, praised Kelly's "incredible persistence, determination and stick-to-it-ness" on a case that has been going on for years.

"Other pro bono matters might be much more quickly resolved," Morgan said. "This particular case was so protracted, including appeals and now still in the collections phase."

According to a 2008 opinion from the Court of Special Appeals, when George's mother died in 1994, she left him about $139,000 in trust. When George died, whatever money was left in the trust would go to one of the cousins, Doris DiGiacomo, and her daughter. DiGiacomo also was one of two trustees.

Morgan said George received Social Security benefits and a pension from his 30 years working for Baltimore City, so the money was intended not for living expenses but for "extras" George enjoyed.

He had always enjoyed going to football games, shows at the Hippodrome and concerts at the Meyerhoff, and his mother wanted to ensure that he could keep doing that.

With Whiteford's assistance, George sued the trustee in Baltimore County Circuit Court, charging that the cousins were not sending him disbursements. A judge quickly removed DiGiacomo and the second trustee.

"She was the trustee so she had the right to take the proceeds from the trust," said James F. Rosner, a former Whiteford attorney who handled George's case at the trial court level. "She was supposed to use them for George [J.'s] benefit, but we were able to prove that the money did not go to him."

Eventually, the trial judge found that DiGiacomo had breached her duty in handling George's money. She awarded George almost $116,000 in damages.

"In the end, [DiGiacomo] couldn't account for the money," Kelly said.

The substance of the ruling was upheld on appeal, though George has not yet received his money, Kelly said.

It was Kelly's first chance to deliver oral arguments.

"It was a great experience and the result that came about was the right result," she said.

The Arc gave Kelly its James F. Rosner Award for Advocacy. Rosner has done pro bono work for the Arc for years and has also arranged for other Whiteford attorneys to take cases for the organization.

This article has been reprinted with permission of The Daily Record Co. 2009.