The Unfortunate Altercation

(reading time 8 minutes)

My secretary stepped quietly into my office about 9:05 AM and closed the door behind her to announce the presence of a lady, a Mrs. Clara Brown and two friends. She announced that she must see me now.  It was a vital matter of importance to her.  I had not yet had my usual cup of coffee with my salesmen who were waiting in the meeting room to discuss some events of yesterday and planning for today.

This was during the same time when I was a REALTOR (which was for 50 + years) with offices in Pennsylvania trading as Russell E. Miller Co. Also, as a concomitant profession, I was a radio talk show host broadcaster.  My radio program was called “The Russ Miller Show, Real Estate and Your Estate”. I enjoyed 28 years on Philadelphia’s leading talk station.   The lady in the waiting room was one of my radio listeners. She was accompanied by her sister and her neighbor.  She identified them as her witnesses for two important incidents.

As she unfolded the details of the story, she revealed that during an argument with her late husband, who had threatened her with a gun, she grabbed the gun from him.  He tried to recover it from her, gripping the gun by the barrel to pull it away. His grasp pulled the trigger against her finger and it went off. Her husband fell dead on the floor in front or her.  She referred to that as, ”the unfortunate altercation”.  She also informed me that she was not charged in her husband death. There were several witnesses to the accidental discharge of the gun from the husband’s attempt to take it from his wife, Clara.  Two witnesses accompanied her to my office this day, to verify the incident. They were also witnesses to a common law marriage between the Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Pennsylvania recognized common law marriages, if all of the required elements existed.  The neighbor was one of the required elements, as a witness. Her sister was another witness. Thus the marriage met the requirements and was legal.

The major reason my client, Mrs. Clara Brown, wished to consult with me, was that her deceased husband, who we will call Charlie Brown, was the sole heir to some valuable family farm acreage.  It was at the end of a runway at a major airport in Florida. This was not just any property, but much needed acreage for the extension of runways, that this municipal airport needed for immediate expansion, now!  The property had already been condemned for airport use. The question was, who would be awarded the money at settlement.

According to Pennsylvania law, Clara was now the legal owner of that property, but with one problem. The deceased husband had a brother, Joe.  Joe Brown claimed that Clara’s marriage to his brother was not legal and that he, the only surviving relative in the Brown family was heir to all of the deceased brother’s property. Now the question was, who was the rightful owner the common law wife or the brother?

The case was getting interesting, but beyond my help.  Clara needed a good real estate and estate planning attorney – a combination not easy to find, but I knew one. I referred this lady to one of the few attorneys with experience in both fields, one who was several times a guest on my radio program sharing his expertise on related matters.

I called my attorney friend Harold Fineman, Esquire.  I advised him that there would be a Mrs. Clara Brown calling for an appointment, with a very interesting story.  I’m sure that this would be one for the books. I never heard of the combination of these particular elements, all in one case before.  If the lawyer were not the very best, experienced in both specialties, the case could be easily lost.  Florida lawyers don’t particularly like Philadelphia lawyers to try cases in their jurisdiction. This would require taking on some sharp legal opponents in Florida, who could gang up on this Philadelphia lawyer and tear him apart, southern style. But I knew the right guy, Harold Fineman, Esq.

The next day, Clara, accompanied by her witness friends, met with Harold and explained the case.  This was a most unusual case and a challenge for Harold. It could be a landmark case by reason of its series of unusual and complicated issues. He agreed to accept the case.  It would indeed be an experience not offered to many out of state attorneys.

Attorney Harold Fineman went to Florida with his client, Clara Brown. In the attempt of trying to communicate with the attorney for Joseph Brown, brother of the deceased, he was given a special treatment for unwanted out of town lawyers.  The intervention by such Yankee smoothie lawyers was not treated friendly.  Among the rather cold reception for Harold, a trick never experienced by Harold, was a greeting sign on the door of the Florida attorney for Joe Brown. “OFFICE HOURS THIS WEEK ONLY, Monday to Friday, 12 midnight until 6:00 AM. Closed weekends.” Telephone answering service had a recording stating the same.  This was an extremely unusual and obvious ploy to make it inconvenient for the visiting Philadelphia lawyer to communicate. Harold played along. Accompanied by the two witnesses, he camped on the doorstep to connect with the Florida attorney, who did appear just to cover himself for the irregularity. The meeting took place.  After a lot of other unusual inconveniences, Harold finally got to court with the aid of a lawyer cousin in Tampa, who introduced Harold to the court in the usual required fashion.

Clara, with the aid of her relatives and friends, enlisted several residents in the area, their friends, and other interested parties to the court case.  They almost filled the courtroom.  The case was presented and Clara was awarded 100% ownership of the property as the legal wife of the deceased, accidentally killed by his wife in an “unfortunate altercation”.  When the judge announced the verdict, the audience filled the courtroom with cheers and merriment.  The value of the property exceeded a million dollars, which went to Clara, 100%.

Clara was now an heiress with a fat bank account.  It was time to throw a party for all of her friends and supporters in her neighborhood. There was a guest of honor, Harold Fineman, Esq., the Philadelphia lawyer who went to Florida and showed them how we do things in Yankee land.   He is now the favorite attorney for many of the neighbors and gets invited to most neighborhood parties, weddings and funerals.  Harold is their trusted lawyer.  He is their guy.


Note:   The Philadelphia lawyer for this case was the one person upon whom I could call with confidence, to sit in for me on my radio program when I was unable.  He did what I did, Real Estate and Your Estate, and he still does it very well.