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Supreme court refuses to hear lawyer’s appeal

A recent state Supreme Court decision sets the stage for damagehearings against a Brookhaven attorney who was ruled to have actedfraudulently in obtaining an elderly Amite County woman’s home,land and other property during an almost 20-year relationshipbetween the two.

In a May 31 action, the high court rejected attorney MichaelCupit’s request for a rehearing on its decision to affirm an April2000 lower court ruling. In April 2000, Fourth District ChancellorHollis McGehee voided the 1986 adoption of Cupit by Mary L. Reidand also set aside a deed and will leaving the woman’s property tothe attorney following her death in July 1997.

Cupit said Wednesday that no other appeals would be pursued.

“It’s over,” Cupit said, adding that he hoped the remainingissues could be resolved quickly and that he could move on.

Michael Taylor, one of the attorneys representing Thomas J.Pluskat, a Reid heir, said he was pleased with the supreme court’sdecision to not rehear the case. With the decision upheld, Taylorsaid the focus will shift back to the lower court and penaltiesfacing Cupit.

“We will be going back to Amite County for more hearings on thedamages,” Taylor said.

Taylor expected Cupit to have to surrender the property “in thenear future.” The property includes approximately 200 acres ofland, an antebellum home, furniture and other items.

In his ruling, McGehee cited undue influence and breach of trustissues in voiding Reid’s will. Her adoption of Cupit was also setaside, and he was ordered to return assets or pay back the estatethe value of any assets gained during what was described as an”inappropriate relationship” with the woman.

Taylor said Pluskat has received an unliquidated judgment, so itwas not clear how much Cupit must pay.

“That figure has not been determined yet,” Taylor said.

Also regarding financial matters, the supreme court granted aPluskat motion to apply a statutory 15 percent penalty on the caseover and above regular damage limits. With the judgmentunliquidated, the amount of the penalty also was not known.

“It’s something the court’s discretion whether or not to applyit to the case, and they chose to,” Taylor said.

Cupit did not wish to discuss facts of the case at length, buthe continued to express disappointment with the court’s initialruling.

“It’s a shame the court never recognized the truth,” Cupitsaid.

Cupit said all trial witnesses, even those for the other side,testified that “Momma Mary” was a strong-willed woman and had toldthem what she had done regarding the property.

Cupit said Reid regarded him “as her own son” and that herintentions were clear. Citing evidence brought up at the trial,Cupit said Reid testified about him in an unrelated case in whichthe attorney was involved.

“She wanted me to have her property,” Cupit said.

In his appeal to the supreme court, Cupit argued statute oflimitation issues involving the deed and will and whether the lowercourt erred in voiding them because of undue influence and fraud.In its original ruling in December 2001 and in its revised opinionon May 31, the supreme court rejected the attorney’s arguments.

“The peculiar and troubling circumstances of this case requirethat the deed be set aside and that the statute of limitationsconcerning the deed be overlooked,” the high court wrote, whilealso saying the statute of limitations did not prevent Pluskat fromchallenging the adult adoption.

Cupit’s relationship with Reid began in 1979, when he was 24 andshe was 79. It started after Cupit made an uninvited visit toReid’s Liberty home, expressing an interest in antebellum homes andsaying that some of his relatives had sharecropped on the farm inthe 1920s and 1930s.

Cupit represented the relationship as that of a mother and son.However, McGehee found the relationship went beyond that,considering 1982 letters from Reid to Cupit indicating “an intimaterelationship of some nature” between the two people.

Reid adopted Cupit in 1986. In his ruling, McGehee found theadoption was the product of a “long term plan and scheme concoctedand obtained by Cupit by fraud and overreaching.”

Taylor said the supreme court opinion issued May 31 correctedsome minor grammatical errors in the first and cleaned up somewording, but otherwise the original opinion was unchanged.

“The substance of it didn’t change,” Taylor said.