Jurors deciding contest over will

Posner offspring in bitter fight over $20 million estate

May 03, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Rose Posner's children, locked in a bitter battle over her $20 million estate, have spent the past three weeks in a Baltimore County courtroom smearing each other's names.

Now, a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury will decide who gets how much.

Posner, the widow of a wealthy developer, wrote a 12th and final will before she died in 1996 that left the bulk of the $20 million to her son and gave her daughters $100 each.

But the daughters, Judith A. Geduldig and Dr. Carol Jean Posner Gordon, sued, alleging that their brother, Dr. David B. Posner, fraudulently turned their mother against them and lied to cheat them out of their rightful inheritance.

The daughters want the jury to invalidate the will and declare as valid a 1994 will that divides the money evenly among them. Jurors deliberated for about four hours yesterday before being sent home for the night.

In closing arguments yesterday, the daughters' lawyer, Holly Drumheller Butler, said that David Posner dealt with his mother in an unscrupulous way during the final years of her life.

"You cannot manipulate someone so underhandedly," said Butler.

But Posner's lawyer argued that Gordon was guilty of unseemly behavior because she removed a photograph from Rose Posner's Lutherville home, and Rose Posner had to sue to get it back.

"Is Dr. Gordon a burglar and a thief? We think the evidence shows that she is," said E. Pete Sommerfield.

Posner maintains that Gordon, a neuropsychiatrist in Owings Mills, overmedicated their mother with Prozac and other prescription drugs to take control of her money.

In the three-week trial, the chilly relations between the daughters and son were readily apparent. The three have avoided eye contact in the courtroom, stood in distant clusters during trial breaks and yesterday brushed off Judge Lawrence R. Daniels' suggestion that they try to negotiate a settlement.

"They're the ones who forced this into a courtroom," Posner said.

He said Gordon and Geduldig have rejected three settlement offers.

Jurors viewed four videotapes of Rose Posner dictating wills before she died at 87 of complications from emphysema. The tapes show a spirited, intelligent woman who was sick of the bickering among her children.

"It distresses me when my children dicker with me like this and they think they know what I want," Posner said in a 1994 videotape.

According to testimony, Posner was admitted to a Pennsylvania nursing home in 1994 after Gordon became concerned about her mother's health and arranged her move to Philadelphia, where she could be treated by Rose Posner's brother, Dr. Laurence T. Browne. She spent five months at the home, Devon Manor, until David Posner transferred her to Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Posner had become concerned that his mother was being overmedicated, and he filed a complaint with Pennsylvania medical authorities about her care, according to testimony.

Posner also sought help from his lawyer, Mark Willen, to fight a court order sought by the daughters to prevent Rose Posner's transfer to Mercy.

Chester County Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge James MacElree permitted the transfer during a May 24, 1994, hearing at which Rose Posner told MacElree that she wanted to divide her money equally among her three children.

Butler argued yesterday that David Posner persuaded his mother to reduce the daughters' inheritance by telling her that her daughters sought to overmedicate her, have her declared legally incompetent and take control of her estate.

Kurt Fischer, another lawyer for the daughters, told jurors that Willen acted improperly in writing Rose Posner's wills because he also was representing her son. Willen earned $577,000 handling Rose Posner's affairs, he said.

Sommerfield countered that Willen earned his fees and advised the Posners to hire other lawyers if they felt there was a conflict.

Sommerfield said that Rose Posner reduced her daughters' inheritances because of the way they treated her.

Geduldig saw her mother once in 19 years and failed to visit when she was critically ill in a Philadelphia hospital, he said.

Also, Sommerfield said, Gordon took a photograph from Rose Posner's house while she was at Devon Manor. Rose Posner had to sue - and come to court in a wheelchair - to get it back.

Butler called the theft regrettable and acknowledged that the mother and daughters had a "rocky" relationship.

"It's a family," she said. "They had problems."

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