Austin Attorneys Robert G. Wall and Katherine M. Gonyea Obtain Victory in Pro Bono Trial


May 23, 2019

Austin attorneys Robert G. Wall and Katherine M. Gonyea recently worked with Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas (VLS) to successfully represent a disabled man whose sisters transferred the interest in his home to themselves and misappropriated his benefits.

The client is a fully disabled individual with an IQ of 68 who reads at a second grade level. He lived at home with his mother and adult brother his entire adult life, until his mother passed in 2008 with their house as her only asset.

After she passed, in accordance with her wishes, the family got together and deeded the house to the client and his brother. In 2014, without the knowledge of the other siblings and shortly after his brother passed, two sisters had the client sign a deed transferring his interest in the home to them for no consideration.

Additionally, one of the two sisters had also been appointed as his representative payee for newly-awarded Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for a full disability finding based on his intellectual disability and his diabetes. Over the following two years that sister misappropriated the client’s SSDI benefits to pay her personal bills, consumer debts, online shopping and cellphone games.

After investigating the SSDI issue, Mr. Wall filed suit on behalf of the client in March 2017. During the case Mr. Wall battled attempts to evict the client and an attempt to discharge any potential liability in bankruptcy. He moved for summary judgment to overturn a purported will from the second brother’s interest to the same sisters and to establish the existence of a fiduciary duty and breach of that duty.

Ms. Gonyea handled the summary judgment hearing just days after starting with our firm last fall, winning  the will dispute and establishing the existence of a fiduciary relationship. She also presented their pro bono CPA expert at trial.

The jury returned a verdict of breach of fiduciary duty with $12,500 in damages for the SSDI account and $87,500 damages on the deed transfer, conversion of the SSDI funds, and most importantly the absence of capacity in 2014 for the client to deed his interest in the property to his sisters. The client and VLS were thrilled with the result.

Mr. Wall and Ms. Gonyea will continue to work on the client’s behalf to clarify and consolidate the interests remaining in the property, establish tax responsibilities and work toward the appointment of a pro bono guardian or other service provider to asset the client with his finances moving forward.