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Siblings file case complaint against probate judge candidate
Siblings say Davidson never had conflict of interest waiver signed
PROBATEJUDGEBrook Davidson
Brook Davidson

Two siblings involved in a dispute over their mother’s estate have filed a complaint with the state Bar of Georgia against Brook Davidson, the attorney who represented their mother.

Davidson is a candidate in the election for Hall County probate judge. She faces Patty Walters Laine in a runoff on Aug. 21.

In their complaint against Davidson, the siblings say she drew up a will for their mother that directly benefited their sister, Mary Marvel, who was also a former client of Davidson.

The siblings, Dorothy Johnson and Glenn Plybon Jr., are involved in a lawsuit against Marvel.

They say Davidson’s work on their mother’s will was in spite of “a known conflict of interest” Davidson had in a trial over their mother’s will.

Officials from the state bar association do not comment on pending complaints.

Records from the complaint, provided to The Times by Johnson and Plybon, will only become public if Davidson is determined to be at fault.

Currently, Davidson has no public disciplinary history with the bar. Neither does her opponent in next week’s election.

Davidson on Tuesday said she had not yet seen the complaint, but said she is confident she will prevail.

“I am confident that my actions were absolutely ethical and appropriate,” Davidson said in a news release sent to The Times on Tuesday night. “I have always, and will always, conduct myself in a manner that will make my family, friends and supporters proud to have been behind me.”

She also noted that she felt the matter was politically motivated, noting the timing of the election.

“I have run my campaign in a positive way, always stressing my qualifications for the office above all else,” she said in the release. “I am disappointed at the attacks on my professionalism that have surfaced in the week before this runoff election.”

The siblings’ complaint stems from a will Davidson drew up for her now-deceased client Joyce Plybon in December 2010.

The will, according to court documents, essentially disinherited Johnson and Plybon Jr. and gave nearly all of Joyce Plybon’s estate to Marvel.

In their complaint to the bar, Joyce Plybon’s other two children say their mother was suffering from dementia and undue influence from Marvel at the time Davidson drew up the will.

Johnson and Plybon Jr.’s complaint also alleges their mother’s eyesight was so impaired at the time the December 2010 will was written that she could not have read it.

But the siblings’ main complaint centers on Davidson’s alleged conflict of interest, representing both their mother and their sister as the siblings’ relationship and their mother’s health deteriorated.

Court records show Davidson had served as Marvel’s attorney as recently as September 2010. On Sept. 23, 2010, Davidson signed an extension of a temporary restraining order Johnson and Plybon Jr. had against Marvel.

Acting as Joyce Plybon’s attorney in December of that year, Davidson executed a quitclaim deed, giving Marvel ownership of her mother’s home, as well as a document that gave Marvel financial power of attorney over her accounts.

On the same day, Davidson also executed a caregiver contract that paid Marvel “more than Joyce Plybon’s income,” according to court documents.

Marvel’s siblings allege in their complaint that Davidson never had a conflict of interest waiver signed when she began representing their mother later that year.

Davidson, noting the pending nature of the case, declined to comment on the waiver.

The state bar rules state that “a lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.”

The maximum penalty for violating the rule is disbarment.

Joyce Plybon died in April 2011.

Before the December 2010 will, Joyce Plybon had a will made in 1990 that sought to divide her estate equally between all three of her children.

A Douglas County probate judge determined last month that the 1990 will should stand, saying the 2010 will was the “product of Mary Marvel’s undue influence, fraud and mistake.”

In his ruling, Douglas County Probate Judge Hal Hamrick also wrote that Davidson’s representation of both Marvel and the siblings’ mother occurred “despite an obvious conflict of interest.”

“As with Ms. Davidson’s other actions,” the judge wrote in his final order, “each document uniformly benefitted her former client, Ms. Marvel.”

Davidson said she doesn’t believe she had a conflict of interest in the case “at all.”

“I would do everything exactly the same; I have that much confidence in the steps that I took,” she said.

Marvel has appealed Hamrick’s ruling to a Douglas County superior court. And Davidson, citing that pending appeal, has declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

There it will receive a “de novo” review, meaning the case will be heard as if it had never been tried before, according to her current attorney Robert Hughes.

“It’s as if nothing that happened in the probate court has any substance or weight to it at all,” said Hughes. “It’s as if they tore the file up and threw it away; you start all over, brand new.”

Jason Graham, an attorney for Johnson and Plybon Jr., has filed a motion in court asking that Davidson be disqualified from participating in the appeal.

“I don’t think Mrs. Davidson ever stopped representing Mrs. Marvel,” Graham said. “The probate judge agreed.”

Hughes said he doubts the validity of the complaint Johnson and Plybon Jr. have filed with the bar, calling Davidson “a very well respected member of the legal community.”

“She followed all of the rules, exceeded the requirements of all the rules and performed her task admirably,” Hughes said.

Hughes, too, called Hamrick a “fine fellow.”

“We just disagree with some of the rulings he made,” Hughes said.

Davidson, too, said she believes “the probate court got this one wrong.” She hopes a judge who is an attorney might see her side.

Hamrick is not a licensed attorney.

Douglas County, because its population is below a certain threshold, is not required to have a probate judge who is a licensed attorney.

“I’m very hopeful that when this case is tried in front of a lawyer judge, we’ll have the right result,” Davidson said.

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