A Lexington County jury late last week took two hours to deliberate before awarding a woman $1.6 million in actual damages in a civil case in which she claimed she was hounded by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, strip-searched and tossed in jail on felony charges that were later dismissed.
The case of lawyer Kay Paschal, who won the verdict against Sheriff Leon Lott, involved a dispute over a dead Columbia businessman’s multimillion-dollar estate, issues of sheriff’s department jurisdiction and charges of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Questions also arose about whether one of Lott’s deputies was too personally close with heirs of the dead man.
Under S.C. law, sheriffs are responsible for the actions of their employees and are named in lawsuits as defendants. Lott testified briefly during the five-day trial last week, telling the jury he had no involvement in the alleged criminal case.
Pat Frawley of Lexington, Lott’s attorney, said he will be filing motions soon asking Judge William Keesley to reconsider the evidence and the verdict.
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Paschal, who is in her late 60s, lived for eight years with local well-to-do businessman David Wallace “as his common law wife,” according to her lawsuit against Lott in the case, filed with the Lexington County clerk of court in early 2012. Before that, she had been an employee of Wallace’s and lived with him in his home, according to legal papers in the case.
Wallace, who was 88 at the time of his death in February 2011, was a real estate broker, philanthropist and lover of cats and animal charities who lived in Forest Acres. He had a stroke in April 2010 that left him severely incapacitated.
In his final years, Paschal “administered to the needs of David Wallace ... and did everything within her power to assist him with his business and personal needs,” according to her lawsuit.
After Wallace died, Paschal had a claim to share in his estate – valued at some $6 million – and was named personal representative of his estate. But Wallace’s two adult children, Jeffrey and Elizabeth Wallace, petitioned the Richland County Probate Court to remove her as representative.
The two Wallace children also believed they had discovered an improper financial transaction committed by Paschal in the last year of their father’s life, and they brought that allegation to Richland County Deputy Lt. Heidi Scott, according to court documents. The transaction involved the June 2010 purchase of a $63,000 Sienna van by Paschal with Wallace’s money, just after David Wallace suffered his stroke. The title had both Paschal’s and David Wallace’s names on it.
Scott persuaded a Lexington County sheriff’s investigator, Stephen Baumgardner, a 16-year veteran detective specializing in white-collar crimes, to look into the van purchase. The van had been purchased in Lexington County, which was why Scott asked the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department to investigate.
Baumgardner found that Paschal had bought the van with Wallace’s knowledge and cooperation and there was no breach of trust, according to legal papers in the case.
After Baumgardner declined to proceed with the case, Scott in November 2011 “took it upon herself to leave her jurisdiction” and to approach judicial officials in Lexington County to seek an arrest warrant for forgery and breach of trust, according to Paschal’s lawsuit.
Paschal was arrested in November 2011 – the same day she was to appear at an estate hearing in probate court to defend herself against allegations by Wallace’s children that she should not be the estate’s personal representative, according to legal papers and testimony in the case. Paschal lost her status as respresentative, at least in part because she did not appear at the hearing, the documents said.
At the jail, Paschal was stripped and given “nothing but a sheet to wrap herself in,” according to testimony in the case. She was later released on a personal bond.
In January 2012, Lexington County Magistrate Gary Morgan held a hearing to determine whether the forgery and breach of trust case against Paschal should go to the Lexington County Grand Jury.
After hearing from Scott and Baumgardner, Morgan ruled that Scott’s case lacked “probable cause” and dismissed the criminal charges against Paschal. Baumgardner testified that David Wallace was a full participant in the van purchase, and that one reason for the $63,000 cost was that it was equipped for a wheelchair.
Paschal filed a lawsuit against Lott for malicious prosecution and abuse of process shortly afterward.
Because of her arrest on forgery and breach of trust charges, Paschal was suspended as a member of the S.C. Bar Association, denied the ability to practice law and her name “has been published in various publications as a person who has been charged with a crime.”
Paschal’s attorney, Jake Moore, said Paschal did wind up with a settlement with the Wallace children with a small amount from his estate, some $250,000.
Moore, who was assisted by attorney Brooks Biediger at trial, said Paschal might have fought for more money from the estate, given her relationship with Wallace, but “her testimony at the trial was that she could not fight Lott’s department and the Wallace kids at the same time,” Moore said.
Paschal was not restored as the estate’s personal representative.
Lott, interviewed late Monday, said the county’s attorneys likely will appeal, “so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the facts.”
However, Lott said, “I stand fully behind the actions of all my deputies who were involved in this case.” Lott also said criminal charges against Paschal similar to the ones dismissed in Lexington are still pending in Richland and his department intends to pursue them.