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Part 2

The Will


He graduated from Virginia Union University in 1957 and from Howard University's law school in 1960. Douglas worked for the Teamsters union for a year after law school, was an examiner in the U.S. Copyright Office for a year after that, then was a staff attorney for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights until 1965, when he entered private practice. In 1969, he became the first black assistant prosecutor in Richmond. He also was the first black to serve on the state bar's Third District Committee before his election to the bench in 1974. Active in the United Methodist Church, Douglas was elected in 1984 to the church's highest judicial body. In 1985, he was elected to the board of trustees of the National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. In 1986, however, Douglas was indicted on charges of embezzlement and grand larceny over his handling of travel-expense funds, and became the second judge in Virginia to be tried for a felony. The first trial ended in a mistrial when jurors declared themselves deadlocked. The second trial, in early 1987, ended with Douglas found not guilty. While he was acquitted, the case seems to have wounded Douglas' career on the bench. He stopped getting appointed to judicial association boards. He had bad relations with some fellow judges and court personnel, and was passed over for chief judge of the juvenile court in 1988. In 1989, a frustrated Douglas said he was the victim of unfair and racist attacks and announced his retirement. Less than two weeks later, he changed his mind and rescinded his resignation before finally retiring under the threat of state Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission disciplinary hearings. Wrote the Times-Dispatch: "Sources with some knowledge of the commission said [Douglas] faced more than a dozen allegations of violations of judicial ethics." In June 1996, the Eggleston family gathered in the North Side home of its patriarch: There were N.A. Eggleston Sr., his children, their spouses, two witnesses and a notary public. His wife, Sallie, had died some years before. Eggleston Sr. had lived more than a century himself but had been in and out of the hospital recently. Now the family was gathered for what would be his final act of generosity — the signing of his last will and testament. In court records, Eggleston Sr. was described by those in attendance as happy and alert. Family friend Ruth Nevels, one of the witnesses to the signing, said he "was in very good spirits" and made jokes. She called it "a jovial occasion" filled with "laughter and just general conversation." She and another witness, Olivia Cook, recalled that some of the women were cooking in the kitchen while Eggleston Sr. conversed with others in the living room. There they all gathered finally as his daughter Jane's husband, former Judge Douglas, read the final draft of the will aloud. Then Eggleston Sr., the two witnesses and the notary signed it. "Now I can die in peace," they testified he said. All of them, that is, except his daughter Aurelia, who was not there. She had not been invited, she says, or even told of the occasion. In fact, she says she doubts that it even occurred — the way the rest of the family has claimed, at least. On Dec. 5, 1996, N.A. Eggleston Sr. died. Aurelia Eggleston Ford didn't hear anything about her father's legacy for weeks. Then, two months after her father's death, in February 1997, she heard a will had been presented to the Richmond Chancery Court for validation. A friend of hers in the courts building "tipped me off," she recalls, "and told me to go down right away because there's something about that will down there." She went down and examined the will. It left her nothing. It never even mentioned her. "I was so shocked," she says. And then there was her father's strange signature on the will: smooth, feminine and not at all like his scratchy scrawl. She immediately suspected Jane Douglas. On the stand, family and friends said Jane was the daughter who did the most to support her father. "Jane was the one that I saw do the kinds of things that count, you know," Ruth Nevels testified. "You know, Jane would provide his meals, and his daughter-in-law [N.A. Eggleston Jr.'s wife, Jean] also took care of his needs when he was bedridden." Jane Douglas states in court records that she helped her father with everything from bathing to paying bills. She says she did his laundry from 1974 until he died. Aurelia was not a good daughter, Jane Douglas said in court. She and her husband, Judge Douglas, had "admonished the plaintiff for being a wayward daughter by not assisting in the care of testator." In one of her legal filings, Jane Douglas states she "carried out the testator's [the senior Eggleston's] intent by excluding the plaintiff. ... Testator excluded [Aurelia Eggleston Ford] because of prior support and monetary benefits he had already given to [her]." Aurelia Eggleston Ford says that's nonsense. "They basically said Daddy had done enough for me [by paying for her college education]," she scoffs, "and now it was their turn." Neither the Douglases nor Eggleston Jr. would comment to Style about the case and their dispute with Ford. But Eggleston Jr. says there had been problems between "the entire family and her" for some time before Eggleston Sr.'s death. "I don't know her," Eggleston Jr. says of his sister, refusing to discuss her further, beyond acknowledging that they still live across the street from each other on Seminary Avenue in North Side. Other family members — including Ford — either declined to discuss specifics of past family relationships or said they could not recall what went wrong. "I don't have any idea what it was," Aurelia Ford says, when asked about the cause of the bad blood between her and her siblings. But she does say that when her brother, Eggleston Jr., defaulted on the property mortgages, she refused to help bail him out. "He cursed me and different things," she says. "It was good one time and now it is no more." Ford says she has not had good relations with her brother and sister for seven or eight years. She has avoided unpleasantness with her family only "by staying away from them," she says, though she maintains cordial relations with Eggleston Jr.'s son, Sugarfoot, and wife, Jean. [image-1](Scott L. Henderson / Style Weekly)The glory days of the Eggleston Hotel. Sallie Eggleston, holding flowers, died in in the 1970s; her husband, Neverett Eggleston Sr., stands beside her. To Eggleston Sr.'s left are his son, Neverett Eggleston Jr., and daughter-in-law, Jean Eggleston. "We restrict the conversations, but we have conversations," Ford says. She adds that she went to Sugarfoot's 1999 wedding. "It's arrogance and greed all wrapped up into one. They think they can get away with it. So far they have gotten away with it." So says Ford's lawyer, Tom Roberts. Roberts is a white plaintiff's attorney with a client list that is primarily black. "Most of what we do is civil-rights stuff," he says. Ford picked him as her attorney. "I couldn't get a black lawyer because ... I didn't want them talking about my business," she says. The bearded, balding Roberts has a mischievous streak that has seen him represent a number of colorful clients, including a writer who unsuccessfully accused novelist Patricia Cornwell of stealing one of his story ideas. In January 1998, Ford and Roberts filed a motion to impeach the will. Roberts says he hired a handwriting expert who told him Eggleston Sr.'s signature "was as fake as it looked." In February, Eggleston Jr. and his wife, Jean, denied Ford's claims and moved to dismiss the case; Judge Douglas and his wife, Jane, did the same and tacked on a countersuit claiming Ford had caused them emotional distress. The case dragged for months. The Douglases' attorney was David Prince, who had drafted the will. Ford and Roberts wanted to question him, but he did not attend a scheduled October 1998 deposition. Then, under circumstances that have not been fully determined, another apparently earlier will of Eggleston Sr.'s came to light. A week after Prince failed to attend the deposition, Judge Theodore J. Markow ordered this apparent first will of Eggleston Sr. released. Dated Dec. 3, 1968 — 28 years before Eggleston Sr.'s death — it split his assets equally among his three children and appointed Eggleston Jr. to serve as trustee and executor of his estate. It was signed in the elder Eggleston's signature scrawl. It was unquestionably real. Now the question was: Was the second will equally real? If so, it would be the final arbiter of Neverett Eggleston Sr.'s wishes. In November 1998, Judge Markow ordered Prince to provide written responses to Ford and Roberts' deposition questions. By the end of the month, he had not, and in December 1998, Judge Markow dismissed the Douglases' emotional distress suit against Ford. In January 1999, Prince finally gave his written responses. Roberts leaped on two of them. In one question, Prince was asked, "Who retained you to draft the alleged last will and testament?" Prince replied, "I did not charge Mr. Eggleston Sr. a fee for preparing the will." In another question, Prince was asked, "Who communicated to you the information necessary to prepare the alleged last will and testament?" Prince replied, "Mr. Eggleston communicated the information for his last will and testament." Roberts pleaded to the judge that in the first reply, Prince had not answered the question. In the second reply, Roberts claimed, Prince had fudged by not stating whether it was Eggleston Sr. or Eggleston Jr. who had given him the information to draft the will. The judge agreed and ordered Prince to undergo an in-person deposition. In his May 1999 deposition, Prince repeatedly stated he did not recall anything about the will he said he had drafted. Three months later, on Aug. 18, he moved to withdraw from the case. It was too late. On Aug. 19 the trial began. It ended the next day. Ford won. The jury and judge declared invalid the will Prince said he drafted in 1996. But Ford's victory was not complete. The will that disowned her had been discredited, but the people she accused had not been punished. The judge tossed out much of her claims for damages. Her claims of fraud and undue influence on her father by her siblings and their spouses were not upheld. Nor was her subsequent suit for emotional distress, which Judge Markow dismissed. In October 1999, the Richmond commonwealth's attorney's office asked Judge Markow to release documents for "a criminal investigation in the possible forgery of the purported Neverett Eggleston will." As requested, the judge released the will and handwriting samples from Jane Douglas of 25 signatures of "Neverett A. Eggleston Sr." Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Dinkin says the handwriting sample proved to be a "dead end. " Ford wants her father's assets to be liquidated and divided equally among his three children — except for the hotel, which she would like to see refurbished and brought back to life. But, she says, the others won't agree to those terms "because I would get something out of it." And family members now living in Eggleston Sr.'s former properties would have to move. Eggleston Sr.'s financial statement of October 1983 with Consolidated Bank states his net worth was $277,179. A financial statement of September 1990 says his net worth had increased to $365,700. Ford and Roberts estimate the estate now to be worth upwards of $500,000. This year, with no progress being made on dividing the estate, Ford's emotional-distress suit against her siblings and their spouses came to trial. It was in August, before Judge Markow. Defense attorney Jim Sheffield admitted to the jury in his opening argument that "there was an instrument that wasn't signed by Daddy. Daddy didn't sign it." But, he asked, "did it come about because of this intentional getting together" by the family against Ford? He said it had not. Ford testified that she was not told about the alleged signing ceremony and didn't get to say goodbye to her father before he died. She said she suffered from sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and loss of appetite. Judge Markow dismissed the case. He said Ford's family had not been proven to have crafted the discredited will or to have been the cause of her claimed suffering. In any case, he said, Ford's claimed suffering did not rise to the standard of severity required in such cases. Roberts says he plans to appeal soon (a notice of appeal was filed Aug. 31). The final distribution of Eggleston Sr.'s property may not occur until after her suit is resolved. Now, Ford says, her family has effective control of her father's real estate and personal belongings, such as his furniture and silver. In the meantime, Ford has nothing left of her father's, she says, save memory and a few pictures. Jump to Part 1, 2,

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