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Phoenix News – As Helpless As Children

Phoenix New Times
by Paul Rubin

But Grace Gannett’s family was starting to smell something fishy, even if Jones wasn’t. Her relatives started to wonder aloud why more than two-thirds of her assets had vanished in a three-year period.

“We thought the charges were exorbitant,” says Grace Gannett’s daughter-in-law, Joy Gannett, “but we felt we just had to trust the attorneys.”
Cinthia Gannett aired many of the family’s concerns in a 1991 letter to Legg and Mackey. She heard nothing in return.

“We figured that as grandchildren, we just didn’t count legally,” she says, “and we thought that if you have the jobs of guardian and attorney of an old person, it’s a sacred trust. You are supposed to be more ethical than anyone else.”
Grace Gannett died June 30, 1992. Her family gathered in Mesa to say its final goodbyes. After the funeral, the mourners met at Wayne Legg’s longtime law firm for a reading of her will.

No one there that day is likely to forget it.
Cinthia Gannett recalls “this enormous room with a huge table that my mom said had probably cost enough to feed many families for months.” The sprawling table and the spread-out seating arrangement kept family members from conversing among themselves, she says.

Legg wasn’t present that day. Attorney Wilford Taylor ran things. The will reading went smoothly until Taylor informed the family that Grace Gannett had amended her will in February 1990, replacing Ed Phillips with private fiduciary Webber Mackey.

“It shocked me out of my skull,” Joy Gannett says. “I wondered, ‘How could my mother have been legally competent to change her will after she had been declared incapable of handling her own affairs?’”
Some of Grace Gannett’s loved ones had seen enough. Soon after Cinthia Gannett returned home to New Hampshire, she wrote a letter to other family members that posed a difficult question:

“Could there be some complicity in the relation between the [Legg] firm (or just one of its attorneys) and Mackey, protecting each other from any outside interference and skimming/draining the estate in a variety of legal and semi-legal ways?”
The letter struck a chord with the Phillips family in Arizona, which had revered Grace and Herman Gannett. Grace Gannett hadn’t named Ed Phillips’ son, Keith Phillips, as a beneficiary in her will. But Keith was fighting mad about what was happening.

In July 1992, he mailed a letter to Morris Rozar, then Maricopa County’s presiding Probate Court judge.

“I feel that Webber Mackey is cutting himself in for expenses and a percentage of an estate,” Phillips wrote, “that his plan was and is to bleed off what he can. . . . It sickens me. . . . I think Mackey has committed fraud, the way this was handled.”
On August 17, 1992, Keith Phillips showed up at Commissioner Elizabeth Yancey’s courtroom to object to Mackey’s pending appointment as executor of Grace Gannett’s estate. He asked Yancey if he could speak.

“She said I had no standing to say anything, because I wasn’t named in the will,” Phillips recalls. “Then I handed her a copy of my letter to Judge Rozar.”
Yancey soon put the matter on hold. Last October, Mackey withdrew from consideration as the executor of Grace Gannett’s estate. Last March, Yancey appointed Ed Phillips–the friend named in the original will–as the executor.

But problems remain with the shrunken Gannett estate: Webber Mackey apparently can’t find several family heirlooms that had been entrusted to him. And there’s the question of how Legg and Mackey convinced Grace Gannett to change her will.

Webber Mackey’s own journal provides the answer. It includes a notation dated February 15, 1990: “Met ambulance at Valley Lutheran Hospital. Sign paperwork. . . .”

That’s the same date Grace Gannett scrawled her name on the new will.
Hours after Grace Gannett had suffered a stroke, Webber Mackey had gotten his legally “incapacitated and protected” ward to sign a new will that named him executor of her estate. “It’s so ghastly, so tawdry, it’s almost hard to believe,” Cinthia Gannett says. “People who prey on the elderly are just the worst.”

@sub:The Fall of Wayne Legg
@body:In 1991, the law firm of Killian, Legg, Nicholas and Fischer assigned Wilford Taylor to assist Wayne Legg with his extensive probate clientele. That move, designed to lighten the load of the aging attorney, would prove damaging to Legg.

The firm’s managing partner, Douglas Cook, tells New Times that Commissioner Yancey raised questions with Taylor about the propriety of the Contessa House and the van. Taylor repeated those concerns to him.

Cook says he then learned a Probate Court investigator had been making comments about Legg and Mackey “ripping people off.” Cook called the court’s chief investigator, Deborah Primock, to complain. She told him that she, too, had heard complaints about the Contessa House and the two men.

Cook spoke to Legg about it, and says Legg promised him he’d shut down the Contessa House and move the wards elsewhere. A month or so passed, then Cook discovered Legg was planning to run the Contessa House operation out of a Mesa nursing home.

He says he confronted Legg again.
“He was looking down his nose at me–arrogant,” Cook says. “I told him that his stories were changing, and that I had lost confidence in him. As a partner, I felt I couldn’t trust him anymore.”
After a long conference with the firm’s other partners, Cook and colleague Paul Fischer told Legg on June 3, 1992, that he was out. Within a few days, the firm took Wayne Legg’s name off the sign on Center Street in downtown Mesa. “Wayne was given two choices,” says Philip Holmes. One option was never to practice law again and to be paid about $175,000, under a partnership agreement, over an 18-month period. The other was to continue to practice law and still be paid about $125,000 during the same stretch.

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