Michigan Supreme Court upholds ruling for attorney-friend in $16M inheritance case
DETROIT — A lawyer who prepared a friend's will and stands to reap millions of dollars with his sons has survived an appeal by the man's family.
Bobby Mardigian's relatives didn't get anything from him and want the will to be set aside, claiming there was undue influence by attorney Mark Papazian.
But the Michigan Supreme Court was deadlocked at 3-3 last week, which means an appeals court decision in favor of the lawyer will stand.
The case will now return to Charlevoix County court in northern Michigan, where Papazian will get a chance to show there was nothing improper with how he and two sons inherited the bulk of his close friend's estate. At stake: $16 million.
Chief Justice Stephen Markman said the "guiding polar star" in Michigan probate law is that the wishes of the deceased should be honored. Allegations of misconduct by a lawyer may trigger an ethics investigation, he said, but still not spoil a will.
Justice Bridget McCormack, however, said Markman and justices Brian Zahra and Elizabeth Clement were applying an "outdated precedent" from a 1965 case that should be overturned.
"Those who draft wills should not benefit from them. We owe the public better. ... Yes, lawyers who violate their ethical duties to clients can be punished in the disciplinary process. But that only solves part of the problem," said McCormack, who was joined by justices Richard Bernstein and David Viviano.
A tie occurred because a seventh justice, Kurtis Wilder, didn't participate. He recused himself, because he handled the case when he was a judge on the state appeals court.