Accountings for the estate of Florence C. Williams by executor Harvey Latney Jr. were past due, so Richmond Commissioner of Accounts Richard C. Manson Jr. began writing letters and calling Latney.
After more than a year of such efforts, including threats to report him to the Virginia State Bar, Manson finally had Latney summoned to Richmond Circuit Court on Oct. 16.
He didn’t appear, an astonishing development to Manson.
Latney is the commonwealth’s attorney in Caroline County, a part-time job because of the county’s small population. He also has an office in Richmond, from which he conducts a general practice that includes real estate closings and administration of estates, so Manson was familiar with him and his usual diligence.
Judge Richard D. Taylor Jr. was presiding that day in the absence of Judge Margaret P. Spencer, who typically handles matters brought by Manson.
Manson told Taylor that he knew Latney to be reliable and asked the judge to continue the case to Oct. 19, so that he could find out what was behind his absence.
By apparent coincidence, Latney’s secretary of 27 years was seriously injured in an automobile wreck in Caroline County that same day.
Manson reached Latney the next day and asked why he had not reacted to the summons. Latney responded that his secretary had told him that she had spoken with Manson and Judge Spencer and that he did not need to appear.
Manson asked Latney why he had not reacted to the 25 or more telephone messages and five letters that Manson had sent in the previous three months. What phone calls? What letters? Latney responded.
Manson said he became very suspicious at this point, especially because the secretary had mentioned Judge Spencer as the judge who was handling the case, when Taylor was acting in her stead.
He advised Latney to check the bank account for the estate.
Latney found that about $185,000 appeared to be missing. He resigned as executor and has been replaced by Greer P. Jackson Jr. An audit of his office accounts is underway.
At a brief court proceeding last week, Manson told Judge Spencer that the money has been taken out of the estate, “apparently by Mr. Latney’s secretary… “There’s no question that the money is out of the estate and needs to be put back,” Manson said.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew P. Geary said his office was advised of the circumstances about a week before the hearing. He attended the hearing and said the matter has been turned over to Richmond police for investigation.
Spencer continued the matter until Dec. 11 to give Jackson an opportunity to review the estate and the auditors of Latney’s accounts time to complete their work.
One family member said they understood that Latney was responsible for returning the money to the estate, but he said they wanted to know how the process of administering the estate and reviewing that administration had broken down. Ms. Williams died in May 2002.
Spencer said she expected answers to that question at the hearing.