After losing over $1 million in a family feud, a retired Austin doctor is suing a lawyer and firm that represented him for 20 years in estate and probate matters.
Dr. Glenn M. Haluska alleges that Wesley J. Filer and Naman, Howell, Smith & Lee committed professional negligence when Filer wrote a letter to Haluska's two children about terminating two trust accounts. The kids sued their father, removed him as trustee, and Haluska settled on "extremely unfavorable" terms, alleges the Plaintiff's Original Petition, Requests for Disclosures, and Jury Demand in Haluska v. Filer, et al.
Filer, of counsel at Naman Howell Smith & Lee in Waco, the firm's managing partner Keith Gamel of Austin, and defendants' lawyer Mike McKetta, each did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Haluska's attorney, Tom Prehoditch, writes in part in an email, "The petition is fairly lengthy and largely says what we are prepared to say about the lawsuit at this time."
The Aug. 16 petition, filed in Travis County's 419th District Court, alleges that Filer prepared Haluska's wife's will. It named Haluska as trustee of two trust accounts and the successor co-trustees were the couple's children, Elizabeth Haluska-Rausch and William Andrew "Drew" Haluska.
Before their mother's death in 2007, Elizabeth and Drew received "extraordinarily generous" gifts. After her death, Haluska continued the gifts and the defendants provided advice about it.
"Dr. Haluska also authorized his children to act on his behalf regarding trust accounts," says the petition.
Haluska remarried in April 2010. He met with Filer that summer about financial matters, including the handling of the two trusts. In July 2010, Filer wrote a letter to Drew and Elizabeth that, "suggested that the two trusts . . . could and should be terminated and the assets of those two trusts distributed among Dr. Haluska, Elizabeth and Drew."
The petition alleges the letter "negligently and imprudently" said Haluska had conveyed, among other things, that if the trust matter couldn't be resolved, he would assume control of the trusts and stop making distributions to the children.
After Drew and Elizabeth received the letter, they hired a lawyer who sent Filer a letter saying it was "a breach of trust to threaten to stop making discretionary distributions to beneficiaries if they do not agree to a self-dealing transaction that benefits the trustee personally."
The petition alleges Filer wrote back that Haluska had terminated the children's authority on the trust accounts and Filer advised Haluska, "to take 'total control' of the trusts."
Then in September 2010, Drew and Elizabeth sued their father, basing their allegations on Filer's letter.
"Dr. Haluska's children alleged in the probate lawsuit that Dr. Haluska had breached his fiduciary duties as trustee of the trusts in numerous respects," says the petition.
On May 2, 2011, a Travis County probate court ruled for Elizabeth and Drew on their motion for partial summary judgment, removing Haluska as trustee and appointing the children as successor co-trustees. In 2012, Haluska settled on "unfavorable" terms after paying "considerable attorneys' fees and expenses" and experiencing "severe mental anguish and emotional and physical distress."
He's suing the defendants for professional negligence, seeking to recover over $1 million in actual damages, exemplary damages, pre- and post-judgment interest and court costs.
Lauren Davis, who represented Drew and Elizabeth in the underlying suit, said she would read the petition and then call back to comment, but she did not call back.