VALPARAISO — Attorneys for the Jasper Newton Foundation, Teri Hardin, Robert Monfort and his law office, and Monfort’s former attorney, Vincent Antaki, gathered at the Porter County Courthouse on Friday to proceed on a number of motions that have been in process for several months.
The hearing included a motion to leave from Hardin’s current attorney, Harry Falk, and a motion from the JNF attorneys of Charitable Allies Inc. in Indianapolis to force Hardin and Monfort to provide financial records, including credit card statements and mortgages.
At Friday’s hearing, Falk told Judge Mary Harper he believed his motion to leave would be a hardship on Hardin because she doesn’t have the funds to pay for a new attorney. He asked Hardin to step up to the defense table to answer some questions regarding her financial state and Harper swore her in.
JNF Attorney Zachary Kester remarked that Hardin was not wearing her wedding ring, which she has worn to previous hearings, and asked her how valuable the ring is and the carat size of the diamond. Hardin said she had no idea the value of the ring, and said she doesn’t know the size but conceded it could be 1 to 1.5 carats. She was asked if the ring was insured, which she also said she did not know.
Kester asked how many vehicles she and her husband own. Hardin said they have a 2018 GMC truck, a 2019 Jeep and a 2011 Chevy Cruze. He then asked about the classic car her husband posted on Facebook writing that it was a “sort of” retirement gift from Teri. He asked if she bought the car and she said she did not.
Falk said she is willing to provide the loan information on the 1966 Chevelle. Kester also asked her if the Chevelle was in her name, but she said it is in her husband Jesse’s name.
In September, a motion was granted to include Jesse Hardin as a defendant after he stalled discovery on joint accounts belonging to the couple. The foundation attorneys have asked to receive copies of financial records, including bank statements. Falk said he did not represent Jesse and would not answer or object on his behalf. Jesse Hardin was not present, nor was an attorney representing him at the hearing.
Hardin stated under oath that she is not currently employed and that she is receiving unemployment. She said she has not sought employment either due to the pandemic.
Judge Harper sided with the foundation that Hardin has assets she could use to hire a new attorney, and granted the motion for Falk to step down. She also ruled that Falk would convey the files for the case to the next attorney. She advised Falk to inventory the file boxes because the original will Hardin’s previous attorney’s office allegedly had in the files disappeared.
Hardin transported the files from Michael Riley’s office in Rensselaer to Falk’s office in Kentland.
Falk made the motion to withdraw as her attorney after finding that the will was not in the files he received. He and his wife, his legal assistant, looked through the files twice, and had Riley’s legal assistant look through them. She said the will had been in the files before Hardin took possession of them.
The attorney for Monfort and his law office argued against providing the foundation with his credit card and mortgage statements because, she said, the payments to these accounts are recorded in his bank statements. Kester argued they want to have a complete picture of Monfort’s financial records, including a property allegedly bought near Las Vegas and placed into the Monfort Family Trust.
He said the foundation wants to see the use of finances and the flow of money from Rose Jennette Nagel’s estate.
“We don’t know where $500,000 is,” he said.
The motion to compel requested by the foundation attorneys was granted. Judge Harper said there “may be something interesting in there.” She did not grant sanctions requested by the foundation.
Harper said she was not inclined to enter fees for sanction. She wanted to see instances of obstruction before ruling on the matter.
Kester said they had requested financial records from both Hardin and Monfort in March 2020. They did get a protective order signed to ensure the records would not be destroyed but received no information on their financial records including investments, banking, credit card spending and the mortgages.
The defense had argued Hardin couldn’t comply because her husband did not give his permission to release the information. Kester said Jesse Hardin could have asked for a protective order or a stay, but since he didn’t, he was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Kester said Nagel led a “fairly quiet life” until Hardin became her personal representative, then spending increased. Most of the checks, he said, were issued to Hardin labeled as reimbursements. He said in 2013, Nagel have over $1 million in assets. Nagel had an account with Edward Jones, which was emptied in 2016. He said Hardin paid herself on an ongoing basis and there is no explanation as to where $200,000 went one year after Nagel’s death.
“We’re concerned about Hardin’s behavior in the last few months,” he said, “that she may have destroyed the original will.”
Falk said he gave the attorneys a copy of a letter he sent to Hardin’s bank asking them to preserve her financial records. Kester said a request from the court has more leverage than a request from an attorney, and that Falk’s request was sent to only one bank when there are multiple accounts that were mentioned in a previous deposition.
Harper again granted the request for all accounts but denied the motion for obstruction. She said there wasn’t enough information.
Hardin was given 30 days to retain an attorney. Falk said he would help her obtain counsel through Legal Aid in Lafayette. Harper asked that he help with the motion to compel regarding financial records and the information the plaintiff has requested.
In August 2018, the foundation filed a suit against Monfort, his law firm and Teri Hardin after discovering the will had changed. Rose Jennette Nagel and her husband had signed paperwork stating their plan for their estate to establish scholarships in their names through the foundation to benefit students from St. Augustine Catholic School, with a bequest for $1,000 to go to the Jasper County Animal Shelter.
After her husband died in 2013, she signed a designated endowment fund agreement through Monfort, who was the couple’s attorney since 2010. Hardin was his office manager. Court documents state that sometime after that, Hardin became the personal representative of the estate. Nagel was placed in an assisted living facility and died in March 2017 at the age of 90.
After her death, Hardin was appointed guardian, but before Nagel died, Hardin has transferred nearly $550,000 from Nagel’s largest investment account into a new account in Hardin’s name as guardian.
The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 1:30 p.m.