Dorothy Jackson

Dorothy Jackson

At least 11 wills that Southern University Law professor Dorothy Jackson drafted between 2013 and 2016 included a phrase in which she named herself as the attorney for the will's executor and the estate that a person was leaving behind, according to a report recently released by the university.

But that sort of language in a will is neither necessary, nor is it customary, according to LSU law professor Elizabeth Carter who specializes in successions, which is the process of settling a deceased person's estate and distributing the property after the bills are paid. 

One of the wills in which Jackson named herself as attorney for the executor and estate was that of Helen Plummer, a will that has been cloaked in controversy in Baton Rouge.

The will for Plummer, who died in March, specified that Council on Aging CEO Tasha Clark-Amar was to pay herself $500 a month over 20 years to be the executor and trustee of Plummer's estate. Jackson, a Council on Aging board member and the head of Southern's Elder Law Clinic, wrote the will in 2016.

The will prompted an outcry from Plummer's family and multiple political leaders. Clark-Amar removed herself from the will after multiple reports about it surfaced in the media.

Jackson has been placed on administrative leave from Southern while the university's law center investigates her role in drafting the will. The Advocate and WBRZ sued Southern after the university refused to release an initial investigation into Jackson, and won the lawsuit and received the documents Aug. 28.

The dossier includes a letter from Virginia Listach, director of Clinical Legal Education, to Alfreda Diamond, vice chancellor of Institutional Development. Listach writes in the May 2 letter that 50 wills were drafted and the files on them were closed through the Elder Law Clinic between 2013 and 2016.

Of the 50 wills, 17 of them had not been placed in storage. When Listach reviewed those, she found that 11 of them appointed Jackson as their attorney. Only one of them — Plummer's — has been probated as a private case. 

"When an attorney who prepares a will includes a provision designating himself as attorney for the estate after the client’s death, a number of challenging ethical and moral issues can arise — but the practice is not generally prohibited by the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct," Carter said. "These designations are quite uncommon in wills prepared by reputable lawyers who routinely practice in this field.

"Personally, I do not believe an attorney should ever include this type of provision unless the client specifically asks for it," Carter said.

Bill Aaron, the attorney representing Jackson, disagreed. He said that even Carter conceded that naming an attorney in a will violates no rules of professional conduct.

"The custom and practice in Louisiana is usually for a lawyer to name themselves," Aaron said. "It's not unusual."

Southern has not answered The Advocate's questions this week that would clarify whether such designations are common practices at the university's Elder Law Clinic. Southern administrators did not respond to questions The Advocate sent multiple times about whether the Elder Law Clinic handles both the drafting of wills and the probates after someone dies, nor did anyone explain whether clients of the Elder Law Clinic need to meet certain criteria, including income levels. 

Both have become issues in Jackson's case.

Plummer was a client of the Elder Law Clinic, according to the recent report from Southern. But Jackson later switched her to being a client at Jackson's private law firm, and maintained after Plummer's death that it had become a succession she was handling in her private capacity.

Aaron said his understanding is that the clinic handles both the drafting of wills and the successions to follow but that clients do have to meet income requirements for them. While Plummer was a 95-year-old woman who was no longer working, she may have met requirements to draft a will through the clinic.

But once she died and it became a succession case, her family members or Clark-Amar, who are named in the will, probably did not meet the low-income requirements. And since Jackson was named in the will as the attorney, she then took over the succession in a private capacity, Aaron said.

Rule XX of the state's Supreme Court says that law clinics are intended to represent the indigent whose income does not exceed 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

Plummer left behind an estate even larger than initially reported after her death in March, when court documents estimated it to be around $314,000.

The Plummer estate was actually worth more than $650,000, comprising two homes, savings accounts, money market certificates, cash on hand, household furnishings and more, according to court documents recently filed earlier this month in her succession case.

The Louisiana Civil Code of Procedure lists the customary fee for the executor of a will at 2.5 percent of a gross estate if not otherwise specified in a will, which would have amounted to about $16,268 of Plummer's estate, rather than the $120,000 Clark-Amar stood to collect. However, Aaron pointed out that Clark-Amar was also named as the trustee of the estate, which involves more work.

Jackson also billed $10,000 — $9,000 for her legal work and another $1,000 in court costs — to Plummer's family for the work she did on the succession. Jackson has offered to waive the $9,000 for the legal work, Aaron said.

While the drafting of the will through the Elder Law Clinic should have been free, Jackson charged $200 an hour for 45 hours of work she did in a private capacity on the succession after Plummer died, Aaron said.

Carter said $200 an hour is a reasonable price for an attorney in Baton Rouge, but that she was surprised Jackson said she did 45 hours of work on the case. Jackson quickly removed herself from the succession when it went to court.

"Having read the will, I would be surprised if a significant amount of time was spent preparing it," Carter said. "Similarly, the initial pleadings that professor Jackson filed in the succession proceeding should have only taken a few hours, at most, to prepare. It is certainly possible, given the controversial nature of the case, that professor Jackson did additional legal work for Ms. Clark-Amar after those initial pleadings were filed that would perhaps justify more hours of work." 

Aaron and the attorney for Plummer's grandchildren say they are working out an agreement on the fees for the succession case. Aaron said Jackson "has not received a dime" from Plummer's succession thus far.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​