Whether Kacie Breen committed murder when she shot her husband Wayne, a Covington physician, twice in the early morning of March 1 is being investigated by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, but the battle over his estate has already begun.
Just five days after Breen was shot, attorneys working for Kacie Breen filed a motion in state district court in Covington to appoint an attorney to try to find Wayne Breen’s will. The filing included a copy of the most recent will that Kacie Breen had, which was signed on Sept. 26, 2013.
The court appointed Alan Black to search for the will.
Five days after that, a different attorney filed a motion to disqualify the lawyers representing Kacie Breen. The allegation was that the firm — Talley, Anthony, Hughes and Knight, of Covington — had a conflict. One of the firm’s partners, Chuck Hughes, also provides legal counsel to the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating Breen’s death.
That created a conflict, according to the motion to disqualify.
“It is shocking to the conscience that the (Talley, Anthony) firm would undertake the representation of Ms. Magee Breen under such circumstances and (its) involvement calls into question the integrity of the ongoing investigation of Dr. Breen’s death,” Thomas Schneidau, an attorney working on behalf of Wayne Breen’s five grown children, wrote.
The motion said Talley, Anthony’s close relationships with both the Sheriff’s Office and the subject of a homicide investigation created a “glaring conflict of interest” that applied to all the members of the firm.
Schneidau’s motion also said that Kacie Breen first spoke with Wayne Breen’s son-in-law about the will just one day after Breen was shot. Hughes phoned the son-in-law two days later, the motion said.
Kacie Breen was named executrix of the will, and the son-in-law was named the alternate executor of the estate, according to the will.
Not surprisingly, Talley, Anthony disputed the allegations. In a motion in opposition, the firm called Schneidau’s claims “meritless.”
“The sheriff is not a participant in the succession proceedings, and Mrs. Breen has not instituted any action against the Sheriff’s Office. Were charges ever to be brought against Mrs. Breen, those charges would be brought by the district attorney — not the sheriff,” the motion, filed by Hughes’ partner Ted Dittmer, said.
Dittmer also rejected any suggestion that the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation would be impacted by the firm’s representation of Kacie Breen.
“Any implication in the motion that the sheriff and the (Talley, Anthony) firm would conspire illegally to influence or alter the outcome of any investigation by the sheriff to benefit or favor Mrs. Breen or her civil case would be patently absurd, false and libelous,” Dittmer wrote.
But after nearly 2 1/2 pages spent refuting the claims, Dittmer nonetheless included a single paragraph withdrawing his firm as counsel of record and moving to enroll a different attorney: “Out of an abundance of caution and respect for the sensitive nature of these proceedings, Talley, Anthony, with the consent and approval of Mrs. Breen, moves to substitute Paul Lea as counsel for Mrs. Breen in this matter.”
Dittmer’s indignation was shared by Sheriff Jack Strain.
“It’s offensive and upsetting, but it’s the reality that we all live in,” Strain said.
Nevertheless, he said, when he heard that Hughes’ firm was representing Kacie Breen, he made it clear that the firm needed to withdraw, even though, technically, there may be no conflict of interest.
“We don’t accept the appearance of impropriety from our deputies, and we sure won’t take it from our lawyers,” Strain said. “This was our position with Chuck (Hughes). Even the appearance is unacceptable.”
Strain’s in-house legal counsel, Brian Trainor, said the Sheriff’s Office wanted to remain focused on investigating Breen’s death.
“The integrity of the investigation is what’s important to us,” Trainor said. “We want to follow the law and the evidence and make sure we arrive at the right conclusion.”
There are still open subpoenas in the case, a sheriff’s spokesman said.
This isn’t the first time that the sheriff has had to answer for some of Hughes’ legal practices. The lawyer was caught on tape using a racial slur during a conversation with a client, who later fired him after he became convinced that Hughes’ work for insurance companies tainted his representation. That client — John Hoogacker — later filed complaints against Hughes and Trainor, who was tangentially involved in the case, with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed the complaints against both Hughes and Trainor.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that the Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed John Hoogacker's complaints against Hughes and Trainor.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.