East Baton Rouge Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark Amar has filed a defamation lawsuit against the family of a now deceased Council on Aging client who had named Amar to oversee her estate.
The lawsuit, filed in late April in state 19th Judicial District court, is yet another twist for an agency that has oozed controversy for several months. Amar's focus is the family of Helen Plummer, who accused her in March of unduly influencing 95-year-old Plummer into leaving Amar in charge of her estate. Plummer died in March and her will specified that Amar, as overseer of the estate, was to collect $120,000 over 20 years from a trust.
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Plummer's granddaughter, Tracie Davis, and daughter, Jacquelyn Antoine, publicly accused Amar of wrongdoing for using her position to capitalize on a financial gain from a client.
Amar asked to withdraw from overseeing Plummer's estate after multiple media outlets started reporting on the matter. But now, Amar is fighting back.
She claims in her lawsuit that the statements from Davis and her family members were "meant to sway public opinion in a negative light to Mrs. Amar and affect her job as CEO of with (sic) East Baton Rouge Counsel (sic) on Aging."
LSU law professor Elizabeth Carter, who specializes in successions and trusts, has been closely following the dispute between Amar and the Plummer family. Looking over the typo-filled lawsuit Thursday evening, Carter said it was not a smart move for Amar to file it.
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Defamation lawsuits are often meant to intimidate the people they are filed against, Carter said. And she said the statements she has seen from the Plummer family have either been truthful — as Amar did stand to collect $120,000 as the estate's trustee — or opinions, like the family prefacing their thoughts on Amar with "we believe."
Neither of those meet the bar for a defamation case, and the case Amar is pursuing will require a malicious and intentional falsity, Carter said.
"When you're bringing a defamation lawsuit against a public figure, the burden is even higher than it is for a private figure," Carter said. "She's a public employee, so that's probably enough to be considered a public figure. She's the face of a pretty significant agency with a lot of money."
Reached early Thursday evening, Davis said she could not comment on the lawsuit and that she did have a lawyer yet.
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Amar's attorney, Charlotte McDaniel McGehee, said Thursday night that Amar acted in her personal capacity and not her professional capacity when she was named executor of Plummer's estate. And McGehee said again that Amar is now acting in her personal capacity in her lawsuit against Plummer's family members.
Amar is still the head of the Council on Aging, despite calls from some Republican lawmakers for her to resign. Yet, her lawsuit alleges she suffered a loss of earning capacity and a loss of her reputation.
She also says the family's statements caused her to suffer mental anguish and distress, medical and pharmaceutical expenses, fear, embarrassment, humiliation, aggravation, fear and more.
"It's her reputation that suffers because of untrue statements about her," McGehee said. "If you're not well-received or well-recepted, you're not going to increase in your livelihood."
The Council on Aging's board of directors this week instituted a conflict-of-interest policy that says employees can be fired for having a financial interest in matters involving the Council.
Carter said Amar's defamation lawsuit against the Plummer family also seems like a conflict of interest.
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Carter pointed out that Amar was the subject of criticism long before the Plummer family made their case against her, which will make it hard for her to prove their statements solely affected her reputation. The Council on Aging received multiple bad audits with her at the helm, and a political action committee supporting the Council on Aging misused the nonprofit's discounted postage status during a campaign for a dedicated tax.
A Council on Aging employee under Amar solicited donations from candidates in turn for endorsing them. And the Council on Aging cut checks in its name to a political action committee, though Amar said the money came from employee payroll deductions and not the agency itself.
"Her reputation was already so damaged from things she did that had nothing to do with the succession, I think that would be difficult to show as well," Carter said.
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Amar is asking for a "reasonable amount" in monetary damages from Davis and her family and she is asking that they pay for all legal proceedings. She is requesting a jury trial. A date has not been set yet.