The strange case of the estate of Samuel D. Ward in Navajo County isn’t the first time attorneys with the law firm of Snell and Wilmer have been accused of questionable actions, but it may be the most interesting case brought to date. In the case of Samuel D. Ward, it is the victims that have sparked the interest and sympathy of even the most hardened legal hearts.
While the most famous case brought against the law firm by businessman Will Graven slowly grinds through the courts in an undramatic fashion; the case of Mr. Ward and his children has taken dramatic twists and turns as of late.
The Ward case involves dramatic characters surrounding the heartbreaking death of a father on July 10, 2003, near Cordes Junction, Arizona.
From a colorful character, Prather Jackson, who allegedly represented a non-existent estate, to Snell and Wilmer attorneys, Joseph S. Kiefer and Warren E. Platt, who allegedly allowed him to cheat Ward’s children out of their due, the cast of characters is straight out of a John Grisham novel.
Samuel D. Ward was driving his Ford Ranger pickup truck on July 10, 2003. He died as a result of a single vehicle crash in the median of I-17 after the left rear tire on the truck failed. “The truck went out of control, the vehicle rolled and exploded into flames,” according to court documents, and Samuel D. and “Wilbur Ray Anderson died at the scene of the crash.”
According to a lawsuit brought by the Jensen Law firm out of Prescott, Arizona, against the Ford Motor Company, Snell and Wilmer, attorneys Joseph S. Kiefer and Warren E. Platt, Prather Jackson, and various other Jane and John Does on behalf of Samuel Primas, and his mother Lisa Ward:
At the time of his death, Samuel D. Ward was married to and separated from Plaintiff Lisa Ward, who lived with their adult daughter Elisha Ward in South Carolina.
At the time of his death, Samuel D. Ward was living in the home of his deceased sister, Hattie Ward, in Winslow, Navajo County, Arizona, along with Jennifer Jaramillo and their four year old son, Samuel M. Ward.
Hattie Ward died years prior to the death of Samuel D. Ward.
At the time of his death, Samuel D. Ward’s other son, Samuel Primas, aka Samuel Allen was six years old and living in the State of Mississippi with his mother, Felicia Allen Primas. On information and belief, in early 2004, Prather Jackson, a California resident and relative of Hattie Ward, was appointed to serve as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Hatti Ward by the Arizona Superior Court, Navajo County.
Prather Jackson is not, and was never, a licensed attorney in any State of the United States.
According to the lawsuit, the Snell and Wilmer attorneys Mr. Kiefer and Mr. Platt, acted on behalf of Ford Motor Company on behalf of their employer, Snell & Wilmer:
On information and belief, all actions of any and all lawyers associated with Snell & Wilmer who were involved in Ward and Jackson v. Ford were acting as agents and attorneys for an on behalf of Ford, invoking the doctrines of actual agency, apparent agency, joint venture, partnership, and other vicarious liability law applicable to Ford under these circumstances.
In a motion in Ward and Jackson v. Ford filed in early June, 2006, the Snell &Wilmer attorneys acknowledged that neither Mr. Jackson nor Ms. Ward had retained counsel.
As part of that action, Mr. Jackson alleged claims on behalf of the Estate of Hattie Ward despite the fact that Hattie Ward died approximately two years before Samuel D. Ward and also was not a statutory beneficiary entitled to any wrongful death claim under A.RS. §12-612.
Mr. Jackson actively litigated Ward and Jackson v. Ford against Ford Motor Company and others for over a year, clearly engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, particularly representing the claims of Lisa Ward, whom he often referred to in Court documents as his “client.”
Mr. Jackson signed Court documents for Lisa Ward many times in this same civil action.
For over a year, Mr. Jackson engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by motion practice, etc., consistently delaying the Ward and Jackson v. Ford action by providing the Yavapai County Superior Court with promises that he was actively seeking counsel.
At all relevant times before the Settlement Agreement on October 7, 2006, Mr. Kiefer, Mr. Platt, and other lawyers from Snell & Wilmer, acting for the benefit of Ford, did not take an action to address the obvious unauthorized practice of law by Mr. Jackson.
Instead, the Snell & Wilmer lawyers negotiated a global settlement directly with Mr. Jackson alone, purportedly settling the wrongful death claims of the Estate of Hattie Ward, deceased which had no lawful claim pursuant to A.R.S. §12-612, and the claims of Lisa Ward, widow of the decedent, Elisha Ward, decedent’s daughter, and the “Estate of Sam Ward,” all without including Lisa Ward, Elisha Ward or the Estate of Sam Ward (or his two minor sons) in the settlement negotiations.
According to the lawsuit, in October 2006, Snell & Wilmer lawyers “drafted a “Confidential” Release and Settlement Agreement relating to the settlement of claims for the wrongful deaths of Samuel D. Ward, and Wilbur Anderson.
Ward’s attorney argues that the settlement agreement is “both improper and illegal for the following reasons:
• The listed parties to the Settlement Agreement wrongly include Prather Jackson as Personal Representative of the Estate of Hattie Ward, deceased, which Estate had no lawful or viable claim for the wrongful death of Samuel D. Ward, deceased, because (a) Hattie Ward predeceased Samuel D. Ward, and Hattie Ward, his sister, had no claim under §12-612 (where the listed statutory claimants include only “the wife, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, children or parents.” Here the only lawful claimants are Lisa Ward, widow, Samuel M. Ward and Samuel Primas, two then-minor sons, and Elisha Ward, the daughter, plus perhaps the Estate of Samuel D. Ward, deceased, as statutory representative acting on behalf of legitimate claimants such as the minor children.
• The “estate of Sam Ward” is listed as a Settlement Agreement party, but not listed as a signer of the agreement, and it did not exist in 2006.
• There was no notice of settlement involving wrongful death claims (such as claims of minor children for the loss of their father) to any authorized A.R.S. §12-612 claimant except Lisa Ward.
• The Settlement Agreement states at page 3, “Agreement,” No. I, “Consideration,’ subparagraph (b), “the Released Parties agree to pay Plaintiffs the total sum of [omitted] an immediate lump sum payment upon execution of this Agreement and the stipulation for dismissal. The total sum will be paid to Plaintiffs with one check made payable to: Plaintiffs as follows “Jackson Publishing Company,” in the amount of [omitted].’ [Emphasis supplied]
Defendants’ agreement to pay the full settlement amount to a non-lawyer, non-party business apparently controlled by Prather Jackson, known to be practicing law without a license and being permitted to represent the claims of Lisa and Elisha Ward plus, apparently, the fictional “estate of Sam Ward,” put the settlement proceeds of all legitimate claimants at risk unnecessarily and improperly.
The “Confidential” Release and Settlement Agreement dated October 7, 2006, attached, was purportedly entered into by the following wrongful death claimants:
a. Lisa Ward, individually and on behalf of her adult daughter Elisha Ward;
b. The Estate of Sam Ward2 and any and all beneficiaries who may be permitted to claim damages related to the death of Sam Ward, the accident, or the vehicle; 3
c. Prather Jackson, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Hattie Ward;4and
d. Michael Anderson, on behalf of the Estate of Wilbur Anderson, Jr., and any and all beneficiaries who may be permitted to claim damages relating to the death of Wilbur Anderson, Jr., the accident, or the vehicle.
The Settlement Agreement states that it is “intended to extinguish all the rights obligations, and claims hereinafter designated of all currently known or potential beneficiaries or claimants as to the [above listed] Released Parties.”6 [Emphasis supplied]
The Estate of Samuel D. Ward never received any notice of the settlement, as no Personal Representative of the Estate had ever been appointed and no such Estate existed.
Neither Samuel M. Ward, natural son of Samuel D. Ward, a minor, nor his mother and Conservator, Jennifer Jaramillo, ever received any notice of the “Confidential” Release and Settlement Agreement referred to above. Samuel M. Ward was four years old when his father died.
Neither Samuel Primas, natural son of Samuel D. Ward, nor his mother, Felicia Allen Primas, both living in Mississippi, ever received any notice of the “Confidential” Release Settlement Agreement. Samuel Primas was six years of age at the time of his father’s death.
The “Confidential” Release and Settlement Agreement was signed only by Prather Jackson (who should not have been allowed to participate in any way in this settlement as a non-lawyer with no valid claim), Lisa Ward, and Michael Anderson, but no one else, not the “estate of Sam Ward” and not even Ford Motor Company or any other released party.
Snell & Wilmer and Ford aggressively asserted the “confidentiality” of the Settlement Agreement in the attempt to prevent Plaintiffs from obtaining a copy of same, including litigating and obtaining an order in the Estate of Samuel D. Ward, deceased, Navajo County Superior Court Case No. PB201500083, the pending probate proceeding which quashed the subpoena served upon both Ford and Snell & Wilmer seeking a copy of same, causing Plaintiffs great delay.
On November 3, 2006, Lisa Ward and Elisha Ward received a check from Mr. Jackson constituting 22% of the gross settlement proceeds for their claims as Samuel D. Ward’s widow a child. Prather Jackson kept, on information and belief, approximately 75% of the settlement recovery for his claimed and illegal “representation” fees, plus claimed costs, “capital gains” taxes and for the false claims of the Estate of Hattie Ward which Defendants wrongly chose to pay.
Neither Samuel M. Ward, Samuel Primas, nor the Estate of Samuel D. Ward, deceased, received any part of the settlement proceeds paid by Ford (as a result of terms of the “Confidential” Release and Settlement Agreement) for their claims for the death of their father, Samuel D. Ward.”
In April 2017, attorney Stephen T. Portell, filed an affidavit as an expert, in support of the Jensen Law Firm lawsuit:
While it is not required to provide an exhaustive factual summary in support of my preliminary expert opinions, I would like to highlight some key facts:
a. S&W, Mr. Platt and Mr. Kiefer (collectively “S&W Defendants”) represented FMC in connection with a wrongful death claim arising from a fatal accident on July 10, 2003.
b. S&W Defendants answered a lawsuit in Lisa Ward, Elisa Ward, and Prather Jackson as PR for Estate of Hattie Ward, Plaintiff v. Ford Motor Co., et al., Defendants, Case No. CV2005-0630, that they knew was lodged “prose” by a non-lawyer on behalf of Elisa Ward.
c. One of the named decedents was Samuel Ward who had a number of statutory survivors and beneficiaries under Arizona’s Wrongful Death Statute A.R.S. §12- 612.
d. Prather Jackson made a false Wrongful death claim as Personal Representative of the Estate of Hattie Ward.
e. S&W Defendants negotiated a wrongful death settlement with a non-lawyer named Prather Jackson with the goal of extinguishing all rights and claims that arose from the subject FMC product and the July 10, 2003 accident.
f. S&W Defendants knew or should have known that Prather Jackson was not a licensed attorney and his actions on behalf of other non-lawyers amounted to the unauthorized practice of law.
g. S&W Defendants knew or should have known that paying money to Prather Jackson, a non-lawyer and non-claimant was legally insufficient to safeguard the rights and claims of Arizona wrongful death survivors and beneficiaries.
h. S&W Defendants ignored their own internal ethics review processes, practices and procedures to recommend/approve payment to Prather Jackson, instead of proper Arizona wrongful death survivors and beneficiaries.
i. S&W knew or should have known that Prather Jackson had not, as he represented, opened a probate matter in Navajo County Superior Court. Nevertheless, Prather Jackson acted apparently as Personal Representative to resolve the rights of Arizona wrongful death survivors and beneficiaries.
J. S&W aided and abetted the unauthorized practice of law by Prather Jackson by paying “settlement funds” owed to legitimate Arizona wrongful death survivors and beneficiaries to a non-lawyer and into a fund that provided no known protection for the Arizona wrongful death survivors and beneficiaries.
k. After S&W Defendants knew or should have known that Prather Jackson was essentially an unprincipled opportunist who had absconded with funds owed to Arizona wrongful death survivors and beneficiaries, S&W took active measures to delay discovery of their role in the victimization of the legitimate claimants, going as far as invoking “confidentiality” provisions in a “settlement” they knew or should have known was improper and unethical.
Last year, agents with the FBI referred a case that alleged members of the Brnovich administration of public corruption in the Graven matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A year Prior to the FBI turning over the public corruption case to the U.S. Attorney, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, under Tom Horne, had completed a long investigation and secured indictments and plea agreements related to the fraudulent scheme in which Graven was victimized. The Brnovich administration strangely stopped the case against Snell & Wilmer and reversed several related convictions with the Graven case which led to a public corruption investigation by the FBI.
The matter is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and now involves numerous offices and agencies who are accused of thwarting justice. Recently revealed documents show that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office failed to protect Graven from employees with a perceived bias for Snell & Wilmer.
In his article, Arizona’s Legal Ethics, Public Corruption And Lawyer Discipline’ Sui Generis’ Or A National Pattern?, attorney Jack Levine addresses the power of Snell $ Wilmer and other behemoth law firms. He writes: “exploration of this issue suggests that when firm-wide unethical conduct occurs in big law firms, it occurs as a matter of law firm policy and because of this may be of such enormous magnitude that for political, economic, social or other reasons, it has been totally ignored by the lawyer regulation system of the various state bar associations.
In other words, the chances of successfully taking on Snell & Wilmer, as evidenced in the Graven case, are slim to none. Justice will likely be denied.
2 The “Estate of Sam Ward” did not exist until nine years after the Settlement Agreement took place.
3 Such beneficiaries include all Plaintiffs, none of whom received any notice of this settlement except Lisa Ward.
4 The Estate of Hattie Ward with no lawful claim to asse1t under Arizona law should not have been a party to settlement.
5 Michael Anderson is another non-lawyer who is, on information and belief, currently in prison in Kingman, AZ due to unrelated felony convictions.
6 Samuel D. Ward’s sons, Samuel M. Ward and Samuel Primas were known by Lisa Ward, who believed that the “Estate of Sam Ward” as a Settlement Agreement party would protect and preserve their share of the recovery.
7 See RAJI (Civil) 5th Contract 27, “Construction Against the Party Choosing the Words,” “[the] meaning against the interests of the party who supplied the words is generally the preferred meaning.” Snell & Wilmer supplied the words.
8 See Rule 31(a)(2)(A) & (B), Arizona Rules of Supreme Court, for definitions of the practice of law and the unauthorized practice of law.