Barrister Behind Bars

Former "King of Probate" faces long prison term for ripping off elderly

Keith Phillips wasn't a beneficiary of the modest estate, but he cared deeply about Grandma Gracie. In August 1992, he showed up at Commissioner Elizabeth Yancey's court to object to Mackey's pending appointment as the Gannett estate's executor. Yancey told him he had no standing to speak.

Last week, in her closing argument, prosecutor Stephens alluded to the courts' failures to protect Grandma Gracie and others:

"Wayne Legg lied to the court and he misled the court--it was part of his scheme. . . . [But] sometimes the system breaks down, and that's what happened in this case."

Larry Debus, a smooth-talking trial veteran, tried to shift blame during a two-hour summation.

"The number of lies that were told during this trial I can't count," Debus told the jury. "There is deception that runs through this trial."

And that deception by Legg's former law partners, the defense attorney contended, was at the root of his legal woes. "This whole case has to do with the law firm and the power of that law firm," Debus said. "They've taken his dignity and they've taken his reputation."

Debus suggested that Legg's partners first stole money from him, then forced him out of the firm to boost their own bank accounts. Finally, Debus said, the partners contacted New Times to put the final nail in Legg's professional coffin.

"The firm cooperated with New Times, put in all this vile stuff," Debus told the jury. "It was all planted by that office."

(Actually, the paper contacted the firm several weeks after starting its investigation of the Legg case. The seed for the story came from Probate Court sources who knew of the troubles that Legg--then known as the "King of Probate"--was facing.)

Stephens responded sharply to Debus' allegations shortly before concluding her argument:

"This isn't about the law firm. You may not like the law firm or the lawyers in that law firm--but that's beside the point. . . . [It's about] greed, manipulation. . . . Now is the time to hold Wayne Legg accountable."

That sentiment apparently rang true with jurors. Said one of them after the verdict: "All of the parties involved, the victims, must have trusted Mr. Legg at one time," one juror said. "That was the sad thing. He got their trust and then he abused it. That's what we believe he did, and he's going to have to answer for it.

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