Monday, July 27, 2020

Attorney John P. McKleroy, who helped seek guardian for Joann Bashinsky in probate court, failed to disclose criminal conviction to Golden Flake board of directors

John P. McKleroy
 A veteran lawyer, who helped file a petition for a guardian or conservator in the probate case of Birmingham philanthropist Joann Bashinsky, has a conviction for domestic violence in his background, according to a report at Alabama Today. John P. McKleroy, formerly of the Spain Gillon law firm in Birmingham, was arrested in 2006 and pled guilty to third-degree domestic violence and harassment in Tuscaloosa County District Court. Writes Apryl Marie Fogel at Alabama Today:

If you’ve been following along, you know that we’re learning together about the dysfunction, potential corruption, and madness involved in Alabama’s conservatorship and guardianship system. One of the missing components in my coverage to date has been addressing a frequent question, “How does this happen to someone?” Today, let’s explore that.

The story that sparked this series was that of longtime philanthropist and heir to the Golden Flake company, Joann Bashinsky (aka Mrs. B or Mama B).

In her case, Mrs. B’s forced and contested conservatorship began after firing two longtime employees John P. McKleroy and Patty Townsend, who seemingly “betrayed her.” The day they were fired, after months of insubordination and actions that went against the express wishes and interest of Mrs. B, the two petitioned the court for an “emergency order.” Today, we’ll look at McKleroy’s role in this.
McKleroy and Towsend filed an emergency order. What did they have to gain? Access and control of tens of millions once they took away Mrs. B’s voice and votes on the boards of her company and foundations. What did they have to lose? Not much or so they would have thought, if not for Mrs. B aggressively fighting their efforts and telling her story publicly.

What kind of man would do this? Well, the same man who would plead guilty to third-degree domestic violence and harassment, as McKleroy did. The police report detailing his abuse describes his violent assault saying, “while in a domestic altercation,” McKleroy did, “push, choke, and slap the victim.”

Court documents related to the McKleroy case can be viewed at this link. The Alabama State Bar is supposed to discipline wayward lawyers, so where was it on this issue? Out to lunch, apparently. In 2018, 12 years after McKleroy's conviction, the Bar honored him as a 50-year member, seemingly in good standing. That suggests the Bar made little effort to learn about McKleroy's criminal history or chose to ignore it.

What kind of court punishment did McKleroy receive? Reports Alabama Today:

According to a letter from his doctor and the court order, he went on to get a minimum of one year and three months of professional treatment to “address the psychological issues related to his episode of loss of control.” The clinical and forensic psychologist at the time stated that “he probably would not have sought treatment without legal pressure.”

Mrs. B was never made aware of McKleroy’s violent altercation with a member of his immediate family, (we are not identifying out of respect for the victim), the arrest, his need for therapy (including a court-ordered additional six months beyond his plea agreement), or his two years of probation. When I spoke to Mrs. B about this, she was disappointed. I asked her if she felt he should have told her about all of this, and she said, “Absolutely!”

How solid was McKleroy's standing in the Golden Flake hierarchy?

Bashinsky trusted McKleroy so explicitly before this betrayal, that when drawing up an update to her will, he advised her that her late husband, the founder of Golden Flake Sloan Bashinsky, had included him in his final will. He indicated he was a beneficiary, not just the executor. Mrs. B wanted to honor her husband’s wishes. She allowed him to include himself in her will at what he told her was the same amount as in Mr. Bashinsky’s will. What McKleroy wrote in her will, on her behalf, was that “My good friend John McKleroy shall receive,” and it ended up being 2% of her entire estate.

After firing McKleroy and Townsend, Mrs. B told Alabama Today that an examination of her late husband’s records indicated that Mckleroy had not been honest with her about that. No record of those wishes existed. The sad irony is that a significant component of their emergency request was a concern that Mrs. B wouldn’t be able to fulfill the bequests of her will.

McKleroy has made millions during his time with Golden Flake and the Bashinskys.

Reading the timeline presented in court documents, the only logical assumption is that McKleroy had been planning this for some time. He also had crafted a strong narrative in defense of his actions. Initial reports by the court-ordered Guardian ad-litem and social worker demonstrated facts contrary to what the filings by McKleroy claim. These include false accusations about Mrs. B’s cognitive abilities and her understanding of her financial investments. The filing falsely claims that Mrs. B needed to be “coached” on her requests to move money out of Level Four financial advisors, but she was able to explain the request and the justification clearly to the two court-ordered neutral parties.

According to his report to the court, Robert Squire Gwin told him just days after the two employees filed their motion, “Mrs. B[ashinsky] voiced her strong opinion that she was ‘totally disappointed and disgusted with John McKleroy and Patty Townsend’ since they both have been long time advisors over many years. She stated that she ‘felt betrayed by these former employees and advisors.'”

The court filing also stated that “Ms. Bashinsky was able to identify relevant dates and events in her life to Gwin and Sellers. Both the court-ordered guardian-ad-litem and social worker submitted statements saying that Mrs. B was lucid, able to talk. They indicated she was able to describe in detail the transfer of funds that is at the heart of this case. You see, one of the most significant components of their emergency order and one of the reasons they were fired is because the financial advisors at a Level 4 Dallas based company refused to comply with multiple requests by Mrs. B to diversify her account. Orders that the two former employees attest she didn’t understand or ask for herself.

McKleroy claimed in court that an emergency existed. The state Supreme Court said in their decision dismissing the order for conservatorship that no such emergency was indicated.
On Friday, July 24, 2020 Mrs. B hosted a board meeting, that included both McKleroy and Townsend as the other two board members, during which she directly addressed the violent criminal charges that McKleroy pled guilty to. She told me after the meeting, “I find it atrocious what Mr. McKleroy did. I feel strongly that he had a duty to disclose his actions to the board at the time it happened. At this point, it doesn’t surprise me that Patty (Townsend) isn’t disturbed by the news, but I don’t feel that this particular member’s actions are a good representation of my family’s boards.

My husband would be deeply ashamed. In light of this new information, I asked that he be removed as a director, but the other board member seems to think that those actions are excusable. In the words of Mr. McKleroy, “it was just a misdemeanor”.

Does Mrs. B need protection? Turns out that maybe so, maybe from the very people trying to steal her rights and silence her voice. After all, McKleroy’s only response to his heinous violent acts towards a loved one, “it was just a misdemeanor.”

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