Chestnut trial to continue

Published 8:25 pm Friday, November 29, 2013

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday in a lawsuit over legendary lawyer J.L. Chestnut Jr.’s estate.

The administrator of Chestnut’s estate filed a petition in circuit court 2011, asking for a portion of money from Chestnut’s previous business partnerships. The petition also asks to remove his name from the law firm Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders and Pettaway LLC.

The trial began in late October and resumed Monday and Tuesday without a decision by Twentieth Circuit Judge Brady Mendheim Jr. Though, Mendheim said his decision would likely favor the plaintiffs before the trial began.

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The prosecution alleged that the family wasn’t paid a fair share of the firm after Chestnut’s death — Sept. 30, 2008. Chestnut’s share of the firm was 30 percent at the time of his death.

Defense attorney Rose Sanders, who also testified during the case, said she is fine with paying Chestnut’s estate a fair and equitable amount, but not without consideration of the immense debt the firm faced when Chestnut died. At the end of 2008, the firm owed $2.03 million in debt.

“The truth is that our firm was in tremendous debt at the time of his death,” Rose said. “It’s impossible to give a fair share of the firm without considering the debt.”

Defense attorney Hank Sanders, who is the only remaining partner in the firm, said he pays $25,000 on the debt every three months during testimony.

Chestnut’s family was previously offered a $250,000 settlement, but declined the offer.

Arguments in the case centered on Chestnut’s involvement in the two black farmers suits and his ability to practice law leading up to death. The black farmers suits alleged that African American farmers were being denied loans by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of ethnicity.

Rose and Hank didn’t deny Chestnut’s important role in the black farmers suits, but stressed during testimony that he shouldn’t receive sole credit. At one point on Tuesday, Rose broke down in tears when describing she and Hank’s work on the farmer’s suits.

“It’s hard to see your husband work 18 hours a day and then hear people say he did nothing,” she said.

Three of the prosecution’s witnesses testified that Chestnut practiced law until his last weeks of life.

“He stopped working within about a month of his death,” Terry Chestnut said. “When I would take him to dialysis, he would carry legal pads and folders sometimes. I have a pass where he went to San Francisco to speak about farming equipment and that was within a year of his death; he was still traveling all over the place and speaking.”