Documents released by the Southern University Law Center on Monday along with its investigation into professor Dorothy Jackson show the law professor drafted a will through the Elder Law Clinic she ran and then privately worked on the succession case after the client died.
The case in question involves the succession of the estate of Helen Plummer, whose relatives have accused Jackson and the leader of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging of influencing their elderly relative in the drafting of the will. Tasha Clark-Amar, the head of the agency, stood to earn $120,000 as the estate trustee over 20 years under the will as drafted.
An investigation conducted by the university into Jackson and her involvement in the Plummer case finally became public late Monday, after the university lost a public records lawsuit against The Advocate and WBRZ-TV on Aug. 21. The university was given one week to turn over the documents.
Jackson, who is a Council on Aging board member and oversees the Southern Elder Law Clinic, drafted the will. Plummer was a Council on Aging client.
Southern’s 130-page dossier on Jackson does not conclude whether she broke any rules or faces any consequences for her actions, despite her being on administrative leave from the Law Center since April 20.
Jackson’s attorney, Bill Aaron, said late Monday that the investigation is inconsistent with charges outlined in a letter that Law Center Chancellor John Pierre sent to Jackson earlier this month. The letter accused her of behavior that was “seriously prejudicial to the Southern University Law Center and the Southern University System,” “unethical and immoral behavior,” and said Jackson failed to “perform duties in a professional manner.”
But none of those instances are outlined in the report that Southern released on Monday. And the report’s finding that Jackson drafted a will through the Elder Law Clinic and then privately probated it is not one that Aaron said they dispute, given that Southern has no policy against it. The university has now convened a faculty committee to review the charges lodged against his client, he said.
“She hasn’t been able to go to work since April and we don’t know when this is going to end,” Aaron said. “Every time we think it’s going to bring closure, a new episode starts. What was the point of the report when there’s going to be a faculty committee and a new set of charges?”
The report released Monday documents other succession cases and wills Jackson drafted and compares Jackson’s actions in those to her actions in the Plummer case. Additionally, it shows that Clark-Amar worked with Jackson on the will. Clark-Amar sent Jackson an email on July 5, 2016 with the names of Plummer’s family members to include in the will.
Alfreda Diamond, the law center’s vice chancellor of institutional development, sent a May 2 memo to a colleague about her research on Jackson. Diamond concluded that among the dozens of wills that Jackson oversaw at the Elder Law Clinic, Plummer’s stood out.
It was the only will from the Southern University Law Center that Jackson drafted through the Elder Law Clinic, but then handled the probate process as a private attorney.
Plummer was also the only person identified as a joint client of Southern’s clinical legal education program and Jackson’s private work. No other full-time clinical professors at the Law Center had a private client who was also part of Southern’s clinical legal education program.
“It looks like the purpose of it was to absolve the clinic but throw Dorothy under the bus,” Aaron said about the investigation. “It absolves everybody with the clinic and it says the only time there was a will and a private probate was the Helen Plummer situation.”
The documents include a timeline of Jackson’s actions in relation to the Elder Law Clinic and the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging over the past few years.
Jackson met Plummer in late June of 2016, based on her conversations with Southern administrators as they conducted their investigation. Jackson gave a presentation to the Council on Aging about the Southern Elder Law Clinic. Plummer asked the professor if she could write a will leaving everything to only her great-grandchildren, according to Southern’s investigation.
Plummer and Jackson then met privately. Plummer asked the law professor to draft the will for her, the documents say.
A few days later, Clark-Amar emailed Jackson with the three names and estimated ages of Plummer’s great-grandchildren to be included in the will. The will was drafted shortly afterward, and Plummer came to sign it July 7, 2016 at the Southern Law Center.
Clark-Amar and other witnesses were present, according to Southern’s investigation. One of the witnesses present, Chiquita Kado, told Southern administrators during their investigation that most people requesting Elder Law Clinic services check in at the main clinic, but that Plummer had gone straight to Jackson’s office last summer.
Kado recalled Jackson reading the will aloud to Plummer, and making sure to point out Clark-Amar as she did it. The administrators also interviewed another witness, Karen Moore, during their investigation.
Moore told them that a “younger woman” who she did not know was in the room while Plummer’s will was being read. The “younger woman” asked Plummer if she understood when he will was being read, and Plummer said she understood but wished Jackson would read louder, according to the investigation. One reason Plummer’s family has disputed the validity of the will is because they say she was hard of hearing.
Finally, the report includes a great deal of information about a 2016 grant that Jackson helped to win from the AARP Foundation that gave the Elder Law Clinic additional money for more law students to help with its services for seniors. An email included in Southern’s report indicates that 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark, the mother of Clark-Amar, made Jackson aware of the grant.
In her interviews with administrators, Jackson confirmed that she drafted Plummer’s will. But she denied any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or ethical violations and refused to answer questions about the legal proceedings based on the will.
Additionally, the investigation shows that Clark-Amar wrote a glowing letter of recommendation in March 2016 for Jackson to receive a promotion to full clinical professor.
“You have assisted our seniors with legal matters that they didn’t understand and were unequipped financially to handle, many times during your free time,” Clark-Amar wrote. “You have been a beacon light of service to the elderly community and I would hope that you would be given further opportunity to instill the spirit of community, compassion and giving into your students on a more consistent basis.”
Under the will, Clark-Amar was slated to be paid $500 a month for 20 years as the trustee and executor of the estate of Plummer. After the Plummer family went public with their story this spring and accused her of wrongdoing, Clark-Amar stepped away from her involvement in the estate. Plummer’s family said they had never even heard of Clark-Amar before seeing the will after their grandmother died in the spring, while the Council on Aging official has maintained that she and Plummer had a close relationship.
Jackson also sought $10,000 from Plummer’s family for the work she did on the succession. Plummer’s family said she requested $9,000 in attorney’s fees and another $1,000 in court costs.
Aaron complained about the $10,000 charge a “red herring” and pointed out that Jackson said she would waive the $9,000 in attorney’s fees and simply wanted $1,000 in court costs reimbursed. He said Jackson performed 45 hours of work on Plummer’s succession, and charges $200 an hour.
Aaron has said his client will end up vindicated in the matter, saying that her work in this case essentially was a “side gig,” a practice common among law professors. And if doing work on the side is a problem, Southern should create a rule to stop it, he said. He also pointed out that should Jackson have violated ethics laws or Louisiana’s rules of professional conduct, Southern does not have the jurisdiction to punish Jackson for it. Ethics violations are handled by the Louisiana Ethics board, and the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board oversees professional conduct violations.
Jackson herself has not spoken publicly about her involvement in the Plummer matter. Clark-Amar has filed a defamation lawsuit against Plummer’s family. Robert Garrity, the attorney representing Plummer’s family, said they intend to file a lawsuit disputing the authenticity of Plummer’s will.
The Advocate filed a public records request in May seeking documents related to Southern’s investigation into Jackson and the Elder Law clinic. Though Southern’s legal counsel acknowledged the existence of such documents, they said they would not release them because of Jackson’s “privacy rights.”
In July, Southern University rejected a similar public records request from WBRZ-TV for the same reasons. The two news outlets then joined together to sue the university, with attorney W. Scott Keaty arguing that the investigation clearly fell under public records law and that the public had a right to know why its money was being spent to investigate Jackson.
The lawsuit went to court last week before 19th JDC Judge Timothy Kelley. But before the attorneys began making their oral arguments, Aaron said Jackson had decided to “waive her rights to privacy” and that they were OK with the report being released. Southern’s legal counsel agreed.
Kelley then ruled in favor of the news outlets, ordering Southern to pay attorney’s fees for the news organizations, which Keaty said could reach $10,000.