A former employee of a Hays millionaire who died in 2013 lost another legal battle over the estate.
In an order filed Wednesday, the Kansas Supreme Court denied a petition for review of the Kansas Court of Appeals rulings in the Earl O. Field estate case. That leaves standing the Court of Appeals decisions that were not favorable for Wanda Oborny.
The Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling, by Judge William "Buck" Lyle of Reno County, that found the will Field filed before his death was valid, not the codicil that Wanda Oborny filed after Field died. The codicil would have made Oborny the chief beneficiary of the roughly $20 million estate.
The Supreme Court also will not review the Court of Appeals' ruling on a separate matter that also marked a defeat for Oborny. She had requested a lower court authorize payment of about $1 million in her legal fees from the estate. Judge Jack Burr had ruled in Oborny's favor on that point, but the Appeals Court reversed that, declaring that Oborny had not acted in good faith when filing the codicil and was not deserving of the award for attorney fees.
"Based on all the evidence of record, we find clear and convincing evidence supporting the (Ellis County) district court's conclusion that Oborny, or someone other than Field, at Oborny's behest, signed the purported codicil instead of Field," the Court of Appeals asserted in its decision in early 2018.
The codicil's two signed witnesses who said they had seen Field sign the codicil, Steve and Kathy Little, were friends of Oborny. The Littles died in a murder-suicide after authorities began investigating the case.
The Fort Hays State University Foundation is the key beneficiary of the 2010 Field will that the court deemed valid. Other beneficiaries are members of the Brecheisen family, related to Field's late wife, and members of the Burghart family, overseeing agricultural interests for the Fields. Oborny's codicil had named Field attorney Joseph Jeter as a beneficiary, too. Jeter did not petition the higher courts to overturn the lower court ruling that found the codicil fake.
Coy Martin, an attorney involved on behalf Fort Hays State University Foundation, said with the Supreme Court's order, the case now will go back to the district court to complete estate administration and the final distributions of the remaining proceeds, after payment of final expenses.
"After the trial and while the case was on appeal, some interim orders were entered authorizing partial distributions of estate assets, including monies used to fund (FHSU) scholarships; however, the bulk of the assets has remained in limbo pending the appeal," Martin wrote The News in an email.
There are tax implications, too, from the court rulings. If Oborny's codicil had prevailed, the tax on the estate would have been an estimated $4.4 million. Now that most of the estate will go to the FHSU Foundation, the tax liability will be diminished.
Oborny currently is out on a $25,000 bond in a related federal court case claiming she committed mail fraud in the Field estate matter. That case is slated to go to a jury trial Feb. 19, 2019, in U.S. District Court in Wichita.