public meeting not long enough to answer all of Grandview patrons'
Cindy DiFazio - Staff Writer
A capacity crowd gathered on Sunday, May 20 at the Jefferson County
Fairgrounds to hear from lawyers involved in the Grandview Memorial
Gardens debacle. Attorneys Richard Shevitz and Vess Miller of
Cohen and Malad in Indianapolis were present to explain the legal
side of a class action lawsuit filed regarding missing money and
trust funds at Grandview.
Attorney Tony Goebel of New Albany, a native of Madison, was also
there, having been retained by the Grandview Committee to represent
plaintiffs concerning the physical conditions at Grandview.
Shevitz spoke first regarding the misuse of the prearrangement
trust fund. He told the crowd, The good news is, from our
perspective, we have a good understanding of the problem. The
bad news is that a lawsuit is only a lawsuit and they move slowly.
Shevitz cautioned attendees that the loss of money would not be
remedied in the very near future. He confirmed what the people
involved already felt to be true, that though they had paid their
money into the trust fund, most of it is no longer there. Shevitz
said that papers have been served against the owners/operators
dating back to the late 1960s as well as the financial institutions
who served as trustees. He stated that the hope is always that
defendants will want to resolve the issues, but the reality is
that often they will drag their feet trying to postpone legal
procedures. The suit will go after the cemetery owners/operators
for false documentation. Shevitz shared one report of a withdrawal
of $8,200 from trust fund money for the burial expenses of a woman
who is still alive today. The trustees (banks) are being sued
for not reviewing the documentation - not minding the store.
Tony Goebel was up next. He began by sharing his credentials with
the group. Besides being an established lawyer, having worked
with the highly reputable firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs out
of Louisville, KY, Goebel is an ordained minister. In 2001,
I got a call from God, he said. While serving as pastor
of a New Albany Church, he kept his hand in the law by offering
pro bono work to people who needed a lawyer but couldnt
afford one. Ive always had a ministry to the sick
and dying, Goebel went on to say, and I understand
how upsetting this is to people. This is the worst possible scenario
He said that he has asked for help from his former colleagues
at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs and they have agreed to assist.
Goebel explained the different types of lawsuits that could be
brought in regards to the physical conditions at Grandview. He
said that a tort could be brought for negligence in handling the
needs of clients. Also a breech-of-contract and anticipatory breech-of-contract
could be filed. He said they could also file a tort of outrage
that covers conduct so egregious that the court deems it to be
Goebel noted that the case is very complex because plaintiffs
fall into different subclasses, and some of those subclasses overlap.
Some of those subclasses are:
* People who have relatives improperly buried already
* People who have prepaid for their burial but have not needed
* People who have already exhumed relatives and paid for new burial
Following the statements of the attorneys, the public was asked
for their input.
Widow Joella Snell told her story first. Her husband and two sons
are buried at Grandview. When her husband died, son Roger went
out to the cemetery and noted there was mud and water standing
in the grave. He asked the funeral home to hold the body until
they could find a dry grave for him. Mrs. Snell said that they
then had to exhume the body of youngest son, Jimmy Joe and purchase
a new headstone for her eldest son, Eugene. I paid everything
once, I paid everything twice, she lamented. This
has just about destroyed my life.
John Jones had three questions. First, he asked, If we opt
to go elsewhere for burial, will we still be part of the class
action? Goebel answered, Yes, but it will be at your
expense until a settlement is reached and hopefully, you will
Secondly, he questioned, If money is due a family, what
if they (the plaintiffs) dont have the money? Richard
Shevitz noted, That is a concern. We are not sure at this
time if there will be enough money. He commented that the
former owners/operators did have insurance policies in effect
at some point to cover these kinds of incidences (water in the
graves, etc.). He said that the policies were occurrence policies
meaning that if the negligence happened when the insurance was
in effect it doesnt matter when the claim is filed. Plaintiffs
will still be eligible for monetary relief.
Shevitz also stated that some of the owners/operators named in
the suit, for instance, Carriage Funeral Services out of Texas
who posted $184 million in sales last year as well as the banks
involved, are money-making operations whose current assets may
be tapped. The attorneys who are all performing this work on a
contingency basis promised, We will look under every rock
to recoup this money.
Jones third question was, Do you anticipate there
will be criminal charges filed by the state? Goebel answered,
As I understand the law, it is up to the local prosecutors
discretion to press criminal charges. He averred, Crimes
were probably committed.
Many people in attendance who have prepaid funeral expenses wanted
to know if expenses would still be covered if they or a loved
one had need of burial services in the near future. He told them
that while their plots are still there, the money is not or will
not be soon. He stated, You may be standing there with a
signed contract in your hand and the cemetery might say Sorry,
theres no money.
Goebel also noted that people might want to check where their
plots are in case they are in the part of the cemetery that doesnt
Allegedly, the Devotion Section has good drainage while the rest
of the sections do not. Donna Carson refuted that saying her father
was the first one disinterred, that he was buried in the best
area, and his casket was still in water. That information triggered
questions such as, Will we have to buy another vault?
What about people who dont have the money to pay twice?
and so forth. Shevitz counseled, You cant plan your
life around the possible outcome of this lawsuit. Goebel
agreed, adding, Hopefully, there will be enough to take
care of everyone.
Keith Dixon, noting that the state has regulations regarding cemeteries
asked, Is the state offering help? To a round of applause,
Goebel asserted, The problem is with the state. Theyre
not doing anything. He encouraged concerned citizens to
engage in a letter-writing campaign to the state attorney generals
office. Tell him to do his job, he encouraged.
In the same vein, Judy Hoffman, inquired, What needs to
be done locally? Goebel suggested that folks ask the prosecutors
to check if criminal laws have been broken, but stated candidly,
This lies right at the feet of the attorney general. It
all goes right back to Indianapolis.
Shirley Jones, a former area resident, stated that her parents
as well as her brother and sister-in-law are buried at Grandview
and she wondered who is taking care of the lots now. Terry Rowlett,
head of the Grandview committee, told her, Its not
being maintained as well as it should. However, he went
on to explain, Were doing the best we can.
Several members of the audience as well as the Grandview committee
noted that current owner, Keith Mefford, is taking care of the
property as well as he can, even spending his own money on maintenance.
Rowlett praised Meffords handling of Grandviews problems
saying, You wont find anyone more committed to Grandview
than he is. He really cares. This was followed by a huge
round of applause for Mefford.
In the audience was State Representative Dave Cheatham who recently
helped to get legislation passed addressing problems in the funeral
industry. He addressed the crowd, I am trying to help with
this situation. He explained that recent legislation has
accomplished the following:
* A consumer protection fund has been established to provide reimbursements
for additional expenses (such as those incurred by people who
purchased prepaid burial packages at Grandview) has been increased
from $1.5 to $2.5 million.
* A perpetual care fund will go into effect on July 1 which can
be used to maintain cemeteries until lawsuits are settled.
* Accounting procedures have been put into place which will not
allow monies from trust funds to be mingled in with operating
Cheatham assured the group, We are trying to address the
present problem and keep it from happening again. He cautioned,
however, It is happening elsewhere and its shocking
how deep it goes.
To check on the status of the current class-action lawsuit visit
CINDY DI FAZIO PHOTO
It was standing
room only on Sunday, May 20 at a public meeting held at
the Jefferson County 4-H Fairgrounds to address the status
of class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of Grandview
Memorial Gardens' patrons.