Published October 09. 2013 4:00AM
I have long thought that Tracy Swain's lawsuit against the Town of Stonington and First Selectman Ed Haberek seemed more political in nature than potentially lucrative.
Honestly, how much money could Swain reasonably expect a jury to award her because of her claim - Haberek denies it - that the first selectman sent a sexually graphic photo of himself to her by cellphone.
I would think a jury might be dubious of her complaint that seeing the picture, which she says she deleted, has caused years worth of pain from migraine headaches. Never mind that there seems to be no proof the photo was sent.
Politically, though, the lawsuit has proven to be a popular club wielded by Haberek's opponents.
I was curious enough about the lawsuit to poke around in court records to see whether Swain has made any kinds of similar claims, seeking damages by way of lawsuit.
I found one interesting lawsuit in which a lawyer representing the estate of a Pawcatuck woman, a former neighbor of Swain and her husband, accuses the Swains of making an "extortionate" claim against the estate.
"Your motive in shaking down the executor (of the estate) is apparent," the lawyer wrote in a letter to the Swains that became part of the lawsuit the estate had to file in Superior Court to clear a mechanic's lien the couple had placed on their deceased neighbor's home.
Naturally, this caught my interest, and I headed to Probate Court to learn more about what happened, how the Swains might have come to be accused of "shaking down" the executor of their neighbor's estate.
Neither Swain nor her attorney in the sexting lawsuit, Scott Camassar, returned specific messages I left Tuesday asking about Swain's involvement with her neighbor's estate.
The Swains' neighbor, Beatrice Regina Silverstein, died in the spring of 2005, at the age of 94, with no family heirs.
Miss Silverstein, a graduate of Brown University, who also had master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Rhode Island, taught Latin, French and English at Stonington High School for 30 years.
In her will, she left a few possessions - jewelry, a stamp collection and silverware - to some friends. She left $7,000 to synagogues in Westerly and New London.
But the balance of her estate, including her modest house on South Broad Street, she left in equal parts to the Shriners Hospital for Children and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
Owing no doubt to a life of thrift, Miss Silverstein left a considerable bequest to the two hospitals. With savings accounts, stocks, bonds and her Pawcatuck home, she left an estate valued at more than $800,000.
The Swains, who evidently were friendly over the years with Silverstein, were paid for things they did for her, like shoveling her sidewalk and running errands.
They claimed in a bill sent to Probate Court that Silverstein had begun to neglect to pay them because of her declining health.
A bill submitted to the court included about $10,000 in charges for shoveling, phone calls and transportation plus more than $3,000 more in interest and late fees.
A third party, a North Stonington attorney, was eventually appointed by the court to investigate their claim. After a hearing in which the lawyer heard the Swains out, he issued a report saying they were due $1,435, money they were paid.
The Swains' $3,000 bill to the estate for snow removal was resolved by the court-appointed mediator at $540, for six three-hour shovelings at $30 an hour. The $2,680 the Swains billed for transportation was reduced to $600, for six transports.
The lawyer who conducted the hearing also disallowed charges the Swains were claiming for calls Miss Silverstein made to them.
"There is no evidence that the decedent expected to pay the claimants for their time spent on the phone, or that the claimants expected payment for simply talking to their dear friend," the lawyer wrote in his report to the court.
The Swains, even after being paid the $1,435 approved by the court, filed a mechanic's lien on Silverstein's house, which was being sold, the proceeds destined for the children's hospitals.
This lien prompted the estate lawyer's letter accusing the couple of shaking down the executor of their neighbor's estate. It took a lawsuit to get rid of the lien.
"Your motive . . . " he wrote, "is apparent from the fact that the Silverstein house has recently become subject to a contract of sale and purchase which you no doubt see as giving you maximum leverage."
Hmmm. I wonder if we can see a pattern of seeking maximum leverage.
This is the opinion of David Collins.