08:21, February 07 370 0 abajournal.com

2018-02-07 08:21:06
Judge says ex-Sutherland partner is competent for trial, cites ‘snowball effect’ in prior diagnoses

A federal judge in Atlanta has ruled a that a former partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan is competent to stand trial on charges that he stole $2 million from three trusts he administered.

U.S. District Judge William Duffey Jr. discounted defense evidence that accused lawyer Bennett Kight experienced cognitive decline after suffering a brain hemorrhage in 2008, according to a Daily Report article.

Kight was charged with mail fraud and bank fraud for allegedly misappropriating money from trusts owned by Frances Bunzl, the wife of a wealthy industrialist.

Kight didn’t report any concerns about a cognitive decline until shortly after his indictment in March 2016, Duffey said in an opinion last Friday. In another court proceeding in 2015, Kight maintained he was still capable of managing the trusts.

In a September 2015 deposition in the other proceeding, Kight’s testimony was “was careful, thoughtful, deliberate, controlled, and his memory good,” Duffey said.

Kight said in that deposition that he left his former law firm because of a malpractice suit filed by the Bunzl family, and not because of any cognitive decline. The firm is now known as Eversheds Sutherland.

In addition, a court-appointed expert who examined Kight, Dr. Daniel Marson, found that he had a good understanding of the charges against him and could identify the roles of individuals in the courtroom. Kight may be suffering from mild cognitive impairment, but he was not incompetent, according to Marson, who is director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Marson reported that Kight’s motivation during the cognitive testing was “variable and at times suboptimal,” and Marson believed the cognitive tests were invalid.

Experts hired by Kight’s family reached different conclusions, as did Kight’s wife. Duffey said he found the defense “interpretation and advocacy based on this evidence inconsistent and suspect.” Many of the experts took into account reported observations by Kight’s wife, along with initial diagnoses of mild cognitive impairment in June 2016 and vascular dementia in August 2016.

“The medical records include, to an important extent, the recording of defendant’s medical history based on the hearsay or double hearsay of other’s medical records without independent verification of reports provided by Mr. Kight,” Duffey said. The result was a “snowball effect” that created a false understanding of Kight’s true cognitive condition, according to the judge.