Dickson, TN - A Tennessee lawyer has been suspended from practicing law after he's accused of misappropriating more than $1 million from the trust fund of a state trooper's daughter.
The decision to suspend Jack Garton's law license was made by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, according to the Tennessean.
The trust fund for Carina Larkins was established in 2006 after her father, Tennessee State Trooper Todd Larkins, was killed in 2005.
Trooper Larkins, 31, died during a traffic stop when a tractor-trailer hit him while he stood near his parked cruiser on the shoulder of Interstate 40. Trooper Larkins' death renewed focus on the move-over law.
The money missing from the trust fund is about half of the original amount. Once Larkins family members became aware that money was missing, they hired attorney Jennifer Roberts, who filed a motion in October to have Garton removed as trustee, citing breach of his fiduciary duties to the trust.
A hearing was held on Tuesday, Nov. 28 in Dickson County Probate Court. According to court records and statements from attorney Jennifer Roberts, Garton removed more than $350,000 in 2016 from the fund; about $45,000 in 2015; about $45,000 in 2014; $110,000 in 2013; $192,000 in 2012; $115,000 in 2011; and nearly $117,00 in 2010.
Court documents show that Garton received $1.075 million from the trust fund, compared to about $585,000 for Carina Larkins, who is a student at Austin Peay State University.
In 2007, Garton was appointed by Judge Jackson to oversee the Carina Larkins trust. He was not bonded for the position, according to Roberts, although it's usually required or expected to guard against misappropriation of funds.
Garton had been subpoenaed for Tuesday's hearing but Dixon County deputy sheriffs testified that they had tried to serve him on two separate days but were unable to locate him.
Former Dickson County juvenile and probate court judge Andrew Jackson was served with a subpoena but chose to circumvent it and provide a deposition to the court instead, which is an option for him due to his status as a former judge.
At the hearing, which the Larkins family attended, Roberts questioned two retired, long-time juvenile and probate court clerks, Judy Wilson and Sandra Anderson. Both Wilson and Anderson worked for years for Judge Jackson, who served as judge for more than 30 years before being defeated in the 2014 election.
Wilson said that she remembered many closed-door meetings between Trooper Larkins' widow Alicia, Garton, and Judge Jackson. Later, she said that the meetings occurred between Garton and Judge Jackson when no one was present. She said she recalled "one, maybe two" sealed envelopes with documents inside.
Roberts then presented the various orders for payment from the trust, which were signed by Jackson, stamped, and filed by the court, she said. Wilson said that she had never seen those documents.
According to Wilson and Anderson, and court documents, Garton would type an order, which would be signed by Jackson, and then Garton would fax the order to one of the two investment companies holding the trust. Those companies would overnight the check to Garton and he would use some portion of the check to pay taxes, other expenses, and his own fee.
For the first two years, Garton did not take any fees, according to court documents. He paid the trust taxes and other small, miscellaneous fees. In 2009, he began taking fees using fluctuating amounts.
During Tuesday's hearing, it was established that no accounting system existed within the court for the trust, and no justification or record of work hours spent related to the trust.
Roberts said, “The trust has been virtually depleted."
Garton may petition for reinstatement of his attorney license when the state Board of Professional Responsibility meets again in March, 2018.
The companies overseeing the trust indicated at Tuesday's meeting that they intend to file suit to recoup the money.
Prosecutors are looking into criminal charges.