Peter Vincent clears civil suits; probate lawsuit surfaces

Edgartown lawyer Edward W. “Pete” Vincent Jr., having resolved two civil lawsuits with the help of a wealthy friend, faces further legal difficulties.

On April 5, the Dukes County Probate and Family Court removed Mr. Vincent as executor of an estate that has been the subject of a long-running dispute. The removal came after lawyer Jay Theise, with offices in Boston and Aquinnah, filed an emergency motion to remove Mr. Vincent. Mr. Theise represents the heirs of Richard Steigelman, who died in 2005.

As executor of the Steigelman estate and also attorney for the estate, Mr. Vincent was responsible for protecting the estate property until all debts, including taxes, are paid, and then transferring the remainder to the heirs designated in Mr. Steigelman’s will.

Nearly six years after the death of Mr. Steigelman, Mr. Vincent had not distributed any part of the estate to the heirs, according to allegations in court documents filed by Mr. Theise.

On February 24, weeks before allegations surfaced about funds missing from two real estate transactions, Mr. Theise filed a document known as an objection in probate court, on behalf of the heirs. He recites 99 separate objections to the way Mr. Vincent has handled the estate and alleges Mr. Vincent did not properly file an accounting of the business transactions related to the estate.

“He failed to file his accounts in a timely manner, only filing the first account over five years after the decedent’s death, and even then, only under court-ordered compulsion as a result of the citation obtained by the objectors,” Mr. Theise wrote in the objection.

“The accounts,” the lawyer charges, “are devoid of detail or support. It is impossible for the objectors to evaluate the accounts where the information is so plainly lacking.

“However, it is clear, based on the public records filed in connection with the commercial real estate mortgage, that the executor has taken a loan on the principal asset of the estate…and has elected to pay himself fees totaling in excess of $93,809.07.”

According to land records, Mr. Vincent, as executor, mortgaged the estate’s assets for $225,000, in July of 2009.

In some probate cases, loans are taken against an estate to cover legal costs. But it is very unusual for an estate to remain unsettled for nearly six years, according to several attorneys experienced in estate matters, but not specifically familiar with this case. Most estates of this kind are settled in a year or two.

Eventually the probate court will hold a hearing, and a judge will decide whether Mr. Vincent’s work as executor was proper, his fees justified, and his accounting of estate financial transactions adequate. Though the court removed Mr. Vincent as executor, he is legally responsible for his actions while he served as executor.

Mr. Theise declined comment on the pending probate action.

Last week, Mr. Vincent resolved two lawsuits alleging he misappropriated more than $600,000 in client funds. A $700,000 mortgage loan from Michael Kidder, an Edgartown resident and longtime friend of the Vincent family, allowed the lawyer to repay the funds he had withheld from clients in separate real estate transactions.

Roger Matthews, Mr. Vincent’s attorney, commented on the settlement. “We are very pleased obviously to be able to arrange to have the two lawsuits dismissed,” Mr. Matthews said in an email to The Times Wednesday. “It demonstrates a lot of support on the Island for Attorney Vincent.”

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and First American Title Insurance Company agreed to dismiss the lawsuits and attachments after they were paid the amounts entrusted to Mr. Vincent during real estate closings in February.

The dismissal of the civil lawsuits does not settle the criminal charges Mr. Vincent faces in Edgartown District Court. His scheduled arraignment on charges of fiduciary embezzlement and larceny, postponed from an earlier date, is scheduled for May 19.

He is also under investigation by the state Board of Bar Overseers, the agency that investigates and disciplines lawyers.