Attorney: Retirement, law license could be lost

Published 7:22 am Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sherrie Phillips’ attorney said it appears his client will lose 30 years of state retirement and her license to practice law as a result of her conviction of felony ethics and theft charges last month.

“There are still matters to be decided, but that’s how it appears,” Riley Powell said.

Both Powell and David Harrison, who defended the case, indicated they intend to appeal, and Phillips was released from the Covington County Jail on an appeal bond Wednesday afternoon pending that process.

Powell said he is not sure if he or Harrison will file the appeal, but he believes the “theft by deception” part of the verdict could be appealed because “it’s not clear who she deceived.”

The case involves the estate of a deceased man, Cary Douglas Piper of Castleberry in Conecuh County, who appeared at the time of his death to have no heirs and no will. Six first-cousins have since been identified.

State law sets out a probate process called escheat in which the assets of a person who dies without heirs or a will are turned over to the state, where they are held for 20 years in case heirs appear.

Phillips used a $1.8 million check from the estate to open a personal money market account, using her home address and her Social Security number. She then spent more than $516,000 of the funds.

Powell said the case also could possibly be appealed because the jury found Phillips not guilty in one of the counts for the theft of $1.8 million with which she was originally charged.

“How can you be guilty and not guilty,” he said.

The grand jury charged her in June with theft of $1.8 million and with theft by deception of $1.8 million.

In her hearing, Judge Charles Price told the jury Phillips could not be found guilty twice of stealing the same money. Despite those instructions, the jury returned to the courtroom with a guilty verdict in all three counts and received further instructions from Price to find Phillips guilty either of outright theft or of theft by deception.