Brock pleads guilty to perjury

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, August 13, 2009

Conecuh County attorney John Brock has pleaded guilty to third degree perjury for his role in the probate case that led to the conviction of former Covington County Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips.

Cary Douglas Piper, who was 52 at the time of his death on Jan. 13, 2007, was a resident of Castleberry, Ala., located between Brewton and Evergreen on the Conecuh County side of the Escambia-Conecuh County line. Mary Drew Sullivan, also a Castleberry resident, petitioned the probate court of Covington County in March 2007 to be named administrator of Piper’s estate. Brock, an Evergreen attorney, represented Sullivan and prepared the petition.

Thursday, Brock pleaded guilty to third degree perjury, a misdemeanor. The terms of his plea agreement called for a six-month sentence, which prosecutors for the state of Alabama recommended be suspended. Prosecutors are requesting in the plea agreement that he pay court costs, pay $500 to the victims’ compensation fund, and pay a $3,000 fine.

Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb appointed retired Monroe County District Judge William J. Causey to hear the case. Causey approved the plea agreement.

When Sullivan and Brock brought Piper’s estate, which had an estimated value of $3.2 million, to Covington County, they claimed that Piper died without a will and with no known relatives. Alabama law requires an escheat process in those conditions, in which the estate is held for a number of years in case relatives appear later.

Six first cousins were later identified. At about the same time that a Covington County grand jury indicted Phillips for the theft of $1.8 million from the estate, an attorney representing the cousins successfully petitioned to have the probate case reopened.

Lee Enzor, who at the time was acting probate judge, also ordered Sullivan and Brock, the attorney, to repay the “egregious and impermissible fees” received from the estate. Each had received $450,000 in administrative and attorney’s fees. Both repaid the fees; Sullivan has since filed a civil complaint against Brock, Phillips and an accountant in the case. In the lawsuit, Sullivan claims that Brock and Phillips “insisted that the petition to administer (Piper’s) estate be filed in Covington County and that estate assets be moved there to create jurisdiction,” despite the fact that Piper lived in Conecuh County. She alleges legal malpractice, conspiracy, breach of fiduciary duty, outrage, negligence, wantonness, fraud and suppression.

The warrant against Brock states that he, “did swear falsely, to wit: in a petition for letters of administration prepared for the matter of the estate of Cary Douglas Piper, in violation of Section 13A-10-103 of the Code of Alabama, against the peace and dignity of the state of Alabama.”

The case against Brock was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Bill Lisenby, chief, and Assistant Attorney General Ben Baxley, both of the Public Corruption and White Collar Crime Division, and was investigated by the AG’s Investigations Division.