Phillips appeals to Supremes

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

Covington County’s former probate judge has now asked the Alabama’s highest court to hear an appeal of her criminal case, the last step standing between her and a jail cell.

A spokesperson for the Alabama Attorney General’s office, which tried the case against Sherrie Phillips, said the notice of a request for review filed by Phillips last Friday in the Alabama Supreme Court.

Last October, a Covington County jury found Phillips guilty of theft by deception of $1.8 million and intentionally using her official position for unlawful personal gain for herself or a family member. The state originally brought six counts of theft and ethics violations against her.

Phillips, who in November was given a 10-year split sentence with three years’ imprisonment, has been out on an appeals bond since the sentencing.

The court of criminal appeals upheld her conviction in July. She had 14 days to request a rehearing, and that request was denied on Aug. 15. She then had approximately two weeks in which to appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court for a legal review of her case. The high court may agree to review the case or decline to review it.

The case involved 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 were later 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.

Evergreen attorney John Brock brought the estate to Covington County to be probated and has since pleaded guilty to third-degree perjury for his role in the probate case that led to the charges against Phillips.

He was accused of perjury for his request to Phillips that she appoint Mary Drew Sullivan as administrator of the Piper estate. State law says that an estate should be probated in the county in which a person lives, dies, or has assets — in Piper’s case, Conecuh County.

Instead, Brock petitioned to have the estate probated in Covington County. Phillips awarded Brock $450,000 in legal fees and awarded Sullivan $450,000 in administrative fees. Both later repaid the estate after being ordered to do so by then-Special Probate Judge Lee Enzor.

During Phillips’ criminal trial, witnesses testified that she used a $1.8 million check from the estate to open a personal money market account with Edward Jones, using her home address and her Social Security number. She then spent more than $516,000 of the funds, with which she paid off personal debt, purchased two vehicles, paid for repairs to her home and loaned money to two relatives.

She repaid the money to the account after investigators from the Attorney General’s office served a search warrant for records in the case and just hours before she was scheduled to be interviewed by those investigators.