Still alive, Tamposi trust legal wrangling heads to federal court

This time the argument is over the actions of a lawyer

Litigation over the trusts set up by the late millionaire developer Sam Tamposi spilled over into federal court last week in a filing against the former trustee’s Chicago law firms.

In the latest legal development in more than two decades of acrimony, the current trustee of the Elizabeth M. Tamposi trust filed suit against the law firms of Butler, Rueben, Saltarelli & Boyd of Chicago, Ill., and Faegre Baker Daniels of Minneapolis, Minn., alleging that they benefited or might benefit from the misconduct of one of their attorneys, Julie Shelton, the trust’s former trustee, for creating such legal havoc that it might have resulted in the beneficiary of the trustee, Betty Tamposi – a former official in the George H.W. Bush administration and a former state representative — losing million of dollars.

The trust was built by Samuel Tamposi Sr., one of New Hampshire’s most successful developers, who died in May 1995, but not before splitting his fortune – worth nearly $21 million at the time, and almost $150 million by the end of 2008 – in separate but equal trusts to his six children.

In setting up the trusts, Tamposi stipulated that the trusts be controlled by his eldest and youngest sons. And he also stipulated that anyone who challenged the arrangement would be cut out of his estate.

Betty Tamposi challenged it from the start, arguing that such a clause, if carried to the extreme, give any trust administrator unlimited power, and in a settlement got her own trustee in 2006. Tamposi chose her friend, Julie Shelton — who agreed, despite having little experience. Shelton promptly continued – or perhaps escalated — the controversy, demanding that the estate sell off its interest in the Red Sox to raise money for Betty Tamposi’s expenses, which included such things as her kid’s college tuition and Shelton’s legal expenses.

The matter went to probate court, which – in a decision upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in January — removed Shelton, ruled that Betty Tamposi forfeited her interest in the trust (though her children would still benefit) and added that Betty Tamposi must pay back whatever income she received since 2007, plus the other side’s legal fees. The fees alone totaled more than $3 million.

However, the court did say that Shelton – and her law firm – could collect some $745,000 their own fees. The latest filling is over those fees.

Shelton worked for the Butler firm until November 2008, before switching to the Baker firm during the time when she “sought, among other things, to effectively dismantle the Samuel Tamposi Trust and the EMT (Elizabeth M. Tamposi) Trust.”

Butler billed the trust for at least $128,000, and Faegre Baker billed it for $396,000.

The probate court has yet to rule on the fee amounts.

The law firms are “vicariously liable” for the negligence of Shelton, and Shelton should repay all she gets as well, according to the complaint, which was first filed in August in state Superior Court, but has since been moved to federal court, thanks to a motion made by the Chicago firm’s lawyer, John C. LaLiberte, a Boston attorney, who was unable to be reached by deadline.

The EMT trust is represented by David Eby of Manchester-based Devine Millimet.

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