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Accusations fly in court fight over Justice Leander Shaw’s estate

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Less than three months after his death, a court battle has broken out over the estate of Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr.

Among the disclosures in court documents filed in Leon County, where Shaw lived after retiring from the court in 2003:

  • Shaw, the first black chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, died without having drawn up a will.
  • He kept a trove of valuables in his home, including jewelry and “a bag of loose diamonds” worth about $60,000.
  • He suffered a series of strokes in 2014 and a “massive stroke” in July 2015, leading to him being “incapacitated” in the months before his death on Dec. 14.

Now, son Sean Shaw, a Tampa lawyer and the state’s former Insurance Consumer Advocate, and his sister, Sherri Shaw Luke, are suing each other in a hail of dueling accusations.

Shaw filed first, in January. He said in his complaint that Luke wrongly tried to claim a $156,000 loan from her father in 2013 as a gift instead, despite paperwork to the contrary, so she wouldn’t have to repay the estate. The money was to pay off her house.

He also said her father lent her another $38,000 to pay for law school in 2014-15, but she dropped out and kept the money.

Further, Shaw said Luke wrongly took the valuables — including the bag of diamonds — after her father’s last stroke, when he “could not consent to any gifts of personal property.”

She also wrote herself 11 checks from her father’s bank account totaling over $11,000. Luke had her father sign them even though the retired jurist “was unable to handle his financial affairs,” the suit said.

Luke responded with her own lawsuit, filed this month.

She said that her father deeded his home on Lake Iamonia in northern Leon County to Sean Shaw but “never recorded the deed” at the courthouse or gave it to his son.

Just before her father died, her brother “surreptitiously removed the deed” from the justice’s house and recorded it himself, making him the legal owner, Luke’s suit said.

Meantime, the siblings are at odds in the probate case, with Luke petitioning the court to remove her brother as executor of her father’s estate because he “holds conflicting or adverse interests against the estate.”

Court records show that Shaw left “cash assets” alone worth nearly $2.4 million, mostly in investment and retirement accounts. He also owned three duplexes near the campus of Florida A&M University that he rented out.

Under Florida law, Justice Shaw’s heirs include Sherri Luke, Sean Shaw, and two other surviving children; two surviving grandchildren; and two minor great-grandchildren who are eligible to share in the estate.

In a Thursday telephone interview, Sean Shaw declined to comment, saying “it’s a family matter and I’d rather not discuss it.”

Calls to Luke’s Tallahassee attorney, Tom Powell, were not returned as of Thursday afternoon.

Powell also is known for representing former St. Petersburg resident Alan Crotzer, who was exonerated of rape and robbery after 24 years in prison and was released from an attempted murder charge in Tallahassee just last year.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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