ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday against the mistress of a millionaire, saying she is not entitled to receive $7,900 a month for the rest of her life as provided under amendments to his will.
The court ruled 7-0 that Anne Melican should not receive the monthly payment, and that she also is not entitled to property in Florida and Cape Cod, Mass., as provided by the late Harvey Strother in amendments to his will signed between 2000 and his 2004 death.
The ruling overturns a decision last summer that had upheld the monthly allowance, despite his family's insistence that when he died, Strother was a fragile alcoholic who Melican conned into changing his will.
Part of the case hinged on the testimony of two home nurses who cared for Strother and signed as witnesses to the amendments, but later confessed they hadn't witnessed anything.
Monday's ruling nullified the women's signatures and voided the amendment, known in legal terms as a codicil.
"We conclude the first codicil was not properly executed," Justice Hugh Thompson wrote.
Justices also upheld a decision denying Melican ownership of a Cape Cod home, and a Florida property and boat slip. The court was not asked to rule on an amendment granting her a condominium in Marco Island, Fla., an issue that will go before a different court.
Strother died at 79, a multimillionaire who made his fortune with a small empire of Atlanta-area car dealerships.
Court records show he was drinking more than a gallon of wine a day by the time he made changes to his will that guaranteed Melican about $6 million of his $37 million estate and multiple properties.
After Strother's death from congestive heart failure, his grandson challenged the amendments, depicting Melican as a canny manipulator who used sex and alcohol to influence Strother into changing his will.
In Monday's opinion, justices pointed to testimony from Bonnie Gordon and Amie Spears Lockett, former nurses of Strother, who admitted they signed off as witnesses to the changes of his will though they never saw Strother himself sign the document.
Melican's camp argued the women simply forgot the circumstances of the signing. The court dismissed that claim.
"The record shows that Lockett's testimony was unequivocal that testator (Strother) did not sign in her presence and he did not acknowledge his signature," Thompson wrote.
Attorneys representing the Strother estate said the ruling means money and property will likely be distributed among the dead man's family, in keeping with a 1988 will leaving the bulk of his assets to his wife Betty, their children and their grandchildren.
"The Supreme Court said no, you have to meet certain minimum requirements of execution to have a valid will or an amendment to your will — and they were not met in this case," said Allison Barnes Salter, an attorney with the Barnes Law Group, in Marietta, who represented the Strother estate.
An attorney for Melican did not immediately return a phone call Monday afternoon.