BELTON — A prominent Killeen family settled out of court Wednesday with one of the attorneys they have accused of ethical misconduct.
Temple attorney John Redington settled with the Purser family, who had sued the lawyer for unethical practices in a countersuit currently on trial in district court. The Pursers have alleged Redington and others conspired to bilk the family and its ailing patriarch of millions of dollars
Closing arguments in the lawsuit between the Pursers and Killeen attorney Jerry Scarbrough, Temple resident Melissa V. Deaton and Mary Denise Steele will be heard today in the 146th District Court. A jury will then decide the liability of the remaining defendants.
A lawyer representing Redington called the settlement mutually beneficial. Redington signed a non-disclosure agreement, so the details of the settlement cannot be discussed.
The Pursers are one of Killeen’s more powerful families, with multiple real estate development companies and political ties. JoAnn Purser sits on the Killeen Independent School District Board of Trustees and is a former Killeen city councilwoman.
The protracted lawsuit, which began originally as a wrongful termination suit between Gary W. Purser and a man no longer involved in the case, has racked up a $1.2 million legal bill for the Pursers.
They are seeking $4 million in damages to cover their legal bills. All money beyond that would be donated to charity, said Elizabeth H. Tipton, Gary W. Purser’s sister.
Defendant Deaton also dropped any counter claims against the Pursers on Wednesday. She had sued for damages after alleging JoAnn Purser assaulted her at her home in February 2009.
The altercation took place after the Purser family learned that Gary W. Purser, who died in July 2011, was associating with two women much younger than him. Court records state Gary W. Purser had been diagnosed with dementia in the years leading up to his death.
Lawyers representing Helen Purser and the Purser family have called the relationship inappropriate, and claim the women convinced Gary W. Purser to give them up to $100,000.
Steele, who is representing herself in the lawsuit, told the court Wednesday that the relationship was purely a friendship.
Written time line
In a written time line she presented to the court, she said she met Gary W. Purser in late 2006. She would often see him at the local Red Lobster, where she worked as a manager.
In late 2007, she introduced former boyfriend Clayton Olvera to Gary W. Purser. The two men then entered into a contract involving an irrigation business.
Olvera was eventually fired from the job and sued Gary W. Purser for wrongful termination. Lawyers settled that suit out of court, but it was in those court documents that the first mention of a romantic relationship between Steele and Gary W. Purser came to light.
Steele called the allegation baseless Wednesday, characterizing it as the act of a jilted ex-lover.
“Because he (Olvera) is angry with me and angry with Mr. Purser, he puts in all these false allegations,” Steele said.
Steele was the beneficiary of at least some assistance from Gary W. Purser. She told the court he paid for her to get a real estate license, and at one point wanted to hire her to manage a sports bar he wished to build.
Steele did apologize to the Purser family for parts of the relationship. A tape entered into evidence between Steele, Deaton and Gary W. Purser included sexually charged language.
Steele and Deaton are named as co-defendants in the divorce papers between Helen Purser and Gary W. Purser.
It is believed Helen Purser only filed for divorce to limit Gary W. Purser’s access to the family’s considerable assets and prevent him from giving any further money to Steele and Deaton. The divorce was eventually dismissed.
The Pursers have also accused Scarbrough of perjury, slander and making false statements to police.
The Killeen attorney contacted Killeen police, Temple police and Texas Rangers when Gary W. Purser died, accusing the Purser family of murder.
Testimony also showed Scarbrough contacted Gary W. Purser’s funeral home and local justices of the peace calling on them to order an autopsy. He also initiated an investigation by Adult Protective Services, accusing the Pursers of elder abuse.
No evidence has been presented against the family substantiating any of those claims, and no charges were filed.
Scarbrough has also called JoAnn Purser and Gary “Bubba” Purser Jr. drug addicts in court.
But the main charge against Scarbrough is the allegation that he hid secret recordings from the Purser family.
Lawyers representing the Pursers had requested the recordings several times, but only received them through a third party. That led visiting Judge Alan Mayfield to sanction Scarbrough, and ultimately for Scarbrough to be named in the Pursers’ counter-suit.
In one recording, Scarbrough can be heard speaking with his wife, enthusiastic that he will earn millions from his suit against the Pursers.
The discovery of the recordings caused the Pursers’ legal fees to climb, their lawyers have said. Despite growing charges, the family has been determined to bring the matter before a jury, members have said.
“The prudent thing to have done would have been to cut our losses and not have a jury trial, but we feel the things they’ve done were so egregious that 12 people should say that they can’t do this anymore,” Tipton testified.