By CRISTINA JANNEY
A former Hays bookkeeper who was seeking millions from her former employer’s estate lost her appeal in a decision released Friday.
The bulk of the estate of Earl O. Field instead will go to the Fort Hays State University Foundation to be used for scholarships.
Wanda Oborny alleges her employer, Earl O. Field, signed a codicil to his will shortly before his death in 2013, leaving half of his $20 million estate to her with a quarter of the estate going to Fort Hays State University and the rest going to Field’s attorney, Joseph Jeter.
FHSU has been fighting Oborny’s claim to the will, including a claim she filed with the court for $1 million in attorney’s fee for the case and another $134,000 for attorney fees for an appeal.
A district court ruled Oborny or someone on her request forged the codicil to the will. Oborny appealed.
Although the lower court found in FHSU’s favor on the will, a district court judge ruled Oborny’s attorney be awarded fees from the estate.
The appellate court found in favor again for FHSU on Oborny’s appeal and overturned the district’s court decision on the attorney’s fees.
The appellate court found Oborny or someone on her request forged the codicil to Field’s will.
In the decision, the court noted Field told the FHSU after the date on the alleged codicil that the college would receive more from his estate than the college had originally anticipated. In a 2005 email to a friend, Earl’s wife, Nonie, wrote about the couple’s desire to leave a legacy with the college that would carry on their name as they had no children.
The decision pointed to evidence the codicil was not consistent with Field’s previous wills. It also noted Oborny’s testimony was often inconsistent and she had a history of taking other people’s money.
The court concluded Oborny was not acting in good faith and therefore the attorney’s fees should not be paid from the estate.
In the original case, Oborny alleged 98-year-old Field went to a local car dealer to have the codicil of his will witnessed by two of Oborny’s longtime friends, Steve and Kathy Little.
The Littles died in a murder/suicide after they had been visited by federal agents and received federal grand jury subpoenas. However, their deaths were never definitively linked to the Field will case.
Oborny was Field’s part-time bookkeeper and a cosigner on his accounts. FHSU alleged in its appellate brief Oborny received $300,000 in questionable gifts and bonuses from Field’s accounts before his death and another $600,000 in payments after his death.
After a lengthy 2016 trial, District Court Judge William “Buck” Lyle found the codicil was a forgery created by Oborny or an associate on her behalf.
Although the court found the codicil that benefited Oborny was a forgery, a judge appointed after the initial trial, Kansas Senior Judge Jack Burr, found Oborny could claim $1 million in attorney’s fees from the estate.
Oborny’s attorney took her case on a contingency basis, which means that if she does not win her case, she owes nothing to her attorney.
Coy Martin, attorney for the FHSU Foundation, said he wanted to thank all the judges for their hard work and prompt review of the case, but he could not comment further on the case.