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Grau v. Dooley





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. WALTER P. DAHL, Judge, presiding.


This appeal concerns a claim against the estate of the late James A. Dooley, a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, who died intestate on March 5, 1978, in Bal Harbour, Florida. Decedent's widow, Virginia P. Dooley, was appointed administrator on March 10, 1978. On September 8, 1978, Lorraine Jensen Grau, a longtime friend and employee of decedent, filed a claim against the estate for delivery of 13,000 shares of the capital stock of Farmers Group, Inc. This claim was based on an "Assignment Separate From Certificate" which Grau stated decedent had executed and delivered to her shortly before his death. The estate disputed the claim, and Grau brought suit. After a three-day bench trial, the trial court upheld Grau's claim and entered judgment in her behalf for 13,000 shares of the stock. In an amended final order, the court ordered the estate to transfer to Grau 13,000 shares, together with the dividends paid or accrued on the stock since February 25, 1978, which the court previously had determined was the date on which decedent had signed and delivered the assignment. The estate's motion for a rehearing was denied, and this appeal followed.

The estate has advanced four arguments in support of its request for reversal or, in the alternative, a new trial. Upon our review of the briefs and argument in this cause, however, we believe that the estate's appeal presents a single issue: whether the trial court's judgment was against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Grau testified that she had worked for decedent on a regular basis between 1943 and 1945, between 1950 and 1953, and from early 1976 until his death in 1978. Throughout their acquaintance, Grau did occasional work for decedent and maintained a social relationship with him. In January 1976 Grau became involved with decedent's campaign for the supreme court, worked long hours on his behalf and acted as his campaign manager. During the summer of 1976, Grau also resumed her former duties as decedent's personal secretary. In that capacity she took care of "all the details, all the minutia[e]" of decedent's office at 111 West Washington and handled the secretarial and administrative chores relating to his law firm and his property "Yellow Bayou." Grau kept track of decedent's personal affairs, chauffeured him, saw to it that routine bills were paid according to decedent's instructions and performed a multitude of other tasks for him. Grau often worked late for decedent, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m., and regularly dined with him on business at the Chicago Athletic Association, a fact which was confirmed by the association's headwaiter, Stanley Nadvodnik.

After decedent was elected to the supreme court in November 1976, he moved his law office from a large suite at 111 West Washington to a small space in the offices of attorney Leonard Ring at the same address. Decedent sold his practice and Grau worked at that location in helping him with his personal matters and in winding up his practice. Decedent's court chambers were located at the Chicago Civic Center.

According to both Grau and several other witnesses, decedent prized her dedication, loyalty and integrity and considered her his friend and "right arm" as well as his employee. In the four years before his death, decedent made at least four gifts of expensive jewelry to Grau (a solid gold ring and necklace, a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond brooch) and attempted to name her one of the beneficiaries of his interest in his law firm's pension plan. *fn1

One of decedent's assets consisted of 11,681 shares of common stock in Farmers New World Life Insurance Company. Late in 1977 Farmers New World announced to its stockholders a proposed merger into Farmers Group, Inc., another insurance company, which offered 2.3 shares of its stock in exchange for each share of Farmers New World. Under the terms of the merger, decedent would receive 26,866 shares of Farmers Group stock. When Grau informed decedent of the merger notification in December 1977, decedent "quite casually" told her, "I'll give you some of that."

On January 19, 1978, after the merger had been approved, Grau prepared a list of decedent's certificates of stock in Farmers New World. Hermina Brandt, a secretary at Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, a brokerage house with offices in Chicago, testified that on January 20, 1978, Grau personally delivered to Paine, Webber decedent's 26 certificates of stock in Farmers New World so that the new share certificate in Farmers Group could be issued.

On or about January 19, Grau advised decedent that he was to receive approximately 26,000 new shares in exchange for his 11,000 old shares. According to Grau, decedent said, "`I'll give you half.' Then he dropped it." Grau was "ecstatic" and "could hardly believe it" because decedent also informed her that he had named her one of the beneficiaries of his pension fund. Grau said, "Jim, this is fantastic," and he replied, "You deserve it." Grau, however, did not pursue the matter further with decedent because she did not think that he had made a firm commitment to her and she did not want to appear to be "beg[ging] for a gift."

Shortly after this conversation, decedent went to San Francisco for a meeting of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He caught cold and went to Florida to visit his wife, Virginia, from whom he had separated in 1973, and their adopted daughter, Ginny.

In June 1977 Virginia P. Dooley had filed a praecipe and summons for dissolution of their marriage. A complaint for dissolution was prepared but never filed. In these proceedings decedent was represented by his longtime friend, John Cusack, who took Virginia Dooley's deposition in January 1978.

Decedent returned to Chicago on February 20, 1978. John Cusack testified that on February 21, 1978, decedent told him, "I have got 26,000 shares of that Farmers Group Stock, and I am going to give Lorraine [Grau] 13,000 shares." Although Cusack was not aware of the value of the stock, he told decedent, "that's a very gracious gift," or words to that effect, because, in Cusack's opinion, "13,000 shares of anything is gracious * * *."

Cusack testified further that on February 22, 1978, decedent said, in substance, that he had asked Grau to prepare the assignment for the stock. Cusack could not recall whether he had seen an assignment on that day. His testimony that he had a meeting with decedent on February 22 was corroborated by an entry in his appointment book which was introduced into evidence. At the time of trial, Cusack had two claims pending against the estate for $115,000 in legal fees. He expected Grau to testify in support of one and possibly both of his claims.

Grau testified that on Thursday evening, February 23, 1978, she had dinner with decedent at the Chicago Athletic Association. Decedent asked Grau, "Did you write up that certificate yet." Grau replied that she had not prepared the assignment because he had not yet instructed her to do so. Decedent said, "Get it and I'll sign ...

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