Jury awards nearly $3,000 to family for sale of belongings

By Stephen Betts | Sep 01, 2017

Rockland — A Knox County jury awarded $2,843 to a family that had personal belongings sold off by an auctioneer picked by the state while the owner of the items was in a psychiatric hospital.

The jury deliberated for about two hours Thursday afternoon, Aug. 31, in Knox County Superior Court before ruling that auctioneer David Thistle of Brunswick had to pay damages of $1,268 to Claire Dean Perry and $1,575 to the estate of her late brother, William Dean Jr.

The verdict comes at the conclusion of a two-day trial revolving around the sale of items largely from the Broadway home belonging to Dean.

The case is part of a larger controversy over the way the Maine Department of Health and Human Services handled Dean's finances and property while he was in its care for six months from late 2012 through early 2013. During that time, the state sold his Owls Head waterfront cottage for well below its value, failed to winterize his Rockland home, which led to a burst water pipe that caused extensive water and mold damage, euthanized his cat and solicited an auctioneer to sell off personal belongings of Dean's in order to help pay a lien on the cottage, as well as to cover medical expenses.

Attorney Cynthia Dill, who represents Perry and Pamela Vose, Dean's cousin and the personal representative of his estate, had asked the jury to award the family $25,530 in actual damages and punitive damages to an amount it thought appropriate.

After the verdict, Dill said she was pleased with the result.

"This was vindication," Dill said.

During her closing statements, Dill hammered away at the way the state and Thistle handled the disposal of personal property.

"Basically, the state gave Mr. Thistle a license to steal," Dill told jurors.

She said there was no contract between the state and Thistle and there was no inventory of items. She said Thistle continued to sell Dean's property, even after the state was no longer Dean's conservator.

Thistle's attorney, Thomas Bell, told jurors in his closing statement that he agreed the family was harmed, but that the damage was not done by Thistle.

Perry had testified Aug. 30 that there were numerous items, including jewelry, furniture and other personal items, such as Christmas ornaments, that disappeared after her brother was hospitalized by the state.

Bell said the fact that belongings were missing did not mean that Thistle was responsible.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled March 2 that DHHS was immune from liability. Dean died last year while the court was considering the lawsuit against DHHS.

Earlier this year, state Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, sponsored a bill that would allow Dean's relatives to file a claim of up to $300,000 against the surety bond obtained by DHHS in its capacity as public conservator for Dean. The Maine House approved the bill, but the Senate voted to have the bill considered again next year.

Perry and Vose settled another lawsuit two weeks ago with James Taylor of Danvers, Mass., who bought the Dean waterfront cottage in Owls Head. Terms of the settlement have not been released.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Sep 02, 2017 13:17

Maybe Thistle should pay more attention to with whom he is dealing with.

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