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COVID-19 not enough to delay multimillion-dollar RI estate case

Target 12

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ COVID-19 caused countless delays in many sectors of society but concerns about the virus were not enough to postpone a long-running estate battle over a multimillion dollar piece of waterfront property.

Lawrence Goldberg, the attorney for defendants John and Carol Howland, filed a motion to postpone their trial for two months, arguing “large crowds” in the Kent County courthouse and underlying health conditions put the defendants at “significant risk of hospitalization and death” if they were infected with the virus.

Goldberg’s motion stated one of his staff members had left his office with virus symptoms and one defendant had been served by a waiter who tested positive for COVID-19.

He also argued he and others involved in the case “are in the age bracket” that is expecially vulnerable.

Judge Richard Licht denied the motion, detailing what he called “comprehensive and particularized precautions” that are in place in local courts.

The precautions listed in Licht’s response include allowing the defendants to watch the case and testify remotely, requiring everyone involved to wear masks and installing plexiglass shields on the witness stand.

Licht also stated only one witness at a time will be in the courtroom and spectators will not be allowed.

Goldberg appealed the motion to the R.I. Supreme Court, where a duty justice denied it.

The trial started last Thursday, with the defendants viewing the case remotely, according to Goldberg.

“They’re trying to watch through WebEx,” Goldberg said. “It’s very irregular. The cellular and Wi-Fi are terrible. Several times a day it gets disconnected.”

Goldberg said participating remotely does not allow his clients to experience “a free flow of information.”

A spokesman for the court said he has not heard about other motions to delay a trial due to COVID-19, and Goldberg said he has only seen such a request in other jurisdictions.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2012 by John Howland’s sisters Janet Howland and Frances Gammell-Roach and his brother Peter Howland over a large loan.

Their complaint states the defendants borrowed just under $1.3 million in 2002 from their mother Katherine Howland to buy a Succotash Road home on Whaleboat Point in South Kingstown.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants “failed and refused to pay the loan” and the money owed is said to be an asset in the irrevocable trust of Katherine Howland, who died in 2009.

Goldberg would not comment on the merits of the case and the plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Brockmann declined a request for comment.

The Succotash Road home is now assessed at just over $1.8 million and according to Zillow, its market value is about $2.4 million.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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