A Jackson County judge has ordered $10,000 in sanctions against an attorney after finding she violated a gag order in a wrongful-death case involving her client, the suspect in the slaying of Kansas City attorney Thomas Pickert.
On May 15, Judge Kevin D. Harrell issued an order finding that Nicole Forsythe, a solo practitioner in Kansas City, violated the spirit of his April 5 order which required that information about examinations conducted by the general receiver in the wrongful-death case, attorney Charlie J. Harris Jr., remain confidential.
Rick Johnson, who is representing Forsythe, said he and his client disagree with Harrell’s sanctions order.
“We will make decisions on how to proceed,” he said.
At the heart of the case is David Jungerman, a Raytown businessman who is awaiting trial on criminal charges in the murder of Pickert in October 2017.
Forsythe represents Jungerman in a civil wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Pickert’s wife, Emily Riegel, and his parents, Allan and JoAnn Pickert. Forsythe also represents Jungerman’s daughter, Angelia Buesing, and Jungerman’s businesses in that lawsuit.
Part of the wrongful-death suit includes allegations that Jungerman made fraudulent transfers of his assets to avoid a judgment following Pickert’s death. In October 2018, Harrell appointed Harris as a general receiver to preserve and control Jungerman’s assets. The defendants are appealing the appointment of a general receiver in the case.
In his order in April, Harrell allowed Harris to question people under oath as part of Harris’ work as general receiver. Harrell also prohibited any parties in the wrongful-death case, as well as their attorneys, from attending those examinations.
The judge also prohibited the disclosure of anyone Harris was questioning, as well as information about when and where his meetings with people were taking place and the contents of those sessions.
In a filing May 6, Harris accused Forsythe of calling and emailing Stephen Millin, an attorney who represented two people Harris questioned on May 1 at Millin’s office, to seek information about those depositions. At a later hearing, one of the people who was questioned was revealed to be Fred Jungerman, David Jungerman’s brother.
Harris also alleged that Buesing offered to pay attorneys’ fees for Millin’s clients and had offered to drive Fred Jungerman and the other person questioned to Millin’s office.
Harris requested a hearing as to why Buesing and Forsythe should not be found in contempt of court. At the hearing on May 15, however, Harris declined to make a case against Buesing and focused only on Forsythe.
Johnson, Forsythe’s attorney, argued that Harrell’s order in April was overbroad, unenforceable and encroached on Forsythe’s ability to conduct discovery and obtain information for her clients. Harris, however, noted that Forsythe waived any objections to the order by failing to raise objections to it earlier.
“Her view appears to be she can ignore this court’s orders because she disagrees with them,” Harris said.
Johnson conceded that Forsythe failed to challenge the April order. In her defense, he said, she has become overwhelmed by the enormity of a case that she initially expected to be a typical tort matter.
“What has happened is that she has subsequently become involved as a solo attorney on an incredibly complex [matter],” he said.
Forsythe has tried to withdraw from the case, but Harrell denied her request, Johnson said. She also is self-funding the case at the moment, he added.
“She is conducting this litigation on her own,” he said. “She has no help and cannot afford to hire help.”
After hearing the arguments, Harrell chided Forsythe for not raising objections to the order.
“No one has the luxury of saying, ‘I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it, I’m not going to follow it,’” the judge said of court orders. “That right there is contumacious.”
The case is Riegel et al. v. Jungerman et al., 1816-CV12977.