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Caregiver is called competent Morgante may be compelled to testify

A 72-year-old former caregiver, now living in Arizona, is mentally competent and does not need a guardian to deal with accusations she schemed to benefit financially from the estates of the late June M. Farrington and her surviving brother, Worth Farrington, a court-appointed attorney said.

Joan Morgante's mental competency had come under question as her relationship with both Farringtons was scrutinized.

"It is clear and convincing to me that presently she is not an incapacitated person," attorney Arcangelo J. Petricca said in court papers.

Petricca had been asked by Erie County Surrogate Barbara Howe to report on her condition.

Petricca's finding means Morgante could be compelled to testify if June Farrington's contested multimillion-dollar estate is not resolved through a settlement.

Morgante, formerly the Farringtons' caregiver, has been accused of participating in a "wrongful scheme" to steer their money to their former estate lawyer, Stephen M. Newman, and herself, at the expense of charities that had counted on collecting her assets.

A state attorney general investigator concluded that Newman and Morgante engaged in "a pattern of improper conduct" as they financially exploited elderly people for whom they worked, according to court records.

In court papers, a lawyer for the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the Nature Conservancy and the Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo Foundation also accused Morgante of wrongdoing.

"Newman and Morgante were working together to weave their way into the Farrington siblings' estate plans through fraud and undue influence and by taking advantage of June's and Worth's incapacity," their lawyer said.

Terrence M. Connors, Newman's lawyer, has previously said in court papers that Newman was simply carrying out June Farrington's last wishes to change her bequests to benefit her brother and her caregiver.

An attorney from the Amherst law firm of Peter J. Brevorka, which has previously represented Morgante, approached Howe in February with concerns about her competency.

Howe appointed Petricca to evaluate Morgante's competency.

"The judge did that with the utmost of caution," said lawyer Kevin W. Spitler, who now represents Morgante.

"She certainly is not," Spitler said of any concern she is incapacitated.

Lawyers for Newman; the banks and law firms Newman did business with or worked for as the Farringtons' estate lawyer; and the charities and others "have been making substantial progress" toward a settlement, said Daniel C. Oliverio, one of the charities' lawyers.

"We hope Ms. Morgante being found not to be incapacitated will help move that process forward," said Oliverio, chairman at the Hodgson Russ law firm, which represents charities that contend they are the Farringtons' rightful beneficiaries.

With Morgante a key figure in the controversy, questions about her condition slowed litigation on the allegations of misconduct concerning the Farringtons' estates.

Petricca said he reviewed a report prepared by Howard Frank, the lawyer Howe first appointed to evaluate Morgante's competency.

Frank traveled to Arizona and met with Morgante, but he later withdrew from the assignment after he discovered a conflict of interest.

Petricca, in his court filing, said he "started a twice-a-day dialogue" with Morgante about her medical condition and also contacted her two doctors. He talked to Morgante by phone between March 14 and March 26.

Petricca said that Morgante told him "that presently there is no need for any guardian because of her being physically ill, and frail, since she is able to function as a person and is able to manage and provide for her daily needs and her finances."