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Court: $200K settlement reached in inmate death

Mother not involved in decision; lawyer she hired had her removed as administrator, replaced with Little Rock lawyer by Lynn LaRowe | November 26, 2017 at 4:02 a.m. | Updated November 26, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.
Morgan Angerbauer

A notice of a $200,000 settlement was filed Tuesday in federal court in the case of a severely diabetic 20-year-old who died in the Bi-State Justice Building jail last year.

Morgan Angerbauer died of diabetic ketoacidosis in the early hours of July 1, 2016, after being found unresponsive in a medical observation cell and forced to ingest pure sugar. 

Angerbauer's blood-sugar level at autopsy was 813, well beyond a normal level of 70 to 140, according to court records.

Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell filed a civil suit on Sept. 9, 2016, on behalf of Angerbauer's estate in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas against LaSalle Corrections, the company that manages the jail. Also named as defendants are LaSalle owners and administrators, as well as jail staff members, including former licensed vocational nurse Brittany Johnson.

Johnson is accused of refusing to treat Angerbauer the evening before her death and of acting to cause the avoidable fatality in the civil suit and in a criminal case pending against Johnson in Miller County Circuit Court, where she is charged with felony manslaughter. Johnson's nursing license has been suspended, and her criminal case is set for jury selection next week.

Campbell and lawyers representing the LaSalle defendants in the civil suit filed a joint motion Tuesday that includes a notice of a $200,000 settlement. The motion asks that proceedings in the case be stayed for 30 days and states that it "may be necessary for the terms of settlement to be presented" to Circuit Judge Carlton Jones, who is presiding over the estate in probate court in Miller County.

Angerbauer's mother, Jennifer Houser of Texarkana, who initially contracted with Campbell to represent her, said Tuesday that she was completely unaware of any settlement proposal in the civil suit, that she was not consulted about it and that she is in disagreement with it.

"This was my daughter," Houser said. "I'm never going to see her again."

Houser was appointed by Jones to be administrator of her daughter's estate July 7, 2016, with Campbell's help. Houser said she did not know of Campbell before he contacted her via Facebook the day after her daughter's death in a message that included his cell and work numbers.

Campbell filed the civil suit in September 2016 on behalf of Houser as administrator of the estate. Houser, Angerbauer's father and Angerbauer's siblings are not named individually as plaintiffs in the civil suit.

When a person dies with a will, they have typically designated someone to act as executor of their estate to manage and distribute any assets and debts upon death. When a person dies without a will, as Angerbauer did, a person, usually a spouse or family member, can petition the court to be appointed administrator so that they have the legal authority to act on matters concerning the estate.

Campbell filed a motion May 26 in the probate case seeking to have Houser removed as adminstrator of her daughter's estate and replaced with Little Rock lawyer Victoria Leigh, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The motion states that Houser expressed a desire to "no longer be involved in any action on behalf of the estate of Morgan Angerbauer," and states that Houser "has taken actions that are in her interests and not in the best interests of the estate."

Houser said she did not learn that she had been replaced as administrator until she was asked about it by an outside party in June.

"I was very upset. He explained that legally he could do that without my consent or knowledge," Houser said. "He said it would take the stress off me and that our employment contract would remain the same."

As the administrator, Leigh, who was chosen by Campbell, has the authority to approve any settlement.

"I'm not required to consult her (Jennifer Houser)," Campbell said in an interview Tuesday. "I explained to her that Victoria would represent the estate and be involved in settlement discussions. I don't represent her (Houser). I represent the estate."

Houser said she did not believe she was giving up all involvement in the case after Campbell replaced her with Leigh as administrator.

Campbell filed a motion Monday in the Miller County probate case for approval of a legal services contract which entitles Campbell to 40 percent of any settlement or judgment as well as "any costs and fees associated with the representation."

The motion includes copies of two contracts, one signed July 7, 2016, by Houser and one signed June 30, 2017, by Leigh. The contracts are identical as to the terms of the agreement.

No hearings are scheduled in the Miller County probate case. No hearings are scheduled in the federal suit where the motion to stay all deadlines and notice of settlement is pending before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III.

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