Lawyer does NOT get the money

January 11, 2008 5:07:34 AM PST
Sorry, George, it's not your money.

The Utah Court of Appeals gave the bad news to an 86-year-old lawyer who stumbled across a decades-old bank passbook showing a balance of $150,000.

George B. Handy was named as the trustee on the passbook, but the court ruled Thursday that evidence suggests the account belonged to somebody else who cashed out long ago.

With interest, Handy figures the account would be worth as much as $832,000. He insisted in an interview that his plan always has been to recover any money and then determine the rightful owner.

Handy said he was cleaning out a desk drawer a few years ago when he discovered a passbook to a 1971 account at U.S. National Bank of Oregon naming "George B. Handy, Trustee."

"I was amazed," he said.

Handy said he didn't recognize the passbook or anything about the account. He believes the money was deposited by a client, a now-deceased Utah businessman who wanted it held in trust.

"I couldn't honestly say what it was for or anything," said Handy, who sued when the bank, now known as U.S. Bank, refused to hand over the money.

U.S. Bank conceded the passbook was authentic but said the account must have been closed years ago by an owner whose identity has been lost to history.

Bankers said the lack of a paper record indicated the account was terminated by 1974 when the bank switched to computerized records. If the account still existed, they said, there would be a record.

Handy said he never made withdrawals with the passbook, meaning the account should still be alive. But bankers said the mystery owner could have removed money by showing identification and a matching signature to a teller.

"The money had been withdrawn, obviously," said Jesse Trentadue, an attorney who defended U.S. Bank.

The Utah appeals court said Handy's uncertainty about how or why the account was established undermined his claims.

"Someone had to sign a signature card to open the passbook account, and if Handy did not, the only reasonable conclusion is that someone else owned the account and had the authority to withdraw funds without the passbook," a three-judge panel ruled.

Handy hasn't decided whether to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.

"They don't have the slightest idea what happened to the money.

I had an obligation to pursue it in some way," he said.


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