The latest twist in the ongoing saga involving the estate of deceased coffee baron Leroy Hill saw Mobile County Circuit Judge James Wood give Hill’s children and ex-wife an option to forgo a $7.4 million judgment against Hill’s second wife Debbie last year to instead take possession of his multi-million dollar company and 3,000-acre cattle ranch in west Mobile County, where Debbie currently lives in a 20,000 square-foot mansion.
The case brewed after Hill’s 2009 death, when Debbie probated a will leaving the majority of his estate, estimated to be around $25 million, to her. Meanwhile, Hill’s former wife Bonnie, along with their four children, argued about the disappearance of an inheritance agreement that left the estate to Hill’s four children.
In October a jury agreed with the plaintiffs and awarded Hill’s family $7.4 million in the case. But on Jan. 15, in an unusual order, Judge Wood allowed the plaintiffs to file an “Election of Remedies,” electing to accept the money judgment awarded to them by the jury, or the entire Leroy Hill Coffee Company, its assets and stock, and the Leroy Hill Ranch, along with its real and personal property.
Vince Kilborn, an attorney representing Roy Wayne Hill, Todd Hill, Debra Hill Stewart and Brian Hill, said he expects his clients to file the election.
“It’s a pretty unique case and the recent order by the judge was the second shoe to drop,” Kilborn said. “What Judge Wood has done is make Leroy Hill and his second wife Debbie keep a promise he made to Bonnie and their children 30 years ago. The difficult part of the case was not having additional witnesses to the inheritance agreement, but it all boiled down to who the jury believed and they believed Bonnie and (daughter) Deborah.”
Kilborn said a third phase of the case will begin in March, when the family is expected to meet Debbie Hill in court and ask that she repay more than $3 million they say she has taken from the company since Hill’s death.
“When Leroy died she appointed herself president and CEO of the company and took his salary of $260,000 a year,” Kilborn said. “We also know she has taken close to $2 million in cash money during that time and had she honored the agreement with the will, she wouldn’t have gotten any of that money. What will happen is if we can prove how much money she got out of the company and the farm there will be a judgment against her.”
Kilborn said Hill’s ranch is a “full blown” cattle operation, with foremen, employees, millions of dollars in equipment and 15 miles of perimeter fence containing “the finest black angus herd in the Southeast.”
In court documents, former employees testified that in its heyday, the coffee company employed more than 130 people and had 80 delivery routes. In a 2012 deposition, Deborah Hill said then the business employed perhaps 55 workers and had around 30 delivery routes.
“I’ve never seen a case go the whole nine yards, where you get money from a jury for damages and then the trial judge give you an option to get what you were promised,” Kilborn said. “We’ve got that and we’re going further. But if [Debbie] would have honored the original agreement it would have been over years ago.”
An attempt to reach Claude Boone, the attorney representing Debbie Hill, was unsuccessful.