A five-year legal battle came to an end Friday, after the Alabama Supreme affirmed a lower court’s decision to allow the children of Leroy Hill to take control of his coffee business and ranch in Grand Bay from his second wife.
The court unanimously affirmed a previous decision by Mobile Circuit Court Judge James Wood that found the coffee company and $40 million estate belonged to Hill’s children and not his second wife, Debbie Hill.
“It was such a remarkable case,” VInce Kilborn, attorney for Hill’s children, said. ”The clients were so deserving. It’s the most difficult, but most rewarding case I’ve ever had.”
At the original trial, Bonnie Hill testified that in 1984 she agreed to a divorce that left virtually everything to her ex-husband in exchange for his written promise to make a will leaving the ranch and coffee company to their children, according to a statement.
Later that agreement was typed up and kept in a fireproof safe in Hill’s office, his children have previous said.
Leroy and Bonnie Hill divorced after 30 years together. In 1986, he married Debbie Preslar, who had been his secretary. She and Hill had also been having an affair prior to either of their divorces.
By the time Leroy Hill died in 2009, the agreement had disappeared and Debbie Hill, probated a new will that left her with ownership of the coffee company and ranch, Kilborn said.
Kilborn said he used the eyewitness testimony of Bonnie Hill and her daughter to help prove to the jury that the agreement had, at one point, been made.
“To win a case based on an agreement to make a will is almost unheard of, at least in state history,” Kilborn said.
Debbie Hill and her attorney Claude Boone could ask the justices to reconsider the ruling, Kilborn said, but the chances it would be granted is slim, considering the vote was a unanimous 9-0. That means that the five-year legal battle is most likely over, he said.
“Fair is fair,” Kilborn said. “The kids helped build the coffee company and ranch. They worked really hard to get that and they earned it.”
The children intend to take care of their mother, Kilborn said, as she will be moving into the 25,000 square-foot mansion “immediately.”
Hill’s entire fortune is said to be worth at least $25 million and some estimates place the coffee company’s value at $40 million.
At the original trial, the jury awarded the children $7.44 million, but in a ruling after the trial, Wood gave them an option to repossess the business and the ranch and forgo the judgment.
Claude Boone could not be reached for comment.