SUPREME COURT 911 widow disputes daughter’s $1.3 million award
HARTFORD — The Connecticut Supreme Court is poised to decide a 17-year-old fight over $1.3 million awarded to an underage daughter whose father died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
Carolyne Hynes, a Weston resident and mother of the now 16-year-old girl at the center of the dispute, brought the issue to the state’s highest court after years of losing in probate, state and appellate courts.
The case revolves around guardianship and who has the right to distribute nearly $1.3 million from the September 11th Victim’s Compensation Fund awarded to Hynes’ daughter. The money has been frozen in an account for years.
An undercurrent of allegations — vigorously denied by the family — that the mother attempted to take her daughter’s money swirl around the case.
″[The daughter] was the victim of horrific circumstances,” said Michael Kaelin, a Stamford lawyer representing Hynes. “Now it’s hurting her all over again.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to dismiss a court appointed guardian, Sharon Jones, and authorize Hynes to spend the money to support her daughter.
A lawyer representing Jones did not return a request for comment.
A hearing before the Supreme Court is scheduled for Monday morning.
On Sept. 11 2001, Hynes was pregnant with her daughter when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center where her husband, Thomas Hynes, 28, was working for Thomson Financial. He did not survive and his daughter was born the following year.
To help 9\11victims and survivors, Congress established a compensation fund. Carolyne Hynes received $2.4 million for the death of her husband and her daughter received nearly $1.3 million.
Kaelin said the case never should have become a legal battle, noting the mother signed an agreement to use her daughter’s money for her expenses and support.
“It was to pay for the child’s needs,” said Kaelin, who said he is not receiving compensation for his legal services. “It was supposed to replace the father’s support had he lived. That’s what it was set up for.”
At one point, there were allegations that Hynes had improperly used her daughter’s victim compensation money — some $385,000 — to buy a home in Weston for herself and her daughter.
Kaelin said that money was properly used at the time, and said the funds were later returned to the account.
The legal case began in 2003 in Norwalk Probate Court; the family lived in Norwalk at the time. The Probate Court appointed Hynes guardian of the child’s estate and administrator of her late husband’s estate. The probate judge also appointed a guardian to oversee the child’s interests.
The Probate Court refused to allow Hynes to use any of her daughter’s award for her support.
A Superior Court dismissed an appeal filed by Hynes to free up the money and a state Appellate Court affirmed that decision, ruling the fund should be treated as an asset of the estate and the Probate Court could assert jurisdiction and control over the award.
“It was not supposed to be a guardian situation, or reserved for when [the daughter] reached legal age,” Kaelin said. “If the child does not get the money until then, the whole purpose of the award is defeated.”
In a summary of the case, the Supreme Court said it will “determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund award paid to a surviving spouse as a representative payee for the benefit of a minor child is subject to the jurisdiction and control of Connecticut Probate Courts.”
Asked if similar cases had occurred in other states, Kaelin said he was not aware of any, noting courts have recognized that victim awards are governed by the agreement with the federal government.
“To its credit, the Supreme Court took this case,” Kaelin said.
“The money is still sitting there,” Kaelin said. “Her daughter is going to parochial school. She was a victim of horrible circumstances. It’s hurts her all over again every time this has to come up.”