By Steven A. Morelli
The judges’ decision to overturn the conviction of theft in what was a simple annuity sale might have seemed like an obvious outcome to observers, but Glenn A. Neasham has learned the hard way not to assume anything in a court.
After all, Neasham went from making more than $400,000 a year with a thriving insurance business supporting a wife and four children in an elegant house in a northern California lake town to living in a house provided by his in-laws, as his wife returns to work as a dental assistant and the family subsists on food stamps. He went from parsing the details on building a dream house on top of a hill to learning the intricacies of filing for personal bankruptcy. All because of a verdict few thought could have happened in a case that baffled even the most advanced legal experts.
Supporters and lawyers in his appeal told Neasham he had a rock-solid case, but he’s heard that before.
“My attorney in the very beginning said there wouldn’t be a conviction on this and of course there was and I was absolutely shocked,” Neasham said.
Many in his community and in the life insurance industry shared his sense of shock. Even the prosecutor admitted she did not prove that Neasham knew that his client suffered from dementia, which was one of the basic points of her case.
Neasham was convicted on Oct. 21, 2011, for felony theft from an elder because he sold an Allianz MasterDex 10 indexed annuity to an 83-year-old woman later said to have had dementia. Neasham and two of his assistants have insisted the client did not show cognitive impairment during the 2008 transaction. Neasham faced four years in prison, but was later sentenced to 60 days in jail and his insurance license was revoked.
In the original trial, Neasham’s attorney advised him not to testify because he felt the state did not show it even had a case. The decision not to testify is one of the many things Neasham now wishes he could do over.
But a mistake he isn’t repeating is taking things for granted in court. That’s why even though the three-judge appeals court panel seemed to have shredded the prosecution’s case in the September hearing, Neasham was checking the court’s website every 15 minutes for the decision ever since.
On Tuesday, when he saw The People v. Glenn Andrew Neasham, he sat down, calmed himself and opened the PDF. In it, Justice Stuart Pollak point-by-point showed the prosecution hadn’t even come close to proving Neasham committed theft and that the judge erred so badly in his instructions to the jury that the mistake had “constitutional significance.” Pollak seemed to be perplexed even by the prosecution’s definition of theft.
“Under the prosecution’s theory of this case, merely cashing a check for a person known to suffer from dementia would support a larceny conviction,” Pollak wrote.
Larry Nevonen, a longtime proponent of Neasham’s who attended the appeal hearing, said he was almost embarrassed for the state’s attorney.
“The judge asked the hypothetical that if you gave him a hundred-dollar bill and he gave you five twenties would that be theft,” said Nevonen, who is an insurance agent, professor and lawyer. “And she hemmed and hawed and finally said ‘Yes.’ Another judge asked, ‘Are you aware of the implications of what you are saying?’ ”
But Nevonen understood why Neasham, who is unfamiliar with the appellate court process, would have been nervous about the outcome. That’s because Neasham’s lawyer was first in the proceeding and a judge went after him with questions about the client’s ability to consent.
Neasham remembered stiffening at the table as the judge “hammered” at his lawyer.
“My wife and I weren’t sure really what happened,” Neasham said after the hearing. “We’re just hoping.”
The anxieties that filled out the Neasham family’s life since county investigators started asking questions in April 2008 finally unbuckled when he told his wife and mother about the appellate decision.
“We all just started bawling,” Neasham said. “My wife, myself, my mom. We couldn’t say anything. We just cried.”
The next step for Neasham is to try to get his insurance license back, file for bankruptcy and start anew. As he takes stock of his life and future, Neasham said he is thankful for some things that have come out of the ordeal.
“I’ve gotten to know my kids better,” Neasham said. “I am not so concerned with some things anymore. I don’t need the big, fancy house. I don’t need the nice car.”
Neasham said he is also grateful for Nevonen and a core group of supporters who pulled him through. Nevonen said Dick Weber, as president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP), was instrumental in rallying the association to back Neasham’s case.
Weber, a California insurance advisor, said the implications of the case were clear to him.
“It wasn’t just what was happening to Glenn, but to all of us,” Weber said of the precedence the case represented.
Weber and FSP retained a law firm to file a friend of the court brief that helped support Neasham’s appeal and was cited in the appellate decision. FSP’s attorneys also helped find the law firm that took over Neasham’s appeal free of charge when it appeared that Neasham’s court-appointed attorney was overwhelmed by the case.
Prosecutors can still appeal the decision and retry the case. Nevonen said he thought both were unlikely because the Supreme Court would kick back an appeal due to the faulty jury instruction and a second trial would have to rely on new facts that would damage the prosecution’s case even further.
“So, I don’t think they would have anything to build a new case on,” Nevonen said.
But Neasham has heard that before.
Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. He was also vice president of communications for an insurance agents’ association. Steve can be reached at [email protected].
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