Court asked to settle control of Fort Smith restaurants owned by the late Bill Neumeier

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 5,268 views 

A legal battle is underway between the brother of the late Bill Neumeier and Trent Goins, the CEO of Fort Smith-based OK Foods, over the control of downtown Fort Smith restaurants and other property owned by Neumeier’s trust. Documents filed by Goins’ attorney show that Neumeier wanted Goins to “have everything” because “you’ll take good care of my joints and my people.”

Neumeier, a longtime downtown Fort Smith restaurant owner and promoter who helped launch the Peacemaker Arts and Music Festival and other music events, committed suicide Nov. 19.

Neumeier owned Papa’s Pub and Pizzeria and Neumeier’s Rib Room, two popular, if not iconic, venues in downtown Fort Smith. He was active in bringing music to Garrison Avenue. That work included supporting the Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Festival, and partnering with Goins and Jeff Gosey, owner of two downtown restaurants, to launch the Peacemaker Festival.

Neumeier created his trust in July 2011, with his brother Joseph being the successor trustee. But in a handwritten note submitted as evidence, Neumeier wrote to Goins, “Love my brother, but he wouldn’t know what to do.” Neumeier was referencing his brother Joseph. Bill also called his attorney on Nov. 18, a day before his death, to begin amending the trust making Goins the successor trustee. Bill also sent an e-mail to Goins just hours before his death saying he wanted Goins to have everything because he would know how to run the businesses. Kevin Hickey, Goins’ attorney, said Neumeier’s trust could be amended with “clear and convincing evidence of his intent.”

“The evidence is clear that Bill Neumeier made numerous efforts and utilized multiple methods to manifest his clear intent to transfer the Trust’s property, in particular, his business and restaurants, to Trent Goins,” Hickey noted in the filing. Goins, in the filing, sought a declaratory judgment modifying Neumeier’s trust.

In a counter-filing, Joseph’s attorney William Buckley III, asserts that Bill’s e-mail and handwritten notes are not “valid amendments” to the trust. He also argued that such last-minute efforts are not allowed by the trust.

“First, Trustor lacked the mental competency and/or capacity to amend his Trust, and the Trust states that Trustor must be ‘living and competent’ to make amendments to the Trust,” according to Buckley’s filing.

Buckley also asked the court for a “neutral trustee to run the businesses,” to prevent any transfer of assets held by the trust, or taking on debt to the trust until the issue could be resolved.

Both sides made their case Friday (March 15) before Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Steve Tabor. On Tuesday (March 20) Tabor issued a one-page ruling that allows Goins to serve as trustee until “the Court makes a final determination” who is the trustee and beneficiary of Neumeier’s trust. The order bars Goins from receiving any payment as trustee, and requires Goins to provide a report to Joseph every two weeks “detailing the Trust’s expenditures, income, and employee hires and terminations.” The first report is due March 29.

Tabor’s order also prevents either side from doing anything with Neumeier’s extensive music-related memorabilia until a final determination is made.

Hickey declined to comment on the case. Buckley did not return a request for comment.

Part of Bill’s final e-mail also included this heart-tugging line: “Downtown Fort Smith … you were my rock. The only true love I ever had. I hope I can still see you grow from where ever I go.”

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