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Judge orders Joy Culverhouse's body cremated without an autopsy, but allows her children to appeal

TAMPA — The body of Joy Culverhouse, widow of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse, will remain in a Tampa funeral home at least a few more weeks.

Nearly eight months after Culverhouse's death in April at 96, Judge Herbert Baumann Jr. on Wednesday denied a request for an autopsy on her brain and ordered her remains to be cremated.

But the judge immediately stayed the order, giving her estranged children Hugh Culverhouse Jr. and his sister, Gay, time to appeal the autopsy denial.

"I was surprised,'' Hugh Jr. said after the ruling. "I thought he would grant it and hold the results and allow her to be cremated. Why do we have to go through an appeal?"

Culverhouse's children — whom she once called the "greedy twosome'' — say an autopsy on her brain could help show whether she had Alzheimer's disease or other mental impairment in 2012 when she signed a will leaving her multi-million dollar estate to a trust. The children allege that Culverhouse's personal representative, attorney Robert Waltuch, along with her grandson Christopher Chapman (Gay Culverhouse's son) and accountant Scott Lynch, took advantage of her and used part of her assets for "outrageous above-market salaries and bonuses and below-market loans.''

A lawyer representing Chapman and the others argued Wednesday that Hugh Culverhouse Jr. and his sister had no standing to request an autopsy because their mother had disinherited them years ago.

"Hugh was last there (in a will) in 2002,'' attorney Eric Adams said. "For Gay the last time was a very short window in 2000 and before that in 1996.''

But attorney Lawrence Kellogg, representing the two siblings, said Chapman, Waltuch and Lynch had refused to turn over some of the many wills and trusts agreements Culverhouse signed through the years, making it impossible to know what was in them. He also noted that in 2009 Florida's attorney general said Culverhouse had been "unduly influenced'' by her second husband over the use of money that Hugh Culverhouse Sr., the late Bucs' owner, had designated for certain charities.

Similarly, ''this group of defendants here,'' Kellogg said, referring to Chapman and the others, "got together and took control of her person and her assets.''

Both sides on Wednesday presented affidavits from experts opining on the merits, or lack thereof, of an autopsy on Culverhouse's brain.

In an affidavit on behalf of her estranged children, Dr. Daniel Schultz said a diagnosis of Alzheimer's "could not be confirmed without an examination of brain tissue.''

In an affidavit on behalf of her estate, University of Louisville neurologist Robert Friedland said that while an autopsy could show whether Culverhouse had signs of Alzheimer's when she died, it would not show "within any degree of medical probability'' what her mental state was years earlier when she made her wills.

Culverhouse's estate also submitted a 2006 email in which she disparaged her children and said she wanted to be cremated with no delay, autopsy, funeral or memorial.

"I do not want HUgh (sic) or Gay to come near my property — Apartment, town house or office,'' the email said. "The greedy twosome have gotten all they are going to get from me.''

The judge's rulings Wednesday allow Culverhouse's children to file an amended complaint in which they could argue that they have standing to contest their mother's will and request an autopsy. But Adams, representing the estate, said his clients were pleased with the outcome.

"Today, the court recognized that Joy Culverhouse disinherited both Hugh Jr. and Gay Culverhouse more than a decade ago,'' he said. "The estate hopes that Hugh Jr. and Gay do not prolong the fulfillment of their mother's last wishes any further. We agree with the court's decision to not allow an autopsy, particularly out of respect for Joy's final wishes and a sense of basic decency.''

Hugh Culverhouse Jr. said he, too, is eager to have the body of his mother, an avid golfer, removed from the Garden of Memories Funeral Home.

"I'd like to get her cremated," he said. "I'd like my mother to be playing golf with my dad as soon as possible.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

Judge orders Joy Culverhouse's body cremated without an autopsy, but allows her children to appeal 12/14/16 [Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2016 1:07pm]
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