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Shepherd faces legal trouble on multiple fronts

Defying a judge’s order that she exercise no control over Shepherd Memorial Park, Melody Shepherd attempted to make attorney Michael Edney CEO of the cemetery and authorize him to hire a general manager to run the business on “a day-to-day basis,” court records show.

As a result, Superior Court Judge Marvin P. Pope of Buncombe County found Shepherd in contempt of court, saying that the effort directly violated his previous court order and was in “direct opposition to duties assigned by this court to the receiver.”
Pope’s order last month came in the three-year-old lawsuit by the North Carolina Cemetery Commission that forced the business into receivership and stripped Shepherd of any role in its operations.
The contempt order added to a growing mound of legal trouble for Shepherd, the widow of Thomas R. “Tom” Shepherd, the third generation funeral home owner who died of severe depression on Dec. 31, 2021.
Shepherd was charged on Jan. 2 with forging two checks for $3,000 in order to pay Jacob Watts for tree or excavation work.
“I'm not really interested in talking or whatnot,” he said in a phone interview. “She paid me. So whatever she does is on her.” Asked whether the payment had been with forged checks, he said, “No, because it wouldn’t clear if it was forged.”
Watts, the owner of Broken Spur Tree Service and Excavation in Edneyville, refused to say whether the work he had done for Shepherd was the demolition of homes she owns on South Washington Street. That work also landed Shepherd in legal trouble.
City Code Enforcement Officer Kathy Bragg cited Shepherd on Jan. 22 with three code violations for leaving construction debris on the lots where the homes were razed. The homes were in the 100 block of South Washington Street behind the former Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors building. Shepherd has also been cited for an ongoing code violation “where she’s got all her dead vehicles parked,” Bragg said. Shepherd funeral home hearses, a van and other vehicles remain on the part of the parking lot that Melody Shepherd still owns. “They’re not tagged and they’re not operational as they stand,” Bragg said. “She knows it. I’ve been back and forth with her.”

Foreclosure sale leaves balance of $916,080

Meanwhile, a final consent order in the foreclosure case against Shepherd and the funeral home property on South Church Street disbursed $277,473 in surplus funds to three creditors, leaving a balance of $916,080 that could ultimately go to Shepherd. The balance has been encumbered because of other lawsuits that are still pending, including the Shepherd Memorial Park receivership, court officials said.
After the North Carolina Cemetery Commission sued the cemetery based on numerous customer service complaints, Judge Pope impounded its assets, appointed a receiver to manage the property, business and finances and barred Shepherd from any management or administrative control. As far back as July 2022, the cemetery commission filed a motion to hold Shepherd in contempt for refusing to turn over business records.
Thirteen months ago, in January 2023, Edney was released as Shepherd’s attorney of record in the case and attorneys Stephen P. Lindsay and Mary Ann J. Hollocker were brought on. In a motion they filed this past Jan. 5, Lindsay and Hollocker themselves asked the court to release them as Shepherd’s attorneys. Although the attorneys have “a good faith basis to move to withdraw,” they said, stating the reasons in a public court motion would not be in “the best interest” of their client. Judge Pope delayed ruling on the attorneys’ request to withdraw.

Judge appoints guardian ad litem

In his order finding Shepherd in contempt of court, Pope noted that Shepherd in a Jan. 8 court hearing “testified that she, as the sole owner and officer (of Shepherd Memorial Park), executed a corporate resolution on Jan. 6” purporting to appoint Edney chief executive officer. In drafting the document, Shepherd “willfully violated” the court’s receivership terms and acted in contempt of court, Pope said in his Jan. 11 order.
Nowhere in the order is there any mention of the $205,867.35 that cemetery commission attorney Sharon Alexander has said in court motions is unaccounted for. Attorneys agreed last May to hire a forensic accountant to try to track down the money.
Pope’s order also appointed Brevard attorney Mack McKeller, a former District Court judge, as guardian ad litem for the business.
“Essentially my role I believe is to stand in the shoes of the corporation and act on behalf of the corporation in the corporation’s best interest,” McKeller said in an interview. He said he is early in the process of obtaining information about the case. “Obviously I’m going to have to figure out what’s best for the corporation and follow that rabbit down the hole.”
Attorneys Lindsay, Hollocker and Edney were all in court for the Jan. 8 hearing along with Shepherd and the court-appointed receiver, Gary McDowell, a court clerk confirmed. Subpoenaed to appear at the hearing were Edney, former cemetery employees Valerie R. Strickland and Daniel Allan Yaeger Jr.; and Dr. James J. Caserio, who was Tom Shepherd’s physician. Judge Pope’s order makes no mention of whether any of them testified.
Melody Shepherd’s cell phone could not accept voice messages. Edney texted in a response to the Lightning’s request for comment that he was tied up in court. Neither Hollocker or Lindsay returned calls seeking comment.