An Illinois probate court recently closed the estate of the late Sarah Ellyn Farley, after recognizing Farley’s 2006 Canadian marriage to Jennifer Tobits and declaring Tobits to be Farley’s sole heir and legal representative — the latest chapter in a legal battle that has made its way to Pennsylvania.
Farley’s parents continue to seek their daughter’s workplace death benefit, which hasn’t been paid to Tobits.
Farley worked as an attorney for the law firm Cozen O’Connor, which is based in Philadelphia.
Cozen claims the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents the firm from recognizing Tobits as Farley’s surviving spouse for purposes of the death benefit, which totals about $41,000.
The firm is seeking guidance from U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones 2d prior to allowing anyone to access the benefit.
Jones recently held the death-benefit dispute in abeyance, pending the outcome of other relevant cases.
“Judge Jones presumably is waiting for the U. S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the federal DOMA,” said Benjamin L. Jerner, an attorney for Tobits.
The high court isn’t expected to rule on that issue until at least June.
Nothing in DOMA prevents a private employer from recognizing same-sex marriages when paying death benefits, said Christopher F. Stoll, another attorney for Tobits.
H. Robert Fiebach, an attorney for Cozen, said the probate matter has no bearing on the death-benefit dispute.
“We’ll do what the court tells us to do,” Fiebach told PGN. “We want the court to tell us who gets the money. We can’t make that determination, because we have two competing interests claiming it. Let the court tell us who gets it. We’ve never taken a position as to one [potential beneficiary] over the other.”
But Stoll called it “significant” that the Illinois court recognized Tobits as Farley’s sole heir and legal representative.
“It’s totally consistent with the argument we’re making in the dispute over the death benefit,” Stoll said. “The Illinois court recognized that their marriage was real, and Jennifer needs to be recognized as Ellyn’s surviving spouse.”
Stoll expressed optimism that Tobits will receive the money in due time.
“This is the one remaining piece, and we’re very eager to move forward and have the court rule that Jennifer is entitled to receive this last piece of her inheritance,” Stoll added. “We’re confident that the court will recognize that Jennifer is entitled to receive the death benefit.”
Randall L. Wenger, an attorney for the Farleys, declined to comment.
Schneller appeals to Superior Court
Anti-LGBT activist James Schneller filed an appeal in state Superior Court Nov. 13, continuing his quest to overturn Conshohocken’s LGBT ordinance.
Schneller, who lives in Radnor, is co-founder of Philadelphia Metro Task Force, an anti-LGBT group with about 75 members representing some 20 municipalities in the state.
He claims Conshohocken officials discriminated against him as a Christian when they enacted the ordinance in April 2011.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Bernard A. Moore has dismissed various court filings by Schneller over the past year. His most recent ruling was issued Nov. 19, when he denied Schneller’s request to reconsider an earlier dismissal of one of his court filings.
Meanwhile, the borough wants Moore to bar Schneller from filing additional challenges to the ordinance, but Moore hadn’t ruled on that request by presstime.
The ordinance challenged by Schneller grants civil-rights protections to LGBTs and other groups in the areas of housing, commercial property, employment, public education and public accommodations and establishes a commission to investigate antibias complaints.
“Suffice it to say that the borough is disappointed that Mr. Schneller continues to perpetuate this foolhardly litigation,” said borough solicitor Michal J. Savona.
Schneller couldn’t be reached for comment.
— Timothy Cwiek NLGJA hosts political panel
Now that the election is over, many in the LGBT community may wonder what is coming down the pike in the fight for equality. The local chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association will explore that topic next week.
The group will host a panel discussion from 5-6:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St., titled “What’s Next in LGBT Politics?” The panel will feature Mazzoni Center legal director David Rosenblum, G Philly editor Natalie Hope McDonald, University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias Wolff and Associated Press reporter Phil Elliott.
The panel is free and open to the public.
— Angela Thomas