Mistress wins court ruling involving deceased car dealer's estate

The mistress of a deceased Marietta car dealer on Tuesday won the latest round of a lengthy court battle that has included accusations she manipulated her addled lover when he was in an alcoholic haze.

By a 4-3 ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court awarded Anne Melican $1.36 million in proceeds from the sale of a Florida condominium bequeathed to her by Harvey Strother, her lover of seven years. Melican had sought millions more, but until Tuesday was mostly rebuffed in previous court decisions.

Strother, who built five dealerships, was 79 when he died in 2004 of congestive heart failure. Melican soon laid claim to a large chunk of his $37 million estate amid revelations Strother amended his will three times in four years, on each occasion bestowing more and more to the psychological counselor he'd met at a Marco Island, Fla., club.

Melican wheeled Strother into his lawyer's office to change his will a final time just 15 days before he died. Strother was fading fast, wearing a diaper and drinking a gallon or more of wine a day, according to court testimony.

Lawyers for Strother's heirs and executor accused Melican of taking advantage of Strother with sex and alcohol. During their affair, he bought her a 14.5-carat, $140,000 diamond ring, a Jaguar sports car and a mink coat, and paid $50,000 for her plastic surgeries.

Melican said Strother, when they met in 1996, told her his wife had just died -- though it was his long-time mistress who had passed away. His wife, Betty, was still very much alive, and she would later obtain a legal separation from her husband, who moved out of the family home.

Melican, 62, has denied taking advantage of Strother, and said she was just as captivated by him as he was with her.

During a trial, a Cobb County jury upheld one of the three amendments Strother made to his will -- leaving Melican a monthly allowance of $7,900. The jury rejected an amendment that left Melican a Cape Cod property and a Florida boat slip, the latter used by Strother to dock his yacht "Lady Anne." In 2009, the state Supreme Court threw out the verdict that left Melican the $7,900 monthly allowance.

In the other amendment, Strother left Melican the proceeds from the sale of the Florida condo and guaranteed his estate would provide her health insurance. A Cobb judge had ruled Melican could not receive the sale proceeds, but on Tuesday the state Supreme Court overturned that decision.

Allison Barnes Salter, who with her father, former Gov. Roy Barnes, represented the executor of Strother's estate, said she disagreed with the court's decision and might ask it to reconsider.

Melican's lawyer Doug Salyers predicted the court ruling should end the estate's legal battles against Melican. Salyers said he expected the estate "to honor Harvey Strother’s wishes for Anne" and give her the proceeds from the sale.

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