- By John Pacenti Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The middle-aged daughter of wealthy Palm Beach philanthropist Mary Montgomery berated her mother constantly, talked about killing people, and kept a bizarre meal and sleep schedule for the 85-year-old socialite, a caregiver claims in a court record.
The affidavit of Cynthia Stewart is offered as proof by court-appointed professional guardian John Cramer as to why Courtnay Montgomery is a danger to her mother and must be removed from the family’s famous homestead on the island.
Cramer moved Mary Montgomery to a West Palm Beach nursing home in July.
Courtnay is seeking a court order to allow her to visit. She wants Cramer removed as a guardian and to unwind control of her mother’s trust. Most of all she wants her mother back in Palm Beach, living with her and their beloved swans, dogs and artwork.
This the latest chapter in the tug-of-war over Montgomery and her untold millions of dollars in yet another contentious guardianship case in Palm Beach County.
A judge in March appointed Cramer as Mary Montgomery’s co-guardian under an agreement with Courtnay. Almost immediately, things went sideways.
This saga started last year when Mary Montgomery visited her daughter in Minnesota and did not return to Palm Beach. Courtnay Montgomery fired all of her mother’s staff, including Mary’s assistant Hilda Santana. Courtnay was charged with obstructing the legal process after wrestling with a sheriff investigator making a welfare check on Mary after friends expressed concern.
A Minnesota judge eventually sided with Courtnay, making a finding that “accusations are being made by individuals in Florida” who did not have Mary Montgomery’s best interest at heart.
Courtnay Montgomery deferred comment to her attorney.
“We do think all of this was planned,” said Courtnay’s lawyer, Jennifer Carroll. “Courtnay knows they were taking advantage of Mary for many years.”
Mother and daughter returned to Palm Beach about a year ago.
Then Minnesota authorities in August charged Courtnay with five counts of financial exploitation for allegedly taking $188,000 from her mother. Courtnay says the case was engineered by Santana, Mary’s former assistant.
To counter caregiver Stewart’s blistering affidavit, Courtnay filed this month a sworn statement by a security guard for the mansion, saying Stewart tried to coax him to lie about Courtnay’s fascination with firearms.
“Our focus is on Mary,” Carroll said. “Mary is the one who needs protection from all this other stuff. Courtnay is trying to protect her mother from these people.”
Grey Gardens Revisited
The caregiver’s affidavit gives a fly-on-the-wall look into Montgomery’s South Ocean Boulevard home, Sin Cuidado, earlier this year. It reads like a transcript from Grey Gardens, the iconic 1975 documentary about an elderly mother and her middle-age daughter living in a run-down mansion.
Courtnay lived on one side of the South Ocean Boulevard mansion, and her mother lived on the other. But Stewart says the daughter was all-controlling — even dictating the television shows her mother watched.
“Courtnay only permitted Mary to watch ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Law & Order,’” according to Stewart. “If the channel were changed, even at Mary’s request or with Mary’s consent, Courtnay would become furious.”
The daughter controlled her mother’s medication, health care and instructed the caregiver to have Mary Montgomery sleep only from 4:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, the affidavit said.
“Courtnay berated Mary on an almost daily basis about her posture, speech, and walking,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the daughter refused to allow her mother to use a walker, limited where she could go to eat outside the home, and forced her to ride an exercise bike for two hours.
Stewart said in her affidavit that Courtnay said she wanted to kill former assistant Santana, who is now co-trustee of Mary Montgomery’s estate. Courtnay also kicked out of the mansion her mother’s care manager, telling Stewart, “She’s lucky I didn’t shoot her.”
Montgomery, in a previous deposition, says she owns firearms and hired security to protect herself from “pissed off dope dealers.”
Caroll, Courtnay’s attorney, said Stewart is lying and points to sworn statements by mansion security guards that Courtnay was not a threat to her mother and they never saw her with a firearm.
Exactly how much Mary Montgomery is worth has not been disclosed. There are separate trusts in her name, as well as her late husband’s, legendary attorney Robert Montgomery. She also receives a stipend worth millions of dollars every three months stemming from her husband’s most famous case: Florida’s $11.3 billion settlement with tobacco giants.
The Montgomerys were renowned philanthropists, especially of the arts, in Palm Beach County.
“There is more than enough money to take care of Mary for the remainder of her life and to take care of Courtney for the remainder of her life,” said Attorney Mitch Kitroser, who represents the guardian, Cramer.
There also appears some debate on Mary Montgomery’s competence. A court documents filed with the the court states she has deteriorated rapidly, but word circulating among her friends is she is in good health.
Carroll says no one knows for sure because Courtnay hasn’t seen her mother since mid-July.
Kitroser said Mary Montgomery is doing better now that she is separated from her daughter. “Now that she is getting regular sleep and eating on a regular schedule and not being harassed and screamed at she is doing better,” he said.