Alabama Agency: Harper Lee is Not Being Abused

Posted on March 15, 2015

Ever since HarperCollins announced that it was publishing a new novel from Harper Lee things have been pretty crazy in Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, with accusations that Ms. Lee is being abused by her attorney and agent and cannot manage her own affairs.

Ms. Lee lives in an assisted nursing facility and has some hearing and vision difficulties. Ever since her older sister Alice, an attorney, died at the age of 101, attorney Tonja Carter has been the main contact with Ms. Lee. It was Ms. Carter who found the first novel Ms. Lee ever wrote -- the one that she reworked into To Kill a Mockingbird at the request of her editor. As soon as the publishing deal was announced the whisper campaign started which alleged that Ms. Lee has dementia and that she is being taken advantage of by her attorney and her agent. Some people in town claim Ms. Lee doesn't really want her new novel published. But none of these people is a relative or even a close friend. Some accusers have never even met Ms. Lee. Given Ms. Lee's celebrity and her age, the state of Alabama agreed to look into the situation at the request of an anonymous accuser.

The Alabama Securities Commission has announced that it has concluded its part of the investigation into possible elder fraud of Harper Lee and has found no evidence that she is being abused financially or defrauded. In a statement, the commission said, "We made a determination that Ms. Lee, based on our interview with her, was aware that her book was going to be published. She wanted it published. She made it quite clear she did."

The New York Times spoke to Joseph Borg, the Director of the Alabama Securities Commission, who said, "[Ms.Lee] has opinions and seems to be aware of what is going on with her book and the book deal."

The Alabama Securities Commission conducted the financial aspect of the investigation on behalf of the Alabama Department of Human Resources. The Birmingham News managed to track down Steve Feaga, an attorney for the securities commission, who said "We traveled to the nursing home to talk to Ms. Lee at the request of the Alabama Department of Human Resources. We have since closed our files on the matter." Feaga explained that that confidentiality prevents him from discussing the case in detail, but in light of The New York Times article and the media interest it would look worse if they said nothing at all.

Ms. Lee hasn't given a formal interview since the 1960s. She's always despised the press and liked to keep to herself. Ms. Lee's older sister Alice handed her dealings with the public. Alice's mentee, Ms. Carter, has stepped in to fulfill that duty after Alice died (she didn't retire from practicing law until the age of 100). And, according to the Alabama Securities Commission investigators, Ms. Carter hasn't done anything wrong. So the publication of Go Set a Watchman is still on schedule.

Ms. Lee's literary agent issued a statement in which he reiterated Ms. Lee's competency. He also provides many details of their recent conversations about literature and current politics. He said, in part, "The fact that she is hard of hearing and suffers from some macular degeneration (entirely common for someone in their late 80s) has no bearing whatsoever on her quick wit or of speaking her mind on all manner of things."

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