Mike Schaefer enjoys telling stories about William Donald Schaefer — how he met the Baltimore mayor during the 1980s, how decades later they became regular companions for meals in Annapolis and Baltimore, how he visited the legendary Maryland politician on Christmas Day last year at the Catonsville retirement community where he lived.
The 73-year-old man, who is not related to the late former city councilman, mayor, governor and comptroller, told many of those stories on Tuesday morning in Baltimore County Orphans' Court, to no avail.
Judge Colleen A. Cavanaugh closed a hearing that lasted less than two hours by dismissing Mike Schaefer's claim that the late governor's estate owes him $28,000 as compensation for all the breakfasts, lunches and dinners he paid for, and all the driving around and various errands he ran over the course of nearly five years before the former governor died in April at the age of 89.
Cavanaugh said she was persuaded that the two Schaefers had a friendship, but not an agreement that entitled Mike Schaefer to compensation.
"I have nothing to show me that the decedent intended to pay you for what seem to be acts of friendship," said Cavanaugh, who returned to the same point several times. Again and again she urged Mike Schaefer — who was not included in the former governor's will — to produce evidence that the aging politician and the businessman who once owned a small hotel near downtown had an arrangement beyond their social relationship.
Each time she pressed the point, Mike Schaefer would tell another William Donald Schaefer story: another meal shared, movies they watched together, another time the former governor told him that he would leave him something in his will. Under the so-called "dead man's statute," however, such statements are not admissible to support claims against an estate.
When Mike Schaefer — a lawyer who represented himself in the proceeding — argued that the former governor's will was not the work of Schaefer, but of his longtime friend, Lainy LeBow-Sachs, the judge reminded him that he had not contested the will and it had been settled.
"There's still a burden of proof that you have, sir," said Cavanaugh. "Nobody is disputing the fact that you dined with the governor. I need something to show me that you would have been paid for that."
Mike Schaefer presented two witnesses: Gene Raynor, a longtime friend of William Donald Schaefer, and Gordon Stick, son of the late Gordon M.F. Stick, a city community leader and associate of the former governor. They didn't produce the evidence the judge was looking for either, as they only told how they had dined out with the two Schaefers, saying they all took turns paying the check.
After nearly two hours, the lawyer for the estate, Michael S. Libowitz, whose objections to Schaefer's assertions were sustained several times, rose to ask that the claim be dismissed. Judge Cavanaugh gave Schaefer one more chance to prove his case before dismissing it.
"I understand you're very hurt to not be included in his will, I do understand that," Cavanaugh said.
After the hearing, Schaefer said he still has the option to take his claim to a hearing in Circuit Court. He said he was not surprised at the outcome in Orphans' Court, the state's probate court specializing in handling wills, estates and guardianship of minors.
"I'm up against a very expensive law firm," he said.