Man awarded partner's death benefits after 2 years

Man awarded partner's death benefits after 2 years

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Thomas J. Bernardo, the surviving partner of a well-known AIDS physician in the area, has been awarded close to a half-million dollars in death benefits from a disputed insurance policy.

Bernardo, 61, a Deptford, N.J., hairstylist, was the lover of Dr. John Turner for about 28 years prior to Turner’s death of a neuromuscular disease in March 2008.

Bernardo received about $93,000 in death benefits from the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association — College Retirement Equities Funds, a financial-services company that administered Turner’s retirement plan.

However, the bulk of Turner’s death benefits — amounting to about $465,960 — were in dispute because Turner’s ex-wife, Pamela G. Turner, claimed she was the rightful beneficiary.

In a 23-page ruling issued Jan. 26, U.S. District Judge Stewart R. Dalzell said the disputed funds should go to Bernardo.

Pamela Turner claimed entitlement to the funds on the basis that her former husband hadn’t completed the proper paperwork to change the beneficiary from her to Bernardo.

But in his ruling, Dalzell said Turner “substantially complied” with the required steps to implement a change of beneficiary from Pamela Turner to Bernardo.

Dalzell also directed that all parties meet before March 1 to finalize the exact amount of money available for Bernardo — including interest — and how to get the funds to him.

Jamie V. Ottaviano, an attorney for Pamela Turner, said he didn’t know whether his client would appeal Dalzell’s ruling.

“We’re not at liberty to make any comment at this point, pending a decision on a possible appeal to the Third Circuit [Court of Appeals],” Ottaviano said. “We’re trying to make the decision sooner rather than later.”

According to federal rules of civil procedure, the deadline for an appeal would be Feb. 26.

“At this point, I’m pleased with the judge’s decision,” said Ronda B. Goldfein, an attorney for Bernardo, “but I’m withholding additional comment until the remaining issues are resolved.”

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