Friday, September 10, 2010

California Court of Appeal Rules That Charles David Lewis, Jr.'s (aka "Mask") Children's Mother Should Administer His Estate

While the recent acquisition of TapouT has been in the news, I came across an interesting appellate decision concerning the estate of the late Charles David Lewis, Jr. aka "Mask."

Basically, as set forth below, the "Public Administrator" in California, an elected official, petitioned to be the administrator of the late Charles David Lewis, Jr. aka "Mask," estate and attempted to supplant the mother of Lewis' two children, Diane Larson, who lived with the two minor children in Illinois, from acting as administrator of the estate. 

As set forth in this decision on May 6, 2010 by the Court of Appeal for the State of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, in the matter of the Estate of Charles David Lewis, Jr., Deceased, John S. Williams, as Public Administrator, etc., Petitioner and Respondent v. Diane Larson, Objector and Appellant, the following took place in the proceedings before the lower court:
Also on April 7, the public administrator petitioned for letters of special administration. His petition stated decedent was believed to own a 28 percent interest in 'TapouT LLC,' a successful clothing and marketing company 'associated with the sports of mixed-martial arts and ultimate fighting.' Media reports suggested the value of that interest exceeded $10 million. Decedent was also thought to have substantial bank accounts, securities, 'valuable automobiles (including a Porsche Turbo S and a Bentley) and potentially valuable intellectual property rights.'
The next day, Larson petitioned for letters of special administration. Larson stated the minors were decedent's sole heirs and she was their biological mother and legal guardian. Larson submitted a brief stating that under Illinois law, she could not be appointed the minors' guardian since she is their living, custodial parent currently caring for them. The court responded to the competing petitions by appointing the public administrator as the special administrator of the estate, and later extended the letters of special administration through May 13. Prior to the May 13 hearing on the petitions, Larson reported that an Illinois court had appointed her the legal guardian of the person and estate of each minor, and that both minors had nominated her to act as administrator of their father's estate.

At the May 13 hearing, the public administrator argued he was 'better suited to handle' the large, 'complex' estate. Shortly before his death, decedent had stated his net worth to be '15 million dollars, and his annual income [to be] 1.5 million dollars.' The estate required 'a lot of leg work to track down the assets,' such as taking custody of the cars. The public administrator had 'three attorneys assigned to this case,' and 'a team of investigators and professional fiduciaries . . . .' The public administrator was local, whereas Larson lived in Illinois. The public administrator advised the court that section 8464 gave the court the discretion to appoint as the estate's administrator either the minors' guardian or 'another person entitled to appointment.'

Larson argued for appointment as the estate's administrator because she is the minors' guardian. She asserted there was no conflict between the children and her. Larson proposed that she be bonded in the amount of $750,000, arguing such sum was reasonable because the cars were 'heavily encumbered.' The court asked why Larson initially sought a bond of only $10,000. Larson replied that, at that time, she 'had no idea what the estate was,' but knew of her duty to report any additional assets marshaled. She argued she was qualified, is bondable, and had competent experienced counsel; moreover, the 'two sole heirs want their mother to take care of it.' She asked the court, in exercising its discretion, to 'consider what would best benefit the children.'

A potential creditor argued in favor of the public administrator administering the estate and its litigation with her. She stated the previous '$10,000 in assets reported [by Larson had seemed] to be fraudulent on its face.' She stated she 'would prefer someone who is appropriately bonded, who is local, and who can quickly get a hold of these assets and make the most out of them so that creditors like [her], who will have very sizeable claims against the estate, can ultimately be paid.'

The court took the matter under submission. After reviewing the moving and opposing papers, the court approved the public administrator's petition, appointed him as the estate's administrator, and denied Larson's petition.  
Ultimately, the Court of Appeal reversed the lower court's decision.  Specifically, the Court of Appeal held  as follows:
The court's order must be reversed because, in the absence of a finding that Larson was not competent to act as personal representative, the court lacked statutory authority to appoint the public administrator, instead of Larson, to administer decedent's estate and thereby abused its discretion under section 8464. (In re St. John’s Estate (1937) 8 Cal.2d 175, 176-177) [court's order appointing administrator reviewed for abuse of discretion].). 
From the Orange County docket, Kaya Lewis (who may be the sister of the "Mask"--the link says "D" Lewis and the docket says "C" Lewis) is listed as an interested party and, among the "Claimants," Charles D. Liddell is listed.

Fight Lawyer