Friday, May 7, 2010
C.A. Reverses Order Naming Administrator of TapouT Founder’s Estate
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
An Orange Superior Court judge erred when he named the county’s public administrator to manage the estate of TapouT mixed-martial arts apparel line founder Charles “Mask” Lewis instead of the mother of Lewis’ minor children, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Three said state law allowing courts to appoint “the guardian…or another person entitled to appointment” when a decedent’s heirs are minors granted discretion only to appoint those at the same level on a list of priority established by statute, not someone at a lower level.
Lewis, whose interests reportedly include a stake in the clothing and marketing company worth more than $10 million, died in a March 2009 high-speed vehicle collision in Newport Beach when his Ferrari was struck by another vehicle and then hit a light pole, ripping in half.
The mother of Lewis’ two children, Diane Larson, petitioned to administer Lewis’ estate in April 2009. The petition was followed shortly by a petition by Orange County Public Administrator/Public Guardian John S. Williams, who contended he was better suited to handle the large, “complex” estate than Larson, who lives in Illinois with the children.
In addition to the interest in TapouT, Lewis is believed to have left substantial bank accounts, securities, automobiles such as a Porsche and a Bentley, and potentially valuable intellectual property rights.
Williams also told Orange Superior Court Judge Gerald G. Johnston that Lewis, shortly before his death, stated his net worth at $15 million.
The public administrator argued that Probate Code Sec. 8464 gave the court the discretion to appoint as the estate’s administrator either the minors’ guardian or “another person entitled to appointment.”
That statute complements Sec. 8461, which establishes a list of priority of those entitled to appointment, but places heirs at a higher priority than the public administrator.
Larson, however, argued for appointment as the minor’s guardian, and proposed that she be bonded in the amount of $750,000, arguing such a sum was reasonable because the cars were “heavily encumbered.” When asked why she 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.
After a potential creditor argued in favor of Williams administering the estate on the basis that Larson’s prior figure seemed “fraudulent” and that a “local” administrator would be preferable, Johnson approved Williams’ petition and appointed him administrator.
But on appeal, Justice Raymond J. Ikola wrote that Johnson’s decision was an abuse of discretion.
Agreeing with Larson, Ikola said Sec. 8464 granted discretion to appoint “only the guardian or another person in the same class of priority as the guardian,” not discretion to appoint another person in a lower class.
Joined by Justices Eileen C. Moore and Richard M. Aronson, he rejected Williams’ assertion that the statute allowed the court to select “another person” without regard to the priority established in Sec. 8461.
The case is Estate of Lewis, G042100.
Jeffrey David Kirby, the driver of the vehicle that collided with Lewis, a Porsche, currently faces a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in connection with the crash, which could carry an almost 19-year sentence. According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office’s website, he is scheduled to stand trial in August.
A judge last September declined Kirby’s request for a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to vehicular manslaughter.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company