The lawsuit is related to a years-long feud among Disney’s progeny over hundreds of millions of dollars in inheritance money. “The Disneys: Not the happiest family on Earth,” blared the headlines. In that story, NBC News delved into the family origins and the bitter rift:
Michelle and her twin brother, Brad Lund, are the grandchildren of late entertainment titan Walt Disney. In the 1950s and 1960s, their father Bill, a real estate developer, helped Walt scout the swampy acreage in Central Florida that would become Disney World.
Bill married Walt’s daughter, Sharon, in 1968, and the twins were born in 1970. Before she died in 1993, Sharon set up trust funds for Brad and Michelle that are now worth about $400 million. According to the terms of the trust, the siblings were each to receive annual payments, plus lump sums at five-year intervals.
That was how it was reported in 2013, but the legal battle followed Michelle Lund’s aneurysm in 2009. When the parties jockeyed over millions of dollars, it was alleged that Bradford Lund had a “chronic cognitive disability” and was not competent to make decisions about funds, but that’s not what two judges found. Judge Robert Oberbillig and Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, of Arizona and California respectively, each found Lund had capacity and each declined to appoint what is called a “guardian ad litem” or GAL–much to the dismay of trustees.
A guardian ad litem is Latin legalese is a court-appointed legal guardian, typically appointed when a person is a minor or legally incompetent.
The lawsuit we now discuss was filed because the judge, despite these prior findings, appointed a guardian ad litem sua sponte (on his own) and without a hearing. According to the complaint, Judge David J. Cowan unlawfully did so–to the benefit of “hostile trustees” who are working “in concert” with Lund’s “estranged family members”:
This case involves the Plaintiff, Bradford D. Lund (“Mr. Lund”), the grandson of entertainment tycoon Walt Disney. For the past decade, Mr. Lund has been entrapped in the probate division of the Los Angeles County Superior Court fighting against hostile trustees to receive his beneficiary distributions from his trusts. As one of their tactics to keep Mr. Lund from receiving his trust distributions, Mr. Lund’s hostile trustees, in concert with certain of Mr. Lund’s estranged family members, alleged that he was incapacitated and needed a guardianship and conservatorship. After seven years of fighting that battle in the Arizona courts, and after a 10-day bench trial, Mr. Lund was victorious in all respects and was found to have capacity, resulting in a dismissal of that case. The disgruntled estranged family members appealed the case and the Arizona appellate court unanimously affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Arizona Supreme Court refused review, and a final Arizona judgment was filed in August, 2016.
Additionally, another California Superior Court judge found that Bradford Lund had capacity to choose successor trustees for one of his other trusts after similar allegations were previously made by Mr. Lund’s hostile trustees. In the face of these specific findings and the decade long history of litigation without any guardian ad litem, and without notice or any hearing, the Hon. David J. Cowan, on his own sua sponte Order to Show Cause, appointed a limited purpose guardian ad litem over Mr. Lund without any evidentiary hearing or notice. In so doing, Judge Cowan refused to take judicial notice of the Arizona decision in the form of either judicial comity or full faith and credit.
Attorney Lanny Davis said Thursday that the complaint speaks for itself.
“Regarding the federal civil rights act complaint filed today by Bradford D. Lund, the grand-son of the late Walt Disney, against Superior Court Judge, David J. Cowan, we are not going to comment on this case at this time. The complaint speaks for itself. But we will have more to say in the days ahead,” Davis said in a statement to Law&Crime.
Joseph Busch and Sandra Slaton are also representing Lund.
You can read the complaint below.
[Image via John T. Barr/AFP/Getty Images]