A judge said Monday he is inclined to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the oldest son of a late Texas real estate mogul against a Los Angeles woman who he alleges was once his father’s mistress and who he says directed her attorney to demand money from him and his father’s estate.
Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Mark H. Epstein issued a tentative ruling granting Marsana De Monserat’s motion to toss Bradford A. Phillips’ lawsuit under the state’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
After hearing arguments Monday, Epstein said he was taking the case under submission. He did not say when he would issue a final ruling.
Bradford Phillips brought the suit Jan. 21 against De Monserat, alleging extortion and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
His father, Gene Erlo Phillips, started from humble beginnings in South Carolina and grew his Dallas-based real estate empire into one worth more than $3.5 billion, the suit states.
Prior to his 2019 death at age 82, Gene Phillips was the adviser to a management company that ran three publicly traded real estate investment companies. He also was affiliated with many privately held entities affiliated with his estate and some of the companies made loans and provided business opportunities and cash to De Monserat when he was alive, the suit states.
Bradford Phillips, the executor of his father’s estate, is also CEO and president of Liberty Bankers Life Insurance Co. and the American Benefit Life Insurance Co., both of which have been very successful, the suit states.
After his father died, Bradford Phillips assumed control of his father’s business empire. He conducted an independent assessment and determined that aside from being his mistress, De Monserat “had nothing else to offer from a business perspective,” the suit states.
Bradford Phillips stopped the “money flow” to De Monserat in August 2019 and began looking for ways to extricate her from her dealings with his father’s businesses, the suit states.
He met with De Monserat in early 2020 to discuss her dealings with the estate and his father’s companies, but their discussions were unfruitful and De Monserat hired a lawyer to speak with him, the suit states.
In February 2020, De Monserat’s lawyer sent the plaintiff a letter threatening action against him individually and as the estate’s executor and demanded money from him and the estate, the suit states.
The lawyer also accused the plaintiff of misappropriating $2.6 million from a HUD-related project and threatened to involve HUD in the dispute, according to the suit.
The letter left the plaintiff in fear of criminal allegations being brought against him, the estate and his family, all of which caused him significant emotional distress, the suit states.
However, De Monserat maintains in her court papers that her attorney was seeking information from Phillips concerning matters in which she had a proper interest.
Despite Bradford Phillips’ characterization of De Monserat as a mistress of his father, De Monserat’s court papers state she was someone who had a “longstanding business and personal relationship” with Gene Phillips and thus the letter was a legitimate inquiry by her attorney because of the onetime joint business interests between his client and the late billionaire.
“This is a legitimate purpose and the letter ends with the statement that litigation may be necessary against (Phillips) if he does not provide the information requested…” De Monserat’s court papers state.
“It is also clear that (Bradford Phillips’ lawsuit) is (his) attempt to abuse the legal system with the hopes of scaring De Monserat into walking away from her business interests with (Bradford Philllips’) late father.”