A judge ruled Wednesday that an insurance company does not have to pay the $2.8 million reached in a settlement of a legal dispute between the then-conservator for Mickey Rooney and one of the late actor’s stepsons.
Christopher Aber was accused by the conservator of restricting access to his famous stepfather’s assets, misappropriating his name and likeness and verbally abusing him before the actor died in April 2014 at the age of 93.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig said that attorneys for Michael Augustine — who served as Rooney’s conservator before the actor’s death and now is the special administrator of his estate — were wrong when they argued that Fire Insurance Exchange was obligated to pay the money after Christopher Aber and his wife, Christina, declared bankruptcy.
The Abers had a homeowners’ insurance policy with Fire Insurance Exchange.
Attorney Limor Lehavi, on behalf of the insurer, said there was no obligation under law for the company to indemnify Augustine and the Rooney estate. She moved for judgment in her client’s favor.
Kendig granted the motion, saying the insurer did not participate in the settlement talks between Augustine and the Abers and did not approve the final resolution.
“I think it’s a pretty straightforward case,” Kendig told Augustine’s attorney, Richard Petty. “You needed to get the insurer to agree to the settlement.”
Petty said the Abers’ bankruptcy filing prevented any trial of the elder abuse claims against the couple in probate court. He said Augustine may appeal Kendig’s ruling.
Augustine filed a petition in probate court against the Abers in in 2011. Augustine alleged that after Rooney put Aber in charge of his personal and business affairs, the former child star’s stepson and his wife took advantage of Rooney’s fame to live a lavish lifestyle.
Aber kept Rooney in the dark about his own financial resources and forced him to make paid appearances against his will, Augustine alleged. Aber and his wife also were accused by Augustine of threatening and verbally abusing the actor.
Augustine was named Rooney’s court-appointed conservator in February 2011. He sought damages, creation of a trust to oversee all the defendants’ assets to which Rooney was entitled and an order blocking the Abers from using his name and image.
The $2.8 million settlement with Christopher Aber was reached in 2013. Aber then assigned his rights against Fire Insurance Exchange to Augustine.
Fire Insurance Exchange originally sued the Abers and later added Augustine as a defendant. One cause of action still remains in the insurer’s case, but Lehavi told Kendig that it may be moot based on today’s ruling.
Also still unresolved is Augustine’s countersuit against Fire Insurance Exchange, in which he maintains the company tried to minimize its losses with fraudulent and discriminatory actions.
— City News Service