A judge ruled Tuesday that Ryan O’Neal can move forward with his lawsuit against the former trustee of Farrah Fawcett’s living trust over a protracted legal battle with the University of Texas for possession of an Andy Warhol portrait of the late actress.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Feffer said there were triable issues and denied a motion by attorneys for accountant Richard Bernard Francis to dismiss the allegations in the case pertaining to him.
“Francis … was required to act in the highest good faith towards O’Neal, make full disclosure of material facts, not acquire an adverse interest and not use his position to gain any advantage or to make any special profit,” Feffer wrote. “These significant obligations to O’Neal were breached when Francis entered into the agreement, waiving the no-contest provision and consenting that UT could pursue its claims for the portrait directly against O’Neal with impunity in exchange for a release of liability for Francis.”
The judge’s decision finalized a tentative ruling she issued Friday. Trial is scheduled for May 8.
Meanwhile, O’Neal’s lawyer, Todd Eagan, said the actor was dropping the part of his lawsuit against Francis’ two companies, Francis Property Management Inc. and Richard B. Francis LLC. Feffer had said in her tentative ruling that she was leaning toward granting a dismissal of allegations against the two entities.
O’Neal, 75, filed the lawsuit in October 2015, alleging Francis put his interests ahead of those of the “Love Story” actor.
Both O’Neal and Fawcett — who had an on-again, off-again relationship that produced a son — had Warhol paintings of the actress.
Before she died of cancer in June 2009, Fawcett bequeathed all of her original artwork, as well as a second Warhol portrait of the actress that also was created by the artist in 1980, to the university that the Texas-born beauty attended for several years in the 1960s.
O’Neal’s suit alleges that when the University of Texas threatened to sue Francis to obtain the actor’s Fawcett portrait, Francis settled with the school rather than invoke a no-contest provision in the trust that would have forced UT to reconsider its legal move.
The trust’s no-contest provision “was a powerful tool to be used by the trustee against beneficiaries like UT who challenged the trustee’s actions,” the suit alleges.
By settling with the university, Francis escaped liability for himself and left it up to O’Neal to defend himself in the lawsuit the university brought against him for return of the portrait, the actor’s complaint alleges.
Eagan maintains that Francis should have told O’Neal of his plans to settle with the university.
In December 2013, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found that O’Neal’s Warhol portrait of Fawcett belonged to him. O’Neal insisted the Warhol piece was given to him as a gift by the late artist and that Fawcett and her friends knew he was the owner when she died.
—City News Service