Two siblings who claim a Mission Hills cemetery moved their mother’s ashes so the vacated space near Groucho Marx’s remains could be resold for profit should be precluded from telling jurors that a cemetery worker once told them that “a lot of terrible things” had happened there in the past, the graveyard’s attorneys assert in new court papers.
The late Jeannine Kane’s children, Stephanie Kirschner and Brad Kane, sued Eden Memorial Park and Service Corporation International, SCI California Funeral Services Inc. and Eden Memorial Park in Los Angeles Superior Court in September 2012. SCI is the parent company of SCI California, which bought the Jewish cemetery in 1985.
The children claim that Eden neither asked their permission nor let them know that it was moving their mother’s ashes, which were placed in an urn at the cemetery after she died in 1979. Kane testified in a deposition that he was present when his mother’s remains were inurned and that his father and sister even commented on the coincidence of the niche being directly below the Marx ashes.
“The family used to joke that Groucho Marx was on top of their mother,” according to an appellate court decision in the case.
But when the plaintiffs visited the cemetery in 2011, they found that their mother’s niche was one row down from Marx’s and several columns to the right, according to the children.
“While the improper handling of plaintiffs’ mother’s remains is egregious in and of itself, defendants’ conduct is particularly reprehensible in light of defendants’ alleged motive in moving the remains of plaintiffs’ mother, namely more money,” the complaint states. “Indeed, plaintiffs’ mother had been previously inurned in a niche adjacent to that of the famous comedian and film and television star, Julius Henry `Groucho’ Marx.”
Kane and Kirschner say they went to the cemetery office and that an employee, Nathan Samuels, told them that “a lot of terrible things” had happened at the cemetery, but that the people responsible no longer worked there. Samuels denied making the statements, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
In 2015, Judge Mark Mooney granted a defense motion to dismiss the case, but Kane and Kirschner appealed and cited their recollections of Samuels’ alleged statements. A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed Mooney in 2015, saying that although Samuels’ alleged statements “added little or nothing” to the plaintiffs’ argument, the siblings’ personal observations of their mother’s inurnment and their later visits could lead jurors to believe their mother’s ashes were originally placed directly below those of Marx.
Noting the appellate court’s skepticism regarding the alleged statements by Samuels, defense attorneys state in their court papers that they are irrelevant and jurors should not be told about them. The defense lawyers say Samuels was hired in 2009 an has no knowledge about the inurnment of Jeannine Kane 30 years earlier. The plaintiffs’ recollections of Samuels’ alleged remarks also are vague, the defense lawyers maintain.
“Plaintiffs do not claim that Mr. Samuels ever told them what bad things he was referring to and they never asked him to explain what he meant,” the defense attorneys’ court papers state.
No evidence has been produced by the plaintiffs that any person’s cremated remains have been moved from an Eden Memorial Park niche without the permission of the decedent’s family, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Avenatti could not be immediately reached.
Marx was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with pneumonia in June 1977 and died there in August of that year at age 86.
He even had a cremation joke attributed to him by the website BrainyQuote: “I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.” Entertainment agents are often paid 10 percent of a star’s earnings.
A hearing on the alleged Samuels statements and other motions is scheduled for June 22.