More than $40 million could be at stake in a newly filed lawsuit over the estate of famed litigator and former City Councilman Edward Masry.
Masry died Dec. 5 after a long illness. His litigation law firm, Masry & Vititoe, represented plaintiffs in the environmental litigation made famous in the film “Erin Brockovich.”
Now, the spoils of lawsuits settled by Masry are themselves the subject of a civil action. The full article from the Pacific Coast Business Times can be found here.
Since Attorney Masry has a daughter who is also an attorney his estate can distribute his ownership in such firm to her if desired in his will or other estate planning documents otherwise a non attorney cannot own an ongoing share of a law firm.
On April 21, two of Masry’s children filed a lawsuit seeking to force James Vititoe, his former partner, to account for his share of ownership in the firm of Masry & Vititoe, which the plaintiffs said in the filing could be more than $40 million. The two children want Vititoe to expedite a transfer of Masry’s interest to his daughter, also an attorney employed by the firm.
The lawsuit states that the defendants were unwilling to recognize the younger Masrys as beneficiaries of Masry’s estate, despite a Nov. 23, 2005 change to Masry’s will. This created a will dispute with the attorney for the daughters hoping they will not need to fight a will contest and defend against a will challenge in the estate case. That changed revoked all interest from Joette Masry—Ed’s second wife—and named the two children as trustees. The childrens litigation attorneys were optimistic they could just get the accounting and resolve the estate dispute without having to proceed with an extended estate litigation with the attorneys having to fight over a will contest and accounting issues.
His former law partner, James Vititoe did not return calls for comment and his office directed all calls to him. The firm received a $40 million dollars in attorney fees in the litigation against Pacific Gas and Electric of which the movie Erin Brockovich was based.
The $40 million figure from the civil lawsuit was merely what may be owed upon getting the accounting.
Having buy-sell agreements or agreeing as to the manner in which an accounting will be done to set a value. Also not making will changes shortly before death when there may be undue influence or diminished capacity and disputes among interested parties is a helpful way to avoid probate litigation and successfully pass on the property. Also business interests can be held in a trust to avoid probate with another attorney daughter she could take direct ownership of his portion of the firm not merely the profits thereof.