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Jury selection in heiress will trial in NY delayed

  • Article by: JENNIFER PELTZ
  • Associated Press
  • September 17, 2013 - 10:05 AM

NEW YORK — Jury selection was delayed on the verge of starting Tuesday for a court fight over the fortune of an eccentric copper heiress whose father founded Las Vegas.

At the request of lawyers involved in the case, jury selection was postponed to Thursday in the civil trial surrounding the roughly $300 million estate of Huguette Clark, court officials said. They did not elaborate, and several of the dozens of attorneys working on the case declined to comment or didn't immediately return calls.

Clark owned lavish properties from New York's Fifth Avenue to the California coast but opted to spend her last 20 years ensconced in a Manhattan hospital. She died in 2011, at age 104.

The dispute pits nearly two dozen of Clark's distant relatives against a goddaughter, the hospital, a nurse, doctors, a lawyer, an accountant, and other professionals and aides who benefited from her April 2005 will, which left nothing to her family.

"The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my estate are the true objects of my bounty," the will said, noting that the childless, briefly married Clark had had only "minimal contacts" with her relatives over the years.

But it was signed just six weeks after another version of her will, which left almost all her money to the family members. They're descendants of her half-siblings.

The relatives say a coterie of hospital executives, medical professionals and Clark's lawyer and accountant took advantage of their access to the secluded, aged heiress to manipulate their way into her millions of dollars.

The beneficiaries say Clark was simply a generous woman who wanted to help those who helped her.

Clark's father, U.S. Sen. William A. Clark, was one of the richest Americans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He served as a senator from Montana, where he initially made his fortune from copper mines. His business empire later grew to include building a Western rail line and establishing a Nevada railroad town called Las Vegas. The surrounding Clark County is named for him.

The trial will decide only whether Huguette Clark's April 2005 will is valid. But testimony might also peer into pricey presents her caregivers and advisers received while she was alive.

"There may be some connection between gift-giving and undue influence in the will," Manhattan Surrogate's Court Judge Nora Anderson said at a pretrial hearing Friday. The Surrogate's Court handles wills and some other matters.

Gifts to Clark's chief nurse included multiple Manhattan apartments and a $1.2 million Stradivarius violin. Her primary doctor received cash Christmas presents totaling $500,000, among other gifts. The hospital got hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a $3.5 million painting by French pre-Impressionist Edouard Manet.

The delay in jury selection was first reported by NBCNews.com.

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