FOR RELEASE: Thursday, April 16
For further information contact:
Spectrum Institute, a leading probate court watch-dog group, filed an amicus letter asking California Supreme Court to support Walt Disney grandson’s right to appeal order by probate judge that he says violated his due process rights
Bradford Lund wants “his day in court” with due process guarantees concerning his inheritance rights
Los Angeles, CA — April 16, 2020 — The Spectrum Institute, a preeminent nonprofit organization focused in part on probate court reform, has filed an “amicus” letter to the California Supreme Court in support of the grandson of the late Walt Disney, Bradford D. Lund. Spectrum supported Lund’s separate petition to the high court, for the “right to appeal” a probate court’s ruling as a final order that allegedly violated his due process rights, including the right to be represented by his own counsel and to get a fair trial on his inheritance rights and related claims against his Trustees.
Spectrum’s amicus and Lund’s petition for review asked the high court to allow Lund to appeal an order made in 2019 by Los Angeles County probate court Judge David J. Cowan. That order resulted in the appointment of a limited “guardian ad litem,” referred to as a “GAL” (which is a substitute decision-maker, in this case another lawyer, for purposes of the litigation).
Cowan’s 2019 order appointing the GAL specifically instructed her to renegotiate a settlement agreement previously made and approved by Mr. Lund and his Trustees and all affected parties. Lund now opposes any settlement and, if the Supreme Court allows him to appeal Judge Cowan’s order and he prevails on his right to due process, Lund is asking for a full trial on the issues affecting his inheritance.
The probate court judge Cowan made his order immediately effective, rejecting Lund’s attorney’s request that Lund first be allowed an evidentiary hearing. Cowan justified his order based on a provably false statement he made in open court – i.e., that Lund “may” have Down Syndrome. After Lund’s attorney Slaton informed the judge that his assertion was disproven by DNA tests conducted during another court’s trial and asked him to withdraw it, Cowan responded with one word – “denied.”
The judge then proceeded, based in part on this false statement, to appoint and instruct the GAL to renegotiate the global settlement previously agreed to by Lund, the Trustees, and all interested parties. Demonstrating the immediate effect of Cowan’s GAL order, this GAL shortly thereafter held multiple secret meetings with Lund’s Trustees and their lawyers — without disclosure to Lund or his attorney.
After the California Court of Appeals denied Lund his right to appeal Judge Cowan’s GAL order, Lund filed his petition for review to California’s high court and Spectrum filed its amicus in support.
“Replacing a litigant with a GAL infringes on the constitutional right of a litigant to manage his own litigation,” Spectrum wrote in its amicus brief supporting Lund’s petition for review by the California Supreme Court. “Due process considerations attend an incompetency finding and the subsequent appointment of a guardian ad litem…The appointment of a guardian ad litem deprives the litigant of the right to control the litigation and subject him to possible stigmatization.” As such, Spectrum contended, under California and federal case precedents, Mr. Lund was entitled to appeal the GAL decision made in the absence of a hearing or due process requirements.
Lanny J. Davis, a co-counsel in a federal court civil rights and anti-discrimination case filed against Judge Cowan and the LA Superior Court as a whole, welcomed the Spectrum Institute’s “amicus” filing. He stated: “All Mr. Lund is asking for is a chance to have his day in court to challenge the probate court’s final decision to appoint a GAL, depriving him of his right to his own counsel and due process.”
“It’s hard to see Judge Cowan’s decision to appoint and instruct the GAL as anything other than a final, effective decision and, thus, subject to appeal,” Davis said. “Judge Cowan appointed this GAL without a hearing. He instructed her to renegotiate the global settlement. And she immediately held secret meetings.”
The Spectrum Institute letter reminded the Supreme Court that the false statement by Judge Cowan, with the innuendo that a GAL was needed because Mr. Lund lacked competence to have his own counsel, was in fact contradicted by two judges in past trials in both Arizona and California.
“Mr. Lund had been participating in the litigation as a party, through his chosen attorneys, in this and other litigation for several years,” the Institute wrote. “He had been deemed competent to do so by a prior judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court. He had also previously been deemed competent to manage his own financial affairs by a judge in Arizona who, after a lengthy trial, had denied a petition for a conservatorship there.”
It was during the Arizona trial that the DNA test was taken that determined that Mr. Lund did not have Down Syndrome.
The Spectrum Institute’s brief also noted that the order appointing the GAL was made because of Judge Cowan’s false statement and perception about a disability, which was alleged in the earlier civil rights case filed by Mr. Lund to be a violation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Spectrum noted in the amicus letter to the Supreme Court:
“This order was entered on the basis of erroneous perceptions by the judge that Mr. Lund may have Down syndrome and an implied conclusion that, because of this perceived disability, Mr. Lund lacked the capacity to personally participate in this litigation with the assistance of his chosen attorneys…In other words, the order was entered on the basis of the judge’s disability prejudice which was grounded in a perception which arose from hearsay rather than substantial admissible evidence” [referring to his false statement in court that Lund “may” have Down Syndrome].
“The involvement in this appeal of the Spectrum Institute – one of the nation’s leading legal organizations concerned about exposing abuses in the probate court system – has spotlighted that the Brad Lund case is the tip of the iceberg about widespread abuses in the probate court system” said attorney Davis. “We hope that if the California Supreme Court gives Mr. Lund his right to appeal Judge Cowan’s order and then gets his day in court on the key issues regarding his inheritance, that this will trigger national attention to the widespread abuses in probate courts not only in California but across the nation.”