Monday, May 01, 2006

Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.

For law school, LAW SCHOOL, I am writing a book report. Yeah, you heard me right. I had to read a book for my Estate Planning class about the estate of a famous person (lots of famous rich people die and then have terrible estate issues...because, well, they have greedy relatives mostly), so I chose Andy Warhol (the title is a quote of his). His estate was, frankly, one of the biggest effing messes in the history of the free world. If you're interested in the gigantic court battle that resulted, the New York Times has some links here. I'll try to remember to put the name of the book up here tonight when I get home, I'm pretty sure it's called "Death and Destruction" which was the name of a series of prints he did of images he found of people dying -- like one was of someone jumping out a window of a building, but I couldn't find the book on Amazon so maybe I have the name wrong.

At any rate, here is where I'm going with this. The Warhol estate was a freaking mess. The people he had surrounded himself with in life made terrible decisions after he died, especially his right-hand man, Fred. Fred was the executor of the estate, and he hired a very famous (apparently) lawyer named Ed Hayes, who is quite the character, with a fedora and handmade Italian shoes and whatnot (Ed Hayes also has a book dealing partially with this called "Mouthpiece"...the second half is about the battle over the Warhol estate, so I read that too) to handle the estate.

So, both Fred and Ed (heh!) are in the position of wanting the estate to be worth as much as possible, because they are both being paid a percentage of whatever the final ruling is of the estate's value. Warhol had only left a couple of nominal cash gifts for a few people, and the rest of his money was to go into creating a foundation for the arts, and so The Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established. And, when Fred hired Archibald Gillies to run it, he turned out to be rather a crook...he had the exact OPPOSITE desire in terms of valuing the estate. Under New York law, as a charitable foundation, they would have to give away 5% of the value of whatever the estate ended up being worth (since that would be the Foundation's money) every year to charitable causes. That is apparently alot of work, and this Gillies guy mostly wanted to pay himself a high salary and be involved in the New York social scene, but he wasn't so much into the work.

Anyway, to make a VERY long story short, Ed Hayes ends up having to sue to get the court to determine the value of the estate because Christie's (the auction house) was, in some way, sort of dealing fraudulently with Gillies to undervalue Warhol's possessions, much of which was his own art. The court ends up declaring the estate to be worth over $500M, of which Ed Hayes is entitled to (I think) 2.5%, but of course there are tons of appeals and everything, so it's just this really long, awful story of corruption and greed. But Ed Hayes says some VERY interesting things about all the various law firms that get involved in this case at different points. He mostly seems to think that all of them are pretty much crooks, which, when the story is told from his perspective, they certainly seem like it to the reader as well.

Both books I read painted the firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn as just generally not having any idea what they were bad advice, allowing business deals to happen that were, at BEST, terrible ideas, and of sending an attorney into court for the estate valuation litigation to represent the foundation who was (in at least the opinion of the author of the Death and Destruction book) a total bumbling fool.

Then, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom get involved in the appeal. Here's how Hayes describes BOTH firms in his book:

"With all due respect, the lawyers involved -- the teams from Carter, Ledyard; Donovan, Leisure; and now Skadden, Arps -- are almost all seriously overweight and badly dressed men whose suits are either too tight or too baggy and whose shirts have bad collars and are awful. They wear tasteless, often florid ties, the kind guys think make them look cool. Their shoes are terrible -- either those clunky wingtips or tiny little Italian slippers that no man should ever wear. Many of them are good lawyers, but they are not graceful people. Aside from the lack of grace, I have nothing against any of these lawyers and no real personal feelings about any of them, except that they stood by (and billed) while their clients tried to mislead the court and the public."

In terms of Skadden, Hayes says:

"Despite the outcome in Surrogat's Court, Carter, Ledyard is still billing away -- though now Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom is in charge, a firm that is among the most powerful and expensive in the country and, as I am about to discover, is staffed by some of the most obnoxious motherfuckers in the world."

Here's how describes Skadden's approach to case management:

"Deny everything, make counteraccusations, smear your opponent: Skadden's approach to my request for fees is the same approach it later takes against Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones when Bill Clinton hires the firm to represent him against charges of sexual harassment. Look at Skadden's conduct in the case against Clinton: it had nothing to do either with resolving the matter or with finding the trust; it had to do with the simple, crude fact that the firm had more money and more power and was going to run over and destroy its client's adversaries."

So yeah, I think it's fair to say that Hayes has a healthy...ummm...distrust (?), dislike (?) of Skadden. He's sort of a anti-establishment kind of guy and his book is an easy read (in the sense that it went fast...he is VERY into himself and his abilities as an attorney and it reads a little bit like a memoir of someone who THINKS he's very interesting, but is really kind of a blowhard). I don't know if I would have read it if I didn't need the portion on the Warhol estate for my book report, because generally lawyer books aren't that thrilling to me, but he's pretty colorful. I probably wouldn't buy either book since generally this isn't the kind of stuff I would read on my own, but Warhol was an interesting guy and the Death and Destruction book has quite a few little tidbits about his eccentricities that are interesting. Like, he was OBSESSED with material possessions. He had grown up poor and was terrified of not having things. So, when he died, they went to his five story townhouse and there was room after room stuffed with bags and boxes of things he had bought and hadn't ever even opened. Warhol had a canopy over his bed, and on top of the canopy he would toss jewelry and watches, apparently just so he could be surrounded constantly by his wealth and proof that he know...stuff.

Anyway, I actually have no idea why I started writing about this, but I'm glad I did since it gives me a headstart on my book report. I guess I just thought you'd all like to know that I'm on top of my Andy Warhol trivia right now, and I'm learning alot about estate planning when you've got $500M, which will clearly be useful to me any day now. Yeah.

I'm still considering whether it might be funny to make a shoebox diorama of the whole thing -- if only I had the time. I used to love to make the diorama, it was my favorite kind of book report.
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