Still Duking It Out

As the Byzantine probate battle over Doris Duke’s $1.2 billion estate reaches a denouement, with numerous law firms submitting legal fees of more than $15 million to the estate, a rift has developed among the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s trustees. The rift involves a young attorney named Raymond Dowd, and whether he should be paid more than half a million dollars in legal fees he believes is coming to him.

Those who followed the tortuous legal battle may recall that back in 1994, Mr. Dowd, then 29 years old and three years out of law school, and his clients–three former Duke employees named in the billionaire’s will–hampered the settlement of Duke’s estate by vociferously assailing the unusual behavior and spendthrift ways of Bernard Lafferty, the ponytailed former butler of Duke, who had ended up as co-executor in her will. Mr. Dowd also criticized the other co-executor, the United States Trust Company of New York, for allegedly not reining in the berserk butler.

At the time, the considerable legal muscle representing or supporting Mr. Lafferty and U.S. Trust, which included the State Attorney General’s office, dismissed Mr. Dowd and his clients as gadflies and ankle biters. Now, almost three years after Duke’s will has been probated, Mr. Dowd and his clients are still being derided, but this time, someone is sticking up for them.

Shortly after Mr. Dowd submitted to State Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan a petition to be paid $632,622.60 in legal fees, Kathleen Comfrey, an attorney for the trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, submitted a motion to dismiss Mr. Dowd’s petition. The State Attorney General’s office has filed a brief making a similar argument. Ms. Comfrey contends in court papers that, among other things, Mr. Dowd “acted as a volunteer” (a claim that Mr. Dowd disputed) and that “Dowd’s involvement in the estate and the various proceedings … far from the benefit he describes it to have been, was in fact an obstacle at every step.” In a footnote, Ms. Comfrey claims “the foundation believes that Dowd was of no assistance to anyone.”

But Dr. Harry Demopoulos, a trustee of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation who was once the late lady’s physician, disputes Ms. Comfrey’s assertions. His lawyer, Rodney Houghton, has filed an affidavit supporting Mr. Dowd. Although the papers filed by Ms. Comfrey suggest that the Duke trustees are in agreement with her argument, Mr. Houghton said that Dr. Demopoulos “never saw the memorandum before it was filed. If he had seen it, he would have objected to it.”

In his affidavit, Mr. Houghton took particular issue with Ms. Comfrey’s aforementioned footnote. “Mr. Dowd’s services were rendered long before the trustees of the foundation were appointed by this court at the conclusion of the probate litigation, and before the trustees who selected their counsel who now oppose this fee petition. The facts concerning Mr. Dowd’s services are simply not within their personal knowledge.”

“Second, and most importantly,” Mr. Houghton continued, “without the courage of Mr. Dowd’s clients, Colin Shanley and Ann Bostich, and Mr. Dowd’s representation of them, it is unlikely that the foundation trustees would be serving today, or that the wrongdoing which led to their appointment would have been exposed.”

“Furthermore, they came forward in the face of overwhelming opposition,” Mr. Houghton wrote in his affidavit. “Much of the evidence presented to this court by Dr. Demopoulos resulted from the cooperation of Mr. Dowd and his clients.” For example, Mr. Houghton noted, Mr. Dowd’s clients produced “Mr. Lafferty’s illiterate but menacing handwritten notes retrieved from the jammed shredder. These notes gave a crucial insight into the character of Mr. Lafferty and of his lack of qualifications to serve as Miss Duke’s executor and trustee.” (As part of the estate’s settlement, Lafferty, who died in November 1996, agreed to remove himself from any role in the Duke estate or charitable foundation.)

Mr. Houghton concluded that “reasonable counsel fees and costs should be allowed to Mr. Dowd”. He told The Transom that his client, Dr. Demopoulos, is “in full support” of the affidavit.

Ms. Comfrey declined comment on Mr. Houghton’s affidavit.

251 Keanu Reeveses

In her flight attendant-style blue dress and hair pulled back, Grace Quek didn’t look like a porn star. Ms. Quek, who in randier circumstances is known as Annabel Chong, stood at the front of a packed house at the Cineplex Odeon on 50th Street on April 30, after the screening of the documentary, Sex: The Annabel Chong Story .

The documentary concerned Ms. Quek’s 1995 world record: The diminutive Ms. Quek, a former undergraduate in gender studies at the University of Southern California, had sex with 251 men in 10 hours. A Canadian named Gough Lewis saw her on The Jerry Springer Show and decided to make a movie. During the filming, Mr. Lewis and Ms. Quek became a couple, and he moved into her apartment.

The film included footage of Ms. Quek shopping on the produce aisle for a zucchini to prepare for an upcoming film role, slicing her forearm up with a bowie knife when she was feeling blue, and informing her Singaporean mom that she made movies like I Can’t Believe I Did the Whole Team . When the lights came up, Ms. Quek took questions. A woman commented that Ms. Quek had not only slept with 251 guys, she had slept with 251 really ugly guys. “I had no illusions that those men would actually be very handsome,” Ms. Quek said. “The idea of the gang bang was not Annabel Chong and 251 Keanu Reeveses.”

Another woman asked if she had experienced any physical discomfort. “Pain’s part of it. But I came from a background of cross-country running.”

Before the party at the West 20th Street strip club V.I.P.’s, Ms. Quek was rushed by her fans. “I’m so happy to be a woman right now,” gushed Rita Michel, a documentary producer. On the sidewalk, as the group waited for a limousine, Mr. Lewis and Ms. Quek neither looked at nor spoke to one another. Mr. Lewis told The Transom that the two hadn’t had a real conversation about the film since Sex debuted at Sundance last January.

Outside V.I.P.’s, Ms. Quek planted a digital video camera on her shoulder. She’s directing a follow-up to Sex –sans Mr. Lewis–called Sex on Vacation , a documentary about being the subject of a documentary. Jeff Mandel, who was doing some camera work for Ms. Quek, held a second digital video camera. “I should film you going in filming,” he suggested. The two marched into the club, cameras rolling. But a bouncer put a quick end to the sweeping, Martin Scorsese-style shot by detaining them for 10 minutes.

The Transom asked Mr. Lewis, who was working on a bottle of Heineken, about his relationship with the porn star. “What’s the expression?” he said. “I cannot confirm or deny that at this juncture.”

Meanwhile, a bull-necked bald gentleman had bought a $175 bottle of Moët & Chandon and was pouring Ms. Quek a glass. The Transom asked her if her apartment was as disgustingly dirty as it had been in Sex . “I’m so obsessive about neatness since my breakup with Gough,” she said. “He’s untidy .”

She added, “He was sleeping on my couch because he snores. Most men do. I find it really hard to sleep with people. It took five months for me to get used to sleeping with my cat. I’m sensitive to movement.”

–Andrew Goldman

The Transom Also Hears

… “I just want you to know that unless I’m inspired, I can’t sculpt,” Lynn Pressman Raymond told 26-year-old Ethiopian Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie at Le Colonial on May 3. The gentle-natured Mr. Gebrselassie was the guest of honor at a party in honor of Endurance , a documentary about the long distance runner, which was produced by Ms. Raymond’s son, film producer Edward Pressman and director Terrence Malick. At the party, the 86-year-old Ms. Raymond, former chief executive of Pressman Toy Corporation, unveiled a bronze statue she sculpted for Mr. Gebrselassie. Ms. Raymond, who wore a jaunty wide-brimmed hat, told The Transom that the last time she had been inspired to mold a big piece of metal was following Harvey Keitel’s performance in Bad Lieutenant . “A real man,” she said, of Mr. Keitel. The resulting statue of a man and woman in flagrante delicto depicted “actual penetration,” Ms. Pressman said, adding, “I’m a naughty lady!” The Transom can only hope that Mr. Pressman’s mom will be likewise moved by her little boy’s next cinematic project, American Psycho .

… All those young socialites who look for any excuse to don a loincloth may be crestfallen this summer. At the April 27 dinner party that Le Sportsac mogul Tim Schifter and his wife, Helen, threw for Bret Easton Ellis, socialite Pia Getty told a group–which included writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, agent Amanda Urban, mountain climber Sandy Hill and the newly engaged socialite-writer Marina Rust–that she and her husband Christopher Getty aren’t planning to rent in the Hamptons. Over past summers, the Gettys have thrown theme parties for Mr. Getty’s July birthday. Last year, the motif was Tarzan and Jane; the year before, gender bending. This time, the couple plans to summer in Corsica or Majorca.

Still Duking It Out