Mapplethorpe Estate Settles Defamation Suit Against Christie’s

Mapplethorpe Rests

On July 30, the heated legal skirmish that began six years ago when Michael Ward Stout, executor of the estate of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, initiated a $200 million defamation suit against Christie’s, came to a disarmingly quiet end. A single-paragraph statement on plain, letterhead-free paper noted that the auction house, the Mapplethorpe estate and Mr. Stout “had agreed to settle the litigation pending in New York Supreme Court relating to Christie’s June 1990 appraisal of certain artwork belonging to the estate.” The press release concluded: “The parties to the lawsuit agreed to put the matter behind them, and stated that they would make no further comment regarding the appraisal or the litigation.”

The insipid legal prose belied the drama that had preceded it. In 1994, Mr. Stout sued Christie’s over statements that Patricia Hambrecht, the auction house’s president for North and South America, had made regarding an appraisal of Mapplethorpe’s artwork. Sources said the July 30 settlement included a payment, which one source put at in excess of $2 million, from Christie’s to Mr. Stout. An attorney for Christie’s, Bill Maher, said he had no comment about the alleged payment or any other aspect of the case.

So far, all of the parties are holding to the no-comment agreement: At press time neither Christie’s nor Mr. Stout nor their respective lawyers would discuss the matter. Still, art-world observers could not help but notice that the announcement of the settlement was preceded by an announcement from Christie’s, two weeks earlier, that Ms. Hambrecht, who has been with the auction house for 11 years, would take a sabbatical beginning in August. A spokesman for Christie’s, Vredy Lytsman, told The Transom that the settlement “has nothing to do with Patty Hambrecht’s sabbatical.” Indeed, sources close to the auction house said word within Christie’s is that Ms. Hambrecht’s sabbatical had more to do with her tumultuous divorce. When reached at her country home in Long Island, Ms. Hambrecht called our attempt to reach her “disgusting” and hung up.

The settlement was an anticlimactic conclusion to a court battle that had been kindled, ironically, by an even more acrimonious legal war: the protracted brouhaha between the estate of Andy Warhol and its former lawyer, Ed Hayes, over the fee that Mr. Hayes was paid for his work and, ultimately, over the value of the estate.

When the Warhol case went to trial in late 1993, Mr. Hayes noted that Christie’s had appraised the respective artwork of Mapplethorpe and Warhol differently. Christie’s had applied a “blockage” discount to the value of Warhol’s artwork. Blockage is based on the notion that if a large cache of an artist’s work is put on the market, prices tend to decline.

Christie’s did not apply a blockage discount to the Mapplethorpe appraisal, and when Mr. Hayes pointed this out, the trouble started. Ms. Hambrecht, who was then senior vice president and general counsel of Christie’s, submitted an affidavit in connection with the Warhol case stating, among other points, that “Christie’s has never performed a … fair market value appraisal of self-created art owned by the estate of Robert Mapplethorpe. It has not done so because it was never asked to do so.” Had it done so, Ms. Hambrecht contended, a blockage discount would have been applied. Instead, Ms. Hambrecht pointed out in her affidavit, the Mapplethorpe appraisal was “intended to provide fair market values for individual works on an item-by-item basis, like an insurance appraisal.”

In his subsequent lawsuit, Mr. Stout alleged that Ms. Hambrecht’s affidavit was “clearly motivated by Christie’s desire to protect itself financially, but as far as the litigation was concerned the affidavit was gratuitous.” He charged that the “substance of the false and defamatory statements was that Stout had asked Christie’s for an insurance appraisal, not an estate-tax appraisal; that Christie’s had provided an insurance appraisal, not an estate-tax appraisal, and Stout was so informed; [and] that Stout had told Hambrecht and others that he would not apply for an executor’s fee based on the Christie’s appraisal and in fact would forgo a fee altogether.”

Mr. Stout’s suit also alleged that Ms. Hambrecht and other officials of Christie’s “expanded their self-interested campaign of defaming Stout and misrepresenting facts concerning the Mapplethorpe Appraisal in both specialty and general-interest publications.”

Ms. Hambrecht’s affidavit–in which she claimed that Mr. Stout had received $1 million of $2 million in applications for executor’s fees “despite his direct representation to me … that he would take no commission at all on the Mapplethorpe estate”–and the surrounding publicity attracted the attention of then State Attorney General Oliver Koppell. On Oct.31,1994, weeks before he sued Christie’s, Mr. Stout reached an agreement with the Attorney General that he would take a $3.7 million fee for his role as the estate’s executor andalmost$1.9 million as the lawyer for the estate. Those fees were based on a 30 percent blockage discount.

After years of wrangling, the defamation case looked like it was finally heading to court in the fall. Then came the announcements of Ms. Hambrecht’s sabbatical, the settlement and then silence.

AOL’s Dirty-Movie Maker

Meet Paul Corvino, a man on the top of the world. Just 42, he’s the vice president and general manager of marketing for America Online Inc. and its umbrella of companies such as Moviephone, Netscape and Digital Cities. He’s a family guy, votes Republican and is this close to buying a multifloor penthouse on Park Avenue.

But he’s also a movie guy. Come October, New Yorkers will be able to rent The Reunion , a straight-to-video independent film Mr. Corvino wrote and produced, and it sure ain’t You’ve Got Mail . Instead, there is a scene in which a middle-aged dwarf is forced at gunpoint to suckle a full-grown woman.

“That’s the Fellini influence,” Mr. Corvino said of the scene. He called from his cell phone, on his way to Los Angeles for a “strategy session” about Moviefone.

Should the brass at AOL be upset about The Reunion , the script for which Mr. Corvino said he wrote in one long night in 1997 after accidentally overmedicating himself with non-drowsy Robitussin. In a nutshell, here’s the flick: Semisuccessful geek goes to 18th high school reunion in hopes of showing all his jock tormentors–now, he presumes, driving buses– that he’d finally beaten them. After discovering that his tormentor Hal Coleman (semiautobiographical, Mr. Corvino, a former track star, admitted) is much more successful than he is, he takes hostages in the locker room: the jock, the jock’s trophy wife, an ice cream man, a prostitute, a janitor and a dwarf.

Oh, the fun he has! As well as making the dwarf suckle from the breast of the jock’s wife, he makes the ladies take off their panties ( oopsie , the hooker’s not wearing any!) and the whole gang chant “Jackie O Was a ‘Ho.” Then he rapes the football player’s wife while grunting, “Hut one, hut two, hut three.”

“It’s funny, nobody’s ever afraid to express their distaste for this film,” said Mimi Langeland, the actress who plays the jock’s wife. “Nobody’s afraid to say, I hated it! It was so warped! But they always leave there thinking about it.”

Mr. Corvino was quick to deny that the film demeaned women, at least any more than it demeaned men. “The men are the real whores,” he said. “The line, ‘We’re all whores and pimps. Some of us just get a better corner to work on,’ that comes from the jock. Everyone is compromised to some degree.” Chat room, anyone?

–Andrew Goldman

LeRoy Divorce: It Ain’t Over …

When Justice Walter Tolub of State Supreme Court in Manhattan awarded Kay LeRoy 40 percent of her restaurateur ex-husband Warner LeRoy’s estimated $47 million estate in July, lawyers for each side claimed victory. An attorney for Mrs. LeRoy noted that his client had gotten “all of the big things that she wanted.” Mr. LeRoy’s attorney counted that Mrs. LeRoy had really wanted 50 percent, not 40, of the marital estate.

Mr. LeRoy, the man behind Tavern on the Green and the soon-to-reopen Russian Tea Room, apparently was not so sanguine about the outcome of the case, which has lurched on and off since 1993. (The couple briefly reconciled in 1995.) In recent weeks, Mr. LeRoy has brought the sharp-tongued litigator Jay Goldberg back on board his legal team to ready an appeal of the verdict. Mr. Goldberg originally was part of Mr. LeRoy’s matrimonial legal team but left for an undisclosed reason. “Jay Goldberg has joined with us as appellate counsel to Warner LeRoy and we’re delighted to be working with him,” said Mr. LeRoy’s divorce attorney, Jeffrey Cohen.

Asked to comment on Mr. Goldberg’s return to the team, Mrs. LeRoy’s attorney, Norman Sheresky, replied, “The more the merrier.”

The quick-witted Mr. Goldberg, whose courtroom manner can be as colorful as some of Mr. LeRoy’s suits, told The Transom that, although the appeal papers have not been filed, Mr. LeRoy’s team is planning to appeal “the grounds of the divorce” as well as “the judge’s assessment of the value of [Mr. LeRoy's] estate and to how much of it Mrs. LeRoy is entitled.” He declined to comment further.

In the decision, Justice Tolub wrote, “The evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding that, commencing in 1991 and continuing to the present, defendant [Mr. LeRoy] engaged in a course of cruel and inhuman treatment against the plaintiff [Mrs. LeRoy], which conduct so endangered the physical or mental well being of the plaintiff as renders it unsafe or improper for the plaintiff to cohabit with the defendant.”

The court concluded that the 54-year-old, British-born Mrs. LeRoy, a former au pair and flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, would receive, among other things, a distributive award of $11 million, the couple’s 40-plus-acre Amagansett, L.I., estate and $734,200 a year for life (providing she did not remarry). The decision also required Mr. LeRoy to pay half of Mrs. LeRoy’s legal fees, which totaled at least $2 million.

Mr. Goldberg is no stranger to high-profile, torturous divorce cases. He represented Donald Trump in his divorce from Ivana, and Carl Icahn in his acrimonious six-year split from his wife, Liba Icahn. Many of Mr. Goldberg’s cases have had nothing to do with divorce, however. Recently, Mr. Goldberg was retained by rap impresario Sean (Puffy) Combs following Mr. Combs’ alleged involvement in the messy assault of record executive Steve Stoute.

Mr. LeRoy has nine months in which to file his appeal. Still, some legal experts who have been observing the case said they would not be surprised if Mr. LeRoy ultimately decided against pulling the trigger. An appeal would certainly cost the restaurateur additional hefty legal fees. Moreover, there is the risk that the panel of appellate judges could decide that Mrs. LeRoy is entitled to the full 50 percent (New York is an equitable distribution state when it comes to divorce) of her ex-husband’s worth.

The Transom Also Hears

… They ran into each other of the lobby of the Four Seasons restaurant. There was David Remnick, the editor in chief of The New Yorker , his lunch date, highbrow public television talk-show host Charlie Rose; and Hearst president Cathleen Black and her tablemate, Cosmopolitan editor in chief Kate White. Lunch was over, but there was still time for a little small talk before they departed for their respective offices. Being in the presence of two Hearst women, one of the men made note of the recent news that the first issue of Tina Brown’s Talk magazine, of which Hearst is a partner, had gone back to the presses for an additional print run of 300,000. Ms. Black, who had taken Ms. White out to lunch to celebrate her first anniversary, remarked that those numbers were “bupkes” in Cosmopolitan terms. (The magazine’s circulation is almost 2.8 million, according to recent Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.) Everyone laughed, then Mr. Remnick told the group that The New Yorker (circulation in excess of 813,000, according to A.B.C.) was also going to print an additional 300,000 copies. “We’re going to use them as chairs,” he said.

Mr. Remnick later said he had made the comment “by way of congratulating [Ms. Black and Ms. White].” He added, “But the truth is, we have a great circulation, including a 76 percent renewal rate, which is an amazing number in magazines.”