U.S. Trust Corp. is working to bring an end to the year-long battle over its controversial handling of the estate of tobacco billionaire Doris Duke.
A settlement petition, which U.S. Trust filed yesterday in New York Surrogate Court, contains a number of provisions - including the resignation of co-executor Bernard Lafferty, Ms. Duke's former butler.
If the proposed settlement is approved by the court, U.S. Trust would become the sole executor of the $1.2 billion estate and could then disburse the estate's assets to various beneficiaries, most of which are charities.
Upon his resignation, Mr. Lafferty, whose lavish lifestyle has drawn criticism in recent months, would be entitled to a $5 million executor's fee, according to U.S. Trust.
U.S. Trust also worked out an agreement with Harry B. Demopoulos, Ms. Duke's former physician, who previously challenged her last will. He claimed he should have been named executor in accordance with an earlier will.
Under the proposed settlement, Dr. Demopoulos would withdraw that challenge and would be named a trustee of the charitable foundations.
Several parties that have challenged U.S. Trust over the estate, including Bank of New York Co., were taken aback by the proposed settlement, saying they were never served with the papers associated with the filing. Bank of New York had been named as a co-executor in one of Ms. Duke's earlier wills and is challenging this one.
"We think this (petition) is premature," said Charles E. Rappold, executive vice president and chief trust officer at Bank of New York.
Added Raymond J. Dowd, an attorney for several former Duke servants other than Mr. Lafferty: "We had no notice of this motion. You can't have a motion without notice to your adversaries."
In an ironic twist, U.S. Trust had to obtain permission from the state appellate court to get its settlement petition filed to the Surrogate Court.
In February, U.S. Trust demanded that the surrogate judge, Eve M. Preminger, recuse herself from presiding over any Duke proceedings. When Judge Preminger declined to do so, U.S. Trust then took the matter to the appellate division, which ruled in March that all Duke proceedings in her court be put on hold.
So to get the settlement filed, U.S. Trust went back to the appelate division April 8 and asked that Judge Preminger be allowed to accept its petition.