A messy legal battle initiated by Stan Lee’s estate involving allegations of exploitation and elder abuse by the comic legend’s inner circle has concluded, with an arbitrator siding with Lee’s former attorney and finding the lawsuit against him too was initiated late.
The five-year legal saga was sparked by The Hollywood Reporter’s investigation into Lee’s estate, which documented allegations that people introduced into his life by his daughter JC had stolen millions of dollars from him. This included Jerardo Olivarez, Lee’s ex-business manager who was given power of attorney. Olivarez reportedly insisted that Lee retain Uri Litvak as his attorney for business transactions, but he disclosed no conflict of interest arising from Litvak representing him in personal matters. A year after Olivarez was indicted, Lee Litvak also named Litvak in the lawsuit, calling the couple “unscrupulous businessmen, sycophants and opportunists” who tried to take advantage of him after his wife’s death.
However, a procedural error in the lawsuit led Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Epstein on Tuesday to issue a judgment in Litvak’s favor after an arbitrator determined in February that the statute of limitations to prosecute him had expired. Lee had a one-year period from April 12, 2018, when the complaint against Olivarez was filed, to also name Litvak in the lawsuit. Litvak was indicted on April 18, 2018, five days passed the maximum time allowed to initiate legal proceedings.
Joan Lee, the estate’s administrator, argued that Litvak’s representation of her father continued beyond the time the lawsuit was filed, which would freeze the statute of limitations.
In response, Litvak cited a letter from Lee sent on December 13, 2017, informing him that he had been fired. Included in the correspondence was a message from Tom Lallas, his replacement, instructing Litvak to transfer all relevant files to him.
Arbitrator David Brickner rejected arguments from Lee’s estate that there were unresolved questions about whether Litvak continued to represent Lee until 2021.
“Mr. Lee’s letter dated December 13, 2017 leaves no doubt in the arbitrator’s mind that Mr. Litvak’s professional services have been terminated, in both the minds of Mr. Litvak and Mr. Lee,” Brickner wrote. “No reasonable person could conclude otherwise and Ms. Lee has raised no factual or legal issue to suggest otherwise.”
The ruling closes the book on legal proceedings involving people who allegedly stole from Lee in his final years. Olivarez settled claims against him last year. Shortly thereafter, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli declared a mistrial in a criminal case against Lee’s former business manager Keya Morgan. She dismissed the charges after the jury said the case was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal. Morgan was accused of stealing more than $220,000 in proceeds from Lee memorabilia signings about six months before he died. The elder abuse and false imprisonment charges were dropped prior to trial.