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Howard Hughes: The Legal Battle For Access to His Billions Continues

In 1976, Howard Hughes, the reclusive and eccentric billionaire, and at the time America’s richest man, died. His handwritten will mysteriously appeared days later at a Morman Church. Under the will, the Morman Church was to receive $1.5 billion. Melvin Dummar, the gas station attendant who claimed to have found a disheveled Hughes lying in the Nevada desert and “saved his life,” was to receive $156 million for his kindness.

The intestate heirs of Mr. Hughes suspected foul play. They hired the law firm of Andrews Kurth to contest the will. After a seven month trial, a Nevada court threw out the will (determined to be a forgery), and declared that Howard Hughes died intestate.

Andrews Kurth received millions of dollars for its representation of the Hughes heirs. One of its partners, Raymond Cook, died in 1976. His estate was settled through Southern National Bank of Texas.

Now 30 years later, the heirs of Cook’s estate are suing Andrews Kurth for breach of its fiduciary duty to disclose to the estate and to CVK’s client the existence of a contingent fee agreement between Andrews Kurth and Hughes’ maternal heirs. The specific claim is that the Andrews Kurth partnership agreement provided to Cook’s estate a percent of the firm’s income generated within 5 years of Cook’s death. The contingent fee agreement between the law firm and Hughes’ heirs was entered into in 1977, within a year of Cook’s death, although the millions earned by Andrews Kurth were not realized until more than 5 years after Cook died.

In the present suit, Cook’s estate is now attempting to prove that Andrews Kurth kept the existence of the contingent fee agreement with the Hughes heirs hidden from Cook’s estate (and from the Southern National Bank’s involved trust officer, CVK’s client) when that estate was settled in 1979. Recently, CVK partner Gene Buckle represented the trust officer in his deposition taken by the Texas lawyers for the Cook’s heirs.

Breach of a claimed fiduciary duty to disclose salient facts by a law firm to its partner’s estate can be far reaching, both in time and in scope, as the Cook estate case shows. For more information on this fascinating case, contact Gene Buckle at ebuckle@cvk-law.com.