Conn. court rules in feud over Rockwell paintings
By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN (AP) – 10 hours ago
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of two brothers in their long-running feud with a third brother over an inheritance that included famous Norman Rockwell paintings.
The state’s high court ruled unanimously in favor of William and Jonathan Stuart, who have been fighting with their brother, Kenneth J. Stuart Jr.
The paintings were collected by their father, Kenneth J. Stuart Sr., who was art director of The Saturday Evening Post.
As a result of the ruling, Stuart Jr. will have to pay nearly $1 million to the family estate. The ruling will make it easier to prove civil theft allegations that are part of the dispute because the high court set a lower burden of proof.
Stuart Sr., who died in 1993, amassed a significant art collection, including three of Rockwell’s best-known paintings: “Saying Grace,” “Gossips” and “Walking to Church.”
He had initially executed a will that would have distributed his assets equally to his three sons.
But less than four months before his death while suffering from a deteriorating mental condition, most of his assets were transferred to a partnership Stuart Jr. formed with his father, according to court records. The other two sons learned of the partnership after their father’s death and sued in 1994, saying their father lacked the mental capacity to understand what had happened. They said their brother’s actions amounted to theft.
Stuart Jr. denied the allegations, saying he was carrying out his father’s wishes.
A Superior Court judge in Stamford agreed with many of the claims of the two brothers who sued, ruling in 2004 that the father was not mentally competent and the partnership was not valid. The judge awarded $2.37 million against Stuart Jr. that was to be paid to his father’s estate.
But the judge ruled the two brothers were required to prove the theft claim by clear and convincing evidence.
The two brothers appealed, saying the judge awarded them insufficient damages by applying the wrong standard of proof. Instead of clear and convincing proof, they argued they only had to meet a lower standard of a preponderance of the evidence.
The Appellate Court rejected their appeal, but the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the lesser standard was the correct one. The high court referred the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
The estate owns six Rockwell paintings that are housed at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., said William Gallagher, Stuart Jr.’s attorney. The paintings are worth $25 million to $50 million, Gallagher said.
Stuart Jr. wants to sell the paintings, but his brothers do not. Sandra Akoury, attorney for Jonathan and William Stuart, said the number of paintings is in dispute but nevertheless agreed her clients do not want to sell them.
The dispute over the paintings is pending in probate court.
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