Reclusive Heiress's Attorney Lashes Out at Critics

By Bill Dedman
|  Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010  |  Updated 8:45 AM CDT
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Reclusive Heiress's Attorney Lashes Out at Critics

AP

Taken in 1930, about the time of her divorce, this is the last known photo of Huguette Clark.

NEW YORK - The attorney for 104-year-old heiress Huguette Clark has responded to an effort by her relatives to oust him as her attorney, ridiculing them as Johnny-come-latelies.

The detailed statement from Wallace "Wally" Bock provides his first account of the health, history and well-being of the reclusive Clark, whose fortune is estimated at $500 million.

The Queens, N.Y., attorney also said he has carried out Clark's wishes to the letter, and acknowledged that he solicited a gift of $1.5 million from his client for a community where his family lives. He also maintained it wasn't his place to fire Clark's accountant after the man pleaded guilty to a felony.

On item Bock declined to address, however, is whether or not he is named in his client's will.

Three of Clark's distant relatives, Ian C. Devine, Carla Hall Friedman and Karine Albert McCall, went to court Friday in New York City, asking that a guardian and a financial institution be appointed to protect her from potential financial abuse by Bock as well as her accountant, who is a registered sex offender. The family also asked the court to bar the two men from visiting Clark, who has lived in New York hospitals for the past 22 years.

 

You can read the full statement by the attorney here as well as the family's petition. Both are in PDF files.

Huguette ("hue-GET") Marcelle Clark is the last surviving child of Sen. William Andrews Clark of Montana (1839-1925), who in his time was described by The New York Times as either the first or second richest American. His daughter has lived as a recluse, leaving unoccupied her three luxurious homes in California, Connecticut and New York City.

Msnbc.com reported on Aug. 24 that the Manhattan district attorney is investigating her finances. After a series of articles on msnbc.com, The DA's Elder Abuse Unit began looking at transactions in her bank accounts, as well as the sale of her Stradivarius violin for $6 million and a Renoir painting for $23.5 million.

In a sworn statement filed Tuesday morning, Bock offered his first account of his own actions and the secluded life of his client.

'Very distant relations'
The 78-year-old Bock said Clark told him on several occasions that she doesn't want her relatives to visit. She would not even allow another relative, with whom she spoke monthly by phone in recent years, to know where she lived.

He ridiculed the family who filed the petition on Friday as "very distant relations" "who have only recently appeared on the scene" and "do not claim to have any personal relationship with her." The relatives are two half-nieces and a half-nephew, descendants of Clark's father from his first marriage.

Bock confirmed that Clark donated $1.5 million to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, where his family lives, and that he solicited that gift from his client, corroborating the account of one of his former paralegals.

 

"I informed Ms. Clark, as well as a number of friends and colleagues, of a fund-raising effort to develop a security system in Efrat, which is a settlement on the West Bank where my daughter and her family live," Bock wrote in his statement.

"The settlement had determined that such a system was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. It was designed to benefit everyone living there. I informed Ms. Clark of the fund-raising effort because of her continuing interest in my daughter and her family's safety in Israel.

"In my letter to Ms. Clark, I suggested only that she determine whether to make a donation and, if so, the amount. Ms. Clark decided on her own, outside of my presence, to make a significant donation, and authorized me to draw money from her account to pay for her pledge."

New York state ethics rules prohibit lawyers from soliciting gifts from clients "for the benefit of the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer."

Accountant's criminal conviction
Bock also said it was Clark's decision, not his, to retain accountant Irving H. Kamsler, 63, of the Bronx, N.Y., after Kamsler pleaded guilty in 2008 to sending pornography to undercover police posing as 13- and 15-year-olds in an AOL chat room.

"I was never in any position to fire Mr. Kamsler; that decision was Ms. Clark's alone," he wrote. "I did insist that he disclose his conviction to Ms. Clark, which I understood he did." Bock said he understood that Kamsler retained his license to practice.

Bock said that Clark signed a will more than five years ago, and stated that she was competent at the time and remains so. He did not diclose whether he stands to inherit anything from her estate.

"The draft wills that I prepared never made specific provisions to any named individual unless Ms. Clark had communicated that a gift should be made to that individual," he said.  He offered to show the will to Judge Laura Visitacion-Lewis, but not in open court, to protect Clark's privacy.

 

Bock said he has safeguarded Clark's health, safety and welfare, maintaining that she chose to live in the hospital and wasn't shut away there against her will. "She resides there voluntarily, and has resided in a hospital setting for approximately 20 years," he said. "She has expressed to me on many occasions that she prefers living in a hospital to any of her other residences."

He describes her as physically frail, with failing hearing and eyesight. She has 24-hour private care at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, he said, registered under an assumed name since media attention began this year.

"She is attended by personal nurses at all times who ensure that she eats properly and is comfortable. I believe her personal physician also visits her on a daily basis." Any change in her guardian "would disrupt this carefully established sytem of care that Ms. Clark arranged for herself and which I have actively managed on her behalf."

'She does not want visitors'
He denied controlling her affairs and access to her, saying he has merely carried out her wishes. "Ms. Clark has explicitly instructed me on many occasions that she does not want visitors and does not want anyone — including her relatives — to know where she resides," Bock wrote.

Full coverage: 'The Clarks, an American story of wealth, mystery and scandal'

"Until last year, when her hearing loss became acute, Ms. Clark was willing to speak with a relative in California. I arranged their phone calls and routed his packages to her without any interference; she insisted that I arrange their contacts so that he would not be aware of her precise whereabouts.

"To my knowledge, her other relatives, including Petitioners, never requested to speak with Ms. Clark over the telephone. I have always fulfilled Ms. Clark's relatives' requests to the extent that I was authorized to. For example, with Ms. Clark's approval, I willingly arranged for one of the Petitioners to visit Ms. Clark's estate in Santa Barbara on multiple occasions."

He denied denigrating Clark behind her back. The former paralegal Cynthia Garcia, who worked  for Clark in 2000-2002, told msnbc.com that Bock joked about Clark and cursed her because she would not sign a will.

Bock also denied Garcia's claim that he told her last month not to talk with the press or investigators. He said he told her she did not have to talk with reporters if she did not want to, but she would have to speak with the police or DA if questioned.

Bock disputed the relatives' claim that Clark is not able to handle her affairs. He said she is not incapacitated. Even if she were, he said that she signed papers making him and the accountant her guardians if she should ever become incapacitated.

Since 1996, he said, he has had a power of attorney allowing him to write checks on her account. Then, in 2005, she signed a durable power of attorney allowing him to sell her Connecticut estate, which remains on the market for $24 million.

And in July 2009, Bock said, she signed a durable general power of attorney for both Bock and accountant Kamsler, making them her guardians if that ever became necessary. "We are in frequent communication, whether by phone, by mail or through her nurses and other attendants."

Gaining the trust of an heiress
Bock said he has an unblemished record as an attorney, with no disciplinary sanction in 52 years of practice. He serves on several bar association committees, is a mediator in federal court, and is a member of a city community board in Queens.

 

He confirmed that her previous attorney, Donald L. Wallace, never met Clark in the 20 years that he represented her. Msnbc.com reported on Aug. 20 that Bock and Kamsler became the owners of Wallace's New York City apartment, and received $100,000 each from his estate, after his last will and testament was revised six times.

Neighbors and a goddaughter said Wallace had dementia for several years, during the time when the will was changed. Bock does not address these allegations in his sworn statement, but said that he helped Wallace with Clark's legal matters.

After Wallace suffered a heart attack, Bock said, he stepped in. "It took many years for Ms. Clark to become comfortable with me — to my knowledge, I am the only attorney she has been willing to meet face-to-face," he said.

Bock said he has handled all her affairs, including trying to get the taxes lowered on her Connecticut estate, bidding on dolls for her at auctions, coordinating her move to Beth Israel when her previous hospital home was closing, consulting daily with the accountant Kamsler, paying her nurses and attendants, and remodeling the Clark family mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to prepare for her eventual burial there.

He said federal tax liens placed on her homes were not evidence of mismanagement, as the relatives claim, but "the result of a failure by the IRS to credit an overpayment of taxes in a prior year to the current year's tax obligation, or the result of the IRS misplacing a properly filed return. These issues have been resolved with the IRS."

Granting an order to keep him from Clark, Bock said, would "disrupt the arrangments Ms. Clark herself made with respect to her affairs," and "deprive the right of Ms. Clark to communicate with me, her long-standing attorney."

"Mrs. Clark has always been a strong-willed individual," Bock said, "with firm convictions about how her life should be led and who should be privy to her affairs. A temporary restraining order would completely disrupt the plans she has set for her life."

Protecting Clark 'against exploitation'
Clark was divorced in 1930 and is not known to have any children. Under New York law, if she has not signed a will or if that will were invalidated, Clark's estate of an estimated $500 million would flow to her nearest relatives, descendants from her father's first marriage. These include a far-flung group of about 50 Clark kin across the United States and in Europe.

The criminal investigation is being handled by the same prosecutor as the Brooke Astor case, in which the son and attorney of the New York heiress were convicted of stealing from her. Huguette Clark's fortune is said to be about four times that of Astor.

The distant relatives who filed the civil petition are half-nieces and nephews of Clark's. Financial consultant Devine and marketing executive Friedman, both of New York City,  and author and artist McCall, of Washington, D.C., say they represent three branches of of the family, descending from three of Sen. Clark's children from his first marriage.

"Our wish is to protect our aunt against exploitation and we are cooperating with authorities to do all that we can to ensure her health, safety and well-being," the three said in a statement.  

"They bring this petition in order to protect Ms. Clark's person and property, and to prevent the risk of further improper influence by Ms. Clark's advisors," says the petition, filed Friday in the Supreme Court of New York County, the trial-level court in Manhattan.

The relatives asked the court to bar Bock and Kamsler from visiting Clark, from presenting or sending her any documents to sign, from selling any of her property or signing any contracts on her behalf. They also requested that a financial institution be appointed to manage her finances.

The relatives asked the court to appoint an evaluator, who would visit Clark and give an opinion to the court on her competency to handle her affairs. The court usually would call a hearing within 28 days. In this case the relatives also asked for a temporary restraining order to keep Bock and Kamsler away, so a hearing may come quickly.

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NEW YORK - Related content
More links for "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery":

All of msnbc.com's reports and the TODAY Show videos on Huguette Clark are gathered at clark.msnbc.com.

Part one of the investigative report: At 104, mysterious heiress is alone now

Part two: Who is watching Huguette's millions?

The photo narrative from February on Huguette Clark and her empty mansions

A PDF file for printing the photos

Notes and sources on the Clark family

Contact the author

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