Issues Persist in Monroe Photo Copyright Lawsuit



Story Published: Mar 17, 2010 at 9:39 PM PDT

Stymied in his initial approach to recover more than a half-million dollars in attorneys’ fees and associated costs from Marilyn Monroe’s estate, an attorney for the photo studio that produced her famed Red Velvet collection says he’ll try another approach.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe on Tuesday denied a motion by M. Danton Richardson, lawyer for Tom Kelley Studios Inc., for the appointment of a third party known as a receiver.

Richardson wanted a receiver to marshal Marilyn Monroe LLC’s assets to satisfy a $508,000 judgment obtained in U.S. District Court on behalf of the company and the Pasadena-based Soni Law Firm.

The attorneys’ fees stem from costs to Tom Kelley Studios in fighting litigation between it, the estate and CMG Worldwide Inc., the latter’s licensing agent, concerning who has the publicity and distribution rights to the actress’ photos.

A federal judge found that CMG, which sends royalties and income to MMLLC, could not assert right of publicity claims over the photos in California. The judge awarded Tom Kelley Studios a portion of the $3 million in attorneys’ fees requested.

The estate has not paid the attorneys’ fees, according to Richardson. But Yaffe said the answer is not the appointment of a receiver, who he said normally works with both sides to satisfy a judgment.

“You want a receiver to chase a deadbeat,” Yaffe told Richardson. “I don’t think that’s the function of a receiver.”

Richardson said after the hearing he will consider attempting to recover the fees through a court-ordered assignment.

Tom Kelley Studios was named after its founder, who shot the then-22- year-old Monroe while she was lying nude on red velvet in May 1949. The shoot helped make the actress an international sex symbol and the photos became the prototype for the Playboy magazine centerfold.

After Kelley died, Tom Kelley Jr. assumed control over his father’s business, Richardson said.
The company filed a petition against the estate last Dec. 31. In his court papers, Richardson says he believes Marilyn Monroe LLC is insolvent and cites as proof the testimony of the estate’s senior vice president, David Strasberg, during a judgment debtor examination hearing last June.
Strasberg is the son of Anna Strasberg, whose acting coach husband Lee Strasberg was Monroe’s mentor. He testified that the estate does not own any significant physical property that could be sold to satisfy the judgment, according to Richardson’s court papers.

Richardson also said the estate owes millions of dollars to other law firms.

Estate attorney Alan R. Kossoff denied that Marilyn Monroe LLC is insolvent. In his court papers, he says Strasberg testified during the debtor hearing that the estate’s annual revenues are more than $1 million.

“The bottom line is that MMLLC is not insolvent and there is no basis for a receiver,” Kossoff stated.

The estate pays its bills and will continue to do so, according to Kossoff. MMLLC has appealed the federal court’s ruling regarding publicity of the photos and a victory would negate the attorneys’ fees award, Kossoff’s court papers state.

CMG is jointly liable for the fees and could pay them if the appeal fails, according to Kossoff.
Monroe was 36 when she died of a drug overdose in her Brentwood home on Aug. 5, 1962.