The Court of Appeal affirmed a Riverside judge’s decision not to throw out four elder abuse restraining orders requested to protect a real estate investor’s $40 million estate from his stepfamily.
Thomas Tedesco’s daughter, Laura White, had filed her elder abuse restraining orders against her stepmother, her stepsister and three of their hired attorneys. White claimed they had isolated Thomas and sought to gain control of his estate after he became intellectually impaired from multiple surgeries.
The published opinion is the fifth appellate ruling regarding the estate.
According to the appellate ruling, the following occurred.
Tedesco, who is currently in his 90s, created an estate plan with his late wife. The plan was to benefit his three daughters, Laura White, Sandra Kay and Julia Bas, and their grandchildren. Thomas appointed his daughters as his attorneys to act in his stead. After his wife died, he married Gloria Basara, who had two daughters from a previous relationship, Debbie Basara Wear and Wendy Basara. They entered the marriage with prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. According to Thomas’ estate attorney, Burton Mitchell, they modified Thomas’ estate plan to grant Gloria a life estate in Thomas’ home if she survives him.
Thomas became intellectually impaired in 2013 after multiple surgeries, and ended his relationship with Mitchell. Mitchell said Gloria appeared to be blocking his calls. Thomas’ daughters were denied access to their father. A housekeeper told Gloria, “You can’t keep the girls from seeing their dad,” to which Gloria said, “I don’t care,” according to the housekeeper.
Gloria also told Thomas his daughters were “being bad” to her, and removed their photos from the house. She also directed Thomas to tell Mitchell that he hired another law firm to represent him, that he wanted his wife to own the house outright and that he wanted to disinherit his children.
Thomas began losing his memory, and stopping paying bills and taxes in 2013. A neurologist said that Thomas was unable to make reliable rational decisions.
White petitioned for the appointment of a conservator, and the probate court appointed Kenneth Jenkins as the guardian ad litem for Thomas on Oct. 17, 2014. Gloria and Wear continued to tell Thomas to change his estate plan, and to isolate him from his daughters.
Jenkins was relieved as guardian ad litem on March 3, 2015. The parties agreed to appoint David Wilson as permanent conservator of the estate Aug. 10, 2015, at the order of the probate court. The court also appointed independent counsel for Thomas.
Wear, a paralegal, was trying to get Thomas to take on her employer, attorney Russell Lowell Davis, as Thomas’ independent counsel. Davis applied twice to be Thomas’ counsel, and the court denied each request due to his relationship with Wear. The court warned Davis that if he “continues to contact a person under conservatorship, it may start fitting under the elder abuse statute, and there may be injunctive relief of another type, which, if violated, would then lead to a misdemeanor on behalf of an experienced member of the bar.”
Gloria, Wear and Russell initiated civil actions with the goal of allowing Thomas to gain control over his estate despite the conservatorship. Their actions were not authorized by Wilson, the conservator.
They also blocked communication between Thomas and his appointed attorney, Julia Burt, causing her to withdraw as counsel. They also hired the firm of Herzog, Yuhas, Erlich & Ardell.
Russell filed and prepared a declaration from Thomas on July 5, 2015, saying, “I am very upset and angry that my life and liberty have been wrongfully taken from me. I worked hard all my life and have accumulated a sizable estate. Now my daughters believe they are entitled to my estate, and they have curtailed my freedom and life in their misguided attempt to save estate taxes and to thwart my attempts to change my estate plan. My daughters have in effect imprisoned me and all I think about every day is getting rid of this conservatorship.”
During a Sept. 7, 2017, court hearing, Thomas stated he did not know that Burt had withdrawn as counsel, did not remember Russell’s name, did not remember signing an engagement letter with Herzog, Yuhas, Erlich & Ardell and was not told anything about the case.
Wilson, the conservator, moved to bar any counsel not appointed by the probate court from representing Thomas. The court granted the petition. The decision was appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the court ruling in 2019 (E070316).
The Court of Appeal noted that the driving force behind the legal actions outside of the conservatorship appeared to be Gloria, her daughters and non-appointed counsel related to Wear.
Gloria and her daughters also filed suit in Orange County with the goal of removing Thomas’ daughters as co-trustees of the living trust. Orange County Superior Court rejected their case, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal in the appellate ruling of G059883.
White filed applications for elderly restraining orders against Gloria, Wear and attorneys Davis, Evan Marshall, Stephen Carpenter and Ian Herzog on April 27, 2020. She requested each defendant be restrained from financially abusing Thomas, contacting him, living in his home, being within 100 yards from him, making any change to estate plan and from acting as his attorney or representative.
The restraining order against Wear was granted after she failed to appear at her hearing. The order sustained an appeal.
The remaining defendants requested Riverside Superior Court dismiss the restraining orders filed against them, arguing that their actions are constitutionally protected under anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law. Anti-SLAPP law allows the dismissal of cases based on a defendant’s free speech.
The trial court decided to rule on their motions to dismiss before hearing White’s request for the restraining orders. The court denied their motions, finding that Gloria’s actions to isolate Tedesco and disinherit his children are not constitutionally protected, and that the attorneys’ actions as non-appointed counsel show undue influence.
The defendants appealed. They argued White has no standing to request the elder abuse restraining orders because she can’t establish that she is a trustee of the living trust. The Court of Appeal found that she indeed was a co-trustee. They also repeated their argument that their actions are protected under anti-SLAPP law. They said Thomas has a right to independent counsel, and that the restraining orders interfere with Orange County Superior Court’s jurisdiction in their case to redraw Tedesco’s estate.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court, and disagreed with the defendants’ arguments.
“White’s applications for (the restraining orders) do not arise out of defendants’ protected activity, but out of their actions to unduly influence Thomas regarding his decades-long estate plan,” their ruling says.
“(Riverside Superior Court) even warned Davis that if he ‘continues to contact a person under conservatorship, it may start fitting under the elder abuse statute, and there may be injunctive relief of another type, which, if violated, would then lead to a misdemeanor on behalf of an experienced member of the bar.’ Nonetheless, Davis contacted Herzog and introduced him to Thomas,” the Court of Appeal ruling says.
The ruling also found their arguments for interference with Orange County’s jurisdiction moot, since the superior court already threw out their case.
The Court of Appeal also found that Riverside Superior Judge Kenneth Fernandez delayed relief by hearing the motions to dismiss before hearing White’s applications for the restraining orders. Because of the appeal, White’s request has still not been heard, even though it was made two years ago.
Appellate Case No. E077320.
Riverside Superior Judge Kenneth Fernandez presided.
Adam Streisand, Nicholas Van Brunt and Valerie Alter of Century City’s Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton represent Laura White.
Ian Herzog and Evan Marshall of Los Angeles’ Herzog, Yuhas, Ehrlich & Ardell; and Stephen Glick and Anthony Jenkins of the Law Offices of Stephen Glick, represent the defendants and appellants.
Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two, Justice Art McKinster wrote the opinion, which Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez and Justice Marsha Slough joined.
Read the previous appellate rulings here: E076352, G059883, E077320, E070316
Read the ruling here.