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Late artist Indiana's caretaker sues to have estate pay legal fees

By Stephen Betts | Jul 01, 2019
Robert Indiana

Vinalhaven — The former caretaker of the late world-renowned artist Robert Indiana has filed a lawsuit to force the estate to pay his legal bills, which have reached $2 million.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, June 28, in Knox County Superior Court, asks the court to rule that the estate should cover the legal expenses of Jamie L. Thomas.

Indiana died May 19, 2018, at the age of 89 from heart problems at his home, named Star of Hope, on the Penobscot Bay island of Vinalhaven.

Indiana's will -- signed by Indiana in May 2016 -- left nearly his entire $60 million estate to support the not-for-profit organization Star of Hope Inc., which will turn his home and studio into a museum. Thomas is to run the museum, according to the will.

The estate's attorney, James Brannan, of Rockland, said Monday, July 1, that there is ongoing litigation in federal court and that during the discovery process - exchange of evidence -- "serious questions about Jamie Thomas' breaches of fiduciary responsibility to Robert Indiana" have been raised.

Brannan said he will detail those issues when he files a formal written response in the Knox County court to the legal action filed by Thomas.

Thomas states in his suit that he was Indiana's friend, trusted confidant, assistant, caretaker, and toward the end of Indiana's life, had the power of attorney.

"For many years, Thomas stood by Indiana's side as he aged in his Vinalhaven home, supported Indiana as he continued to create artwork, and fought to secure his artistic legacy," the lawsuit by Thomas states.

Thomas says he now finds himself in the middle of a heated battle in federal court in New York over Indiana's artwork. This legal battle has already cost Thomas $2 million in attorney's fees and costs and is increasing, according to the lawsuit.

The federal case is not expected to go to trial until 2020.

The lawsuit notes that "in a room full of eccentrics, he [Indiana] was the eccentric," but that Thomas was one of only a handful of islanders who related to Indiana on a personal basis.

Thomas began working for Indiana in the late 1980s. He says in the lawsuit that Indiana recognized a natural artistic talent in Thomas and helped him to develop as an artist. The two had group shows at local galleries.

Thomas began working for Indiana full-time in the fall of 2013. He details a time in February 2014 when Indiana, raised a Christian Scientist, became extremely ill with pneumonia. Thomas says Indiana declined medical care, but that Thomas remained with him around the clock for several weeks until the artist recovered.

As Thomas began taking responsibility for Indiana's finances, he raised questions about whether the artist was being paid what he was owed by Morgan Art Foundation, which marketed Indiana's work. The lawsuit contends that Indiana repeatedly stated to Brannan, his attorney, that if litigation between Morgan Art Foundation and Thomas developed, that Thomas was "to be protected at all costs."

A federal lawsuit filed by Morgan Art Foundation in New York May 18, 2018 -- the day before Indiana died -- accuses Thomas of Vinalhaven and Michael McKenzie of isolating and exploiting Indiana, forging his art and exhibiting some of it in museums.

Thomas states in his Maine lawsuit that Brannan knows those allegations are false. Thomas states that his off-island reputation has been shattered and would have been on the island if islanders had not seen firsthand how Thomas sacrificed his own family life to "provide unflagging care to Indiana."

In May 2019, Brannan filed paperwork in court notifying Morgan Art Foundation Ltd. and Simon Salama-Caro that all their agreements with Indiana were terminated, and that Morgan was no longer authorized to reproduce any works based on images of Indiana’s art, including his “LOVE” design.

The estate also has informed American Image Art and McKenzie that their agreements with Indiana were terminated, and that they were no longer authorized to reproduce works based on images of Indiana’s art , including his “HOPE ” design.

In addition, the estate’s attorneys at Venable LLP asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for permission to add counterclaims in its current litigation against Morgan Art, Salama-Caro, and related entities. The proposed counterclaim seeks declaratory and injunctive relief relating to the terminated agreements. The claims also allege breaches of fiduciary duties, for which the estate seeks damages, disgorgement of profits and other relief.

"Defendants Morgan and Salama-Caro portray themselves as champions of the artist Robert Indiana, who cared about his personal welfare and dedicated themselves to promoting his legacy and building a market for his works. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, for decades, Morgan and Salama-Caro systematically took advantage of Indiana, maximizing their own profits at his expense," the counterclaim states.

A lawyer representing Morgan issued a statement in May in response to the claims.

"Morgan Art Foundation entered into binding contracts with Robert Indiana and spent a fortune funding Robert Indiana’s artistic creations when no one else would. It has paid Indiana millions of dollars. Simon Salama-Caro has devoted nearly three decades promoting Indiana and his works, a relationship that started when Indiana’s market was negligible. The Estate’s false claims revise well-documented history so that the estate’s representatives -- who had nothing to do with Indiana’s success and know virtually nothing about his art -- can try to line their pockets with money that should instead be used to renovate Indiana’s beloved home and support Indiana’s non-profit foundation. These contracts will be upheld, and Morgan Art Foundation and Simon will continue to hold their place as the patron and the preeminent expert in Indiana’s art. Unfortunately, it is difficult to believe that the estate or the non-profit Indiana established will have adequate assets or ability to function when this is all over. Robert Indiana is turning in his grave," attorney Luke Nikas stated.

Thomas is represented in Maine by attorneys Thomas Hallett and Benjamin Donahue of Portland. He is represented in the federal case in New York by Jenner and Block LLP and Christie & Young. He states in the lawsuit that he had to sell and encumber assets to make partial payments to the law firms.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jul 01, 2019 18:03

Sad! He said, she said....not good. Wish the art to survive and the memory of this artist be purged from all this. Rockland has shared his art and LOVE prevails over Rockland with memories.

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