Estate of US socialite disputed in High Court

 

A DISPUTE over some of the contents of a stately home sold by late American millionairess Anne Moen Bullitt to businessman Jim Mansfield has come before the High Court.

Counsel said among the issues to be dealt with were matters related to the gifting to Ms Bullitt of certain works of art, including one by Picasso, a Ming vase and a Japanese screen which were mentioned in her will.

There would also be an issue about two pistols, one of which was given to George Washington by one of his generals in the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette, and later given to Ms Bullitt’s father by descendants of Lafayette.

US attorney Robert M Pennoyer, the personal representative of the estate of Ms Bullitt, who became a ward of court in 2000 and died in 2007, is seeking a declaration that the contents of Palmerstown House and Stud, set on 700 acres in Naas, Co Kildare, are her property.

Ms Bullitt had lived for nearly 40 years in Palmerstown House.

Mr Pennoyer is also seeking an order directing Mr Mansfield’s company to make a full inventory of the contents which allegedly include works of art including a Picasso painting, a Ming vase and the two pistols.

Among the claims is that a IR£500,000 (€635,000) deposit which was allegedly to be paid by Mr Mansfield as part of the sale of the house and property for IR£10 million (€12.7million) in 1999 had been retained by a company owned by Mr Mansfield and should be returned to the estate.

The case is against Mr Mansfield; Bridford Developments Ltd, formerly known as Bumper Developments, and Bridford Properties Ltd, formerly known as the Meath Thoroughbred Breeders (MTB) Ltd, both companies with registered offices at Keatings Park, Rathcoole.

The defendants deny the claims.

The case opened briefly before Ms Justice Mary Laffoy yesterday but after about half an hour was adjourned to today to facilitate talks between the sides. The judge was told some progress may be made in the matter overnight.

In his opening, Bill Shipsey SC, for the Bullitt estate, said Ms Bullitt was the only child of the United States ambassador to Russia, millionaire William Bullitt jnr, and of Louise Bryant, an American journalist and radical, who was portrayed by Diane Keaton in the 1981 movie Reds about the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

The horse training business did very well in the 1960s and 1970s but started to decline in the 1980s and by 1997 Ms Bullitt had allowed her breeder’s licence and insurance to lapse, counsel said.

This coincided with the deterioration in her eyesight and, when her financial advisers came to see her, they had to read out documents, he said. By 1997, she was living in three rooms in the stately home and her bedroom was only ever lit by artificial light, Mr Shipsey added.

However, Ms Bullitt was “an independent and determined lady”. She had decided to sell Palmerstown House and discussions took place between her advisers and a number of interested parties.

One of those was a developer who offered IR£8.2 million for the house and estate, counsel said. However, about the same time, the advisers became aware Ms Bullitt, who was 75 and in poor health, had agreed to sell for IR£10 million to Mr Mansfield.

This caused “a degree of consternation” with her advisers who had already orally agreed a deal with the first developer, counsel said.

That developer then took High Court proceedings to compel the honouring of that alleged agreement but lost, Mr Shipsey added.

The court would hear evidence that Ms Bullitt’s advisers became concerned about her ability to manage her affairs and they asked that she be made a ward of court.

They arranged for a psychiatrist to visit her in July 1998 but to say she was unco-operative was “an understatement”, Mr Shipsey said.

The psychiatrist’s interview was “terminated in a very peremptory manner” and in 2000, the president of the High Court made her a ward of court.