Wednesday, November 10, 2004

November 11, 2004

Court deal saves Diana fund from bankruptcy
From Chris Ayres in Los Angeles

A LAWSUIT brought by a billionaire Beverly Hills couple against the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund is to be dropped after the two sides agreed to embark on a “mutually agreed programme of humanitarian work”. The settlement will save the fund from bankruptcy.

The Los Angeles lawsuit had been brought by Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owners of the Franklin Mint souvenir firm.

The Resnicks’ claim dated back to 1998, when the fund sued them in their home state of California for cashing in on the Princess’s death with a commemorative plate and other memorabilia. The fund accused the couple of being “vultures feeding off the dead”.

The lawsuit was dismissed by a judge, who said that because the Princess was English, her image could not be protected by California’s publicity rights law. He also said that the vultures claim was immaterial and impertinent.

The dismissal allowed the Resnicks to sue for malicious prosecution. The couple, who supported John Kerry’s failed presidential campaign, claimed £13.5 million in damages. They said they would donate any money they received to charities supported by the Princess.

But in a joint statement yesterday, the two sides said they were “pleased to announce that they have agreed to resolve their differences with an out-of-court settlement”.

The fund and the Franklin Mint agreed that the “energy and resources” needed for a court battle would be better spent on charitable work in honour of the Princess.

The settlement will save the fund the embarrassment of having to call several British aristocrats as witnesses. As part of the settlement, the fund will pledge £13.5 million over five years to causes including HIV/Aids, landmines and care for the terminally ill.

Andrew Purkis, the fund’s chief executive, said: “We are immediately resuming our grants programme to support projects that aim to change the lives of some of the most vulnerable people.”

In July 2003, the fund had frozen its £48 million of uncommitted reserves because of “the unquantifiable nature of the liability arising from the case”.

The fund’s reserves came from public donations after the Princess’s death and money raised by Sir Elton John’s Candle in the Wind single, as well as other licensed products.

Since 1998, the Franklin Mint, which also sells Gone With the Wind figurines, Star Trek chess sets and an Elvis Presley commemorative revolver, has closed its company museum and shut its retail operations. The Pennsylvania firm now sells its goods through an internet site.

According to the statement, neither the fund, the Franklin Mint nor the Resnicks made any money from yesterday’s settlement. The Resnicks’ main business is now farming: they own the world’s largest supplier of pistachios and almonds, based near the singer Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch in Los Angeles.

Yesterday’s settlement was made only hours before a jury was about to be selected in the case. The Resnicks’ lawsuit had claimed that the Diana fund, including Lady McCorquodale, the Princess’s sister, acted “maliciously, wantonly . . . and with the intent to oppress”.

The Franklin Mint has withdrawn that claim. The malice allegation has been abandoned “in recognition of the fact that the fund’s trustees acted in good faith”.

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