Robert Indiana and his artistic legacy have suffered many indignities since his death at 89 in his home in Maine in 2018.
Had the artist, in fact, designed much of his last work, been paid the full royalties due from business partners or been properly cared for in his last days, living alone in a ramshackle house on the island of Vinalhaven?
Those questions have been debated for years in Maine and New York courtrooms. Now, as perhaps a final indignity, the Maine attorney general’s office is saying the lawyers who charged $8.4 million to handle those legal matters, and others, for Indiana’s estate were significantly overpaid.
The attorney general’s office filed papers in Knox County Probate Court this week demanding that the executor of Indiana’s estate, James Brannan, a Maine lawyer, put back into the estate nearly half the money, $3.7 million, that he had paid out to seven law firms.
The reimbursement would help the foundation Indiana set up to bolster his artistic legacy after his death, Star of Hope Inc., which is the sole beneficiary of his will. The foundation is renovating his sprawling home into a museum that features his work.
The attorney general’s office said in its filing that it had “provided the Estate with its expert’s detailed analysis of the excessiveness of the attorneys’ fees.”
Brannan has long defended the legal spending, suggesting that it was appropriate to the amount and complexity of the litigation in which the estate has found itself entangled
There is no question that the legal battles that erupted after Indiana’s death — over how he was treated in his lifetime, whether assistants created artwork under his name and who has the rights to his artistic legacy — have been protracted and expensive.
All sides have denied any wrongdoing, and those battles may be coming to a conclusion with a settlement being negotiated among most, but not all, of the parties.
Still, the filing puts a spotlight on Brannan, who, as Indiana’s former lawyer and executor, has been involved in the legal cases, hired the outside firms that acted on the estate’s behalf and authorized the payments.
The attorney general’s office had previously raised questions about the fees Brannan himself was earning as executor, or personal representative, and the impact the mounting legal bills were having on the foundation’s plan to create an Indiana museum.
“The attorney general remains concerned that the very existence of the foundation is threatened by the liquidation of estate assets,” the office said in court papers in January.
VR Sunil Gohil