In his first public comments in nine months, the man at the center of the Doris Duke will dispute, Bernard Lafferty, the heiress' former butler, said he will not agree to any settlement that denies him a role in the $1.2-billion estate destined to become the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
In an interview with The Times, the 50-year-old Lafferty, who was named executor in Duke's last will, complained that attorneys challenging the will picked him out as an easy target in their bid to make "millions and millions of dollars."
"They have tried to sacrifice me," Lafferty said. "They have tried to take away every piece of self-respect I have. But I've never had a right to a trial of any kind."
Lafferty lives in tense legal limbo in Falcon Lair, where Duke died. The money set aside for him in her will is frozen. And while an appellate court restored his position overseeing the heiress' properties, it is in an uneasy alliance with co-executors appointed by Surrogate Judge Eve Preminger. They inspect his room weekly, he said.
"I have a ponytail. I have an earring. I look maybe eccentric to them. I don't seem to fit into the mold they've all got," he said. "But I fit into the Doris Duke society. And she had the trust and confidence in me over the years that led to leaving me in charge."
"It's not my money, it doesn't belong to me," Lafferty said. "It belongs to the poor, the sick . . . the elderly, for AIDS. For all kinds of things that Miss Duke left in her will. I never thought we would have so many people to try to take that away from those people.
"It doesn't belong to lawyers and the bankers. The Doris Duke estate is not a pie, and it's not going to be cut up. If it is, it will be against all of Doris Duke's wishes and all of my wishes. I will fight to the bitter end."