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Lawyers Argue for $210-Million Payment to Nixon Estate

History: Documents were seized in Watergate investigation. Government attorney says their value is $2.2 million at most.

December 03, 1998|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Richard M. Nixon's estate asked a court Wednesday for $210 million to compensate for papers, tapes and photos he left behind in 1974. The government argued that paying anything would "convert a national legacy into a national embarrassment."

"Mr. Nixon is entitled to zero compensation," said Justice Department lawyer Neil Koslowe in the opening exchange in an anticipated six-week trial. But if something must be paid--as an appeals court has ruled--a fair value would be no more than $2.2 million, plus compounded interest, he argued.

Any money awarded Nixon's estate would go first to pay attorney fees, in part reimbursing Nixon's daughters, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox, and his estate for fees they already have paid.

The rest would go to the privately run Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, which contains Nixon's pre-presidential and post-presidential artifacts. His seized presidential papers are in the National Archives near Washington.

On Wednesday, both sides wheeled dozens of boxes of appraisals and document samples into the half-empty federal courtroom. It is in the same courthouse where a grand jury labeled Nixon an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the Watergate scandal before his resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.

Nixon estate lawyer Stan Mortenson, citing appraisers' valuations, argued that if the photos, films, tapes and documents were marketed--envisioning a TV serial and the sale of tapes that still have not been heard publicly--the revenue raised would amount to $35.6 million. Interest, depending on how it is computed, would increase the award to about $210 million, he said.

"Mr. Nixon and now his estate seek no windfall," Mortenson told U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn. "What Mr. Nixon and the estate seek is just compensation."

Congress confiscated Nixon's property, Mortenson said, and the Constitution requires compensation.

After the trial, Penn must arrive at an award for 42 million pages of documents, plus 3,700 hours of secretly recorded tapes and thousands of photographs left behind by Nixon and subsequently ordered seized by Congress.

Penn previously ruled that Nixon's heirs were entitled to nothing, but the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled him and returned the case to him to fix a value.

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