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Nixon Daughters Told to Settle Feud

Dispute: Orange County judge offers to mediate the battle over control of a $20-million bequest.

April 20, 2002|STUART PFEIFER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Orange County probate judge on Friday urged former President Richard M. Nixon's two daughters and the library that bears his name to work out their differences and end a legal fight over how to spend a $20-million bequest.

The judge said it would be a mistake for the parties to battle over the bequest and offered to mediate. All sides welcomed the offer.

Nixon's daughters are feuding over how to spend a bequest to the library made by the former president's longtime friend, Charles ''Bebe'' Rebozo, who died in 1998. Julie Nixon Eisenhower and the library board are demanding that the money be spent exclusively on the library. But Tricia Nixon Cox favors a plan that would give the sisters and a Nixon friend, Robert Abplanalp, control of the money.

Because of the disagreement, the money remains tied up by a Florida probate court, which is sorting out Rebozo's estate. The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation filed lawsuits this year in Miami, where Rebozo died, and in Orange County, site of the library. The suits demand that the money be handed over to the foundation immediately.

Last week, a Miami probate judge said it was the sisters' duty to settle the matter out of court and suggested she might throw out the lawsuit. On Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard O. Frazee Sr. put off a decision on whether California courts can weigh in on the matter and urged the parties to settle.

Frazee said he will wait to hear from attorneys for the sisters and the library before arranging mediation. ''This court could be a great help,'' said Eisenhower's lawyer, John Deily.

''I have unlimited confidence in Mr. Frazee's ability,'' added Cox's attorney, Thomas Malcolm. ''If he's willing to serve in that capacity [as mediator], I think it would be wonderful.''

In a sign, however, that the dispute may not be easily resolved, Cox's lawyer issued a news release demanding that the library foundation immediately drop its efforts to ''rewrite the clear terms of Mr. Rebozo's trust.'' The release said Rebozo wanted the former president's daughters to control the money, not the library foundation.

Malcolm, Cox's attorney, was particularly critical of foundation executive director John H. Taylor, whom he said ''has caused a public spectacle and controversy [and] attempted to divide the Nixon family and friends.''

Lawyers for the foundation insisted Taylor is trying to ensure that the money is spent on the library. The foundation hopes to put the money into an endowment that could provide the library more than $1 million annually. At the root of the problem is the sisters' disagreement about what role Taylor and the 24-member board should play in managing the Rebozo gift.

Cox favors a plan that would allow the sisters and Abplanalp to manage the money.

Eisenhower wants the library foundation to control the gift. Because of the battle, the bequest has been frozen for three years.

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