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Family's Fissures Run Deep

October 01, 2003|E. Scott Reckard | Times Staff Writer

The battle to control Freedom Communications has unearthed some of the deep fissures in the fractured family relations among the descendants of company founder R.C. Hoiles.

In legal maneuverings, three heirs have drawn attention to 20-year-old lawsuits that claimed their father, Clarence Hoiles -- R.C. Hoiles' first son -- systematically prevented his daughter-in-law, Patricia G. Hoiles, from receiving her full share of the family's wealth.

The lawsuits on Patricia's behalf stem from a trust set up in the will of her late husband, James Hoiles, Clarence Hoiles' only son, who died in 1964. The will named Clarence as trustee.

Income from the trust was to go to Patricia Hoiles -- or "Pat G" as she is known in the family -- until her death or remarriage, and then to Clarence's three daughters: Patricia Wallace, Judith Ann Threshie and Mary Elizabeth Bassett.

Clarence Hoiles died in 1981. Patricia Hoiles' lawsuits, filed after his death, contended that he minimized her income from the trust, vastly underestimated the value of its holdings and cut her out of lucrative partnerships and leasing deals offered to other family members.

The motivation, according to the suits, was that she "was not a blood relative of the trustee."

The three sisters filed a countersuit in 1985 against Clarence's brother, Harry Hoiles, who briefly took over as trustee when Clarence died and filed one of the suits on Patricia's behalf.

The sisters accused Harry Hoiles of mismanaging the trust and of bias against them, since he had clashed with their branch of the family in a previous suit seeking to break up Freedom.

Harry Hoiles stepped down as trustee in 1983 and was replaced by a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, Paul Egly. According to probate court filings, the consolidated lawsuits were settled in 1989, with Patricia Hoiles receiving a one-time payment of $800,000 in principal from the trust.

The settlement was sealed. But its terms are described in other, unsealed filings.

The three sisters are expected to be back in court Friday, this time asking Orange County Superior Court Judge Marjorie Laird Carter to keep Egly from voting the 3.8% of Freedom's stock held by the trust. Freedom shareholders soon will be asked to vote on proposals to sell the company or to allow outsiders to buy stakes.

The sisters have said they do not want to sell the company.

The sisters contend that the 14-year-old settlement prevents Egly from voting to sell the shares as well as actually selling them without their permission.

They also have asked the court to keep the settlement sealed, despite the fact that its terms are described elsewhere in the probate file.

Attorneys for Egly and the sisters didn't return calls seeking comment. An attorney for Patricia Hoiles declined to comment.

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