NEW YORK – There's no proof that a reclusive, 104-year-old heiress to a Montana copper fortune needs a court-appointed guardian, a judge said Thursday in rebuffing a request from relatives who fear her lawyer and accountant are manipulating the aged multimillionaire for their benefit.
The relatives are relying on "hearsay, conclusory and speculative assertions" that Huguette Clark is incapacitated, state Supreme Court Justice Laura Visitacion-Lewis wrote.
But the ruling isn't likely to silence the drumbeat of questions surrounding the status of Clark, who is worth an estimated half-billion dollars and has lived in hospitals for decades.
The Manhattan district attorney's office is looking into how Clark is being cared for and how her finances are being handled, people familiar with the probe have said, and the three family members who sought a guardian are vowing to help prosecutors investigate.
"We remain concerned about the safety and well-being of our great-aunt, and we are disappointed that the court did not see fit to appoint an unbiased, independent evaluator to examine her circumstances," they said through their lawyer, Thomas D. Goldberg.
Clark's lawyer, Wallace Bock, nor her accountant, Irving Kamsler, have not been charged with any crime. Both have denied doing anything untoward in their dealings with Clark.
"I am grateful the judge took the time to parse through the issue, and Mr. Bock hopes that at this juncture Ms. Clark will now be allowed to maintain her valued privacy," said his lawyer, Robert J. Anello. Kamsler's attorney, Elizabeth Crotty, urged Clark's relations to "respect Ms. Clark's wishes, which includes her privacy."
Clark's father, Sen. William A. Clark of Montana, was one of America's richest men in his day; he died in 1925. She has lived an increasingly solitary life since the 1960s, eventually abandoning her sprawling Fifth Avenue apartment for a hospital room in 1988. The childless heiress also owns mansions in Connecticut and California.
She is a great-aunt or great-great-aunt to the relatives who asked the court last week to appoint a guardian for her and to bar Bock and Kamsler from visiting her, presenting her any legal documents, signing anything on her behalf or selling any of her property.
Citing press reports and other information, the relatives accused the attorney and accountant of exercising "improper influence" over Clark, including by limiting family members' contact with her.
The relations — Ian Devine and Carla Hall Friedman of New York and Karine Albert McCall of Washington, D.C. — said she was at risk of "personal and financial harm" from Wallace and Bock.
Bock denied that in court papers, saying he had done nothing more than carry out a very private woman's wishes. Clark is getting assiduous care at a hospital, where she lives — and keeps to herself — by choice, he wrote.
"Ms. Clark has always been a strong-willed individual with firm convictions about how her life should be led and who should be privy to her affairs," he wrote, describing the relatives as "officious interlopers" who barely know her.