walt-disney’s-grandson-seeking-ouster-of-judge-who-wrongly-asserted-he-has-down-syndrome

Walt Disney’s grandson is asking state judicial watchdogs to remove a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge from the bench for asserting falsely that he may have Down syndrome and lodging other personal attacks.

Bradford Lund, 50, of Arizona and his stepmother, Sherry Lund, each submitted letters Thursday, Dec. 17, to the California Commission on Judicial Performance seeking to remove Judge David Cowan for alleged ethics violations. Cowan declined comment on the accusations Thursday, Dec. 17.

Lund alleged Cowan showed ethical bias in siding with “hostile trustees” in a 15-year probate fight to keep the Disney heir from managing his part of a multimillion-dollar inheritance. The Lunds’ complaints include a statement made by Cowan in open court in June 2019: “Do I want to give 200 million dollars effectively to someone who may suffer from Down syndrome? The answer is no.”

DNA testing during an earlier probate case in Arizona found that Bradford Lund did not have Down syndrome and was capable of handling his own financial affairs. Cowan, however, did not recognize the Arizona ruling when trustees took the case to Los Angeles.

“Judge Cowan’s defense that he … used the word ‘may’ ignores the fact that he knew the word ‘may’ was contradicted by the genetic test.” said a statement from Bradford Lund’s attorneys, including high-powered Lanny J. Davis of Washington, D.C.

‘Bias, personal animus’

“He’s shown himself to be willing to act with bias, personal animus, makes willing false statements … he’s unsuited to be a judge,” Davis said at a news conference Thursday.

Attorneys for the Lunds submitted to the commission dozens of alleged improper statements made by Cowan in a court order attacking Bradford Lund’s lead lawyer, Sandra Slaton of Scottsdale, Arizona. Slaton had filed a federal lawsuit against Cowan on Lund’s behalf for the Down syndrome remark. The lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality and is pending appeal.

Cowan has removed himself from the Lund case and is no longer sitting in probate court. But before his recent departure, he issued an an order demanding that Slaton show why she shouldn’t be disqualified from the case for what he perceived as a conflict of interest. Cowan alleged falsely that Slaton’s husband was a witness in the Arizona case, said attorneys for Bradford Lund.

The Lunds allege Cowan made other willfully false, misleading, or reckless statements in his order to show cause against Slaton, as well as in prior court hearings and written opinions.

Additionally, Cowan has shown “personal animus” against Bradford Lund and Slaton in the court proceedings, the Lunds say.

And Cowan, in issuing his order against Slaton, has turned himself into an adversary in the litigation.

Besides the Lunds, the two letters to the commission were signed by attorneys Dario Frommer, formerly minority leader of the California state Assembly, and Joseph P. Busch. Writing a separate letter was Lauriann Wright, the attorney for Sherry Lund and a veteran of the probate court system.

Bradford Lund’s battle is larger than with a judge he perceives to be bad, but is an indictment of the entire probate court system across the nation.

Trapped in probate system

Disney’s grandson is trapped in a system susceptible to predatory guardians, trustees, fiduciaries and others who command large salaries for their representation — all paid by the client but not necessarily for the well-being of the client.

The court probate system is, among other things, intended to protect the elderly and disabled from being victimized by family members and others. But it is a system that incentivizes abuse. The longer the client is deemed incapable of managing his or her own affairs, the longer the guardian, attorneys and others get paid. And the clients — as well as close relatives — get no say over where they live, who they see and how their money is spent.

“It’s the court’s dirty little secret,” Slaton said Thursday.

In the case of Bradford Lund, he is trying to break free from trustees who have retained custody of his inheritance money.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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