Hill was a pallbearer at Coates' funeral. Ben Coates Jr. didn't attend.
Witnesses reported that Coates burst in screaming about forest fires, suing President Bush and how the Irish Republican Army had killed his wife. He had to be subdued by police. Eventually, charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest were dismissed.
Rupp, the Coates family attorney, won't discuss the younger Coates. And Theodate Coates doesn't grant interviews, he said.
Rupp is the public face of Rancho Guejito. A former Riverside County prosecutor, he seems to enjoy upsetting adversaries. Rupp left conservationists aghast when he recently proclaimed, "There isn't enough money in the state treasury to buy Rancho Guejito."
Rupp is an indoorsman who finds the ranch's wildness unnerving. "When you go out there, you want to strap on a sidearm," he said. "I don't get out of my car. Things sneak up on you there . There's a rumor that there's a jaguar."
Equally predatory, Rupp says, is Hill's attempt to wrest control of Rancho Guejito and the rest of Benjamin Coates' holdings.
Hill says he is simply trying to fulfill the wishes of his mentor.
"You've got to be kidding!" Rupp said, erupting into laughter and slapping his hand on a table.
Lawyers for Theodate Coates argue that even if her father had signed the new trust documents, it wouldn't have been legal because the original was to last 100 years and is irrevocable. Hill's purported oral agreement with Coates is unenforceable in New York, they argue, and filing a claim in Liechtenstein is irrelevant because, well, this isn't Liechtenstein.
"Mr. Coates only had trust in his daughter. He had trust in Theodate's business acumen, integrity and abilities. That's the way he left it — intentionally," Rupp said. "He basically flirted with the idea of other business [arrangements] but never was serious about any of them."
The detailed memos and draft documents indicate far more than flirtation. Coates, who spent his final years working through the complicated personal and legal issues of his legacy, may have simply run out of time.
"My father's inability to finalize his thinking and put pen to paper," Theodate Coates wrote in a letter to Hill's father before the dispute wound up in court, "has made things more complicated for us than we all would wish."
And his desire to keep Rancho Guejito from becoming "mixed up with money," as he wrote, now seems as fanciful as this unique expanse of Old California that few have ever seen.
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