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No Conservator for Coleman, Judge Rules

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former child television star Gary Coleman won a court battle with his mother Wednesday when a Los Angeles judge ruled that he does not need a conservator to take care of his personal, medical and financial needs.

Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin said the diminutive 21-year-old actor’s mental state “does not come close” to the standard needed to place him and his $7-million fortune under the care of a third party.

Coleman, who gained fame as the precocious Arnold in the now-defunct comedy series “Diff’rent Strokes,” left by a private courtroom door after the ruling, refusing to talk to reporters and showing none of the usual exuberance that made him one of the top-paid stars in television.

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His mother, Edmonia Sue Coleman of Illinois, had sought the conservatorship, alleging that her son was being “brainwashed” by his former chauffeur and that longstanding kidney problems had left him “disoriented” and incapable of managing the millions he made in Hollywood.

But Goldin said that after exploring with the actor “at some length” those allegations --asking him about his finances and other personal matters--she found him competent to handle his own affairs.

In trying to change the judge’s decision, the mother’s attorney, James Turken, warned that Coleman was “a good actor.”

“I can tell you, he was not just being a good actor,” Goldin retorted. “The thing you claim, he doesn’t have (mental fitness), well, he’s got it.”

In making her ruling, the judge said she had also relied on a report by outside attorney Arne Lindgren, who interviewed Coleman, the actor’s physician and examined court records. Lindgren recommended that the conservatorship not be granted.

As dozens of reporters and cameramen waited for the actor to arrive, Coleman slipped quietly into the courtroom through the judge’s private entrance. Dressed nattily in a gray pinstriped suit and bow tie, he sat passively throughout the proceedings, clasping his hands on his chest. He was not asked by the judge to speak in open court.

Coleman’s attorney, Charles Wake, said after the hearing that he did not want his client to talk to reporters “in a circus atmosphere.”

Wake said that the conservatorship petition had been an attempt to sideline a lawsuit that Coleman had filed last year against his parents and a former business manager. The pending suit alleges that the three mishandled the actor’s funds and misappropriated more than $1 million for their own benefit. They have denied the allegations.

After the hearing, Coleman’s mother told reporters: “Gary is my son and I love him and have done this in his best interest. I’m not totally out of this matter yet.”

She said she had not spoken to her son for three months, but added that she does not think the legal battles between them will permanently damage their relationship.

Coleman’s mother had served for years as his personal manager until he fired her and moved to Denver with his close friend and former driver, Dion Mial.

Describing Mial in court papers as a “gofer” and a “Michael Jackson look-alike,” the mother alleged that her son’s assets were at risk of financial exploitation by Mial.

Attorney Wake described Mial as an adviser to Coleman and said his client’s career and finances are currently being handled by a professional accountant, a trust attorney and an entertainment lawyer.

Coleman’s father, Willie, who is also being sued by his son, said after Wednesday’s hearing: “You don’t want to know what I think. My thoughts would destroy the whole (judicial) system.”

Turken said he has not decided what steps the parents will take next. He explained that he could refile the petition or appeal to a higher court.

Coleman was born with an atrophied right kidney and lost his other one at age 5. He had two unsuccessful transplants that required immuno-suppressive drugs, which halted his growth at 4 feet, 8 inches.


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