A filmmaker's widow who has been embroiled in a complicated dispute over his multimillion estate for the past five years has won the first of a series of related civil trials, paving the way for a possible criminal investigation of one of her brothers-in-law.
In a decision issued last week by retired appellate court Justice Robert Feinerman, any rights to "Gone in 60 Seconds II"--the unfinished last movie project of the late Henry B. (Toby) Halicki--were denied to his brother Ronald Halicki, who runs an upstate New York towing and auto-salvaging business and had claimed nearly $2.3 million for work he said he and his company contributed to the car-crash action film.
Ronald Halicki also claimed that he co-wrote the movie and helped develop a custom, car-hurling vehicle called "The Slicer," among other creative contributions.
But while he acknowledged that "Ronald did render valuable pre-film services to his brother," Feinerman ultimately agreed with Halicki's widow, Denice, that Ronald signed a release relinquishing any rights to the movie. Feinerman also cited the testimony of a handwriting expert who cast doubt on the validity of documents that Denice Halicki and her lawyers accused Ronald Halicki of forging.
"We won on everything," Denice Halicki's lawyer, Brian Lysaght, crowed this week. "He got zero and a lot of trouble to come."
Lysaght said he has already asked Feinerman to refer the forgery allegations to the district attorney's office for investigation.
An attorney for Ronald Halicki, Robert Masenga, declined to comment on the forgery claims, saying only that he disagreed with Feinerman's decision and was considering an appeal.
Halicki, best known for his 1974 car-theft chronicle "Gone in 60 Seconds," was 48 when he died in a key stunt during the making of the sequel. Though he and Denice Halicki had a home in Gardena, she now lives in Encino with her fiance, lawyer and O.J. Simpson confidant Robert Kardashian.
Denice Halicki will receive no immediate financial gain from Feinerman's decision. But in denying Ronald Halicki's claims, Feinerman restored more than $2 million to the filmmaker's estate, of which she is the chief beneficiary.
Although the estate was initially valued at $14.7 million, a court-appointed admininistrator has stated that it could end up insolvent once debts, including Ronald Halicki's claims, were paid.