Chabad files suit for estate

Longtime Newport Beach resident and Rat Pack comedian Joey Bishop’s longtime, live-in companion this week settled part of her lawsuit alleging that the late entertainer’s financial planners tried to cheat her out of part of his estate. Now Newport Beach Chabad Center, a Jewish community center and religious organization claims that Bishop intended to leave part of his multimillion-dollar estate to found a children’s charity, court documents obtained by the Daily Pilot show.

Nora Garibotti, Bishop’s former golfing companion, who lived with him in the later years of his life, stands to inherit 70% of Bishop’s residual estate, according to the terms of the settlement, agreed upon Monday in Los Angeles County probate court. The remaining 30% will be divided between Bishop’s agent, Ed “Hook” Hookstratten, who once represented Elvis Presley, and Bishop’s financial advisor, Myles Hymes, according to court documents.

A lawsuit Newport Beach Chabad Center filed last week in Orange County Superior Court claims that Bishop’s attorney, agent, financial advisor and live-in caretaker blocked Bishop’s final wishes to have part of his estate go toward setting up a charity for special-needs children in Orange County.

Chabad’s suit names Hookstratten, Orange County attorney James “Kimo” McCormick, Hymes and Garibotti.

Newport Beach Chabad is seeking damages in excess of $10 million for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims, according to court documents.

The lawsuit claims Bishop intended to leave part of his money to Chabad to benefit the charity’s programs for special-needs children, but Hookstratten, Garibotti, Hymes and McCormick took advantage of the Rat Packer’s deteriorating mental faculties to usurp his estate.

In the suit, Chabad claims Bishop’s mental and physical health deteriorated over the final years of his life. Bishop, who once performed with other Rat Pack legends such as Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in September 2004.

By that time, Bishop had trouble remembering the names of his deceased wife, grandchildren and his fellow Rat Pack members, according to legal documents. Bishop also could not identify Garibotti as his caretaker, and mistakenly identified her as a male assistant during an examination by a neurologist, the lawsuit claims.

Garibotti’s attorneys dispute the claim and contend Bishop was alert and competent up until the final months of his life.

Bishop died in October 2007 at his Lido Isle home at the age of 89.

Although Garibotti has claimed in legal documents she was Bishop’s longtime, live-in companion after the death of his wife, Sylvia Bishop, in 1999, Chabad claims in legal papers Garibotti was only a housekeeper and caretaker.

“Mr. Bishop became unable to distinguish between his personal and professional relationships, frequently characterizing anyone who visited him as “a dear friend,’ ” the lawsuit alleges. “Mr. Bishop was acutely vulnerable to the suggestions of others, was no longer able to determine his own wishes and best interests, and was subject to the exercise of influence by others.”

Garibotti’s attorney, Robert Julian, claims stacks of letters and cards sent between Bishop and his client show the pair had an intimate relationship that began when Garibotti was 18 years old.

“They had a loving and caring relationship that lasted 20 years,” Julian said. “When Nora walked into the room, Joey’s eyes lit up.”

Newport Beach Chabad’s director Rabbi Reuven Mintz was a longtime friend and spiritual advisor to Bishop, according to legal papers.

Bishop told Mintz he wanted Chabad to use his estate to form an entity called the Joey Bishop Foundation and fund a charitable program to help disabled children in Orange County, according to court documents. At Bishop’s encouragement, Mintz traveled to Michigan in 2002 to meet with the founders of Friendship Circle, a program that offers support for children with special needs and their families, according to the lawsuit. Bishop prominently displayed a proposal outlining the Friendship Circle program on his coffee table until Garibotti threw it out in 2005, the lawsuit claims.

“Bishop in the years before he died set up another entity to have this children’s organization started,” Steven Silverstein said, an attorney for Newport Beach Chabad. “We have all kinds of e-mails and letters from attorneys to back that up they themselves made in their files. Whatever they did to change it was without Bishop’s knowledge.”

Bishop decided in 2005 that he did not want to leave his money to charity, Julian claims. Mintz stopped visiting Bishop after the entertainer told him he no longer had any interest in setting up a children’s charity, he claims.

“In my opinion, it’s unfortunate that the rabbi has not apparently accepted Joey Bishop’s decision that he did not want to provide any more to charity because he had already provided so much over the years,” Julian said. “If the rabbi cared so much about Joey Bishop, why did he stop coming to his house?”

Newport Beach Chabad now runs its own chapter of the Friendship Circle in Orange County. The program partners teenage volunteers with special-needs children for a variety of activities. Mintz announced plans earlier this year to expand Friendship Circle’s enrollment by at least 50%.

Bishop’s attorney, James McCormick, began visiting the entertainer’s home every week in 2004 “ingratiating himself” with Bishop, according to the legal documents.

“During this period of time, Mr. Bishop was also subject to the direct and continuing influence of Garibotti, who controlled every aspect of Mr. Bishop’s daily existence and who decided what persons would be allowed to visit Mr. Bishop.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that McCormick wrote a proposal and presented it to Bishop stating that up to $2.4 million from the entertainer’s survivor’s trust fund be split between McCormick and Garibotti. A later draft of the document eliminated the gift to McCormick, but proposed dividing Bishop’s estate between Garibotti, Hookstratten and Hymes. Any mention of a charitable donation was eliminated in the process, according to the lawsuit.

“The case has absolutely no merit,” McCormick’s attorney, Adam Streisand said. “It’s completely frivolous and I expect it’s going to be thrown out of court so fast it’s going to make your head spin.”


Reporter BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at brianna.bailey@latimes.com.

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