Newport Beach Chabad Center is dropping a lawsuit that claimed late Rat Packer and longtime Newport Beach resident Joey Bishop’s advisors and live-in caretaker blocked his final wishes to have part of his estate go toward setting up a charity for special-needs children in Orange County, an attorney for the Jewish religious center said this week.
Bishop died in October 2007 at his Lido Isle home at the age of 89, sparking an ongoing battle over his fortune.
A recent court of appeals ruling on a separate case unrelated to the feud over Bishop’s multimillion-dollar estate has blocked Newport Chabad from pursuing its civil case, said Doug Smith, an attorney for the religious center.
“The court ruled [in an unrelated case] that if the lawyer doesn’t make a will the way the decedent wishes, the person who was left out doesn’t have any recourse against the lawyer,” Smith said. “It’s an interesting Catch 22 — It changes the landscape as far as civil action against Joey Bishop’s lawyers goes.”
Newport Chabad will now turn its attention to Los Angeles probate court, where it will continue to try to recover money from Bishop’s estate, Smith said.
The religious center claims Bishop wanted his estate to go toward setting up an entity called the Joey Bishop Foundation to fund a charitable program to help disabled children in Orange County
In a suit filed earlier this year in Orange County Superior Court, Newport Beach Chabad asked for damages in excess of $10 million for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims, according to court documents.
The suit named Nora Garibotti, Bishop’s former golfing companion, who lived with him in the later years of his life, Bishop’s agent, Ed “Hook” Hookstratten, Bishop’s financial advisor, Myles Hymes and Orange County attorney James “Kimo” McCormick as defendants.
Newport Beach Chabad claimed 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.
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, the lawsuit claimed.
Garibotti’s attorneys disputed the claim and contend Bishop was alert and competent up until the final months of his life.
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 claimed 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 alleged. “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.”
Newport Beach Chabad’s director Rabbi Reuven Mintz, who declined to comment this week on the lawsuit, was a longtime friend and spiritual advisor to Bishop. Mintz claims Bishop told him and others he wanted his estate to go to charity.
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. Newport Beach Chabad now runs its own chapter of the Friendship Circle in Orange County, without support from Bishop’s estate. The program partners teenage volunteers with special-needs children for a variety of activities.
Bishop decided in 2005 that he did not want to leave his money to charity, attorney Robert Julian, who represents Garibotti, said earlier this year.
“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 told the Daily Pilot in March.
Calls to Julian were not immediately returned on Wednesday. Adam Streisand, an attorney for McCormick, also could not immediately be reached for comment.