SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The sons of the late concert promoter Bill Graham claim the executor of his estate and his estate-planning attorneys “conspired to secretly transfer possession, control and title to all of the archives from Bill Graham’s estate to Bill Graham’s concert promoting company, Bill Graham Enterprises,” of which the executor was trustee. The archive contains at least 10 of Graham’s scrapbooks and 100 complete sets of original concert posters, according to the federal complaint.
“Bill Graham over the years hired talented artists to design posters for the concerts he promoted. … The poster design, including all intellectual property rights, were the personal property of Bill Graham, and he affirmed this by registering the copyrights of hundreds of valuable and historic posters dating back to the 1960s,” say his sons, David Graham and Alexander Graham-Sult.
During his heyday in the 1960s, Bill Graham produced shows featuring The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and other rock luminaries at his Fillmore concert venue, later known as the Fillmore West. He also promoted several Rolling Stones tours and created the Shoreline Amphitheatre in the Silicon Valley with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Graham died in a helicopter crash on Oct. 25, 1991.
The Graham brothers say executor Nicholas Clainos, and attorneys Richard Greene and Linda McHall “assumed their work on the Estate in November 1991, and appeared to be operating the Estate in a professional and appropriate manner … Plaintiffs had no reason to suspect during these years that Clainos and the Greene firm were filing incomplete inventories, hiding assets or planning to wrongfully convert valuable intellectual property for the personal benefit and profit of Clainos. In fact, Clainos and the Greene firm repeatedly assured plaintiffs that they were doing everything they could to be transparent and fair to all beneficiaries.”
However, the complaint continues: “Unbeknownst to plaintiffs, Clainos and the Greene firm had entered into an unlawful agreement to conceal the true facts about the archives, so that Clainos would be able to enrich himself. To this end, Clainos and the Greene firm arranged to surreptitiously transfer valuable intellectual and personal property from the estate to BGE.”
The brothers say that just a portion of their late father’s archive is worth several million dollars, though Clainos and the Greene firm “represented that the entire Bill Graham archives was worth only $305,000,” and filed false estate tax returns with probate court.
Clainos and Greene’s firm also allegedly “concealed the existence of the total number of Bill Graham’s personal scrapbooks and kept for BGE ten or more scrapbooks, which not coincidentally contained an estimated 800 to 900 original prints of some of the most valuable items in the poster collection. Clainos and the Greene firm further concealed the existence of Bill Graham’s collection of 100 complete sets of his earliest and most valuable posters in order to retain those for eventual sale as part of the archives.”
The complaint adds: “Clainos and the Greene firm intended to and did conceal their misdeeds from plaintiffs and the other Bill Graham heirs for many years. However, they made the mistake of leaving behind the evidence, which plaintiffs came upon by sheer happenstance in or about mid-November 2008, when they obtained approximately 50 boxes of documents slated for destruction at what was once the headquarters of BGE.”
Clainos sold Bill Graham Enterprises and the archives to SFX Entertainment in 1997, which in turn sold it to Clear Channel Communications, according to the complaint.
“After the sale to SFX, David and Alex packed up and left the Bay Area, along with their hope and dream of carrying on their father’s legacy,” the complaint states. “They did not know at the time that the man who their father entrusted to protect them had, assisted by their father’s estate planning lawyer, concealed a well planned scheme to convert valuable assets of the estate.”
The Graham brothers demand punitive damages for unjust enrichment, negligence, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty, and want the copyrights and scrapbooks returned to them. They also seek an injunction preventing the sale of the copyrighted posters.
They are represented by Therese Cannata with Cannata, Ching and O’Toole.