Attorneys Fight for Financial Records in Yearslong Battle Over Selena Estate

More than 25 years after her murder, a 1995 agreement dividing the net profits from Selena’s estate between her guitarist husband and family band members has taken center stage in a lawsuit pitting her father and husband against each other.

Selena Quintanilla performs at the Houston Astrodome in February 1995. (Image from YouTube via Courthouse News)

(CN) — While the Netflix series chronicling the life and sudden death of Tejano superstar Selena began to hint at simmering tensions between her father Abraham Quintanilla II and husband Chris Perez, the real-life family drama involving the late singer’s estate is unfolding in a Corpus Christi courtroom with the latest series of rulings Tuesday.

More than 25 years after her murder, Selena’s fortune, and a 1995 estate properties agreement dividing the net profits from her estate between her guitarist husband and family band members, have become front and center in a lawsuit spurred by Perez’s 2012 book “To Selena, With Love” and a now-axed deal four years later to transform it into a television series.

Quintanilla, 81, says both deals are an “unauthorized exploitation” of the agreement, which doled out 25% of the estate’s net profits between Perez, Quintanilla and siblings A.B. Quintanilla III and Suzette Quintanilla, who as children in 1981 joined their youngest sister to form Selena y Los Dinos with their father as manager.

Quintanilla claims in court documents to be the exclusive owner of all rights to the entertainment properties, “including the rights to author or authorize a television production commercially exploiting the name, image and likeness of Selena.”

And that is exactly what his former son-in-law was trying to do, according to Quintanilla, whose December 2016 lawsuit came the same month that Perez and Endemol Shine North America announced details of Perez’s TV project, and just as Suzette Quintanilla was marketing her own idea for a television show. Netflix eventually greenlit “Selena: The Series” with Suzette Quintanilla listed as an executive producer. Part two of the Netflix series is scheduled to premier May 14 on the streaming service.

Perez’s attorney James E. Pennington of Richmond, Texas, argued at a hearing on Tuesday revolving around the production of financial documents that the guitarist was still in a state of shock and mourning in the weeks following his wife’s tragic murder when he signed the agreement. Perez’s legal team has claimed in court filings that the documents Quintanilla approached Perez to sign, supposedly to prevent piracy, should be invalidated.

“Because Mr. Perez was basically defrauded into entering into that agreement, that agreement ought to go away,” Pennington said Tuesday.

Perez, 51, who married Selena against her father’s wishes on April 2, 1992, claimed in a counter complaint that the family patriarch’s deceit voided the agreement and that he should be free to share details of his marriage however he chooses. But if the agreement is deemed to be valid, Perez is demanding a full accounting of all payments from the estate that he is entitled to.

Claims seeking to terminate the agreement, which he profited from, are “clearly time barred” by the four-year statute of limitations in Texas, according to Quintanilla’s attorney Thomas Richards, a partner with the Beverly Hills law firm Singh, Singh & Trauben, who added that Perez “can’t have it both ways.”

Nueces County Judge David Stith order Perez to hand over bank statements for the past seven years reflecting all sources of income both professionally and personally. Quintanilla’s attorneys had requested bank statements dating back to 1995, which became a source of argument Tuesday after Perez’s attorneys said statements reflecting from 2014 to present were “all we could find.”

A trailblazing icon in the Mexican American community who broke gender and ethnic barriers to achieve remarkable fame just as her life was cut short at 23 years old, Selena is as revered and relevant as ever more than 25 years after her murder. And it’s not just for her cumbia-inspired dance moves and catalog of mega hits like “Como La Flor,” “Dreaming of You” and “No Me Queda Más” that has attracted a new generation of fans, the creation of college courses exploring her life and a collection of accolades to include an upcoming Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at this year’s Grammy ceremonies in March. 

Her crossover appeal, status as a trend-setting role model and a symbol of Latino success have all translated into lucrative deals after her death, from Selena tribute albums to various merchandising and licensing partnerships including a popular line of MAC Cosmetic products, dolls, mugs and apparel items. And the 1997 biopic named after Selena that grossed $35 million was nominated last month by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for inclusion into the National Film Registry for 2021.

If Perez is successful at having the agreement rescinded, it could open the door to a treasure-trove of never-before-shared stories about his marriage with the Queen of Tejano before she was tragically murdered in a Corpus Christi hotel by her fan club president in the midst of a dispute over money and, ironically, financial records.

A trial date is tentatively scheduled for June 15 in Nueces County court if mediation talks in April are not successful.

Stith declined to rule on a request from Quintanilla’s attorneys to limit the scope of his deposition to exclude any of Perez’s contract claims related to the 1995 agreement. The judge said he would make himself available on the date of Quintanilla’s deposition to make instant rulings on any attorney objections.

“Asking Mr. Quintanilla about events from 1995 on time-barred claims is the definition of unduly burdensome, harassing and annoying,” Richards said, adding that while his client isn’t facing any serious health issues, he will turn 82 on Feb. 20.

“Mr. Pennington mentions that Mr. Perez was grieving, well for Mr. Quintanilla this is a very difficult time period to revisit as well,” the attorney added.

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