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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge OK’s Insurance Fight Over ‘Chicago 7’

MANHATTAN (CN) - A judge refused to clear the insurer that denied a $2.5 million claim over "The Chicago Seven, September 25, 1969," a depiction of the U.S. anti-war movement's most famous trial by fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

Branching out from fashion world to the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, Avedon captured the motley crew of anti-war activists and counterculture icons tried for conspiracy to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

The minimal style with which Avedon treated the seven - pictured without their counsel against a white backdrop - was similar to that given to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Buster Keaton and Andy Warhol.

After the work sustained water damage in Richard Avedon Foundation's Long Island storage facility on Dec. 8, 2011, AXA Art Insurance Co. opened an investigation.

The foundation's appraiser, Sarah Morthland of Archive Consulting and Management Services, said the work was worth just $50,000 with the damage, but had a value of $2.5 million before.

AXA's investigator Edward Yee of Penelope Dixon & Associates meanwhile estimated that the work was worth $1.99 million on that date it sustained the damage. He later submitted an addendum opining that it lost only $398,000 in value.

The foundation is now suing AXA for breach of contract, among other issues, in Manhattan County Supreme Court.

Justice Joan Lobis noted in a Feb. 11 ruling on the case that Yee's estimate stemmed from "his belief that remaining damage to the panel did not render the work unsaleable but simply resulted in a discount to its value."

By the time the foundation brought its suit after reaching an impasse over the estimate, AXA had argued that the two-year statute of limitation had elapsed.

Lobis found Wednesday, however, that it would be "neither fair nor reasonable to require a suit within two years from the date of the loss, while imposing a condition precedent to the suit ... that cannot be met within that two-year period."

Filed Feb. 18, 2014, a little more than two years and three months after the damage, the foundation's complaint was "timely," the opinion states.

Robin Cohen, an attorney for the foundation with Benson Torres & Friedman, said in a statement that insurance fight ahead is about a "huge insurance company trying to deny appropriate coverage for water damage done to an historic and highly valuable piece of art."

Celebrating the judge's "well-reasoned decision," Cohen added that the ruling marked "a significant win for the Richard Avedon Foundation and the entire not-for-profit arts community."

The 29-page opinion does toss two of the foundation's causes of actions, as well as its demand for sanctions against AXA.

A spokeswoman for the insurer declined to comment.

Justice Lobis will hold the case's first discovery conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The Chicago 7 included "Yippie" leader Abbie Hoffman, author of "Steal This Book"; and Jerry Rudin, who once appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a bare-chested guerrilla.

Tom Hayden, the ex-husband of Jane Fonda associated with the Students for a Democratic Society, was another of the seven, as were prominent peace activists David Delinger, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner, and John Froines.

Represented by self-described "radical lawyer" Bill Kunstler, the defense rankled the judge by spreading the Viet Cong flag on their table and asking Judy Collins to sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" on the witness stand.

Renowned attorney Ron Kuby remarked at Kunstler's eulogy that his defense team put the Vietnam War on trial.

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