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Malpractice Claimed in Mama Cass’s Estate

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Mitchell, Silverberg & Knupp law firm has been accused of fraud and legal malpractice in handling the estate of rock singer Mama Cass Elliot (Ellen Naomi Cohen). The plaintiffs say the law firm drafted the singer's will, then told the singer's mother that Mama Cass died intestate and insolvent in 1974, and failed to inform her that it had a legal relationship with the bank that was the largest claimant to the estate.

Mama Cass sang with The Mamas and the Papas, which had 11 top 40 singles and have sold nearly 100 million albums. Their big hits were "California Dreamin'" and "Creeque Alley."

The plaintiffs claim the law firm "also had ongoing and prior legal relationships with one or more other creditors filing creditors claims against the estate," other conflicts of interest that the law office did not disclose.

Mama Cass's mother, Bess Cohen, "independently discovered these conflicts concerning the creditors' claims in April 1976 and discharged defendant MSK as her attorneys for the estate at that time," according to the complaint in Superior Court.

The estate was administrated through other attorneys, and all of it went to Owen Hendricks - none to Bess Cohen - under the laws of intestacy, the complaint states.

Mama Cass had been married to James Hendricks, but they were divorced in 1970. They had one child, Owen Hendricks, a daughter now known as Owen Hendricks Kugell, "who was the only heir of Mama Cass under California law and entitled to her entire estate if distributed by intestacy," according to the complaint. She was 7 when her mother died, and MSK acted as attorney for her proposed guardian, according to the complaint.

The will drafted by MSK left one-third of Mama Cass's estate to her mother and the rest for her daughter, the complaint states.

MSK therefore had many conflicts of interest: with the singer's mother, with her daughter, and with the creditors, according to the complaint.

Cass's mother, Bess Cohen, died in 1994 and willed her estate to her daughter and son, Leah Kunkel and Joseph Cohen, in equal shares. They are the plaintiffs in this complaint.

They say that their mother, and they through her will, lost the one-third share in Mama Cass's estate due to MSK's legal malpractice.

"Since the death of Mama Cass, substantial royalties and income have been received that would have provided for the support and care of Bess L. Cohen until her death in 1994," according to the complaint.

Kunkel and Cohen seek punitive damages for malpractice, negligent misrepresentation and fraud. They are represented by Eric Kingsley.

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