MANHATTAN (CN) – A Russian woman who fought for 15 years to retrieve her late father’s iconic photographs can retrieve more than 3,000 of his negatives, including a shot of a Soviet flag waving over the Reichstag before a smoldering Berlin, a federal judge ruled.
“The ‘happy day’ when this aged matter can be resolved is close at hand,” U.S. District Judge John Keenan wrote on Monday.
He had been quoting his own statement from two years ago, when he questioned whether the docket would ever close on sexagenarian Anna Efimovna Khaldei’s case.
Her father Yevgeny Khaldei, identified in court papers as “Evgeny,” is said to have taken inspiration from the photo of U.S. soldiers raising the flag over Iwo Jima in composing his picture of a Red Army soldier tilting the Soviet flag to mark victory over Nazism.
Khaldei photographed every Soviet leader since the time of Stalin and the Nuremberg war crime trials.
His obituary in the New York Times documented the persistent anti-Semitism he faced during his time at the Soviet Tass news agency and Pravda, which both fired him for being Jewish.
Seven months before his death in 1997, the 80-year-old Khaldei signed a 20-year contract with Kalman Kaspiev authorizing Kaspiev to act as the photographer’s “worldwide agent,” the daughter said in her 2010 lawsuit.
She estimated that Kaspiev seized 248 of her father’s photographic prints and 3,035 of his negatives.
In late 2000, Ms. Khaldei sued Kaspiev in New Jersey state court, eventually winning a default judgment against him two years later.
She filed her Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit five years ago.
Insisting that he learned about the New Jersey action the year after it ended, Kaspiev claimed that he paid $7,500 to the daughter to own half of her father’s prints.
Judge Keenen found however that even if this transaction occurred, New York’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Law would treat Kaspiev as a consignee of the 261 prints at issue in the litigation rather than a co-owner.
While both the prints and negatives remain impounded by federal court order, Khaldei can take immediate possession only the negatives at this time because Kaspiev has disclaimed ownership of them, Keenan found.
Khaldei’s daughter also prevailed on the claim that Kaspiev acted as a “faithless servant,” under New York law.
“Kaspiev’s alleged belief that he was a co-owner of these prints does not excuse his misconduct, as there is ‘nothing in New York law to suggest that an agent’s specific intent to defraud is required to warrant forfeiture,'” the 36-page order said.
Keenan added that Kaspiev “engaged in multiple acts of disloyalty over a significant period of time – lasting not just months, but years.”
The litigation continues, however, to determine what damages Kaspiev owes for the missing negatives and lost licensing revenue, and what injunctive relief should be issued.
Although a conference is scheduled for Nov. 5 to hash out the remaining issues, Keenan has made no secret of his preference that the parties settle.
He said during an Oct. 22, 2013, hearing that the squabble was beginning to resemble “the old Dickens novel,” presumably the interminable case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in the farce “Bleak House.”
At the time, Keenan predicted that the losing party would appeal.
“If I get reversed, if I grant summary judgment, you’re going to have a trial,” he told the parties from the bench. “The trial is going to be very expensive. If I deny summary judgment, you’re going to have a trial. Trial is going to be very expensive. Whoever wins at the trial, the other side may well appeal.”
Keenan warned the parties back then: “You’re going to exhaust all the funds here.”
Khaldei’s lawyer Daniel Rothstein replied that the defense’s “only tactic here is delay, and it’s extortion,” according to the transcript.
Kaspiev’s attorney from the firm Proskauer Rose did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rothstein declined to comment for this story.
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