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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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Westlaw Creator’s Widow Sues Lawyers for $7.5M

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The widow of the former West Publishing chief Dwight Opperman filed a legal malpractice complaint against a law firm Monday, claiming its mishandling of Opperman's estate plan reduced her bequest by $7.5 million.

As CEO of West Publishing, Opperman created the online legal research database Westlaw, now a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters.

Opperman died at 89 at his Bel Air, California home of liver cancer in June 2013.

His wife, writer Julie Chrystyn Opperman sued the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery on Monday claiming that the firm failed to properly prepare titling documents for a Phoenix, Arizona residence. Because of the firm's negligence, her $100 million bequest was reduced by $7.5 million, the Superior Court filing states.

In an email, firm spokesman Christopher Rieck said that the firm would "vigorously defend the case," expected to prevail and was "aware of the increasing frequency of disappointed heirs who resort to the courts when their expectations are not realized."

"We regret that Mrs. Opperman has followed this path by claiming that the documents signed by her late husband did not accurately reflect his intentions," Rieck said. "The firm never represented Mrs. Opperman and is confident that we have done nothing wrong."

According to Julie Opperman, her husband left her assets through two marital trusts established in California and Delaware. Opperman made clear, by himself and through his assistant Kimberly Miletta, that the Arizona property should be part of his wife's bequest and placed in the California estate plan, she says.

"Despite knowing that Dwight Opperman intended identified assets including but not limited to the Arizona property to pass from the California trust to Julie Opperman via the California marital trust in addition to the monetary bequest, defendants did not advise Dwight Opperman or Miletta that in order to effectuate his intent the Arizona property needed to be held by the California trust, not the Delaware special trust, as defendants had previously advised," the 11-page complaint states.

After Opperman purchased the property it was placed in the Delaware trust and the law firm told Miletta that Opperman did not need to transfer or re-title the Arizona Property into the California Trust, according to the complaint.

But after Opperman died, the Northern Trust, the successor trustee of Delaware Special Trust filed a petition at the Los Angeles Superior Court for instructions related to Opperman's estate plan.

After the court ruled that the California trust did not include the Arizona residence, Northern Trust told Julie Opperman that her inheritance was going to be reduced by $7.5 million, the value of the Arizona residence.

Julie Opperman is represented by Robert Sall of Sall Spencer Callas & Krueger. She seeks general, special and consequential damages of $7.5 million, interest and costs.

Dwight Opperman committed $150 million to legal education legal programs and judicial programs. His ties to the legal community were in evidence when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the eulogy at his funeral service in Glendale, California.

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