The great Billy Preston died five years ago today at the age of 59. Believe it or not, Preston’s estate has never been settled. “The Fifth Beatle” has had his legacy held up in court by a confluence of unfortunate events: sisters to whom Preston was not close have tried to complicate the situation even though Billy didn’t want them to be part of it. Then there’s the matter of whether or not Preston authorized a filing for bankruptcy right before he went into a coma in November 2005.
The bankruptcy case–going on in Los Angeles–has had its own set of odd circumstances that surround Judge Theodore Albert. A motion was made by the Moore team, but denied, to have Albert recuse himself from the case. The reason? Prior to his appointment to the bench, attorney Albert had been sued for malpractice. The firm that represented him — Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith– is the same one he awarded the Preston case to. The Daily (Los Angeles law) Journal noted the conflict of interest. “From March to October 2006, as Albert was still a Lewis Brisbois client in the malpractice suit, the judge awarded the firm $127,000 in fees and expenses in the bankruptcy matter.” Since then, Judge Albert’s first legal clerk has gone on to work for the same firm.
Fighting the bankruptcy is Preston’s loyal last manager, Joyce Moore, wife of R&B legend Sam Moore. In the last few years, Preston– who had an intermittent substance abuse problem compounded by a replaced, non working kidney–relied on the Moores for friendship, advice, and bi-weekly trips for dialysis. The potential of a bankruptcy ruling has nearly bankrupted the Moores, whose own finances were tied up with Preston’s.
“Will It Go Round in Circles?” as Preston once sang. Will all that’s left be “Nothing from Nothing”? Quite possibly. And PS: in case you were wondering, Preston has never royalty from The Beatles, even though he was the only artist in history featured with them on a hit record–“Get Back,” from 1970, which was by “The Beatles with Billy Preston.”
Full disclosure: As I’ve written before, I knew Billy Preston quite well in the last few years of his life. The Moores are friends of mine. I can’t imagine that Preston would have wanted the Moores to go through this much grief while protecting his interests.
And there’s more: the bankruptcy trustee in the case, R. Todd Neilson, is a controversial participant. He’s become the sole bankruptcy trustee in Hollywood with varying results. Earlier this year, very quietly, his own firm–LECG– collapsed under financial pressure and was splintered off. Almost no mention has been made in the financial press about this, that the bankruptcy trustee’s own firm essentially went bankrupt–they were $27 million in debt according to reports. But very quietly Neilson took his group away from LECG and moved upstairs in the same building to reunite with an old colleague–David Teece, who’d been fired from LECG in 2009.