In a San Francisco courtroom on Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s family quarrel over the enormous fortune her late husband, Richard Blum, left behind was evident for the first time, prior to a judge ordering private mediation that will prolong the case into the following year.
The issue involves millions of dollars in assets and many expensive properties, including a multimillion-dollar beach property north of San Francisco and a mansion in the city worth more than $20 million, as was already evident from several court petitions filed in recent months. In February 2022, Blum passed away.
The senator’s daughter from a previous marriage, Katherine Feinstein, has claimed her mother, who is 90 years old, is due millions of dollars in estate payments from Blum and needs the money immediately to pay for medical expenses. Before making any significant payouts, Blum’s trustees have stated that they want further time to assess his assets, debts, and tax obligations due to the complexity and investment-heavy nature of his estate.
The hearing revealed nothing about the ultimate distribution of those assets, but it did make one thing very clear: Blum’s three daughters from a previous marriage, her daughter, the trustees managing Blum’s estate, and California’s senior Democratic senator do not agree and continue to have poor communication even on the most fundamental matters.
The trustees and the senator did not show up in court. Katherine Feinstein and the Blum sisters’ lawyer both made appearances via video connection.
Finished Judge Roger Picquet of San Luis Obispo County Superior Court asked the parties at the beginning of the hearing if mediation was something that everyone was in favor of or if he would be “twisting people’s arms” by ordering it. Judge Picquet was specially assigned to hear the case after judges in San Francisco recused themselves from the case.
According to Picquet, when a judge must intervene in a case like this because private mediation is not an option, none of the parties come out on top.
The matter “cries out for private mediation,” according to Blum’s trustees’ attorney Steven P. Braccini, but Katherine Feinstein, a former San Francisco judge, “doesn’t agree.”
Feinsteins’ lawyer John Hartog retaliated right once, calling Braccini “mistaken” and stating his clients were “more than happy” to move through with mediation.
However, he added, the Feinsteins had some other requests in the interim.
In order to earn interest while mediation is ongoing, Hartog requested that Picquet direct the trustees to sell the couple’s Stinson Beach home, in which the senator and Blum’s estate each own a 50% stake, and place the money in an escrow account.
In order to make the planned mediation more fruitful, he also requested that Picquet order the trustees to submit a thorough accounting of all the work they have done to process the estate thus far.
The requests mirrored arguments made by Katherine Feinstein in the underlying petitions on behalf of her mother, claiming that the latter has been misinformed about trust problems and that she want to sell the Stinson Beach property because she no longer wants to use it and pay for maintenance.
The Stinson Beach house must be sold in order for the trustees to fulfill their fiduciary duty to turn “unproductive property productive,” according to Hartog. According to Hartog, the senator would suffer tax ramifications if they choose not to.
The cost of maintaining the land is undeniable, according to Hartog.
In response, Braccini stated that Katherine Feinstein has not shown any proof as of yet as to why selling the Stinson Beach house was the prudent financial decision, therefore her arguments are unpersuasive.
According to him, the trustees are still attempting to ascertain Blum’s obligations and estate tax liability. He added that one of the other reasons the Stinson Beach home assessment had been challenging was that Katherine Feinstein, or someone acting on her behalf, had “locked [the trustees] out” of the property, a claim Hartog refuted.
There “is no evidence of what the senator wants” on record, according to Braccini, who claimed Katherine Feinstein had exploited the “pretext” of her independently rich mother’s need for disbursements from Blum’s estate to pay medical bills.
In recent months, Feinstein’s health has become a contentious political issue as some have suggested she is too weak to carry out her duties. She experienced encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, after being hospitalized earlier this year for shingles. As a result, she was unable to cast numerous ballots. She still requires care and has frequently shown signs of confusion in public, but she is back in Washington and is anticipated to continue supporting Democrats in their efforts to approve progressive judges nominated by President Biden as voting members of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee.
The last chapter of Feinstein’s lengthy, generally well-groomed political career has seen her private matters thrust into the public eye due to the battle over her husband’s assets. She was the mayor of San Francisco before entering the Senate in 1992.
Feinstein’s staff has refused to allow her to discuss the lawsuit, citing it as a private matter.
During Monday’s hearing, Picquet asked a number of questions, one of which was whether Feinstein had a legitimate expectation of receiving some kind of payment, even if it wasn’t from the sale of the Stinson Beach residence, considering that her husband’s passing occurred more than a year ago.
In response, Blum sisters’ lawyer Adam Pines stated that the Stinson Beach property is “unique” and that there are other methods to give the senator money without having to sell the house.
For example, according to Pines, Blum’s estate owns the remaining portion of Feinstein’s primary residence in San Francisco, a three-story mansion on the Lyon Street Steps, directly opposite to the Presidio, which has been valued at over $21 million. Feinstein now owns around 83% of this property.
Pines stated that the Blum estate’s 50% stake in the Stinson Beach home is worth less than its minority share of the Lyon Street home. The senator’s outstanding payments could potentially be settled by purchasing an additional percentage of the Lyon Street home instead of selling the Stinson Beach property.
According to Pines’ theory, the Blum sisters have a stake in keeping the Stinson Beach house.
After considering all arguments, Picquet decided against directing the house to be sold. Instead, he imposed private mediation and mandated that the trustees give the Feinsteins a minimum of a partial accounting of the estate and the work they had done to date to resolve it.
“Some credible accounting has to be given,” stated Picquet.
After consulting with the parties, Picquet also established a timeline that calls for a second court hearing on January 22 and the mediation to be finished by December 11 unless an extension is requested. According to him, that timetable will be followed by the three distinct petitions that were submitted in this case.
Following the hearing, the trustees’ and the Feinsteins’ attorneys chose not to comment.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.