The late real estate billionaire Conrad Prebys gave more than $300 million to San Diego nonprofits. Thus, the Prebys name is all over San Diego. Laurie Anne Victoria, his longtime second-in-command, was named trustee of the Conrad Prebys Foundation. In November, Debra Turner, Prebys's live-in lover for 16 years, did not put her name up for reelection to the foundation board, and hence is no longer an officer. This complicates a suit she earlier filed against boardmembers.
Before he died last year, Conrad Prebys disinherited his son, Eric Prebys, a distinguished physicist. Eric, who didn't find out about it until after the funeral, hired lawyers and complained about his father's move, blaming it on cancer-related dementia. Eric also said that Debra Turner had used "undue influence" in getting the billionaire to disinherit the son.
The senior Prebys's estate-planning attorney said that if the younger Prebys were not given a reasonable settlement, he might win a suit that could drain significant assets from the foundation. So Eric Prebys got $9 million plus $6 million to cover taxes, a modest amount. (In contrast, Turner got $40 million, the couple's posh home, and other valuable items.)
Turner then sued Victoria and the other foundation boardmembers for self-dealing and other transgressions. Turner's suit was a "derivative suit," by which a shareholder of a corporation, for example, can bring suit against an officer or director on behalf of the corporation. At a court hearing December 8, Victoria's lawyers argued, among other things, that Turner — no longer on the board — could hardly bring a derivative suit against her former boardmembers. For a number of reasons, Turner does not have standing in this suit, says Victoria's law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
"My attorneys said I only [had] to be on the board at the time I filed," says Turner.
The issue will be worked out at the next hearing on February 9th before San Diego Superior Court judge Julia Kelety. On December 8th, Kelety ruled that Turner cannot impose costs on others — she can't take discovery, demand documents, take depositions, and the like until the matter is taken up in February.
With a derivative suit pending, why did Turner not put her name up to remain on the board?
"The four members indicated clearly that [I] would not be on the foundation board," Turner says. The other members, who have been named in her suit, showed "clear and present hostility" toward her, she says. I pressed her whether any of the boardmembers actually told her she would not get reelected.
"They did not exactly put in those words — no," says Turner. "But they actually let me know — yes."