Laurie Anne Victoria, the late Conrad Prebys's long-time second-in-command and chief financial officer who is now chief executive of the firm that made him a billionaire, has hired two top Los Angeles attorneys to battle the lawsuit that Prebys's "life partner," Debra Turner, filed in Superior Court May 15 against Victoria and three other persons on the board of the Prebys Foundation.
Scott A. Edelman and Alex Mircheff, partners of Los Angeles-based firm Gibson Dunn, are representing Victoria, who was head of the trust that actually set up the foundation. They haven't decided yet whether to countersue, try to get the suit thrown out of court, or use some other strategy to defeat it.
At last year's services for Prebys, who gave more than $300 million to San Diego nonprofits, Turner and Victoria were very close, planning and dominating the operation, according to Conrad Prebys's only son, Eric Prebys, a PhD and noted physicist. It was after those services that Eric Prebys learned that he had been completely cut out of his father's will, having been disinherited in several downward moves of the amount he was to get, beginning at $20 million. Conrad Prebys had left his family after a divorce, when Eric Prebys was only two years old. When he was 16, Eric Prebys found his father -- then wealthy and no longer plagued by an alcohol problem -- and, he says, they had a good relationship for more than 35 years. Conrad Prebys would visit Eric and his family every year.
Eric believes that Debra Turner applied "undue pressure" to get Conrad to disinherit him.
According to knowledgeable sources, Debra Turner will inherit $40 million from the late Conrad Prebys, plus his Point Loma home, worth an estimated $5 million, and its contents.
Eric Prebys hired attorneys to challenge the disinheritance. San Diego attorney James Lauth, who had been Conrad Prebys's estate planning attorney, feared that Eric had such a good case that he could get a huge chunk of his father's estate, thus severely weakening the foundation. (Lauth has not returned calls for comment.) In a settlement, the son got $9 million plus $6 million that would ultimately be paid to the Internal Revenue Service.
Debra Turner, president of the foundation, hit the roof over the settlement, claiming that Eric Prebys should get nothing. She demanded that the other foundation board members — Victoria, Joseph Gronotte, Gregory Rogers and Anthony Cortes — reverse the vote that permitted the settlement. When they refused, she filed a lawsuit May 15 in Superior Court, charging the defendants with breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing, and other sins. The foundation will be irrevocably devoted to charitable purposes, and there is no argument over that. Turner charges that Victoria made unauthorized gifts from trusts — a breach of duty to the foundation.
The $15 million payment "was a reasonable settlement," says Edelman. For the foundation, "It was a dangerous claim brought by the sole heir of Conrad Prebys. The settlement was an effort to preserve the the ability of the foundation to be a charitable force in San Diego for years to come." The foundation has not yet been funded, but will certainly get a bundle of money. The foundation is the "remainder beneficiary," which will get the money after all other trusts have been paid and claims settled.
Turner's suit has raised some eyebrows in legal circles. She claims she was "effectively [Prebys's] widow." They lived together more than 16 years but were not married. In any case, common-law marriage is not recognized in California. Conrad Prebys had been married three times before he took up with Turner. "She may have been trying to bolster her standing, her image," says an attorney who prefers not to be quoted. "'Effective widow' is not a legally meaningful statement."
I could not reach Turner.