Fashion Designer's Widow Sues Lawyers Over Inheritance Dispute

Marianne Nestor Cassini, the widow of designer Oleg Cassini, is unhappy with the way her lawyers handled a lawsuit filed by her stepdaughter, Christina Tierney, one of the daughters he had with actress Gene Tierney. So she's suing them.

Got that?

Cassini, a former Hollywood costumer and the man responsible for Jackie Kennedy's iconic pillbox hat, and Tierney, an Oscar-nominated actress who starred in the 1944 film "Laura," were married from 1941 to 1952. They had two children- Antoinette Daria, who was mentally handicapped and institutionalized, and Christina, who was born in 1948. The couple divorced in California in 1953, and their divorce decree mandated that Cassini split half of his estate equally between the couple's two daughters upon his death.

Cassini married Nestor in 1971 and died in March 2006, at age 92. In 2007, Christina filed a claim in Nassau County Surrogate's Court arguing that she was entitled to 25 percent of her father's estate under the divorce agreement.

But according to papers filed by Marianne Nestor Cassini in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2010, Oleg Cassini had actually willed $500,000 in trust to Daria, $1 million to Christina and the remainder to her. She argued that the divorce decree was overridden by the will.

The courts felt differently, and in May 2012, a New York appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that Christina is entitled to a quarter of her father's estate.

Her takeaway? A cool $13 million.

But Nestor Cassini filed a motion to appeal, and on Thursday she filed another lawsuit, this time against Putney Twombly Hall & Hirson, in New York, and two of its attorneys, William Pollak and Philip Kalban. She also sued Nachsin & Weston, of Los Angeles, who consulted on the original case.

According to Nestor Cassini's lawsuit, her lawyers should have challenged Christina's 2007 claim under the statute of limitations. Their failure to do so was an act of "negligence and malpractice." She is seeking $13 million.

"These failures by defendants resulted in a loss to the estate of Oleg Cassini (the 'estate') of at least $13 million (representing the share of the estate granted to Christina upon her successful cross-motion for summary judgment) as well as causing plaintiff to incur significant attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements, and court costs and fees to move to reargue and for leave to renew and to appeal the improper granting of Christina's cross-motion," Courthouse News reported.

Suing your lawyer is not a common occurrence, said John Nockleby, a professor of law and director of the civil justice program at Loyola Law School, in Los Angeles. "You have to show two things—first, that in some important way the lawyer messed up, and secondly that the person would have won the underlying case," he said. "In a legal malpractice you have to show that your lawyer made an important error that a reasonably careful lawyer would not have made."

Andrew W. Mayoras, an estate litigation attorney and co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights, said he doubts Nestor Cassini will win. "In this case, it appears that Marianne Nestor Cassini, having failed in both New York and California -- both in the initial courts and the courts of appeal in each state -- now seeks to lay blame on the only target left," he said. "She feels they should have attacked Christina Crissini's claim on the basis that it was filed it too late. But, it appears that she filed it approximately one year after her father died. Until he died, the divorce judgment provision was not breached because he could have created a will that complied with it. So Christina's claim likely will be determined to be timely and it is very unlikely that Nestor's claim will prevail."

Nestor Cassini is no stranger to lawsuits. In 2010 she filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Vanity Fair after it published a story, "Cassini Royale," about the battle over Cassini's estate. Publisher Conde Nast says the lawsuit is unresolved.