Judge Dumps Nazi-Looted Painting Case
Daily Journal - Jun 17, 2003
By Tina Spee
Daily Journal Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES - A Los Angeles Superior Court judge decided Monday
that the court has no jurisdiction over a legal dispute over ownership of a
$10 million Nazi-looted Picasso painting.
"The wrong in this case did not occur in California no matter whose
perspective is used," Judge Victor H. Person wrote.
The case, Bennigson v. Alsdorf, BC287294 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed
Dec. 19, 2002), was brought by Bennigson, a Boalt Hall law student, after
London's Art Loss Register informed him that the painting had belonged to
his grandmother, Carla Landsberg.
Before fleeing Germany during the late 1930s, Landsberg left the
painting with a Parisian art dealer, but members of the Third Reich stole
the painting in 1940.
Marilyn Alsdorf and her husband, Chicago philanthropist James
Alsdorf, purchased the painting in 1975 from a New York City art dealer for
In December, Alsdorf sent the 1922 painting, "Women in White," to
Los Angeles to be exhibited by art dealer David Tunkl.
After the painting arrived, Bennigson sued Alsdorf and Tunkl in Los
Angeles Superior Court and asked for a temporary restraining order to keep
the painting in place until the ownership dispute was resolved.
But before the request could be heard, Alsdorf had the painting
shipped back to her home in Chicago, according to Bennigson's lawyer, E.
Randol Schoenberg of Los Angeles' Burris Schoenberg.
Schoenberg had argued that Alsdorf purposefully moved the painting
to sidestep a new California law extending the statute of limitations on
cases concerning Nazi-looted art.
"Withholding stolen property and transporting it across state lines
is both a state and federal crime," Schoenberg said.
The judge disagreed.
"The plaintiff was harmed by actions taken in Paris, France by the
Nazis during the war," Person wrote. "The plaintiff's claim ... arises not
out of the defendant's activities in the State of California, but from the
activities of a third party, i.e., the Nazis in Paris, France in World War
II, or, perhaps from the activities of a New York art gallery in 1975 that
acquired the painting and then sold it to the defendant."
Attorney Polly Towill, who represented Aldorf, said she was happy
with the ruling. "We believe it was correct," said Towill, a partner with
Los Angeles' Sheppard, Mullin, Richter Hampton.
Schoenberg said he will appeal the judge's decision, arguing that
Alsdorf did conduct business related to the painting in Los Angeles and
therefore the dispute can be tried in a California court.
"We'll be appealing this," Schoenberg said of Person's decision.
"And I expect that we'll win on appeal."
Schoenberg also plans to continue his legal action against Tunkl,
owner of Tunkl Fine Art of Los Angeles, for allegedly participating in
transportation of the stolen work back to Chicago.
June 17, 2003
Picasso legal battle to move
Published June 17, 2003
CHICAGO -- A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Monday that the
legal battle over ownership of a $10 million Picasso oil painting looted by
the Nazis should be waged in Chicago, not Los Angeles, where the suit was
filed in December.
Following through on a tentative ruling made in March, Judge Victor Person
ruled in favor of Chicagoan Marilynn Alsdorf, who with her late husband
purchased Picasso's "Femme en blanc" ("Woman in White") in 1975 from a New
York art dealer.
Last year the New York-based Art Loss Register, which serves as a
clearinghouse for information on stolen art, determined that the 1922
painting had been confiscated in the 1930s in Paris from the home of an art
dealer representing its Jewish owners.
The heir of the original owners, California resident Thomas Bennigson, sued
in Los Angeles for return of the painting, and Alsdorf's attorneys argued
that the case should proceed where Alsdorf lives, in Chicago.
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