Petition filed in U.S. Supreme Court, in dispute over ownership of van Gogh painting, in Orkin et al. v. Elizabeth Taylor

    NEW YORK, Aug. 20 /CNW/ - The plaintiffs in Orkin et al. v. Elizabeth
Taylor filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the
United States on August 16, 2007.
    The case concerns the ownership of a van Gogh oil painting in the
possession of actress Elizabeth Taylor. Andrew Orkin, Mark Orkin and
Sarah-Rose Adler state in their petition that the painting was confiscated by
the Nazis in the late 1930's from their Jewish Berlin great-grandmother
Margarethe Mauthner. The three heirs are seeking to overturn adverse rulings
of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the California District Court,
which held that their claim was barred by the statute of limitations, and have
asked the Supreme Court to accept the case.
    The heirs claim that the painting is subject to post-Holocaust
restitution claims, pursuant to US Government policy and laws from 1947
onwards. These laws created a presumption that all property owned by Jews
between 1933 and 1945 in Germany was deemed to be confiscated by the Nazi
government, and therefore recoverable by their owners or heirs. The US
Government long ago warned US art dealers, museums and other purchasers of
artworks which were in Germany during those years to be aware of the
possibility of questionable provenances and the original owners' right to
    "Genocide cannot properly be subject to a statute of limitations, and
there must be an enduring right to Holocaust redress especially in the
compelling context of a case like this," said Prof. Alan Dershowitz,
co-counsel to the Orkins. "The lower courts were wrong to summarily dismiss
this case and thereby deprive the petitioners both of their right to have
their facts deemed true at this stage, and of their Seventh Amendment jury
trial rights."
    "It is intolerable that there are sharply divergent approaches to
adjudicating Holocaust-era claims among the various U.S. Circuit Courts," said
Richard A. Altman, Esq., petitioners' counsel of record. "It is unjust that in
California a Holocaust claim can be too late, while in New York the same claim
could be heard. We hope that the Supreme Court will accept this case and
establish a uniform nationwide rule, one that allows Holocaust survivors and
their heirs to have their day in court at last, no matter where they happen to
live, or wherever their property may be found."
    "The substantial evidence we obtained as a result of the machinery set up
by the 1998 US Holocaust redress laws is presumptively correct," said Andrew
Orkin, one of the petitioners. "We are asking the Supreme Court to consider
also that when Taylor and her art dealer father bought the painting in 1963,
they disregarded strong evidence that our great-grandmother lost the painting
in Berlin in the late 1930's as a result of Nazi coercion."
    The brochure published for Taylor by Christie's auction house, when she
tried to sell the van Gogh in 1990, acknowledges that Mrs. Mauthner was "among
the first and most important collectors and patrons of van Gogh's work in
Germany". It also referenced the authoritative catalogues raisonnées by the
renowned van Gogh expert Dr. J.B. de la Faille.
    But, petitioners argue, Taylor's 1990 brochure did not disclose that the
painting was registered in the two latest (1939 and 1970) catalogues
raisonnées as having been owned in Berlin by Mrs. Mauthner in 1937 or later.
Instead, the brochure said only that Mauthner "kept the picture until at least
    They also argue that Taylor's brochure asserted, contrary to the
provenance in the two de la Faille catalogues raisonnées, that two dealers had
owned the van Gogh between Mauthner and collector Alfred Wolf, from whom
Taylor bought the painting when it surfaced in London in 1963. Wolf sold the
painting that year to Taylor through Sotheby's, which disclaimed any warranty
of good title.
    The Orkins' petition asks the Supreme Court to determine:
    -   Whether three 1998 federal statutes intended to address the plight of
        Holocaust victims and to facilitate the restitution of property taken
        from them during the Nazi era create an implied private right of
        action for the recovery of works of art by their heirs.
    -   Whether the consistent U.S. public policy since 1947, mandating that
        such property be returned to its rightful owners, without regard to
        the rights of intervening purchasers or statutes of limitations,
        requires uniform national rules governing actions to recover such
    -   Whether and under what circumstances a plaintiff is entitled to a
        hearing to determine whether there was sufficient diligence in
        investigating the facts before suing, and whether the statute of
        limitations should be suspended.

    The Supreme Court is expected to rule sometime in the fall as to whether
it will accept the case.

For further information:

For further information: Richard A. Altman, Esq., (917) 353-4077,
altmanlaw( at )earthlink( dot )net; Prof. Alan Dershowitz, (617) 496-2187;
Andrew Orkin, (905) 537-2553

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