Walt Disney's Grandson Challenges Constitutionality of Guardian Appointment

Bradford Lund - February 12, 1998- Getty -H 2020
JOHN T. BARR/AFP via Getty Images

Brad Lund, the 50-year-old grandson of Walt Disney, is still fighting for his huge inheritance, and now his freedom, too. On Thursday, he filed an unusual civil rights lawsuit in California federal court. He is suing a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who allegedly violated his due process rights by appointing a guardian ad litem.

The backstory is ridiculously complicated, but entails a Disney inheritance worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Under the terms of trust agreements, Lund was to receive distributions upon his 35th, 40th and 45th birthdays. That is, unless it was demonstrated that he lacked the maturity and financial ability to manage such funds in a prudent and responsible manner. This caveat has been the focus of court proceedings for many years, and Lund has been in probate court in both California and Arizona fighting with trustees and his twin sister.

More on the background can be read in a 2014 feature story about the "Walt Disney family feud," but recent events have further shaped a battle now culminating in a challenge to the constitutionality of a judge's recent decision to appoint a guardian for Lund.

In his new lawsuit, Lund claims success in fending off his sister Michelle's objection about his capacity in Arizona. He was also able to force out some of the trustees who were hostile to him. Finally, after a mediation last March, peace looked at hand when he and his stepmother Sherry Lund arrived at a "global settlement agreement" with Michelle, First Republic Trust Company and the former trustees.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan said not so fast.

The probate judge raised concerns about the settlement, particularly with respect to how it was "silent" on the "suitability of the proposed management of the Trusts going forward of these very large amount of funds for a person with limited intellectual abilities.”

Cowan wanted to know why various conflicts of interest shouldn't disqualify proposed replacement trustees, but perhaps of most consequence, the judge believed that a temporary assignment of a limited guardian ad litem for Lund was warranted until he could get a handle on the situation.

Lund attempted to get a California appeals court to step in to no avail, since the orders weren't final ones and thus not appealable.

Now, he's in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that Cowan violated his constitutional rights.

"That imposition of a guardian ad litem has imposed significant constraints on Mr. Lund’s liberty and property interests in violation of the 14th Amendment, and his constitutional right to due process of law by not having any hearing," states the complaint, adding, "The guardian ad litem statutes of the State of California are unconstitutional in that they (1) vest unlimited discretion in the trial judge to subject a person to a long term, indefinite, de facto custody; (2) fail to provide Mr. Lund with procedural due process prior to taking away his liberty and property; (3) fail to provide Mr. Lund with any procedural safeguards, including but not limited to, a means to have the trial court’s decisions reviewed in a timely manner; and (4) fail to provide Mr. Lund with any post-deprivation rights of direct appeal to remove the appointment."

Lund asserts that his incompetence needs to be proven.

States the complaint, "Judge Cowan reversed the burden of proof and required Mr. Lund to prove that he was not incompetent."

Here's the full complaint.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday. Lund is being represented by Joseph Busch, Sandra Slaton and Lanny Davis, a noted political operative who once served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton.