Attorney: Dispute over Elmore Leonard archives settled
Pontiac — A dispute over $1.1 million a university paid for the personal papers of renowned author Elmore Leonard has been quietly resolved in mediation, an attorney for the ex-wife of the late writer said Wednesday.
Christine Leonard, who had been married to Leonard for 18 years before their December 2012 divorce, sued Leonard’s company, trust and her former stepson, claiming all three engaged in a secretive plan to sell off the best-selling author’s archives after his death without her knowledge. Leonard died in August 2013 at the age of 87.
In Oakland Circuit Court documents, Christine Leonard said a settlement agreement in their divorce entitled her to 21.25 percent of the sale of any of her ex-husband’s “literary works, manuscripts, drafts and other intellectual property.”
The same agreement stated all transfers of income-producing assets required her prior written consent. At issue were 150 banker’s boxes containing 450 drafts of manuscripts, unpublished stories, screenplays and other Leonard materials sold to the University of South Carolina in February 2014.
“I cannot comment on any agreement,” said Christine Leonard, who referred questions to her attorney, Geoffrey Wagner.
“There is a confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement, so all I can tell you is that the matter was resolved to my client’s satisfaction,” said Wagner, who has always insisted the author's former spouse was entitled to a share of any sale of materials.
Wagner said an agreement was reached after one day of mediation and depositions taken from his client and her stepson, Peter Leonard.
Neither Peter Leonard nor his attorney could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Court records indicate Judge Jeffery Matis has been advised a resolution was reached but he notified both sides they still had to file a formal notification to close out the lawsuit. Matis has set an April 24 show cause hearing for that filing.
In her original lawsuit, Christine Leonard alleged she never consented to the sale and wasn't even informed of the transaction, which she learned about on the Internet. She alleged that in August 2013, the same month as Leonard’s death, Peter Leonard “secretly arranged” to have his father’s archives transferred from Elmore and Elmore Leonard Inc.’s name to that of the Elmore Leonard Jr. Trust.
Leonard is best known for his crime fiction novels popularized in feature films like “Get Shorty” and “Be Cool.” His early popular writings in the 1950s were western short stories like “3:10 To Yuma,” which has since been made into two films. His net worth has been estimated at well into the millions of dollars.
Tom McNally, dean of libraries at the University of South Carolina, said Leonard had visited the school and was impressed with collections of Ernest Hemingway and George V. Higgins, two of Leonard’s favorite writers.
The South Carolina library maintains the largest collection of Hemingway’s personal papers in the world. Among the collection is a first-edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” inscribed to Hemingway by Fitzgerald.
“That one book is valued at more than $600,000,” McNally told The News. “Of course, most of these materials are priceless.”
McNally said all the archives are carefully stored and maintained and when they are reviewed, it's under the watchful eyes of employees and video cameras.
The Leonard collection is a “tremendous archive,” McNally said, because it includes outlines of how his books were written.
“The collection is important because it will lead to the writing of books and articles about Elmore Leonard and his contributions to writing,” said McNally. “And it will be here forever.”