Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Robert C. East Estate Battle Continues

Here is a brief overview of the fascinating case involving Robert C. East, a wealthy Texas man worth several hundred million dollars:

  • East was unmarried with no known descendants.
  • East's will left the entire estate to a family wildlife trust, the Robert C. East Management Trust.
  • In late 2006, East's health started a downward spiral.
  • In May 2007, some of East's relatives sought a court-appointed guardian.
  • A fight ensued over who would have control over his vast holdings.
  • Oscar Ozuna, East's ranch foreman since 2001, claimed that he had worked with East for decades and that East would have wanted him to be in charge.
  • Ozuna had documents that East signed giving him a long-term employment contract at $11,000 per month, naming him as one of three officers of the Management Trust, providing Ozuna with a $500,000 "bonus" upon East's death, and naming the same people as his agents in a durable power of attorney.
  • East's relatives, however, viewed Ozuna as an evil man who was exerting undue influence over East to sign these documents and/or that East was incompetent at the time he signed them.
  • The court did not appoint a guardian but did name an attorney ad litem for East.
  • District Court Judge Alex Gabert sealed the court documents regarding the attempt to have a guardian appointed for East.
  • The San Antonio Express-News somehow obtained these court documents and published information about the fight over East's competence and the testimony of friends, family members, and doctors which contained considerable evidence of East's incompetency.
  • The fight continued with what is called a "secret showdown" where in mediation the parties reached a tentative agreement to have Ozuna and the other two men banned from East's ranch.
  • East's health was failing rapidly.  If East were to die before the agreement was finalized, the mediation would be void.
  • On June 15, 2007, Judge Gabert signed an order approving East's will (a highly unusual and perhaps invalid action as Texas does not recognize the probate of a will of a living person), the settlement agreement, and other documents.  As a result, Ozuna received almost $900,000.  Ozuna and other other men agreed to drop all claims to East's estate, renounce their authority as agents under East's power of attorney, and resign as officers of the Management Trust.
  • On June 18, 2007, East died.
  • Less than two weeks later, the Attorney General of Texas notified the parties that a complaint had been filed about East's case because not all of the parties were present at the hearing in which Judge Gabert approved the settlement agreement.
  • On August 22, 2007, Judge Gabert order the San Antonio Express-News not to publish articles about East if they contain information derived from the court documents, even if they were obtained properly.  Raising significant First Amendment concerns, the judge gave the newspaper five days to surrender any paper copies of the documents and to destroy electronic records.
  • Lawyers for the newspaper's owner (The Hearst Corp.) are preparing a response to Judge Gabert's order.

For more information, see John MacCormack, Ranch foreman is inheriting legal fight, San Antonio Express-News, Aug. 23, 2007; John MacCormack, Judge demands paper return court documents, San Antonio Express-News, Aug. 23, 2007.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2007/08/the-robert-c-ea.html

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Comments

It is what they did to Mr east and his family but the truth should come out and only the persons that work for them know what the truth is we lived there since the late 70s

Posted by: Juan molina | Dec 31, 2015 7:10:46 AM

I knew Robert East well and worked for him trapping coyotes on his home place in Randado TX,as well as his other ranches.I know for a fact he did not get along with any of his family members,except for his mother,and his sister "lica" who lived on his place until her death.

Posted by: Kelly Coffey | Aug 15, 2016 12:05:56 PM

I was told that my father Ernesto Juan Garza of Hebbroville, Tx was Robert East son.

Posted by: Valerie Garza | Nov 9, 2016 8:26:58 AM

He did get along with his family.That first statement is not worded correctly.

Posted by: Kelly Coffey | Mar 10, 2022 10:02:45 PM

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