Witness allowed to testify for O’Neal in Fawcett portrait lawsuit
A key witness for Actor Ryan O’Neal’s defense against an ownership lawsuit brought by the University of Texas will be allowed to testify following a ruling by Superior Court judge William MacLaughlin on Thursday.
The witness, Maribel Avila, is now expected to testify before jurors next week. Avila, a former caregiver to actress Farrah Fawcett contacted O’Neal’s lawyers, telling them that the former supermodel and Charlie’s Angels star told her that a portrait of Fawcett painted by Andy Warhol belonged to O’Neal.
The University claims it belongs to them, a key component of an art collection willed to the university in a trust formed by Fawcett prior to her death in 2009.
UT claims the two Warhol-created portraits are a set and has plans to display them together. The university brought suit against O’Neal for possession of the painting in 2011, citing that it was part of the collection willed to them by the actress. The complaint argued that O’Neal took possession of the portrait without Fawcett’s consent.
The complaint noted that O’Neal, a long-time partner to Fawcett, was not included in the actress’s wills despite sharing paternity of a son.
Eric Nichols, an attorney for UT, argued that Avila’s testimony should not be allowed. He reasoned that the defendant’s attorneys should have known Avila worked for Fawcett and sought to interview her earlier.
But MacLaughlin disagreed. He said he’s allow the caregivers testimony because she came forward as soon as she learned about the case and realized she had relevant information.
O’Neal has testified that he negotiated a deal with Warhol to allow Fawcett to pose for a portrait in 1980 on the condition that both he and Fawcett receive a portrait. O’Neal claims his portrait has thus always been his and was not part of Fawcett’s trust. The second portrait is on display in the unversity’s Blanton Museum of Art.
MacLaughlin gave the trial team for the university the option of seeking a mistrial, but attorney David Beck declined, saying he prefer the trial continue.
“We don’t want to have to start over” Beck said.
Attorney’s for O’Neal said the trial will show that O’Neal has been unfairly victimized in this case.
“This is a case of greed,” he said.
Fawcett was born in the southern Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi, on Feb. 2, 1947.
O’Neal, perhaps best known for his roles in ABC’s primetime soap Peyton Place, the 1970 movie Love Story and his performance in the 1973 movie Paper Moon.
In the 1960s, while a student at UT, Fawcett was discovered by a publicist, which led to her move to California. Her 30-year Hollywood career spanned television, movies and the stage. She gained fame from her role in the 1970s-era television series Charlie’s Angels. Fawcett had been married to Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors, from 1973 to 1982.
The Case is The Board of Regents for the University of Texas v. Ryan O’Neal, Cal. C.D., No. CV11-05636.