Who needs creative law professors when reality gives us crazy observers like these?
Catholic University of America is a private university established by Catholic bishops usually with papal approval, as opposed to a specific order, such as the Jesuits. The school found itself in possession of one of two remaining full costumes worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. It sat in a shoebox in the recesses of the school…exactly where you would expect to find one of the most iconic symbols of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
So the school had the object appraised and planned to auction it off, hoping to fetch between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
But Barbara Ann Hartke, 81, sued to stop the auction. Hartke maintains that the dress was a gift to her late uncle, Father Gilbert Hartke, who headed the school’s drama department and that the school is confusing this personal gift – which belongs to his estate – with a gift to the school he accepted on her behalf. SDNY Judge Paul Gardephe issued a preliminary injunction halting the sale earlier this week.
For its part, the school maintains that as a Dominican, Father Hartke’s vows of poverty meant he couldn’t accept gifts and therefore the dress must belong to the school. This is where someone much more versed in canon law would probably argue that the fact that the AUC is not a Dominican school matters, but that is way beyond me. Plus, he’s legally free not to have followed that edict in this case – he might have had a purely sentimental interest in the dress – so that should at best give a clue to his state of mind.
The school also collected statements from other relatives saying that they think he wishes the school had himwhich is pretty weak, but every little glimpse of his state of mind helps, I guess.
Hartke’s lawyer has little sympathy for the ‘feelings’ of other family members, noting that there is ‘absolutely no legal documentation of such a gift to the university’, in a statement to WTOP . There are contemporary news articles describing it as a gift to the school, which may not be conclusive, but suggests that people understood it as the school at the time.
On the other hand, it’s hard to say the school openly and notoriously owned this dress when they didn’t even realize where it was for decades. It also doesn’t help that after having had it for years, the school never considered it something they could sell until they found it.
There’s so much going on here.
Joe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Think like a lawyer. Feel free to email tips, questions or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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