Astor Trial: The Weekly Recap

Summer's here (supposedly) and that means television's gone bad. But while you wait for the next season of your favorite show to begin again next fall, there's always the ongoing, glorious, convoluted Astor trial, now rolling into its eighth week, to feed your drama fix. But just in case you haven't been reading all the stories about the case in the papers, we've gone ahead and recapped what you missed. This week's installment: "The Codicil." Join us after the jump, won't you?

Since Monday, the prosecution and defense have wrangled over whether Mrs. Astor knew what the hell was up when she signed a piece of paper, the codicil to her will, which gave her son, the accused, Anthony Marshall, control of $60 million of her estate.

The prosecution has spent the entire trial trying to prove that Mrs. Astor, who suffered from Alzheimer's, didn't have the mental clarity to sign a piece of paper granting someone $60 mil. Her son and her estate planning lawyer Francis X. Morrissey Jr.—also accused—were leaning on her, hard, they clam, and manipulated her into giving her boychik more of her fortune. The defense has argued, well, yeah, Mrs. Astor was out of it some of the time—but not all of the time. And that time she agreed to give her son $60 million? Sharp as a tack.

So, to the stand comes G. Warren Whitaker, the estate lawyer who drafted the codicil and explained it to Mrs. Astor. Because this really is the greatest show in New York City, before Whitaker could begin giving testimony, the defense asked for a mistrial, because the judge in the case, Justice A. Kirke Bartley Jr., had told a joke. Apparently, the trial was halted on June 10th because Marshall took ill. (The dude is 85. Every day should be a sick day.) And Justice Bartley told the jurors to take the day by saying, "I was going to tease you and tell you the case had been settled, but one of you might have had a stroke so I won't do that."

Proving to be devoid of humor/compassion, the defense asked for a mistrial because the judge's "statement may have caused the jury to speculate that there were plea negotiations going on, and that such negotiations would suggest that the defendants were admitting to their guilt." But asking for the case to be thrown out because the judge is empathizing with a jury stuck in a courtroom for the eighth week in a row? That doesn't make you look guilty at all.

Needless to say, Bartley denied the mistrial request. Whitaker took the stand. Short version of what followed: Whitaker sez, "Astor might
have been a little lights-on-no-one-home most of the time, but she
was definitely home when she signed away $60 million in my presence."
Or, what he actually said: "All that really mattered was Mrs. Astor's
condition at the moment that she was having the codicil explained to
her and she was signing. So what people say about the past is really
not that relevant."

Long version of what followed: Whitaker explains that he got a call from Morrissey, asking if he could draft up a codicil for Mama Astor. She wants it, but her lawyers, at Sullivan & Cromwell, probably won't write it up. (Prosecution: This proves ya'll are shady. Defense: This proves her old lawyers were controlling). Whitaker drafts the document and shows up, on Jan 12, 2004, at Mrs. Astor's pad on Park Ave. Mrs. Astor, Morrissey, Whitaker and one of Whitaker's colleagues head for her red lacquered library, sit down and get down to business. Whitaker tells the 101-year-old he's got the codicil. "Good," Astor cracks. "I won't be around much longer."
Morrissey responds, "I'm sure you're going to be around for a while. You're in good health." Depending on what you think about Morrissey, you can imagine that line being delivered either full-brownnoser, or with an evil, "mwahahahaha" gleam in his eye.

Whitaker, doing the lawyer thing, explains the amendment. "I said I wanted to explain the codicil to her—that the purpose of it was to give her son more authority over her estate and to give him property outright." Astor said "good" and "that's fine," and hell yeah throughout his spiel. Whitaker made sure to mention this money would now be able to go to her son's wife, Charlene, when he died. Mrs. Astor took this opportunity to prove even 100-year-olds can gross you out, dropping the following horrifying cootie bomb of a mental image: "Are they still happy?" she asked "Are they happy in bed?"

Everyone laughed. To keep from puking.

The rest of the week was spent in close textual analysis of Mrs. Astor's letters and memos, debating whether she was old enough to have seen the Boxer Rebellion in China. Seriously. Next week: More memos.