Apparently the lawyer who negotiated a settlement in a wrongful death suit brought by the mother of Keith Green might not have been officially representing Chinese real estate heiress Tiffany Li, and now that settlement is being delayed and possibly renegotiated.
Jason Fernell, the attorney now representing Ms. Li — who has done all her participation in this case remotely from China — told a San Mateo County judge on Thursday that the lawyer who negotiated the settlement agreement with the children, Alexander Berline, was not officially representing Li when the settlement deal was struck last month.
Apparently this isn't all going to end as quietly as it seemed — and from the sound of what went down in court, maybe Li threw a fit about something in the deal, and fired that other lawyer. An attorney for Green's mother Colleen Cudd, Donald Magilligan, tells the Associated Press that Li "has got attorneys from four different law firms." So yeah, something's up.
Fernell also said that they now object to attorney's fees that are part of the deal, going to lawyers representing Green and Li's two daughters, who are in Li's custody in China.
"All of a sudden, on the day of the hearing, first you told me that you don’t agree with the amount of fees that are being awarded, and then second, you can’t even tell me whether the person who negotiated the settlement on behalf of your client is, in fact, representing your client?" said an exasperated San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Danny Chou, per the AP.
When Fernell said he was filing a motion to learn the amount of some redacted fees being paid to those attorneys, Chou reportedly told him that he could have filed that weeks ago, and said, "That doesn’t make any sense. Your argument, frankly, is illogical."
We don't know all the details of the settlement in part because the court agreed to keep amounts awarded to the two girls private.
"The purpose of the lawsuit was to give those girls financial freedom to ask questions about what happened," Magilligan told the AP. "They are 7 and 9, they don’t need the whole world knowing how much money they have in the bank."
Certainly it must rub Li the wrong way that Cudd is trying to communicate something to her granddaughters with this settlement. Cudd herself is only reportedly getting $100,000 for agreeing not to pursue the civil case — a modest sum given the deep pockets we know that Li's family has — and $50,000 is going to Green's estate.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has continued to maintain, since Li's 2019 acquittal, that she was the mastermind behind her ex-boyfriend's April 2016 murder. Green was the father of her children, and as we learned from a deposition she gave in the civil case last fall, the pair had been together for 12 years, since their early teens. They had broken up some months before, and she kicked him out of the Hillsborough mansion her family owned where they had been living and raising two small children.
Green had reportedly continued to seek financial support from Li, and meanwhile she had let another man move in, Kaveh Bayat. Amid what prosecutors said was an ongoing fight over the custody of their two daughters, Li set up a late-night meeting with Green at Millbrae's Pancake House, and allegedly a hired "bodyguard" and associate of Bayat's, Olivier Adella, was observing all this from the parking lot. Within a few hours, Adella would be disposing of Green's body off a roadside in Healdsburg, and he says he took $35,000 from Li and Bayat to do the job.
Li spent some months in jail, but in April 2017, her family and family's friends posted an unprecedented bail amount — over $60 million in real estate and cash, to cover her $35 million bail. (In California, real estate has to be worth twice the amount of bail it's covering.)
Blood evidence was found in Li's house — and she sent a cryptic text to Bayat the night of the murder saying "green light" — but apparently not enough evidence was found to convince a jury of Li's guild. The jury was hung on Bayat's guilt, and a mistrial was declared.
Wagstaffe has said that if new evidence came to light, he would be open to trying the case again.
One solid reason why Li wouldn't have wanted to see Cudd's wrongful death case to go to trial is that Adella gave a deposition last fall where he was basically threatening to take Li down. Adella was supposed to be a star witness in the 2019 trial, but that all fell apart when he was found to have been illegally influencing another witness from behind bars, his ex-wife.
"Don’t worry, I’ll see you at the trial, my friend," Adella apparently said to one of Li's (many?) attorneys. "Your client … she beat the murder trial, right, because the prosecutor … was just extremely negligent, extremely incompetent with the sheriff. But the civil trial? Come on, man, she’s not going to beat that. She killed the father of her two kids."