Robert Indiana poses at his studio in Vinalhaven in 2009. Associated Press/Joel Page

A federal judge has determined that the longtime representative of Robert Indiana has the right to reproduce the late “LOVE” artist’s work, despite attempts by his estate to terminate its contracts.

U.S. District Court judge Barbara Moses this week dismissed four claims brought by the estate’s personal attorney, Rockland lawyer James Brannan, and his New York-based legal team against the Morgan Art Foundation. The judge allowed to proceed one of the estate’s counterclaims that an adviser to Morgan at the center of the case, Simon Salama-Caro, is liable for royalties to the estate based on sales and purchases of Indiana’s artwork.

The latest legal development is a sideline to the original federal lawsuit brought in May 2018 by Morgan against Indiana and his associates, charging that Indiana allowed artwork to be made under his name that violated copyright and trademark agreements between the artist and Morgan dating to 1999.

Indiana, who lived on Vinalhaven island and is best known for creating the iconic “LOVE” image, died May 19, 2018, the day after the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. In response, Brannan filed a counterclaim against Morgan Art Foundation, challenging its right to continue to fabricate his work. The lawsuit alleged that Morgan failed to pay Indiana all the royalties it owed him, and it sought to terminate Morgan’s rights to reproduce his work, claiming that Morgan’s right to do so expired with Indiana’s death.

The timing of the artist’s death and the legal entanglements that followed cast a shadow over Indiana’s final years and have brought attention to his business dealings and the circumstances of his living conditions in the Star of Hope, his once-grand home on Vinalhaven that has fallen into disrepair.

The judge’s decision this week affected only the counterclaim by the estate against Morgan, and followed a similar decision by a different judge last July to dismiss other counterclaims the estate lodged against Morgan.

Morgan and Indiana signed a contract in 1999 allowing Morgan to produce and fabricate several of his sculptures, including “LOVE,” and gave him intellectual property rights to “LOVE,” as well.

In her ruling, Moses said that allowing the estate to terminate Morgan’s contracts with Indiana would impose “unfair detriment” on Morgan and give the estate an unfair advantage. At the same time, she allowed a claim that Salamo-Caro failed to pay Indiana royalties related to purchases, sales and transfers of work that were allowed under Morgan’s agreements with Indiana.

Both sides claimed victory.

In a statement, Brannan said, “… (B)ecause the Judge has ruled that we are able to pursue a breach of fiduciary duty claim against Mr. Salama-Caro for his self-dealing at the expense of Robert Indiana, the result will be a significant benefit to the Estate of the artist, the Star of Hope Foundation and the legacy of one of the most important artists in history.”

Luke Nikas, the attorney for Morgan, called it “a significant victory” for Morgan. “The court dismissed nearly all of the Estate’s case, including the most important legal theories it has been relying upon. And the very narrow areas the court allowed to proceed raise factual issues on which we have clear evidence to disprove the Estate’s allegations,” he said in a statement.

In an interview, he said, “As a legal matter, I could not have asked for a better decision. As a factual matter, all of the evidence supports us and I feel very good where this is headed.”

Depositions in the standing counterclaims will begin this month, he said.

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