Attorneys hired by the estate of renowned Vinalhaven artist Robert Indiana have agreed to repay $2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Maine Attorney General’s Office for overbilling their client.

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

The Attorney General’s office filed a petition last April as part of its investigation into claims that the estate’s personal representative, Rockland attorney James Brannan, paid himself and others excessive fees in ongoing legal battles that have persisted since Indiana’s death. That money, the state argued, should have gone to Indiana’s foundation, Star of Hope Inc.

The state originally asked for $3.7 million in legal fees to be returned out of more than $8 million that had been paid to seven law firms.

“Every dollar going unnecessarily to pay lawyers and the personal representative was another dollar unavailable to the charity to fulfill its mission and Robert Indiana’s vision,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement. “This office is pleased our work preserved significant resources to be used for the benefit of the Star of Hope, Inc.”

Brannan, in a statement, said he disagreed with the allegations but is glad the dispute has ended.

“I will remain as personal representative of the estate and will continue to fulfill my promise to Robert Indiana that I would administer his estate,” he said. “The estate was valued at $90 million when Mr. Indiana died. My efforts and excellent work by my lawyers recovered an additional $80 million for the benefit of the charity I helped Mr. Indiana create, Star of Hope – an extraordinary result.”

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Indiana, a reclusive pop artist who is best known for his iconic “Love” images with a tilted “O” from the 1960s, followed decades later by a similar design of the word “Hope,” died in May 2018 at the age of 89 on Vinalhaven, where he lived for the last 40 years of his life in a historic Main Street building he called “Star of Hope.”

Indiana established a nonprofit using that name with the goal of turning the building into a museum for his collection and an art education center.

Since his death, numerous lawsuits have been filed over control of Indiana’s work and legacy, which is part of the reason the Attorney General’s Office took notice. A lawsuit between Indiana’s estate and the Morgan Art Foundation, a longtime business partner, was settled last year. The terms were not disclosed. A separate suit, filed against New York art publisher Michael McKenzie and American Image Art, is still pending.

Morgan Art Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against Indiana in the Southern District of New York on May 18, 2018, when it became concerned that another art dealer in his life, McKenzie, was making artwork under Indiana’s name in violation of Morgan’s contracts. Morgan further alleged Indiana’s island caretaker, Jamie Thomas, isolated Indiana from his art-world friends. Indiana died soon after the suit was filed, and Brannan became the estate’s personal representative a week later, on May 25, 2018.

Other lawsuits followed. Morgan sued the estate, the estate countersued Morgan, and Thomas sued the estate – all ending in sealed settlements.

The Attorney General’s Office became concerned about mounting fees in November 2020, when it learned Brannan had paid his attorneys and himself more than $6 million at that time. It petitioned the probate court for a review of those fees, which the court granted. As part of that review, the attorney general hired experts to examine attorney fees and personal representative fees, which led to the claim filed last April.

As for Star of Hope, the foundation and the 150-year-old building on Vinalhaven that was once an Odd Fellows Lodge are undergoing a transformation. While Indiana lived there, the building was dark and uninviting, it’s windows mostly covered by heavy wooden shutters. The foundation has since improved the physical structure and is working to make it more accessible.

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