District and federal court judges who have been steadily working their way through the myriad of lawsuits filed by Pop artist Peter Max’s two children, Libra and Adam, by the artist’s late widow, by Libra against the personal needs guardian, Barbara Lissner, appointed by the courts to care for her father (who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s-induced dementia for the better part of a decade), by that personal needs guardian against Libra (for defamation) and by Libra against the deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City Court (for improper communications with another judge).
The most recent decision came in a Manhattan district court on 3 March, when Libra’s lawsuit seeking damages from Lissner due to her alleged conduct, was dismissed. Judge Valerie Caproni referred to Libra Max’s “30-page diatribe” of complaints about Lissner, a partner in the New York-based law firm Lissner & Lissner whose specialty is the care of the elderly, ranging from “complaints about limitations on visits and telephone calls to the removal of cats from Max’s home to Lissner’s unwillingness to share Max’s medical information with her”. Libra intends to appeal the dismissal.
Judge Caproni echoed a guardianship court's finding that “the actions and decisions of Lissner about which Plaintiff complains are reasonable and appropriate given her role as Max’s guardian, including her decisions about visitation, the cats and Mr. Max’s medical care”. Libra's guardianship court petition to have Lissner removed as Peter Max's guardian is still pending.
"We are gratified that Judge Caproni recognised in her ruling that ‘public scrutiny over state guardianship systems has increased in recent years with good reason’, and ‘reports of abuse and exploitation by court-appointed guardians loom large’," says Jeffrey M. Eilender, a lawyer for Libra. "The isolation of Peter Max from his family at the hands of his legal guardian, Barbara Lissner, is now tragically into its fourth year. Libra will continue to vigorously fight for her father’s freedom and to expose the abuses he has suffered under his guardian, Barbara Lissner."
In addition to the now-dismissed lawsuit against Lissner and pending guardianship court petition, there is a separate legal action brought against ALP, a corporation created by the artist Peter Max for, among other things, the production, maintenance, marketing, licensing and commercialisation of his art, and of which Libra Max is president and chief executive, by Lawrence L. Flynn, the court-appointed property guardian of Peter Max. That case is still pending.
"ALP is a family business created by Peter for his children, who he named the company after ('Adam', 'Libra' and 'Peter')," Eilender says. "Lawrence Flynn’s lawsuit against Peter’s own children to take control of Max artwork is the height of greed and predation and exactly the opposite of what Peter wanted."
Following a formal request in 2016, the courts appointed property and personal needs guardians for Max. Reports began to circulate that the artist was being physically abused and financially taken advantage of, which may have led to his wife Mary's (his second wife, whom he married in 1997) death by suicide in 2019.
The intervening years have seen a parade of guardians, along with charges of overbilling and abuse of the artist and family members, as well as disputes between Max’s two children. Libra “has filed numerous applications criticising Barbara and/or seeking to have Barbara removed as Mr. Max’s personal needs guardian, contriving ugly accusations and levelling one complaint after another, often times just repeating and amplifying the same meritless allegations”, says Oren Warshavsky, the lawyer who represented Lissner.
"After four years of isolation by Barbara Lissner, Peter is truly at the end of his life, yet he has seen almost no-one; is denied visits with life-long friends; and is only permitted to see his own children for two and half hours, three times a week," Eilender says. "In predatory guardianships like this, it is common practice to defame and vilify family members trying to free their loved ones as a way to deflect from the guardian’s misconduct."
The artist himself “is well cared for”, according to Lawrence L. Flynn, noting that money has become a bit tight, the result of Peter Max’s own payments from ALP having been “cut 80% in 2019, leaving the guardianship unable to pay many of his expenses. I and my firm have had to advance approximately $45,000 to cover Peter’s expenses. Most of that has been reimbursed. My court awarded compensation is more than two years in arrears, because I can’t pay myself and cover Peter’s expenses”. The legal profession, however, has done well by the family disputes, he says. “Libra has had more than 35 lawyers in the various matters and is currently represented by no fewer than four law firms. I have no idea what she has paid them.”
Libra's lawyer disputes this version of events. "The notion that Peter is ‘well cared for’ is false: Peter has been cruelly isolated from his loving family against his will for four years and has been grossly medically neglected," Eilender says. "Lawrence Flynn has mismanaged Peter’s assets, dissipating over $19m of Peter’s income since he took over as property guardian. Mr. Flynn is crying poor-mouth yet at the same time demanding millions for his own fees"
In his heyday, Peter Max embodied the be-one-with-the-cosmos current of the psychedelic 1960s, writing in his 2013 autobiography The Universe of Peter Max that through yoga “I had tapped into a vast creative reservoir that now gushed forth with an unimpeded flow of artistic energy.” he added, “.If you’re not in the flow, or not feeling that you are, do not resist it; be with that too.”
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that the case which had been dismissed was Libra Max's petition to have Babara Lissner removed as her father's caretaker. That petition is still pending. The case dismissed was Libra's lawsuit seeking damages from Lissner for her alleged treatment of Peter Max. The article has been updated accordingly, with comments from Libra's lawyer.