Lawsuit over $3 million estate settled
After three years of legal wranglings, a son's fight to keep his father's estate from a man claiming he had a sex-change operation and married that father ended last week in what has become a precedent-setting case.
The battle between J'Noel Gardiner and Joe Gardiner started in Leavenworth County District Court. It traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"For the most part, it's signed sealed and delivered," said John Thompson, attorney for Joe and Joy Gardiner of Leavenworth.
The probate case centered on the court's interpretation of J'Noel Gardiner's sexual identity and who should inherit the $3 million estate of Marshall Gardiner, a deceased Leavenworth stockbroker.
In 1998, Marshall Gardiner, a former state representative, married J'Noel, who before a sex change operation in 1994, was known as Jay Noel Ball.
At issue was whether the marriage was legal under Kansas law, and whether J'Noel was entitled to part of her late husband's estate.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Marshall Gardiner's son and daughter-in-law, and now the couple stands to gain what's left of the estate -- valued at approximately $1 million after legal fees and taxes.
Joy said the couple has plans to write a book about their three-year court battle. There is no timetable for a release of the book, she said.
Joe said the couple is also planning to open a pinball museum in the future, which would be used by "non-profit groups to use for fund-raisers."
Joy, an executive secretary, and Joe, a Web page designer, said they weren't sure if they would retire.
"We haven't decided that yet, but I really don't think there is such a thing as retirement," Joe said.
Since the case began in August 1999, it has been heard on the floors of district court, and the Kansas and United States supreme courts. It has been featured in such media circles as the New York Times and Good Morning, America.
Thompson said he doubts there would be an appeal.
"Certainly they can go back and ask them to review the case," he said. "There may be some cases they've reversed themselves on, but I don't think this would be one of them."