UNDUE INFLUENCE by David Margolick


The Epic Battle for the Johnson & Johnson Fortune
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 The riveting chronicle of a May/December match that precipitated a bitter struggle for the lion's share of a great American fortune. Margolick (who writes a legal column for The New York Times) has fashioned a wonderfully absorbing narrative whose protagonists will strike most readers as being utterly without redeeming social values. In 1971, he reports, J. Seward Johnson, 76-year-old scion of a Johnson & Johnson founder, took a third wife: Barbara Piasecka, a 34-year-old Polish ÇmigrÇ who had worked as a maid in his household. The couple spent most of the their time traveling, collecting fine art, and building fabulously expensive homes. When Seward died in 1983, he left Piasecka nearly all of his $400- million estate. The six children of Seward's two prior marriages (whose dysfunctional, trust-supported lifestyles made the term ``idle rich'' seem like a benediction) contested the will, and Piasecka, before collecting her legacy in an out-of-court settlement in 1986, faced charges ranging from spousal abuse to undue influence. By Margolick's evenhanded account, the legal brawl that ensued ranked among the costliest and ugliest proceedings in the history of US jurisprudence. The clash, which pitted the cream of New York's white-shoe law firms against one another, elicited sensational testimony that succeeded in demonizing Piasecka in tabloid headlines and in tarnishing the reputations of the putatively disinherited, whose briefs conveniently neglected to disclose that their father had made them independently wealthy years earlier. Here, Margolick keeps coherent track of a large cast of attorneys, ligitants, and supporting players, assessing their strengths and weakneses in graceful, often wickedly witty, style. He also has a flair for explaining fine legal points without breaking his narrative's momentum. While there may be a moral to Margolick's dazzling, alchemic reporting on the carryings-on of seemingly repellent carriage-trade characters, it doesn't prevent him from keeping the pot bubbling at a merry pace. (Thirty-two pages of b&w photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: March 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-688-06425-6
Page count: 600pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1993


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