Toller Cranston's brothers must pay sister $325,000 in legal costs over estate battle

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TORONTO — The twin brothers of Toller Cranston must pay hefty legal costs to their sister after a battle over her handling of the renowned figure skater's estate that included unfounded fraud allegations.

In a ruling, an Ontario justice ordered Huge (Goldie) Cranston and Guy Cranston to pay Philippa Baran $325,000 after finding their behaviour wilfully obstructionist.

"The unfounded allegations of substantial fraud, made by Guy and Goldie against Phillippa, constitute reprehensible conduct," Superior Court Justice Robert Smith wrote in his decision. "Their conduct merits an award of substantial indemnity costs to mark the court’s disapproval and to deter others from engaging in similar reprehensible conduct."

The Hamilton-born Cranston, whose artistry on ice in the 1970s garnered him six Canadian championships and an Olympic bronze, died in January 2015 of an apparent heart attack in Mexico, where he had lived for 23 years. The painter and author, who had no spouse or children, left no will for his estate worth more than $6.25 million and which included 400 valuable paintings, thousands of other decorative items and two houses.

Baran as estate trustee, the court noted, had to go to Mexico and pay ongoing expenses out of pocket to value and sell the various items, divvy up her brother's original paintings, and package and ship the art to Canada.

Things unravelled quickly among the surviving siblings. The brothers were angered over her sale of the skater's paintings through art galleries, ultimately raising more than 300 objections to how Baran was handing Cranston's affairs in Mexico. At issue were various expenses she incurred.

In looking at the situation, Smith noted just five of the hundreds of objections had any merit, including one accounting error worth $50,000 for shipping and insurance on the paintings. The two brothers walked back more than half of their objections at the last minute, but only after Baran had racked up legal expenses preparing to address the complaints.

"Guy and Goldie acted unreasonably," Smith said. "The abandonment of their unreasonable objections at the hearing was appropriate, however it should have been done much earlier."

What should have been a relatively straightforward matter, Smith said, instead became overly complex.

The brothers maintained their unfounded allegations of theft and fraud against their sister even though the court had warned them several times they risked attracting substantial indemnity costs.

"There was no evidence to support their allegations," Smith said.

Baran asked the court to order her brothers to pay her $390,602 to cover her costs. The brothers said $100,000 would be fair.

In his analysis, Smith found Baran's legal bills reasonable in light of the brothers' conduct, although he made some deductions, including for one bill submitted in error.

Smith noted the general litigation principle of "loser pays" is even more important when it comes to the "charged emotional dynamics" of many estate battles. It's a key way to inject a modicum of discipline into the legal fray, he said.

Lawyer Douglas Buchmayer, who represented Baran, said on Thursday his client was pleased with the decision.

"There were ample facts proven to support the court’s determination that the respondents’ conduct was reprehensible," Buchmayer said. "In our view, it was appropriate in the circumstances for the court to make the order it did to deter others."

The brothers' lawyer, Miriam Vale Peters, said the decision was being appealed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press