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Finally, a settlement has been reached in the long and often bitter battle over the estate of former CBGB proprietor Hilly Kristal. At the center of the dispute: whether Kristal’s ex-wife Karen, who was the legal owner of CBGB throughout the club’s entire existence, signed the business over to her former husband in 2005. The document was unwitnessed, and today, Karen Kristal says she has no memory of signing it. But her daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman, who was the chief beneficiary of the more than $3 million dollar fortune her father left behind when he died in 2007, maintains that her mother did willingly sign, and that the club and the money was therefore rightfully her father’s, and now hers. In a suit filed in 2007 and amended in 2008, Karen Kristal and her son sued to reclaim a greater share of the CBGB estate, and late last week, the battle was finally settled out of court–at terms not particularly favorable to Karen, or her son Dana, who originally received around $100,000 out of the $3 million plus total.
“The thing that I’m mad about is the guardianship,” says Dana, who explains his and his mother’s decision to settle as the result of legal blackmail by his sister, whose lawyers threatened a guardianship over his mother in the midst of the now two years worth of legal wrangling. “I was told they could actually put my mother in a hospital,” he said, speaking via telephone from Karen’s rent-controlled Fifth Avenue apartment. “That’s why we felt we had to agree…You never know what’s going to happen in a guardianship, and I didn’t want that threat over my mother.” A call to Lisa Kristal Burgman was not returned.
So instead, Dana and Karen are walking away from the court battle they initiated–with more than they came in with, although not much more. According to Dana, most of his father’s fortune went to state taxes and debtors, leaving a little more than a million dollars for the family to squabble over. His sister “got most of it,” he says. In the settlement, Burgman agreed not to pursue guardianship over her mother–evidence, according to her brother, that the “only reason they mentioned guardianship is because they wanted to give her less money”–and in exchange, Karen got a small percentage of the remaining money. Dana was also granted status as his mother’s sole legal caretaker.
Still, it burns to walk away, he says. At CBGB, Karen Kristal did everything from tending bar to designing the club’s iconic logo. It was she who turned down the Ramones’ amplifiers when, early on, the club’s neighbors were trying to get them shut down. “My mother lived her whole life there,” says Dana, adding that even at the end, it was she, more than her ex-husband, who was desperate to save the place. “The thing my mother did wrong was trust my father and sister,” says Dana. “That’s what my mother did legally wrong. And that’s how she lost everything.”