Communications from Bing Crosby’s business associates half a century ago are no longer protected by client-attorney privilege decades after the entertainer’s death, California’s top court ruled Monday.
Crosby, who recorded many memorable songs and starred in dozens of films including the “Road” movies with Bob Hope, died in 1977. Yet a fight over royalties from one of Hollywood’s most astute businessmen has continued long after his passing.
In 2000, his heirs sued MCA Records, a unit of Universal Music, and others, alleging they had not paid at least $16 million in royalties due from contracts dating back to 1943, 1949 and 1956.
As part of that suit, MCA wanted access to 59 documents related to those contracts, and the California Supreme Court ruled Monday that any privilege to suppress this information ended once Crosby’s heirs inherited his assets.
“When Crosby died, his privilege transferred to the executor of his estate and thereafter ceased to exist upon the executor’s discharge,” the court wrote.
An attorney for MCA said the documents could prove key in resolving the dispute over royalties to Crosby’s best-known songs, including “White Christmas”.
“The documents were communications between not so much Bing Crosby himself but between his business manager Basil Grillo and also Crosby’s accountants,” said Steve Kang, a lawyer representing MCA.
“They concerned an audit that Bing Crosby was doing in the late 1950s and actually we’re convinced that the issues they discussed in the audit and resolved are the same issues that the plaintiffs are raising today.”