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15 September 2006 @ 08:32 am
Photographer can't have say in fate of Monroe collection  
Photographer can't have say in fate of Monroe collection
Rene Stutzman | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted September 14, 2006

This week should have been Joe Jasgur's chance to shine.

Lawyers had hoped to call the 87-year-old photographer to testify in U.S. bankruptcy court in Orlando about the day in 1946 when Marilyn Monroe -- before she was a starlet -- walked into his Hollywood studio and stepped in front of his camera.

Jasgur's mind, though, is too confused. Earlier this week he told a friend he had just returned from Tijuana, Mexico, although he has been in an east Orange County nursing home and a wheelchair for more than nine months.

So the trial to decide who owns his most important work -- one-of-a-kind photos of 19-year-old Norma Jean Dougherty -- began Wednesday and will end Friday without him. The collection includes photos that appear to show Dougherty with a sixth toe on her left foot.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Karen Jennemann must decide who owns the collection: Jasgur or a defunct Orlando drywall company that filed for bankruptcy protection five years ago.

She also must decide whether Jasgur is bound by a more recent deal, a settlement he signed in January 2005 with a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, working on behalf of the drywall company's creditors.

Trustee Carla Musselman testified Wednesday she has worked for three years to round up and sell the Norma Jean photos and other Hollywood celebrity shots Jasgur took in the 1940s.

She wants the settlement enforced and the proceeds split between creditors of Seminole Walls & Ceilings -- they would get 65 percent -- and Jasgur, who would get 35 percent.

Although Jasgur was not in the courtroom, lawyers and witnesses spent most of the day talking about him, primarily his mental competency. Attorney Roy Kobert, representing an Orlando businessman who bought several disputed prints from the drywall company's manager, insisted Wednesday that Jasgur come to court to answer his questions.

"He can't testify," the judge said.

Last year a judge found him mentally incompetent and appointed a guardian for him. That ruling came seven months after Jasgur signed the settlement with the bankruptcy trustee.

Tom Endre, a close friend, testified Wednesday that he went over the trustee's settlement with Jasgur when the photographer signed it Jan. 14, 2005. Jasgur seemed to understand it, he said. But Jasgur had a mini-stroke a few days earlier, said Elizabeth A. Green, one of Jasgur's attorneys.

Even though Jasgur signed that settlement, the judge is now being asked to throw it out.

Rene Stutzman can be reached at 407-324-7294 or rstutzman@orlandosentinel.com

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