LA County judge can’t be sued for false assertion that Walt Disney’s grandson has Down syndrome

A federal appellate court this week chided a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge for “inappropriate” and “inaccurate” comments that Walt Disney’s adult grandson has Down syndrome, but nevertheless ruled that the judge is protected from legal consequences.

A panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a lower court dismissal of a civil rights lawsuit by Disney heir Bradford Lund against Los Angeles County Judge David Cowan, who had placed the grandson under guardianship. However, Justice Kenneth Lee, in his written opinion, called out Lund’s struggle in a system that can be predatory toward those it is supposed to protect.

“For over a decade, Bradford Lund — the grandson of Walt Disney — has languished in perhaps the Unhappiest Place on Earth: probate court,” Lee wrote.

Lund is fighting with trustees and family members over his $20 million inheritance. Trustees contend Lund lacks the mental capacity to handle his own finances, although he was found fit by an Arizona court. The trustees have since taken their case to Los Angeles.

Under the trust set up by his mother, Lund was to have received part of his inheritance on his 35th, 40th and 45th birthdays. He is now 50.

In 2019, it appeared that Lund and the trustees struck an agreement, but it was quashed by Cowan: “Do I want to give 200 million dollars, effectively, to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome? The answer is no.”

Cowan then appointed a guardian for Lund, in the same procedure that has entangled pop singer Brittney Spears for more than a decade.

The judge refused to later retract the statement about Lund even after he was given DNA evidence that he does not have Down syndrome.

Lund sued Cowan, alleging the judge had violated the American with Disabilities Act as well as his civil rights for not holding  a hearing before appointing a guardian. Since then, Cowan retracted the guardian and has stepped down from the case. Consequently, appellate justices ruled this week that Lund’s lawsuit was moot and that judges enjoy judicial immunity from being sued for their actions.

His attorney, Sandra Slaton, said she was disappointed by the dismissal of Lund’s lawsuit, but encouraged by the justices’ recognition in a published opinion of Lund’s plight and the inappropriateness shown by Cowan,

“This whole concept of blanket immunity for judges should be modified by Congress,” Slaton said. “No one is above the law.”

Slaton said she and Lund were considering their next step.

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