Judge Dismisses $100m Suit...
Judge dismisses $100M suit filed
against Whitney Houston
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
BY WILLIAM KLEINKNECHT
A $100 million lawsuit that a company
founded by Whitney Houston's father had filed against the pop diva has been
dismissed by an Essex County judge who found the man claiming to be the
company's current owner had defied court orders.
Superior Court Judge Francine Schott dismissed the lawsuit April 5 after
finding that Kevin Skinner, who claims to be the owner of John Houston
Entertainment, had refused to provide information to Whitney Houston's
The singer's father, John Houston, who
died in February 2003, had filed a lawsuit accusing his daughter of failing
to pay his company for representing her interests beginning in the fall of
2000. Skinner, claiming to be his business partner, continued the lawsuit
after Houston's death.
Bryan Blaney, Whitney Houston's attorney, said Skinner refused to sit for a
deposition or turn over documents to prove he was John Houston's business
partner and had standing to continue the suit.
At one point, Skinner supplied incorporation papers that can be purchased at
any stationary store, but most of the pages were blank, Blaney said. He said
Skinner made oral statements that he was a 50 percent owner of the company
while John Houston was alive, but he later furnished a stock certificate
showing that he owned 80 percent of the shares and his partner only owned 10
percent. Blaney said in a legal brief that the certificate was of "dubious
"It looked like it was something he typed up the night before," Blaney said.
Blaney said that when he met with John Houston while he was still alive,
Skinner was the elderly man's driver and pushed his wheelchair. He said
Skinner, a convicted Newark drug dealer who claims he once supplied Whitney
Houston with drugs, sat in a waiting room while they talked and took no part
in the discussion.
"He was the driver at most, and it gave him some prior access to her
(Whitney Houston), which I think made him feel that he was more than he
was," Blaney said.
Houston was a truck driver who later managed both his daughter's and wife's
careers. His wife, Cissy Houston, an acclaimed gospel/soul singer, sang
backup for a number of people, including Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley.
Whitney Houston was born in Newark and grew up in East Orange. She has an
estate in Mendham Township.
Blaney said John Houston Entertainment is no longer a viable business. He
said Skinner pressed the lawsuit even though John Houston's estate, with his
son, also named John Houston, as the executor, had no interest in pursuing
Skinner claimed in a recent interview that he is writing a tell-all book
about Whitney Houston called "The Rise and Fall of Daddy's Little Girl." He
is doing so while apparently evading an Essex County Sheriff's Department
arrest warrant that accuses him of failing to pay $16,000 in child support.
In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Skinner denied that Schott had
dismissed the suit. He said he withdrew the suit to avoid afflicting Whitney
Houston during her well-publicized bout with drug addiction and that it can
be reinstated anytime.
"I know that her father wouldn't have wanted to kick her while she was
down," he said.
Told that court records make it clear the suit was dismissed and not
withdrawn, and that the court stated explicitly that it cannot be
reinstated, Skinner referred further questions to his lawyer, Lucio
Petrocelli said he did not represent Skinner at the time Blaney made his
motion for dismissal and has not seen the judge's decision.
William Kleinknecht covers criminal justice issues and the Essex County
courts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 642-4065.
14 APRIL 2004