According to Jennifer Chiba, Elliott Smith’s step-mother accused Chiba of murdering him. Here is how it came about:
When Jennifer Chiba sued Elliott Smith’s estate in 2004, or more precisely Elliott’s stepmother, Marta Greenwald who is the representative of his estate, she was represented by Oldman, Colley, Sallus, Gold, Birnberg & Coleman, Ronald Gold and Justin B. Gold. Chiba first claimed she and Elliott Smith entered into an oral agreement and that he had promised her to provide her ‘financial needs and support for the rest of her life’ in exchange for her domestic services as his ‘homemaker, housekeeper, cook, secretary, bookkeeper and financial counselor,’ ‘forgo[ing] any independent career opportunities’. She attached to her complaint a claim of $1 million. She also claimed she was Elliott’s ‘manager’ and ‘booking agent’ and so was entitled to 15% of the proceeds earned and received on all of Smith’s ‘performances and album sales’.
She had to amend her lawsuit several times, first dropping the entire paragraph about her ‘manager and agent’ role in November 2004, as she was revealed not to be a licensed talent agency, and amended a second time the lawsuit in 2006, pursuing her lawsuit under the cohabitation agreement. The court found inconsistency in the pleadings of the complaint and its amended versions, and Chiba eventually lost her lawsuit after a series of very aggressive attempts, which stretched the case for more than 3 years.
It came to my attention that Jennifer Chiba, being a very litigious person, followed this first lawsuit by a second one, directed this time against her lawyers, Ron Gold, Oldman, Colley, Sallus, Gold, Birnberg & Coleman L.L.P.! You can read the complaint here. So what do we learn with this new document? Chiba reiterates her role in Elliott’s life, saying that they were long-time romantic partners (although this time, she omitted the date 1999 mentioned in her first lawsuit) and that she was living with him at the time of his suicide as husband and wife. But the rest is quite interesting, as we learn more about her relationship with Marta Greenwald, ‘from whom Elliott was long estranged’, as the lawsuit stipulates. If I can’t pretend to know Elliott’s personal relationship with Marta, I know he was close to Marta’s husband, his biological father, but Chiba uses this argument to make Marta look bad as she became ‘the personal representative of his estate because Elliott had left no instructions to the contrary’. Chiba’s lawsuit claims that Marta Greenwald ‘opportunistically sought to assert total control over Elliott’s assets and affairs.’
‘It became clear to Jennifer that Greenwald wanted to take control of Elliott’s intellectual property and master tapes (including unreleased work) and maximize their commercial appeal for monetary gain,’ continues the lawsuit. It’s an interesting statement however the family hasn’t exploited Elliott’s work, otherwise we would have had many more releases and reissues, plus they have set on a bunch of charities, like recently Outside In, a Portland social service agency which helps homeless youth and marginalized people. So they are obviously more concerned to honor Elliott’s memory than cashing in.
Probably the most important point of the lawsuit is in paragraph 3: ‘Blindly blaming Jennifer for the tragedy, Greenwald undertook a vindictive campaign to rewrite Elliott’s history with Jennifer excised. Part of this effort involved denying her certain legal rights that she would otherwise hold as a result of her relationship with Elliott’… visibly Chiba was not happy to have been excluded from the consultants when it came to release Elliott’s work, but we can understand why when we read the end of this paragraph: ‘In addition, the lawsuit would have essentially been a referendum on the truth and significance of her relationship with Elliott, especially in light of Greenwald’s efforts to publicly denigrate it and even accuse Jennifer of his murder’.
Essentially, Chiba is suing her lawyers because she lost the lawsuit against the estate, she accused them of ‘egregious professional negligence’, ‘malpractice, by ‘adding superfluous and untrue allegations to the lawsuit that effectively left it no chance of reaching a jury’. ‘Defendants stubbornly stuck by their imprudent allegations even though they knew the allegations were not true and fatal to Jennifer’s claims’, the lawsuit claims, but wasn’t Chiba herself providing the information or I should say the misinformation and allegations? She even claimed to have some chance for her case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, but ‘Defendants missed the filing deadline for the petition, solely because they made a counting mistake when they calendared the deadline. The Supreme Court thus neglected to review Jennifer’s Petition, and the case was over’
The case was dismissed at the end of 2009.