Gay activist Richard Rosendall, a longtime friend of the late gay rights leader Frank Kameny, testified in court on May 11 that he has returned several items he “borrowed” from Kameny’s house shortly after Kameny died last October.
Rosendall appeared in a courtroom at the D.C. Superior Court’s Probate Division in response to a show cause order obtained by attorneys representing Timothy Clark, the personal representative and main heir of Kameny’s estate.
Through his attorneys, Clark has charged in a lawsuit that Rosendall and three other Kameny friends and associates removed without permission documents and other property belonging to the Kameny estate from Kameny’s house in Northwest Washington shortly after Kameny died last Oct. 11.
“After the death of Franklin Edward Kameny, I borrowed, and held in my possession and control, certain personal properly lawfully belonging to the Estate of Franklin Edward Kameny,” Rosendall stated in a sworn affidavit submitted to the court two days prior to the hearing.
He identified in the affidavit and on the witness stand the items borrowed as “a copy of Dr. Kameny’s 1961 brief for the Supreme Court of the United States; a letter to or from [U.S. Supreme Court] Justice [Lewis] Powell; several letters between Dr. Kameny and an Army official concerning [the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance’s] wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery; a box of business cards; and three or four books.”
Two of the other three named in the lawsuit, Charles Francis and Bob Witeck, have returned items they acknowledged belonging to the estate. Rosendall testified at the May 11 hearing that he helped Francis carry 17 boxes filled with papers and other items from Kameny’s house, which he said Francis placed in a storage facility for safekeeping. Rosendall has said Clark, who lived in the house with Kameny for 19 years, gave them permission to enter the house.
Upon their return of the property last month, attorneys for the estate dismissed Francis and Witeck from the lawsuit.
Similar to Rosendall, Francis and Witeck have said they took possession of the items to ensure they remain safe and properly preserved during a period of confusion following Kameny’s death. Each has said they planned all along to return the items to the estate. Witeck has said the only items he took were several photographs.
Rosendall testified that he returned the items he borrowed to Francis, who returned them to the Kameny estate last month.
“The Estate of Dr. Franklin E. Kameny is satisfied that Richard J. Rosendall has returned the items that Mr. Rosendall removed from Dr. Kameny’s home shortly after Dr. Kameny’s death,” said Glen Ackerman, one of the attorneys representing Clark and the Kameny estate, in a statement to the Blade on Monday.
“However, there are still a number of important historical items still missing from the Estate, including Dr. Kameny’s collection of buttons, handmade picket signs and posters,” Ackerman said in the statement. “The Estate is attempting to recover these missing historically significant assets as a part of the probate process and to make certain that Dr. Kameny’s wishes as recorded in his Last Will and Testament are carried out fully.”
In his will, Kameny bequeathed his papers to the Library of Congress while leaving all other possessions, including his house and car, to Clark.
In response to questions at the May 11 court hearing by Kameny estate attorney J. Max Barger, Rosendall disputed claims by the estate that Clark believes as many as 100 picket signs were taken from the house after Kameny’s death. Rosendall told Barger he doubted that many picket signs had been in the house.
Kameny and his fellow gay activists used the picket signs in their historic gay rights demonstrations outside the White House and other government buildings in the early 1960s, the first such demonstrations ever held.
Barger and Ackerman told Judge John Campbell, who presided over the hearing, that the picket signs and buttons, which are inscribed with gay rights messages, have an important historic value and must be accounted for during the probate process for the estate.
Rosendall testified that he has possession of one of the picket signs, which he said Kameny gave permission for him to take several years prior to his death. He said Kameny also gave him a signed copy of The Homosexual Citizen, a publication of the Mattachine Society of Washington, which Kameny co-founded in 1961.
Mindy Daniels, Rosendall’s attorney, expressed concern during the hearing that the estate was confusing items that Kameny gave to Rosendall and others with items belonging to the estate. She noted items given away by someone prior to their death are not part of their estate after the person dies.
Ackerman told Campbell that Francis, Witeck, Rosendall and Marvin Carter, another Kameny friend, had not responded to earlier efforts by the estate to obtain from them an inventory of the items they allegedly took from Kameny’s house following Kameny’s death.
Daniels said the estate never contacted Rosendall about these items until it filed suit against him in March. Ackerman said the estate did make attempts to reach Rosendall and the other three men.
The estate named Carter as a defendant in one of the lawsuits seeking the return of items taken from Kameny’s house and petitioned the court to order him to appear at the May 11 show cause hearing, but Carter did not show up for the hearing. Barger told the court the estate wasn’t able to locate him to serve him a summons to appear at the hearing.
Carter hasn’t returned calls from the Blade seeking comment on the case. As head of the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS), Carter arranged for the group to provide financial assistance and support for Kameny in the last years of his life.
“I don’t know where we are going with this,” the judge told the attorneys at the hearing. “You can say to these folks give the items back,” Campbell said to Ackerman and Barger. “They can say we did. You can say they didn’t…But we’re not sitting in a criminal court. I can’t convict someone of theft.”
Campbell called on all parties in the case to cooperate and do their best to come up with an inventory of all property that belongs to the state.
He ruled that Rosendall fulfilled the requirements of the show cause order and ordered that he be released from the order. He denied a request from Ackerman and Barger that he issue a “non-disparagement” order prohibiting Rosendall from saying disparaging things about Clark or the Kameny estate. Ackerman told Campbell that an attorney representing Francis made derogatory remarks and false accusations against Clark earlier this year.
Campbell said that as a probate judge he did not have authority to issue such an order.
“I always hope that people will be civil,” he said.
The judge said he could not issue a ruling for Carter because the attorneys for the estate had not been able to serve him with a summons calling on him to appear in court.
Ackerman said the estate would file a motion to dismiss its lawsuit against Rosendall, leaving Carter as the only one of the four with the lawsuit still pending against him. The lawsuit calls on the court to require that Carter disclose what, if any, items he may have that belong to the estate and that he return any such items. Carter has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.
In his affidavit filed with the court, Rosendall, vice president for political affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, made these additional assertions:
“I hereby affirm that I have destroyed or returned any and all copied, digitized, or otherwise electronically or physically duplicated property belonging to the Estate, including but not limited to: personal papers, photographs, documents, memorabilia and other miscellaneous items of tangible personal property. I further affirm that I have not caused the duplication and/or digitization, whether electronic or physical, of said property of the Estate to third parties.”