As Austin Knowlton’s attorney and trustee of Knowlton’s charitable trust, Charles Lindberg has a conflict and can benefit financially from his decisions in the Knowlton estate, an expert witness testified at a Tuesday hearing. That means Lindberg should be removed as trustee of Knowlton’s estate, the expert said. “My opinion is he’s not qualified. He cannot be neutral and unbiased.
It’s just impossible,” said Joseph L. Wittenberg, a member of the Ohio Supreme Court Board for Grievances and Discipline. Wittenberg’s comments came in the second day — continued from June — of hearings in which attorneys for Knowlton’s children are seeking to have Lindberg removed as an executor of Knowlton’s estate. The estate is estimated to be worth as much as $300 million, perhaps the largest in Hamilton County history.
Lindberg, 75, was an attorney for Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, a Cincinnati law firm, when he served as the lawyer for Knowlton, a minority owner of the Cincinnati Bengals. The same firm also represented the Bengals, creating what Stan Chesley and other attorneys for Knowlton’s children contends was a conflict of interest. That conflict should disqualify Lindberg from continuing to serve as an executor of Knowlton’s estate and as one of three trustees to Knowlton’s charitable trust, they said.
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Knowlton left his entire estate to the trust — he bequeathed his children nothing — and, Wittenberg said, Lindberg can’t fairly serve as trustee of a trust for which he can earn millions annually in fees while also serving as an executor to Knowlton’s estate. “In my opinion, he’s better than a beneficiary” because of his dual roles, Wittenberg said. But from the stand Tuesday, Lindberg insisted he did nothing improper or unethical, acting at all times as the good friend and legal advocate for Knowlton, who died last year at age 93.