The widow of Oleg Cassini, the fashion designer behind former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy's iconic style, testified yesterday in a Mineola court as part of an ongoing battle with his daughter over his multimillion-dollar estate.
Nassau Surrogate's Court Judge Edward McCarty III suspended widow Marianne Nestor Cassini's control of it in a March decision, after the designer's daughter alleged the widow was mismanaging the estate worth an estimated $52 million.
Christina Cassini, who lives in France and whose mother was actress Gene Tierney, claimed that the widow paid personal claims without court approval, commingled estate assets and didn't maintain records. She's seeking control of the estate despite suffering from ovarian cancer.
"There's no doubt that Mrs. Cassini should be removed," the daughter's attorney, John Barnosky of Uniondale, said Friday.
He said Cassini's widow didn't have insurance on an Oyster Bay Cove home -- a mansion whose value has been given at $30 million -- and that a 2008 fire destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars in property. Barnosky also said the widow gave herself substantial amounts of the estate.
The widow testified, amid testy exchanges with Barnosky, that she put her husband's documents in the basement of the mansion before the fire.
"Oleg died in 2006 and I did what I thought I was supposed to do," she said at one point.
The widow's attorney, Charles Kaplan of Manhattan, told the judge it was difficult for his client to determine what was hers and what belonged to the estate after three decades of marriage to Cassini. He said she was working to get insurance on the mansion, but that the designer had not had any.
McCarty later denied a request by the widow to leave through a back exit to avoid news photographers. Court officials let the witness stay in the courtroom during lunch, only letting journalists without cameras do the same after complaints about equal public access. The widow later blocked her face while walking to the Cadillac Escalade she left in.
Her sister, Peggy Nestor, who's involved in the business that bears the designer's name, said later it had been "a good day" in court.
"We all want the best for the Oleg Cassini brand. He was special," she said.