Two days after a New York Supreme Court halted the sale of Madonna's personal items by auction house Gotta Have It Collectibles, a judge ruled Thursday to keep the temporary restraining order (TRO) until more facts come to light in a preliminary injunction hearing. The new court date is scheduled for September 6th. Madonna's deposition will add key details about how her former friend and personal assistant, Darlene Lutz, came to possess the singer's personal items in 1995.
When Lutz consigned the intimate items of Madonna's this year, she claimed she'd had them for at least 20 years. These items include a breakup letter Tupac Shakur wrote her from prison, a used hairbrush, two letters Madonna wrote to her brother and a letter Madonna wrote in the Nineties wherein she called Whitney Houston and Sharon Stone "horribly mediocre."
According to Madonna's defense attorney, Brendan O'Rourke, the singer had "no awareness of the items" until she saw the auction posting online. "Just because she didn't know where the items were doesn't make them any less hers," O'Rourke stated in Thursday's hearing.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Gotta Have It stated: "At yesterday's court hearing, Madonna's counsel conceded that they are no longer pursuing their earlier egregious claims that Ms. Lutz had long ago stolen the Madonna memorabilia. The Judge ruled that Madonna must appear in person for deposition before September 6th. Between now and then, we will show that these items are rightfully Ms. Lutz's to sell in the next GottaHaveRockandRoll.com auction."
O'Rourke declined to comment to Rolling Stone until after the September hearing. Until a ruling is made on that date, Gotta Have It Collectibles is barred from selling or advertising the items in question on its website. (Other, less intimate, items, such as tour clothing and jewelry, remain on the site.) "We know that this is Madonna's personal property, and some of it acutely personal to her," said the presiding judge, the Hon. Gerald Liebovitz. Part of this reasoning was that the items will not depreciate in value during that time. If anything, he said, their value will increase.
The task for Madonna's legal team over the next month will be determining how and whether Darlene Lutz stole her personal items when she consigned them to the auction house.
On July 10th, Madonna wrote a letter accusing Lutz, her former friend and adviser, of stealing personal property by refusing to return the items upon request (after she found out about the auction). Madonna claimed Lutz had "betrayed my trust in an outrageous effort to obtain my possessions without my knowledge or consent."
Lutz obtained the items when helping the singer move out of her Miami house in 1995, and they were kept in a number of locations, including Lutz's warehouse storage facility, during that time. According to Madonna's attorney, their friendship didn't end until the mid-2000s. But by insinuating Lutz stole the items, Lutz has now wrongfully suffered "irreparable harm to her personal and professional reputation," Lutz's attorney, Judd Grossman, argued at the hearing. He added that Madonna's letter was a "smokescreen."
"The plaintiff has changed her theory because she realized she can't succeed on her original theory," Grossman told Rolling Stone after the hearing. "She went with a different version today. At today's hearing, Madonna's counsel effectively conceded that Ms. Lutz did not steal these items long ago, as [Madonna] argued to the court earlier this week. But that she stole items that she's had for 20 years. The Judge granted our request to depose Madonna and through the discovery process we will show that these items are rightfully Mr. Lutz's to sell."
At the hearing, Madonna's attorney insisted conversion occurred when Lutz consigned the materials to Gotta Have It Collectibles after Madonna expressly asked for their return. "There is no question [Madonna] is the rightful owner of the items," O'Rourke said. "Those were simply not [Lutz's] goods to give."
As of Tuesday, several Madonna lots were no longer listed on the Gotta Have It Collectibles website, including the two letters. The auction was originally set to begin July 19th and feature over 100 Madonna items, including costumes, photographs and lyric sheets.