NEWS: Eden Ahbez Estate Probated 27 Years After His Death

The Eden’s Island Blog received a press release today from the law office of Julie Romersa, representing Joe Romersa, the last collaborator of Eden Ahbez. For those not already familiar, Romersa worked with the “Nature Boy” composer from roughly 1987-1995, on a project Ahbez called “The Scripture of the Golden Age.”

Romersa, via his lawyer, is apparently attempting to probate Ahbez’s will and by extension be appointed the new personal representative of the Ahbez Estate. This is big news for anyone who has followed the Ahbez saga these last 25 years as Romersa has essentially been blocked from releasing the “Nature Boy” composer’s final works by those claiming ownership of his copyrights.

The press release begins thusly:

“For Immediate Release. December 1, 2022. The estate of Eden Ahbez, composer of the American standard ‘Nature Boy’ (1948) and pre-psychedelic concept album Eden’s Island (1960), is in probate 27 years after his death.” 

It then lays out the terms of the planned hearing of December 1st, saying (as paraphrased above): “Ahbez’s longtime collaborator and sound engineer, Joe Romersa, has asked the court to accept the deceased composer’s last will and testament for probate and to appoint him the personal representative of the estate.”

Romersa was apparently “a named executor in the will,” and “believes that probate will finally enable him to legally release the last known works of Ahbez.” (Yes! Finally is right!!)

“These and many other recordings,” the press release continues, “by the composer have been sequestered by those claiming his estate since his death in 1995. A hearing on both matters is scheduled for December 1st at the Riverside County Superior Court in Palm Springs (Case No. PRIN2200674).” Okay! Here we go!

According to Romersa’s attorney, Julie Romersa, because Ahbez’s will was never probated, the copyrights never legally transferred out of his estate. “In California,” she says, “you cannot avoid probate if the estate contains intangible personal property like copyrights.” Therefore, it seems, “until a personal representative is appointed, no one has the legal authority to enter into any agreements over the assets in the Ahbez catalog.”

This is a big deal as we at the Eden’s Island Blog get asked all the time how to contact the existing Ahbez Estate, also known as Golden World Publishing, by film and TV productions wanting to license songs from the Ahbez catalog (mostly “Nature Boy”). Here’s where it gets interesting:

“David Janowiak,” the press release states, “a Palm Springs area businessman and Ahbez’s bookkeeper, claimed ownership of the estate until his own death in 2012.” Now, the text goes on to say, his stepdaughter, Debra Guess, “is asserting ownership and claiming the royalties through the Eden Ahbez Trust.” Yet Ms. Romersa laughs at this, saying, “That was never actually funded,” and “an unfunded irrevocable trust is unenforceable.”

What’s more, she says, “Janowiak knew the trust was not in effect.” Seems important… right?

“When he was sued in 1996 for back payment of royalties for ‘Nature Boy,'” says Ms. Romersa, “his position then was that he inherited the copyrights through the will, and that the trust was never funded.”

Okay, so, he admitted the trust was not funded, and now his stepdaughter is asserting she inherited the Ahbez copyrights through a trust Janowiak himself more or less said outright did not exist. That’s news to us at this blog.

The press release then continues: “Ahbez’s will is quite straightforward: everything would go to Janowiak, unless Janowiak died before Ahbez; in which case, everything goes to Romersa.” This, according to Ms. Romersa, “makes Janowiak’s other capricious decision—to mail the estate documents following Ahbez’s death to the U.S. Copyright Office instead of going through probate—all the more perplexing.”

So why is this a big deal? Other than the fact that probate is required for the transfer of copyrights? Ms. Romersa theorizes that “Janowiak was afraid to go through probate because estates left to non-family members are often subject to challenge and suspected of being acquired through undue influence or fraud.” 

Here is some additional legal clarification from Ms. Romersa: “One of the requirements of probate is providing notice to heirs and beneficiaries,” and “once noticed, interested parties have the right to contest the will submitted for probate.” Thus, as a beneficiary of the will, Joe Romersa “has always been the greatest threat to Janowiak’s claims of ownership” (says Ms. Romersa).

This next paragraph is perhaps the most damning in the entire press release:

“Unfettered by legalities, and unquestioned by either ASCAP or Harry Fox, Janowiak lined his pockets with [Ahbez’s] royalties for years.” To further obscure the truth from prying eyes, he [Janowiak] “would publicly claim his rights to ownership through the [unfunded/unenforceable] trust, a fiction that is difficult to disprove because trusts are private, with little court oversight.” Ms. Guess, therefore, says the press release, “has proposed to the court that the status quo remain; that probate is just an unnecessary formality.”

Joe Romersa obviously disagrees; hence this upcoming hearing. “At heart,” he says in the press release, “the shirking of responsibility on the part of Janowiak undermines both the legacy and the final wishes of Ahbez.” Hear! Hear!

In fact, according to Romersa (in the press release), for years before Ahbez’s death, the composer told friends and collaborators that he wanted to create a space where education in the arts and sciences would be provided at little or no cost to any young person who came through its doors. “He believed the music we were working on would be very successful,” says Romersa, “and that, combined with the ‘Nature Boy’ royalties he was already getting, would generate the money needed to fund his other charitable interests.” Ahbez, concludes Romersa, expected Janowiak and himself to carry out these plans after he died. 

“But instead of working with Romersa to fulfill Ahbez’s final wishes,” the press release says, “Janowiak opted to enrich himself and ignore any of the composer’s artistic or charitable intentions.”

“This stands in stark contrast to Romersa who has steadfastly tried to honor the legacy of his late friend and to release Ahbez’s final works, with their emphasis on universal love, without expectation of compensation or personal gain. Which is why he hopes that, with the court’s blessing, the day of their release may soon be here.”

An incredible turn of events, to say the least, and one we hope will have a positive outcome for both Romersa and the Ahbez catalog/charitable foundation. It’s so overdue!!

The press states that “inquiries are welcome and should be addressed to: Romersa Law, c/o Julie M. Romersa, 213-703-9844,” or advocate (at) romersalaw (dot) com.

Joe Romersa (left) and Eden Ahbez (right), c. 1990, in Los Angeles, CA, where the two worked together for the last eight years of Ahbez’s life.


3 thoughts on “NEWS: Eden Ahbez Estate Probated 27 Years After His Death

  1. Bri, Joe, and Julie:

    I am completely unpracticed when it comes to legalities; however, “…In fact, according to Romersa, for years before Ahbez’s death, the composer told friends and collaborators that he wanted to create a space where education in the arts and sciences would be provided at little or no cost to any young person who came through its doors…” absolutely rings true to everything that ahbe often expressed to me about his general living philosophy. I firmly believe that this ‘giving’ activity involving youth and the fine arts and sciences is genuinely what ahbe would have wanted. He loudly and clearly always championed youth and the fine arts and sciences. My best to your team in achieving this goal.

    Youngbear Roth

  2. Yes. Wonder why they don’t mention the Laurel Canyon Eutropheons that was Gloria Swanson’s favorite eatery in Hollywood in the 1940s? Also why no one ever mentions that John Richter died in 1949 and Vera in ’50? Ahbe has a handwritten note in his archive where he writes that he lived with the Richters for six years. Then he says he moved to Tujunga in 1949.

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