It is considered “the largest, costliest, ugliest, most spectacular and most conspicuous inheritance contest in American history.” Seward Johnson, the patriarch of the pharmaceutics family was 76 and the multimillionaire heir to the Johnson and Johnson Band-Aid fortune. Basia Piasecka was 34, a recent immigrant from Poland and a former chambermaid at the family estate. When Seward died 12 years after marrying Basia, he left nearly his entire $400 million fortune to his young wife, essentially disinheriting his six adult children from two previous marriages. The children had already received millions of dollars from their father, but they wanted it all. So they contested Seward Johnson’s will, accusing Basia of all manner of wrongdoing in getting the old man to disinherit them and give her all the money. The ensuing legal battle, pitting some of New York City’s most revered law firms against each other, is the stuff of a Dickens novel. One of the leading characters is a Dickensonian judge who was tinged with eccentricity and a whiff of corruption. Another is a young lawyer, who eventually became famous for her culinary guide books—Nina Zagat.
This account is brought to you by David Margolick – the American non-fiction equivalent of Charles Dickens. There is no finer writer of legal non-fiction than this extraordinary reporter, who covered the legal beat for the New York Times and himself is a distinguished graduate of Stanford Law School.