The longtime caregiver to the late Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks won a significant victory Tuesday in her bitter battle with the Banks family when a Cook County judge confirmed a will Banks signed three months before his death.
Signed on Oct. 17 in a suburban law office miles from the 83-year-old Banks’ downtown home, the will cut out his family, leaving everything to Banks’ caregiver, Regina Rice. It triggered an ugly fight within days of Banks’ death Jan. 23.
Lawyers for Banks’ estranged wife, Liz Banks, suggested the ailing Banks was coerced or tricked into disinheriting his relatives. And Banks’ family was further angered by a Facebook post in which Rice showed herself enjoying a bottle of champagne at a spa just eight days after Banks died.
But Tuesday, two paralegals testified Banks seemed healthy and that he was not being coerced when he signed the will.
“He looked fine,” paralegal Karen Crumpler told Judge James G. Riley. “From my judgment, he did not look sick.”
“He appeared fine,” the second paralegal, Wendy Modelski, confirmed.
That was all Riley needed to hear during a 20-minute hearing to decide the will was legitimate.
“Will confirmed!” he said.
The ruling makes it more likely that Rice,who managed Banks’ business affairs, handled his public appearances and memorabilia sales, and describes herself as Banks’ trusted confidante,will ultimately prevail.
But outside court, Liz Banks’ attorney, Tom Jefson, vowed to fight on, describing Tuesday’s ruling as merely procedural.
“We’re going to see where the evidence goes,” said Jefson, who has subpoenaed Ernie Banks’ medical records.
Rice’s attorney, Linda Chatman, said she was pleased with the judge’s ruling but declined to comment further.
Neither Rice nor Liz Banks was in court Tuesday to hear the paralegals testify.
Crumpler and Modelski said Rice was in the room in the Lombard law offices ofByron Faermark when Banks signed the will, which stated Banks cut off his family “not for a lack of love and affection for them and for reasons best known by them.”
Both paralegals seemed highly nervous on the stand, and both were repeatedly told to speak up. The hearing was moved from Riley’s usual courtroom on the 18th floor of the Daley Center to a basement courtroom because one of the paralegals is claustrophobic and did not want to ride in an elevator.
Rice has not commented on the case since February, when she said,“It is understandable that Ernie’s family is concerned at this very sad time.”
“However, the record and those closest to Ernie will dispel any iota of concern regarding my relationship with Ernie and his trust in me to carrying out his wishes.”