Where is Atticus Finch when you need him?
She needs a lawyer like Atticus Finch.
Acclaimed writer Harper Lee, the 87-year-old author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” filed a lawsuit against her literary agent Friday claiming he took advantage of her age and ill-health to steal her royalties.
Lee, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1960 novel dealing with race, morality and the law in the American South, sued Samuel Pinkus and others in New York federal court to ensure her ownership of the copyright to her book and get back allegedly lost commissions.
The author was in an assisted-living facility in Monroeville, Ala., in 2007 after suffering a stroke when Pinkus had her sign a document giving his company her copyright, her lawsuit says.
Lee, who has failing eyesight and hearing, didn’t know what she was signing, her lawyer said.
The copyright was re-assigned to Lee last year after legal action, and Pinkus was discharged as Lee’s agent.
The New York State Supreme Court ruled in October 2012 that Pinkus owed Lee $779,780.34, plus interest.
But he was still receiving royalties from the novel as of this year, according to the complaint.
“Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see,” Gloria Phares, Lee’s lawyer, said in the complaint.
The lawsuit claims Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee’s longtime literary agent Eugene Winick, started duping the author after his father-in-law fell ill in 2002 and turned the company over to him.
Lee’s lawsuit says Pinkus created numerous companies to handle commissions and royalties and refused to provide her with a proper accounting of her money.
Lee’s lawsuit claims that Pinkus created a company in 2011 called Philologus Procurator Inc., at the Florida home of lawyer Gerald Posner.
In November 2011, the lawsuit says, an unsigned email from Philologus told a UK agent to make all future royalty payments for Lee via check “made payable to Philologus Procurator Inc.” Pinkus also notified HarperCollins, Lee’s publisher, to send royalties to PPI, the suit said. It was one of many ways he defrauded Lee of money she was owed, the lawsuit says.
Lee is seeking forfeiture of commissions received by all of Pinkus’ companies since 2007, the suit said, as well as compensatory damages.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was made into a film starring Gregory Peck — who won an Oscar for playing the lawyer Atticus Finch — has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.