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Wayne Newton wins court battle over Casa de Shenandoah possessions

Updated February 4, 2020 - 10:07 pm

Does Wayne Newton own Wayne Newton’s stuff?

It is taking a while to reach that realization. Mr. Las Vegas has been hammering it out in court since August. He has claimed all along that items he collected during his life and career, the most prized possessions on display at Wayne Newton’s Casa de Shenandoah museum, were indeed his.

Tuesday afternoon District Court Judge Mary Kay Holthus ruled that Newton can still prevail in court and win back his belongings. The current ownership consortium Smoketree LLC has claimed it purchased the items when it bought the fabled, 36-acre ranch estate last July for $5.56 million.

Newton has not actually owned Shenandoah for nearly a decade, but contends the famed personal possessions that filled the estate have always belonged to him.

“They have shown through sworn testimony that they have at all times owned the property,” Holthus said of Newton and his defense team in her ruling. “They have never done anything to the alternate, to sell, transfer or otherwise do anything with the property other than to own it or lease it to the museum.”

The ruling means the current owners are not permitted to move, sell or dispose of any personal property currently held at Shenandoah. The two sides are to return to court March 4, to determine whether the personal property in dispute should be turned over to Newton pending final determination of the merits of the case. That is a victory for Newton in this ongoing battle.

Among the possessions held by Smoketree reps at Shenandoah was the framed Elvis Presley handwritten note on Las Vegas Hilton stationary, which inspired the hit song, “The Letter.” Also included were Kathleen Newton’s wedding dress; Newton’s bronzed baby shoes, costumes made by Newton’s mother, Evelyn, which Newton and his brother, Jerry, wore as child entertainers; a microphone given to him by Frank Sinatra; a pool cue from Jackie Gleason, a violin from Jack Benny; a bowtie from Bobby Darin; Nat King Cole’s make-up kit; a pair of silver saddles; and dozens of signed photos including those of Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and both Bushes.

Newton had been allowed to collect his 35 prized Arabian horses, which have been moved off the property. That he owned the horses was not in dispute. Holthus said that, based on common sense, that if horses were considered personal property, so should the artifacts displayed in the museum collection.

The Newton family hopes to be allowed to store the items at their own facility. The iconic name Casa de Shenandoah is also being removed from the ranch on the corner of Pecos and Sunset roads. Newton does own the rights to that title.

Newton smiled easily after the ruling. But he also expressed agitation that he’d been appearing in court almost as often as his own headlining show at Caesars Palace.

“It’s been awful, awful,” Newton said. “It’s been very hard on me, and very hard on my family.”

The Newtons plan on seeking compensation for damage to the items (the condition of the collection has not been fully reviewed) and also for emotional stress.

Newton’s legal counsel Jim Jimmerson argued that since June 2010, when Newton became a minority investor in the property, he had leased his belongings to Shenandoah’s ownership group for the purpose of staging them at the Shenandoah museum. Originally, that group was headed up by Texas banking magnate Lacy Harber, who was in a business partnership with Newton in the museum project.

The attraction opened in September 2015 and closed in April 2018. In the spring of 2019, Newton made a bid to to buy the original Shenandoah property himself, offering $6 million to John Munson, Harber’s asset manager. Newton says he thought the sides had an agreement with Munson, until learning the property had actually been sold to the anonymous Smoketree group for a price lower than Newton’s offer. That transaction led to the lengthy court battle over Newton’s belongings.

Defense counsel Jason Wiley said he did not know what his clients plan to do with the parcel. He said that releasing the items will create more The entire collection has been ordered to remain on-site during the court battle.

Otherwise, Wiley said, “We’re a little disappointed, but we’ll continue on. It looks like we’ll be back in March.”

Newton shakes his head at the idea of being required to fight in court for his own baby shoes. His superstar pride shows when describing the efforts to photograph and index his possessions as required by the court. Mr. Las Vegas recalls being shadowed by an armed guard as he walked through Casa de Shenandoah, where he moved with his family in 1966.

“You can imagine how that made me feel,” Newton says. “I’ve never been treated so poorly.” But the legendary entertainer also says, “The good feelings are starting now.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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