cover image Undue Influence: The Epic Battle for the Johnson and Johnson Fortune

Undue Influence: The Epic Battle for the Johnson and Johnson Fortune

David Margolick, Author William Morrow & Company $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-688-06425-9

The ``largest, costliest, ugliest, most spectacular and most conspicuous'' inheritance contest in American history here receives thorough, incisive and dramatic treatment from New York Times legal affairs correspondent Margolick. In 1971, 76-year-old J. Seward Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, married his 34-year-old Polish household servant; when he died 12 years later, his six adult offspring sued to stop the widow, Basia, from inheriting most of the half-billion-dollar estate. While Margolick ably conveys Basia's imperiousness and the children's dissolution, the book shines in its sophisticated analysis of the prominent attorneys and New York City law firms representing the various parties, and in its scathing portrait of tough, profane and peremptory Judge Marie Lambert. After a bizarre 17-week trial in 1986, the two sides settled, with Basia paying out approximately $43 million to the Johnson children. Both parties claimed victory, but Margolick's anatomy of the process shows everyone's claims to be tainted. This is a far meatier and more critical look at the case than Barbara Goldsmith's 1987 Johnson v. Johnson. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)