Actress’ son and manager file dueling lawsuits.
In a situation that is very reminiscent of that endured by comic books legend Stan Lee last year, the family of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols is alleging that her manager, Gilbert Bell has been taking advantage of the actress’ declining health. Like Stan – with whom she shared a December 28th birthday – the 87-year-old actress has been diagnosed with dementia and short-term memory loss. This writer saw this first-hand when Ms. Nichols did not recognize her long-time friend Bjo Trimble, who had been instrumental in keeping the original series on TV in 1966.
Yet despite that 2013 diagnosis and a subsequent stroke in 2015 which left her requiring round-the-clock care, her appearances at pop culture and Trek conventions hardly diminished because she loved meeting her fans. Finally in 2019 she reached an agreement for a final farewell appearance with a convention in her honor that was to be held this summer. Like everything else, that celebration has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Manager Strikes First
Gilbert filed a suit against Kyle Johnson, the only child of Nichelle and her husband Duke Mondy. The suit alleges that Kyle, in his role as conservator, was engaged in financial elder abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, infliction of emotional stress and other charges. Among his public statements, Gilbert has accused Kyle of attempting to evict him from a house she owned as well attempting to place her into “an assisted care facility, against her express wishes.”
Gilbert Bell met Nichelle in 2010 when the producer approached her about developing a feature film involving the actress as co-star as well as a 50-50 partnership in production. The film never materialized, but in 2012 he became her personal and business manager, moving into the adjacent house on her property where he lived at a reduced rate. He was also granted power of attorney.
In a counter suit filed in March by Kyle, Gilbert is alleged to have breached his fiduciary duty, including paying $300 a month to live in the San Fernando, CA house which would cost $3,500 a month to rent. He also alleges that Gilbert discharged Nichelle from a rehabilitation facility where she was recovering from pancreatitis against medical advice as well as the wishes of her family. For his part, Gilbert argues that it was Nichelle’s wish to not stay at any sort of care facility. Very similar to the Lee case, Gilbert is alleged to be using his influence “to isolate Ms. Nichols from her family and long-term friends” – something which his suit alleges is being done by Kyle. The family’s cross-complaint begins on page 3 of the suit.
Concerned about the alleged graft, Kyle moved back to Los Angeles to become his mother’s full-time caregiver. A court appointed him her conservator in 2018. Previously, he had lived in New Mexico along with his wife since the 1990s. Reportedly, Gilbert staged a confrontation, releasing the video to the Los Angeles Police Department and media.
The Family Joins the Fight
Kyle has been joined in this legal matter by his aunt, Marian Smothers, who launched a GoFundMe to help with the family’s legal bills in its fight. Marian is Nichelle’s younger sister, and in her post within the fundraiser, she states that their sister Diane Robinson and older brother Samuel Nichols are united, along with “all our relations” in supporting Nichelle.
This has received support from members of the extended Star Trek family who have urged their followers to assist.
The suit specifically alleges that Gilbert has obtained a $412,488 reverse mortgage on the property and used her credit cards. The family estimates that her losses are up in the millions of dollars between these actions and siphoning off money from her appearances.
At this time, it is unclear when either of the two suits will go before a judge, much less when they will be resolved.