Bizarre case of made-up royalty, faked death set for trial
The strange civil case involving a Clovis horse breeder who made up a life as French royalty and her doctor-husband who admitted to faking her death will go to trial next month in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan on Tuesday scheduled a Sept. 4 trial date for Dr. Michael Weilert, 61, and his 50-year-old reclusive wife, Genevieve de Montremare, who also goes by Weilert.
The lawsuit accuses Weilert of faking his wife’s death in order to enhance her legend as a breeder of rare Friesian horses and induce a Southern California couple to buy the doctor’s horse ranch in Parlier at an inflated price.
At issue is whether the Weilerts committed fraud and breached a contract with the buyers.
The trial might start without de Montremare, who, according to court documents, is bedridden and suffers from depression and anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, a fear of public places.
In a tentative ruling, Kapetan said she wouldn’t allow de Montremare to testify because she has repeatedly refused to appear or complete her court-ordered depositions. Kapetan said she was penalizing de Montremare because “I think she’s malingering.”
But attorney Daniel Spitzer, who represents the allegedly duped buyers, Brian Gwartz and Cheryl Skigin, told Kapetan the ruling would hurt his side because he would not be able to question de Montremare.
“This is an orchestrated plan by her,” Spitzer said. “She’s thumbing her nose at you and the court.”
That’s not true, said attorney Steven Paganetti, who represents the Weilerts. Paganetti said he wants de Montremare to testify, but her doctor said she is gravely ill.
In court papers, Dr. Jim Phanucharas said forcing de Montremare to be questioned in court or deposed “can lead to a detrimental and potentially fatal outcome.”
Kapetan said she may change her mind. “Maybe I’m rewarding her for not wanting to testify,” said Kapetan, who promised to have a definitive ruling by Friday.
The case, which was filed in March 2009, has exposed a strange family story.
Weilert is director of Pathology & Clinical Laboratories for Community Regional Medical Centers and a founding member of Pathology Associates in Clovis.
His wife grew up in Lindsay as Genevieve Sanders and was once the National Raisin Queen.
In 1991, she legally changed her name to Genevieve Marie de Montremare and began telling friends that she was from French royalty and that her French family has been breeding horses for 1,000 years, the lawsuit said.
She was so convincing that Equestrian magazine, a national publication, published an article in 2005 describing de Montremare’s genetics degree (which was phony) and her French heritage.
After her husband faked her death, the International Friesian Show Horse Association — which de Montremare founded — gave out a memorial trophy in her honor in 2008 and 2009, the lawsuit said.
In a sworn deposition, Weilert acknowledges that he told friends that his wife died of leukemia in November 2007. He said he did it to protect her privacy because she is gravely ill.
He helped write her obituary and obtain a French death certificate so he could sell her assets, the lawsuit alleges, including the 15-acre ranch that Gwartz, an anesthesiologist and a competitive horse-carriage rider, and Skigin, a lawyer, bought for $2.3 million around May 2008.
In court papers, Gwartz and his wife contend they were tricked into paying too much for the property at 7292 Kings River Road in Parlier.
The lawsuit alleges that the Weilerts created a false impression of the ideal horse ranch developed as a lasting tribute to a woman with specialized training and expertise.
Gwartz and Skigin didn’t learn that de Montremare was alive until after they filed the lawsuit. On Dec. 4, 2009, the lawsuit was amended to add Genevieve de Montremare as a defendant.
Paganetti, however, said Tuesday that the case is about the contract for the ranch, not de Montremare’s past. He said the Weilerts sold the ranch “as is” and that they told the buyers that they should investigate the property before they bought it.
He also told the judge that de Montremare was not involved in the contract talks with the plaintiffs; Michael Weilert signed the contract.
“What she did on the Internet with the equestrian community has nothing to do with this case,” he said.
By Pablo Lopez