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Court battle after death of Eagles bassist's wife

LOS ANGELES --The death of Lana Meisner, the wife of founding Eagles bassist Randy Meisner, has renewed an unusual court battle over a proposed temporary conservatorship for the musician and highlighted his troubled history and what some call the couple's tumultuous marriage. 

A judge's ruling granting the temporary conservatorship in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday is only the latest development in an ongoing dispute over who is best able to care for the bassist, who new court documents allege suffers from bipolar disorder, traumatic brain injury and substance abuse and has threatened to harm himself and others on several occasions.

On Friday, a Los Angeles judge granted Meisner's request to appoint his friend Arthur Ford and his accountant Tom DeLong as the temporary conservators for his medical care and estate. 

In a rare move, days after his wife's death in a gun accident, Randy Meisner asked a judge for the temporary conservatorship for himself, saying in a March 11 petition that he is "barely able to accept the sudden and tragic loss of his loving wife."

Lana Meisner was killed March 6, when police say a shotgun she was moving accidentally fired. Randy Meisner, best known for co-writing and singing the Eagles hit "Take it to the Limit," asked for his "trusted friends and advisers assist him with his own care, maintenance and support in his current state."

The Eagles pictured in 1977: Don Henley, drums; Joe Walsh, guitar; Randy Meisner, bass; Glenn Frey, guitar; and Don Felder, guitar. AP

Meisner's friend Jim Newton agrees that Meisner, 70, is in need of a conservator. But in a Monday court filing, he objected to Ford and Delong as the appointees. Newton argues a combination of mental illness and serious substance abuse puts Meisner, and possibly others, at "substantial risk" -- a risk, he says, which has been exacerbated by his wife's death.

It's the second time Newton has asked a judge to appoint an independent conservator for Meisner -- his first request came last year, before Lana Meisner's death.

In new documents filed Monday, Newton argues Ford is a friend from the music industry who doesn't have the expertise required to care for Meisner. He says Ford would be a "sham conservator" who will submit to Meisner's requests. The elections, he said, were filed "within a matter of days" of Meisner's release from a psychiatric hold at a hospital in the wake of his wife's death.

He also called into question Meisner's ability to choose his own conservators.

Friday, a judge disagreed. He granted Meisner's request to appoint Ford and Delong until May 25, when he'll hear Newton's cross-petition for a permanent conservatorship. Newton nominated a private professional fiduciary, a former social worker who specializes in mental health issues, to oversee Meisner's health care and finances.

"We are very happy Randy now agrees he needs help," Troy Martin, an attorney for Newton, told Crimesider. "Our only intention is ensuring he gets the kind of help he needs. Randy is a very sick man."

It's extremely rare for a person to request their own conservator, according to Howard Serbin, an Orange County, Calif. probate and elder law attorney. In California, conservatorships -- called guardianships in other states -- can be enacted to oversee the "person" or "estate" of someone who isn't able to make decisions regarding their own health care or finances.

Though odd, a conservatee's own request may hold sway with a judge, Serbin said. "A nomination by himself counts for a lot -- if he's competent," Serbin said.

Also unusual, Serbin said, was one of Meisner's reasons for asking for his own conservator. Meisner said in the petition he was "increasingly anxious" that Newton or his children would attempt to contact him or file again for a conservatorship.

"The proposed conservatee is worried this contact would impair his health, and hopes that requesting this conservatorship voluntarily will demonstrate to his children that he is being cared for in the hope they all stay at a distance while he grieves," the petition reads.

The petition is "more about his state of mind" than his physical health, Delong told Crimesider before the hearing.

"He's obviously very upset and grieving over the loss of his wife, and he needs some help," Delong said.

Police say Lana Meisner, 63, was fatally shot in the March 6 accident at around 7 p.m., inside the couple's Studio City home, as she was moving a rifle that was stored inside a case in the closet. As she lifted it, another item within the case shifted and hit the trigger, causing it to fire, according to police.

Earlier that evening, around 5:30 p.m., police responded to the same home on the report of a possibly intoxicated man. Officers filed a domestic violence report involving the couple, police say. Lana Meisner told dispatchers her husband was waving a BB gun around the home, but an LAPD official close to the investigation told 48 Hours' Crimesider the claim turned out to be false -- the woman later admitted there was no BB gun. The couple had argued, the source said, but no crime was committed.

The death was ruled an accident after an investigation by Valley Bureau detective personnel and the Los Angeles Coroner's Office. Randy Meisner was cooperative, police say. The LAPD source told Crimesider that detectives were at the home from 8 p.m. until 6 the next morning, and there was nothing to indicate foul play. However, the source said the investigation isn't complete.

There was no surveillance video inside or outside the home, according to the source. The case would have been investigated as a murder "if there was anything that even hinted at criminal activity," the source said.

But what led up to the fatal shooting remains unclear, and Newton says he believes a combination of alcohol, guns and the couple's volatile relationship may have all contributed. Newton, an old friend from Randy Meisner's home state of Nebraska, told Crimesider the relationship was so troubling he filed the first conservatorship petition last year.

The petition alleged that Lana Meisner bought large amounts of alcohol for the musician and said he is "easier to control when drunk," though the bassist has been repeatedly hospitalized for health issues related to alcoholism. The documents also allege Lana Meisner isolated him from his three adult children, failed to give him medical care and spent his money extravagantly.

"I think Lana was trying to hasten his demise," Newton told Crimesider.

Randy Meisner's lawyer, Bruce Fuller, said the claims don't portray an accurate picture of the marriage -- he dismissed them as "allegations of one side of this case."

"They were each other's whole world," Fuller said. "They really loved each other very, very deeply."

Randy Meisner's accountant Tom Delong said Lana Meisner "bent over backwards" to care for her husband. He said he believed Meisner's children became estranged from their father as a result of an ongoing dispute between their mother, Meisner's ex-wife, and Lana Meisner. He said both Lana and Randy Meisner had told him they didn't know Jim Newton and that he wasn't a long-term friend.

Randy Meisner, left, and Lana Meisner Courtesy Jim Newton

Newton told Crimesider he first became involved in December 2013, when he called Randy Meisner, who was at a treatment facility while his wife was on a cruise. He said his old friend begged him for help.

"He told me he wanted to divorce her, she's spending his money, she's being mean to him, she 'gets me drunk and makes me sign things I know are not good,'" Newton said.

He flew to Los Angeles to visit the bassist, and that's when he said he first learned of the severity of the situation, and also discovered that Randy Meisner suffered from significant memory loss. Court documents would later describe his treatment for cognitive problems related to alcohol-induced dementia. Newton said he promised to help his friend, but later, he said, Randy Meisner couldn't remember the conversation.

Newton admits that he was friends with Meisner years ago and wasn't in contact with him again until 2013, when the musician's son put them in touch. But he says he's aiming to fulfill his promise to Meisner, help him get care and re-unite him with his children.

"I am trying to make sure Randy's wishes when he was in a state of clarity are honored," he said.

Newton's new filing extensively details Randy Meisner's struggle with his physical and mental health, including repeated hospitalizations, reported suicide threats, and one incident in which he allegedly threatened to gun down staff at a Studio City rehabilitation facility with his AK-47.

Randy Meisner was admitted to the Verdugo Hills hospital on a temporary psychiatric hold after the incident in March of 2012, the new filing states, because he was "gravely disabled and a danger to others." According to medical records cited in the documents, Meisner "became extremely agitated, was verbally and physically abusive with caregivers -- his mood was extremely unstable and unpredictable and he was not able to function independently. He was a danger to others threatening harm to others with bodily harm [sic] and hence the need for admission to the hospital."

When he was admitted, the hospital records state, he was "expressing paranoid delusional ideations" and was "in poor contact with reality."

Around the same time, according to a 2015 geriatric psychiatric evaluation of Randy Meisner included with Monday's court filing, Lana Meisner said she had put her husband's gun collection into a storage unit. Police confiscated the AK-47, but allowed her to keep the remaining guns, the report said.

Other incidents documented in the court filings describe Randy Meisner's alleged suicidal threats. Medical records from a 2013 hospitalization say Meisner "had both a suicidal ideation and plan: he stated that he was going to kill himself by overdosing and taking all of his pills," the documents say.

Monday's filing also details a Jan. 15, 2015 admission to a hospital for "alcohol intoxication, pending withdrawal, and altered level of mental status" after which he was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold because he appeared agitated and confused. Lana Meisner told hospital staff her husband "wants to put a gun in his mouth and was going to shoot and she had to rustle the gun away from him and all the guns have been removed from the house," state medical records cited in the documents. Meisner told his wife he was depressed and wanted to die, according to the records.

According to the 2015 psychiatric evaluation, however, Lana Meisner said the incident she described in the hospital records happened "10-15 years" before the 2015 hospital admission.

"She acknowledged talking to the physician about Randy's history with a gun and shared her opinion that he should be on an anti-depressant because of his mood swings," the psychiatric evaluation states. Randy Meisner was discharged with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder mixed with psychotic features, according to the evaluation.

In the evaluation, psychiatrist David Trader said he believed Randy Meisner suffered from a "major neurocognitive disorder." Meisner showed deficits in key areas of mental functioning including orientation, memory and reasoning, he found.

Trader said he believed Randy Meisner wasn't able to care for his personal needs like physical health, food, clothing and shelter, and lacked the mental capacity to manage his own finances and resist "fraud or undue influence." His cognitive impairment and mood shifts left him particularly vulnerable to having his will overpowered, Trader wrote.

Newton's first petition for conservatorship, filed in 2015, describe an oftentimes contentious relationship between Lana and Randy Meisner, and outline moments when the musician became "irate" with his wife.

"She made the comment that she locked her doors when she went to bed at night because she was afraid of what he might do," Newton told Crimesider.

The Eagles perform at the band's 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York. Band members are (L-R) Randy Meisner, Timothy B. Schmidt, Glen Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Don Henley (rear). Reuters

Lana Meisner told friends and family that during her husband's extended hospitalization in 2013, she "was the happiest she had been in a long time" and that when he passed away, she planned to go "antiquing in Paris," the documents allege. Lana Meisner allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of Randy Meisner's money on luxury purchases, including cruises, kitchen remodeling, and cosmetic surgery while he was hospitalized and in declining health. She made changes to his estate plan against his wishes and sometimes without his knowledge, the petition alleges, and sold a farm in Nebraska he had long said would be his son's inheritance.

Delong, Randy Meisner's accountant, said the claims were "overblown," including those that Lana Meisner extravagantly spent her husband's money. He said Randy Meisner was "fully involved" in their home renovations and that Lana Meisner used her own money for her cosmetic surgery.

All three of Randy Meisner's children filed petitions in support of the 2015 temporary conservatorship, alleging that their stepmother was enabling their father's alcoholism and failing to provide him the care he needed.

Randy Meisner's son, Eric Meisner, said in a declaration that his relationship with his father changed after his parents divorced in 1981 and his father moved in with Lana Meisner. He said the two began living together shortly after the divorce and married in 1996 or 1997.

"Lana has been isolating my father from his family for over 30 years," Eric Meisner wrote. "My father has repeatedly stated his love for his family and his desire to be with us, but Lana continually interferes with his relationship with us."

Lana Meisner "controls who can speak to my father, and who cannot," Randy Meisner's daughter Heather Leigh wrote in another declaration. When her father was at a residential treatment facility, Leigh said her stepmother told staff there to only allow people who knew a special password she instituted to speak with Randy Meisner.

Whenever her father would sober up, Leigh wrote, he would tell his children that he wanted to divorce his wife. In May of 2010, according to Newton, he visited his attorney to initiate divorce proceedings while his wife was on a cruise. When she returned several weeks later, according to Leigh and Newton, Lana Meisner fired his attorney, Patrick DeCarolis, as well as his long-time accountant.

According to court records, in February of 2010, Randy Meisner filed a temporary restraining order against his wife for alleged domestic violence. DeCarolis told Crimesider the case was dismissed because he had been fired by Lana Meisner and the issue was never heard before a judge.

Around the same time, Leigh wrote, her stepmother was telling other family members she planned to "spend every dime" of her father's money and that she wasn't "going to leave a penny for those kids."

"It is abundantly clear to me that Lana is extremely concerned that if my father was able to stop his drinking and get out from under Lana's control he would seek out advice and support of his family and long-time advisers and divorce Lana, in which case she would not receive her inheritance under his estate pursuant to a prenuptial agreement," Leigh wrote. "To avoid that possibility, Lana enables my father's alcoholism, which has nearly cost him his life."

Several family members wrote in declarations that when Randy Meisner was hospitalized in 2013, requiring a tracheotomy and a feeding tube, Lana Meisner didn't tell them until weeks later. Newton's filing Monday said Meisner's lung had collapsed and he suffered from respiratory failure as a result of benzodiazepine use, a drug used to treat anxiety and other conditions. He spent 10 months in various rehabilitation facilities following the incident, according to court documents.

Marla Dodd, a friend who also filed a declaration supporting the 2015 petition, wrote that when she visited Lana and Randy Meisner in 2014, the musician was drinking heavily and looked thin and pale. When she voiced concern over his condition to Lana Meisner, the woman told her "she didn't want to spend 'her' money on a nurse for Randy."

Randy Meisner was hospitalized again in 2015 after a routine visit to his dentist, Stacey Meisner, Eric Meisner's wife, wrote in a declaration. She said Lana Meisner told her in February of that year that her father-in-law's dentist was so concerned for his condition that he called 911. Randy Meisner spent several weeks in the hospital, she wrote.

The petition alleges that Lana Meisner often said her husband was awful and difficult to care for, and that Randy Meisner became angry with her during arguments, often over his children or alcohol.

In a March 2015 phone call, Stacey Meisner said Lana Meisner called her crying, telling her that she was "trying to control his drinking but he wouldn't stop. She said that Randy was out of control."

The Eagles (from left:) Bernie Leadon, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmidt, Don Felder, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner in a 1998 file photo. JON LEVY/AFP/Getty Images

Just before Randy Meisner's mother died in 2010, Leigh wrote that her father and stepmother returned to Nebraska but fought throughout the entire hospital visit, to the point where hospital staff told her their behavior was loud and disruptive. She said the night her grandmother passed away, Lana Meisner cried to her over the phone, but not because of the death -- Leigh said "she was ranting about how awful my father was."

"I asked her, if it was so bad, why didn't she simply leave?" Leigh wrote. "She told me she couldn't, because if she left him, she 'would get nothing,' apparently referring to a prenuptial agreement."

Dana Meisner, Randy Meisner's son and Eric Meisner's brother, accused Lana Meisner of attempting to create conflict within the family. He said in one instance, he believed the woman "got my father into an alcohol-induced rage" when the musician called his daughter-in-law angry over a request to borrow cash for a car repair.

Dodd, the friend, described an instance during their 2014 visit where he "became irate" after Lana Meisner said he never took her side against his children. Dodd said the couple argued and at one point the musician "threw a shrimp in frustration and it hit me."

Later, in October 2014, Dodd wrote that she and her husband stayed with the musician while Lana Meisner was on a cruise. She said his condition had worsened and that he was having trouble walking. He drank during the day and became "agitated" as the day wore on, she wrote.

"At night, he would pace through the house hollering and screaming," Dodd wrote. "The longer Lana was away, the worse his rants would get."

Friends say Lana Meisner was exhibiting bizarre behavior as well. Dodd said that she kept in touch with Lana Meisner and at one point received a series of "angry and paranoid" texts from her. In an April 2015 voicemail, Dodd wrote, Lana Meisner said her neighbors had been coming into her backyard and spying on her. She said two kids were in her yard, Dodd wrote, one wearing a clown suit. She said she thought Dodd and her husband were "in on it," and she allegedly said she took cocaine.

"Now I'm scared, because they have seen me doing blow through the bedroom window and they sit there and watch me," Lana Meisner said in the voicemail, according to Dodd.

She said Lana Meisner appeared overwhelmed caring for her husband, but said she seemed more concerned about preserving her portion of the estate than providing medical care for him. In one text, Lana Meisner wrote, "I'm tired of being a nurse. I get so mad. I feel that he's done this to himself and that now I have to be the one making all the decisions all the work all appts all everything!"

In Randy Meisner's 2015 psychiatric evaluation, Lana Meisner denied allegations made in the declarations, telling a physician, "I'm not the person they're trying to say I am." She said she believed her husband's ex-wife and daughter Heather were "behind" the conservatorship petition.

Lana Meisner's brother, Jeff Beucler, told Crimesider that many of the claims in the 2015 petition were "lies and innuendo" and that his sister was being unfairly portrayed, but declined to comment further.

Randy Meisner also appeared to contest many of the allegations in declarations in the 2015 interview with the psychiatrist, Trader. The musician said he got along "great" with his wife and denied allegations that she isolated him. If he said he wanted to divorce his wife, he told Trader, he didn't mean it.

Randy Meisner told the psychiatrist he believed his ex-wife was trying to get his wife out of his life, and that she and his daughter Heather were trying to control his money. He didn't recognize the name Jim Newton, he said.

Fuller, Randy Meisner's lawyer, dismissed claims that the marriage was tumultuous. He said he never saw the couple try to control each other's finances or communications with others. Randy Meisner "was and is" out of contact with all of his children and his ex-wife, Fuller said, but not because of Lana Meisner.

He said Meisner has been been "very fragile" since her death. Despite the loss, he said, Randy Meisner has his faculties about him and is trying hard to move forward. Fuller said Randy Meisner is "upset that this James Newton continues to insinuate himself into Randy's life."

"Fortunately, he has a strong group of very committed friends who have been taking care of him and basically watching over him," Fuller said. "With today's ruling, now Art Ford and Tom Delong can begin the process of getting in place some caregivers and people who can help him on a long-term basis."

Randy Meisner didn't respond to a request for comment through a publicist.

Troy Martin, Newton's attorney, said he's disappointed in Friday's ruling. He plans on determining the level of care Randy Meisner is receiving in the weeks before the next hearing on May 25, and he said he's asked Ford and Delong to provide him with a care plan.

Newton characterized Randy Meisner and his children as the victims in the situation. He said he'll continue to push for the famed bassist to be reunited with his children.

"It's sad that this happened to Lana, and my heart goes out to her family and loved ones -- this shouldn't happen to anyone," Newton said. "But I'm focused on getting Randy the help and care and support from his family that he obviously needs."

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