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Legal Battle Over Steely Dan Continues: Walter Becker’s Estate Responds to Donald Fagen’s Lawsuit

The estate of Steely Dan cofounder Walter Becker has responded to a lawsuit filed last week by bandmate Donald Fagen over ownership of the group and its name, according to Rolling Stone. The longtime musical partners founded the band in 1972; Becker died of cancer on Sept. 3.

At the center of the suit is a buy/sell agreement the part signed in 1972, the year the band formed, which stated that upon the death or departure of a Steely Dan bandmember, the group would purchase that member’s shares. By 1975 Steely Dan was effectively a duo, with Becker and Fagen accompanied by session musicians.

Fagen’s suit alleges that four days after Becker’s death from esophageal cancer, the singer received a letter that said: “We wanted to put you on notice that the Buy/Sell Agreement dated as of October 31, 1972 is of no force or effect.” The letter also reportedly demanded that Becker’s widow, Delia, be appointed a director or officer of the group, and that she was entitled to 50 percent ownership of Steely Dan.

In a statement, Becker’s estate claims that Fagen’s lawsuit is “riddled with half-truths and omissions” and “the misrepresentation that his widow, [Delia Becker] initiated any litigious action is simply untrue.” It also claims that the estate has twice come close to a compromise with Fagen’s lawyers, only to have him fire the attorneys. They claim a third lawyer filed the lawsuit without contacting Becker’s estate.

The Becker estate’s full statement appears below:

“We were disappointed to learn that Donald Fagen commenced a lawsuit against (the estate of) Walter Becker, his partner of 50 years, on the eve of Thanksgiving. We believe the agreement to which Mr. Fagen refers in his suit — drafted 45 years ago— was not in effect at the time of Walter’s death.

Mr. Fagen’s lawsuit, riddled with half-truths and omissions, misleadingly fails to state that the day after Walter died, Mr. Fagen had his lawyer send a demand letter to Walter’s estate, thus beginning a legal campaign against Walter’s family immediately after his death. The misrepresentation that his widow, Ms. Cioffi initiated any litigious action is simply untrue. In our view, Mr. Fagen is unfairly trying to deprive Walter’s family of the fruits of their joint labors.

Since Walter’s passing, we have endeavored to achieve a compromise with Mr. Fagen. We were close to a resolution with his longtime counsel who he suddenly fired. We then negotiated in good faith with replacement counsel who Mr. Fagen also fired. Mr. Fagen’s third and current lawyer did not even attempt to contact us prior to filing a lawsuit.

While we regret Mr. Fagen’s latest actions, we will vigorously defend against his unwarranted and frivolous case.”

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