Aaron Kaplan, the prolific TV producer, has been accused in a lawsuit of installing cameras in his sister-in-law’s bedroom — with one focused on her closet — in order to spy on her.
The sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kaplan, filed suit on Wednesday against Kaplan and his lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, accusing them of conspiring to invade her privacy.
Aaron Kaplan, producer of “The Chi,” “Santa Clarita Diet” and other shows, has been embroiled in a probate fight with his sister-in-law since the death of his brother, Joe, in July 2018.
In a probate filing in February, Aaron Kaplan acknowledged that he arranged for the cameras to be placed in the closet because he worried that Elizabeth Kaplan would break into a safe that held valuables belonging to her late husband’s trust.
Joe Kaplan was a CEO in the financial services industry. He had two children from a prior marriage, and one child with Elizabeth Kaplan, whom he married in 2008. He and his wife were on vacation in Bermuda in July 2018, when he died unexpectedly in his sleep.
According to Elizabeth Kaplan’s lawsuit, two weeks after she returned to the couple’s home in Malibu, she and her mother discovered two cameras in her husband’s closet in the master bedroom. The suit alleges that the second camera was positioned such that it pointed at Elizabeth Kaplan’s closet.
“It’s where Elizabeth would dress and undress,” the suit states. “It’s where Elizabeth would pick out and put on her bra and her underwear. It’s where Elizabeth would pick out and put on her nightgown.”
Joe Kaplan left behind two trusts — a joint trust with his wife, and a separate trust which named Elizabeth and each of the three children as beneficiaries. Aaron Kaplan was named the trustee of the separate trust, which owns assets including the Malibu house. In a probate filing last week, Elizabeth Kaplan sought to her have brother-in-law removed as the trustee, arguing that he has failed to abide by the trust’s instruction to grant her $5 million following her husband’s death.
In his probate filing, Aaron Kaplan said he became suspicious soon after his brother’s death, when he heard that Elizabeth’s friends had been seen entering the Malibu house and that artwork had been removed from the walls. Aaron Kaplan said he knew that his brother kept cash and other valuables in the house, as he was worried that Elizabeth would steal assets belonging to his trust.
“Based on consultations with his attorney, the Trustee understood that he could — and should — have motion-activated cameras installed in Joe’s personal closet to monitor and protect those assets for the beneficiaries of Joe’s Trust,” Aaron Kaplan’s attorneys wrote.
According to the filing, the cameras captured Elizabeth Kaplan and her mother rifling through Joe Kaplan’s belongings in search of cash. They also allegedly hired a locksmith to try to break into the safe, in spite of instructions from Aaron’s attorney that the contents belonged to the separate trust. The video also captured Elizabeth discovering $10,000 in cash, counting it out, and pocketing it, according to the filing. The recordings stopped once Elizabeth and her mother discovered and disabled the cameras.
In her probate filing, Elizabeth Kaplan argues that Aaron Kaplan had no right to install the cameras, no matter what his motives.
“Protecting trust assets is not a defense to his violations of Elizabeth’s right of privacy or of criminal statutes,” her attorneys wrote. “And certainly, whatever was ‘caught’ on tape does not justify his behavior. Not only were his actions criminal, they were in poor judgment, repulsive and perverted, since Aaron, as a male trustee, effectively placed his ‘eyes and ears’ in a woman’s master bedroom suite, regardless of whether he actually saw Elizabeth scantily dressed or nude.”
Elizabeth Kaplan suggested that Aaron’s true motive was not protecting the trust’s assets, but rather “setting up a trap for her or perhaps something even more unsavory.”
One of the provisions of the trust allowed Elizabeth and her son to live in the Malibu house rent-free until she remarried or began to cohabit with someone other than a blood relative, according to the filings.
Aaron Kaplan said that his brother left behind $15 million in gambling debts and a $15 million line of credit, causing him to fear that the separate trust would be insolvent, according to his probate filing.
Aaron Kaplan contends in the filing that his sister-in-law made unreasonable demands about the distribution of the assets of the separate trusts. When he refused, he says her attorneys threatened to file a suit that would cite the hidden cameras, and thereby damage Aaron Kaplan’s career.
The filing states that Elizabeth Kaplan’s attorneys know that “the only indecencies captured by the motion-activated cameras were Elizabeth’s theft of inheritance meant for Joe’s children and heartless desecration of her late husband’s memory.”
Elizabeth Kaplan’s suit also named as a defendant her brother-in-law’s estate attorney, Burton Mitchell, a partner at Jeffer Mangels. Her attorney called it “despicable” for Mitchell to advise his client to install the cameras, especially given that Elizabeth Kaplan had also been a client of Mitchell’s.
Jeffer Mangels’ PR firm issued a response, saying it was “disappointing that Elizabeth Kaplan has turned her anger toward lawyers who more than 10 years ago established routine estate planning documents and who have not represented Elizabeth in the decade since. The firm will defend this meritless case with vigor and expects to prevail.”
Elizabeth Kaplan’s attorney, Michael L. Cohen, declined to comment.
Sanford Michelman and Howard Weitzman, Aaron Kaplan’s attorneys, also issued a statement, saying they were “disappointed in Elizabeth’s and her lawyer’s desire to sensationalize the death of Aaron’s brother and her ex-husband” in an effort to alter the terms of the trust.
“Elizabeth’s claim of a camera angled towards her personal space is not true,” they said. “As trustee, Aaron is focused only on protecting the Trust for the benefit of all of its beneficiaries as his brother wished, and he will not succumb to extortionist tactics.”
The headline and first paragraph have been updated to clarify the positioning of the cameras.