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Farrah Fawcett caregiver to testify in portrait dispute case

One of Farrah Fawcett’s caregivers will be allowed to testify that the late actress told her an Andy Warhol portrait hanging in her home was owned by Ryan O’Neal.

The artwork’s ownership is at the centre of dispute between the Oscar-nominated actor and Fawcett’s alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin.

Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin ruled that Maribel Avila should be allowed to testify in the case despite the fact she stepped forward as a possible witness just last month.

Avila was a nurse’s assistant who worked for Fawcett in 2006 and 2007 while the actress was battling cancer.

Avila recounted to MacLaughlin that Fawcett told her a Warhol portrait that hung outside her bedroom door belonged to O’Neal, who was her longtime partner. Avila said she hadn’t heard about the lawsuit over the artwork until reading about it in the New York Post last month.

She contacted O’Neal’s lawyers, who want to use her as a witness in their case. She is expected to testify before jurors next week.

Eric Nichols, an attorney for the University of Texas, argued that jurors shouldn’t hear Avila’s testimony because O’Neal’s lawyers should have known she worked for Fawcett and tried to interview her earlier.

MacLaughlin disagreed, saying he would allow Avila to testify because she came forward as soon as she learnt about the case and realised she had pertinent information.

Fawcett created a trust that left all of her artwork to the university after her death. The school sued O’Neal, claiming the actor improperly removed the portrait from Fawcett’s condominium after her 2009 death and should be forced to relinquish the art.

O’Neal has testified that he negotiated a deal with Warhol to allow Fawcett to pose for a portrait in 1980 on the condition that each actor would receive a version of it. One of the portraits was given to the university and is displayed in its Blanton Museum of Art.

The university will have a chance to question Avila under oath before she testifies. MacLaughlin gave the school’s lawyers the option of allowing her to testify and then seek a mistrial, but its lawyer David Beck said the school preferred the trial continue.

“We don’t want to have to start over,” Beck said.

O’Neal’s lawyer, Marty Singer, praised the ruling and said Avila was one of several witnesses he wants to call who would recount similar statements by Fawcett about O’Neal’s ownership of the portrait.

“This is a case of greed,” Singer said. “The University of Texas does not want the truth to come out.”