A federal judge Monday barred Catholic University from auctioning a memorable white-and-blue dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” after a Wisconsin woman filed a lawsuit alleging she was the rightful owner of the gingham pinafore garment donned by Dorotheus.
Judge Paul G. Gardephe of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan granted a preliminary injunction a day before the dress was to be auctioned in Los Angeles, where it was expected to sell more than $1 million. The Catholic University planned to use that money to endow a new faculty position in the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art.
Judge Gardephe ruled that the dress could not be sold by Catholic University until the lawsuit was resolved. Both sides will meet in court on June 9.
In her lawsuit filed earlier this month, Barbara Ann Hartke alleges that the dress belonged to the estate of her uncle, Rev. Gilbert Hartke, who was once president of the university’s drama department and was given the dress in 1973 as a gift from the Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, who was also an artist in residence at the university.
Ms. McCambridge had given the dress to Mr. Hartke “specifically and in public” as a demonstration of gratitude for “helping her fight alcohol abuse,” the lawsuit said.
Mr Hartke died in 1986 and Ms Hartke says she is his closest living heir.
The lawsuit states that Ms. McCambridge was a “close confidante” of Ms. Garland, but it’s unclear exactly how she got the dress.
The university has argued that the dress was a gift from Mr. Hartke and that it was his wish that it remain within the institution.
Shawn Brenhouse, a Catholic University attorney, said in a statement Monday night that the judge’s decision was “tentative and not the merits of Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress.”
“We look forward to presenting our position, and the overwhelming evidence to contradict Ms Hartke’s claim, to the court in the course of this trial,” said Mr. Brenhouse.
Anthony Scordo III, an attorney for Ms Hartke, did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment Monday night.
The fragile dress has become a legend since Mrs. Garland wore it in the Technicolor classic in 1939, complementing the plaid look with the ruby slippers the Wicked Witch was looking for. Mrs. Garland wore several versions of the dress, but only one is known to exist. It was sold in 2012 by Julien’s Auctions for $480,000. In 2015, it was sold again for nearly $1.6 million.
The location of the second dress was a mystery until it was accidentally found last year in a shoebox, in a bag, on top of the letterboxes of the faculty. Matt Ripa, a teacher and operations manager at the drama school, found the bag while clearing the area in preparation for the Hartke Theater renovation.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History helped authenticate the dress, which includes a fitted bodice, high-neck blouse, and full skirt, with a fabric label on the inside inscribed “Judy Garland 4223.”
Ms Hartke argues in her lawsuit that her family was never informed of the discovery by the university. They knew a dress existed and were surprised to read headlines about preparations to auction it “without any compensation to its rightful owners,” the lawsuit said.
“There is no documentation showing that” Mr. Hartke ever donated the dress to Catholic University, according to the lawsuit.