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Oklahoma court backs OU, issues cease and desist order in Holocaust survivor's art litigation

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Fred Jones Museum of Art (copy)

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art pictured Sept. 12, 2019.

An Oklahoma court has issued a cease and desist order to Holocaust survivor Léone Meyer, supporting OU in a legal bout regarding the ownership rights of a painting looted by Nazi forces during World War Two.

According to a university press release, Judge Joe Heaton of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled in favor of the university and the OU Foundation, ordering Meyer to end her litigation seeking to reverse a 2016 art sharing settlement which established a rotating display schedule for Camille Pissarro's painting Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep

“We are thankful for the court’s issuance of this cease and desist, supporting OU’s position in the case,” OU President Joseph Harroz said in the release. “The ability to view a painting with such important and deep historical significance presents a tremendous educational opportunity for OU students and museum visitors.”

Under the current settlement, which Meyer is suing to undo, the painting is currently housed in the French Musée d'Orsay. It is set to return for display at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in 2021.

Several U.S. and international groups have offered their support for each party in the case, with the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors siding with the university. Meyer's supporters include the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

Ron Soffer, Meyer's attorney, issued a brief statement following the Oklahoma court's ruling, questioning its authority to rule on the case.

"We respectfully disagree with the court. We believe that what happened during the occupation of France with respect to the theft of French nationals’ art and assets by the Nazi regime is a matter of French sovereignty," Soffer said, "that should be allowed to move forward without interference from other jurisdictions."

Meyer's legal team has repeatedly highlighted French sovereignty as a matter of importance in the case. In a Nov. 19 response to OU's Motion to Compel, Meyer's legal representatives said the university's order was "an affront to French sovereignty and international comity.”

“What is at stake here is the relationship between America and her first and oldest ally, France," the response to the motion read.

In issuing the order, the statement read, the U.S. court has expressed a lack of care for the sovereignty of France and French courts.

"(The) defendants’ requested relief would essentially be telling France that the United States does not trust the French judicial system to decide an issue of French law and French public policy in an action brought by a French citizen who lives in France, concerning a French piece of property located in France," the statement read.

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