THE BUTLER'S BACK:
Doris Duke's former butler and a bank were unfairly removed as co-executors of the heiress' billion-dollar estate, New York state's highest court ruled yesterday.
The Court of Appeals decided unanimously that the Surrogate's Court in Manhattan should hear more evidence and decide again on the fitness of Duke's chosen executors, Bernard Lafferty and the U.S. Trust Co.
They were removed in May 1995 by Surrogate's Court Judge Eve Preminger for allegedly wasting assets of Duke's $1.2 billion estate.
But the court said today that the process Judge Preminger presided over to arrive at that decision was "fundamentally flawed." Mr. Lafferty and U.S. Trust Co. officials were not given enough opportunity to present their side, the high court said.
The judges noted that the dispute over executors has already tied up the Duke estate in probate for more than two years and they ordered the Surrogate judge to limit new hearings "in the interests of efficiency and economy."
Duke, the only child of American Tobacco Co. founder James Buchanan Duke, died in 1993 at age 80.
Duke's will left more than $1 billion to charity. She gave Mr. Lafferty $5 million outright, $500,000 a year for life and almost complete control over the rest of her estate.
Mr. Lafferty was accused of mixing his money with estate funds and using Duke's credit card and other estate …