Trial starts in suit claiming billionaire Donald Bren owes retroactive child support

By Linda Deutsch, AP
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Billionaire Donald Bren’s children seek support

LOS ANGELES — Billionaire Donald Bren, one of the nation’s richest men, sat in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday across from his two grown children from a long ago love affair who are battling him for part of his vast fortune.

Lawyers for Bren and for plaintiffs Christie and David Bren disputed in opening statements whether the children should receive about $100 million as retroactive payment of child support they allege they were denied. They are suing for $400,000 a month beginning when they were born.

Lawyers presented two differing portraits of the 78-year-old real estate mogul. His lawyer, John Quinn, described a self-made real estate magnate who is obsessed with privacy and works seven days a week, barely taking time off for vacations.

“He doesn’t have a chauffeur. He has only one car. He’s a man who shines his own shoes, pumps his own gas,” said Quinn “He is a very wealthy man and he lives a comfortable lifestyle.”

Attorney Hillel Chodos, representing 18-year-old David and 22-year-old Christie Bren , painted Bren as a high living executive who has two California homes, a New York apartment, a Sun Valley ranch, two yachts and five private jets.

“Donald Bren is able to live and does live like a maharajah,” said Chodos.

Bren, chairman of the Irvine Company, has an estimated net worth of $12 billion and is 16th in Forbes’ Magazine’s ranking of the 400 richest Americans.

Chodos said that Bren once told the children’s mother, Jennifer McKay Gold, that he spent $3 million to $5 million a month on personal expenses.

He also said she will testify that he promised to always claim the children as his and to retain a parental relationship with them.

Bren’s lawyer denied this.

“This is not a case about whether Mr. Bren was a good father, a bad father or an indifferent father,” said Quinn. “He wasn’t around so he wasn’t a father for most of the time …. He’s never going to be to those children father of the year.”

He said the billionaire’s relationship to the children was always clear to their mother.

“Those promises were never made. There’s not a scrap of paper. There are no witnesses. She never told anyone about these promises,” Quinn said.

He told jurors that Bren and the children’s mother didn’t live together and repeated several times that it was “not a conventional relationship.”

Outside the jury’s presence Superior Court Judge Rex Heeseman told him he need not dwell on that point. ‘

“We’re not in Iowa,” he said. “We’re in Southern California.”

Quinn told jurors they would hear that over 14 years Bren paid $3 million for the children’s support, that they went to private schools, had international vacations, tennis and piano lessons, and tutors. Each received a car when they were old enough to drive, and he said Bren committed to pay for their college educations through graduate school.

Quinn showed jurors a series of four legal agreements entered into by Ms. Gold each time she became pregnant and after the children were born. The contracts beginning in 1988 rose from $3,500 a month at the beginning to $18,000 a month from 1992 to 2002.

“These children never wanted for anything,” he said.

Chodos said that was not the issue.

“They lived a nice life,” he conceded. “But this is about what they were entitled to.”

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