Obsessively private billionaire Donald Bren airs private life to fight lawsuit by his children

By Linda Deutsch, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Billionaire Donald Bren breaks privacy in lawsuit

LOS ANGELES — Billionaire Donald Bren, who has spent a lifetime protecting his privacy, is breaking the pattern by showing up in a Los Angeles courtroom to air details of his private life in a legal battle with his two grown children from a long-ago love affair who are seeking millions.

The issue is money and alleged broken promises.

Bren’s lawyer said Wednesday in opening statements to the jury that the 78-year-old real estate mogul didn’t make or break any promises regarding the children. He just had no relationship with them.

“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.”

On one side of the courtroom sat Bren, a patrician looking gray-haired man who is one of the nation’s wealthiest people. On the other side sat Christie Bren, 22, and David Bren, 18. They are suing their father for $400,000 a month in child support retroactive to the time they were born. That comes to about $100 million.

Attorney Hillel Chodos, representing the children, painted their father 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.

Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co., has an estimated net worth of $12 billion and is 16th in Forbes’ Magazine’s ranking of the 400 richest Americans. He once told the children’s mother, Jennifer McKay Gold, whom he never married, that he spent $3 million to $5 million a month on personal expenses, Chodos said.

John Quinn, Donald Bren’s lawyer, said the figure was probably closer to $125,000 and the planes were part of a private jet leasing company he owns.

Chodos said the children’s mother will testify that Donald Bren promised to always claim the children as his and to retain a parental relationship with them.

Quinn denied that and painted a very different portrait of his client: 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.

“We don’t apologize for it — he is a very wealthy man,” said Quinn, who acknowledged that Donald Bren “lives a comfortable lifestyle.”

The billionaire’s attitude toward the children was always clear to their mother, Quinn said.

“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.

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