Closing arguments conclude in California billionaire child support trial

By Linda Deutsch, AP
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Closing arguments conclude in child support trial

LOS ANGELES — A high-stakes court battle over the birthright of a billionaire’s children neared a conclusion Wednesday with closing arguments in which a lawyer for the two adult offspring asked jurors to award them more than $100 million, a payment befitting their status as the children of one of the nation’s richest men.

Attorney John Quinn, representing real estate mogul Donald Bren in the case brought by 22-year-old Christie Bren and her 18-year-old brother, David, acknowledged that jurors may be emotionally swayed by the story of Bren’s long ago love affair with Jennifer McKay Gold that produced the children.

“The plaintiffs are two kids whose father wasn’t around,” Quinn said. “That’s something that can tug on people’s heartstrings.”

But he maintained no family court would have given the children more than what Bren had already paid.

The children are suing Bren for $400,000 a month each in retroactive child support for the years 1988 to 2002, which adds up to about $134 million. Their mother testified she received a total of about $3 million for them during that period.

Attorney Hillel Chodos, who represents the children, told the panel: “When you sit on a jury, you’re not supposed to leave your heartstrings at the door any more than your common sense.”

Chodos said Bren perpetrated a multimillion-dollar fraud on Gold and the children, persuading the mother to accept an agreement that was far less than he could afford.

Gold said she accepted it because Bren promised to have a relationship with the children. But Gold said he ignored the children when they approached him in a restaurant in 2001, and she realized Bren was reneging on his promise.

“He probably never loved Jennifer or intended to have a relationship with them,” Chodos said. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the oldest story in the world.”

Bren, the 78-year-old Irvine Co. chairman, has an estimated net worth of $12 billion and has spent a lifetime protecting his privacy. He gave up that privacy to testify in the widely covered case.

Chodos acknowledged many people would be satisfied with the life the children lived, but he maintained it wasn’t up to the standards of one of America’s richest men.

“They are not here because they didn’t have enough to live on,” he said. “They are here because they were deprived by Donald Bren of their birthright. … They had the right to share in his standard of living.”

That standard, Chodos said, included two homes, a ranch, a New York apartment, private planes and a yacht. Quinn said the estimate of Bren’s liquid assets was exaggerated.

The children’s star witness was their mother, who told of falling in love with Bren. She said when Bren learned she was pregnant, he agreed to acknowledge his offspring and maintain a parental relationship. She said she then signed legal agreements presented by his lawyers.

Four contracts were created involving child support entered into by Gold each time she became pregnant and after the children were born. The accords, beginning in 1988, rose from $3,500 a month to $18,000 a month between 1992 and 2002.

Bren testified he never loved Gold and was not interested in being a parent.

“We are here in civil court dissecting what is love,” said Quinn, who maintained love has nothing to do with the case. “This is a promise that was never made and was thought up later by Ms. Gold when she could see a time in the future when child support would end.”

He told jurors: “This case is not about what grade you give Mr. Bren for being a father. He wasn’t happy about being a father with Ms. Gold.”

Moments after that remark, the mother, who was seated in the courtroom front row, got up and left the room. She returned later for her attorney’s rebuttal argument.

Bren and the children sat a row apart in the small courtroom listening to the arguments.

During a break in proceedings, David Bren and his mother walked down the hall with their arms around each other. She leaned her head on her son’s shoulder.

Jurors are to begin deliberating Thursday morning.

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