LA jury rejects claim by billionaire Bren’s grown children to get millions in child support

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jury: No back child support for billionaire’s kids

LOS ANGELES — A jury on Thursday rejected a claim by billionaire real estate mogul Donald Bren’s two adult children for $134 million in retroactive child support.

The unusual case was a high-stakes contest between one of the nation’s richest men and the children he fathered during a 13-year affair with Jennifer McKay Gold, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of her children when they were minors.

Christie Bren, 22, and her brother, David Bren, 18, pursued the case when they became adults.

Jurors deliberated two hours before siding with the 78-year-old Irvine Co. chairman, whose attorney argued that no family court would have given the children more than the millions he already paid.

Gold, who signed agreements with Donald Bren when the children were born, said they were cheated of the support to which they were entitled.

The suit sought $400,000 a month for each of the children in retroactive support from 1988 to 2002. Their mother testified she received a total of about $3 million for them during that period.

Four contracts were created involving child support each time Gold 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.

Gold said she accepted the terms because Donald 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 testified there never was a promise.

“My reaction is that basically they didn’t have the correct information, which was being withheld,” Gold said on her way out of the courthouse after the verdict.

“My children are going to stand up for what they believe in,” she said. “We will definitely appeal.”

Lawyer Hillel Chodos, who represents the children, said he would specify in his appeal brief what was kept from the jury.

John Quinn, who represented Bren, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Donald Bren, who has a penchant for privacy, stepped into the court’s public spotlight to testify that he never loved Gold and never planned to be a parent to the two children. He said he provided enough for them to live a privileged life and agreed to pay for their education.

“I felt an education at the university level, at the graduate level is perhaps the best gift a parent can give a child,” he testified.

His lawyers have claimed he paid $10 million in support over the years, including the educations.

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

Chodos said in opening statements the children had lived a life similar to many upper middle-class children while their father lived “like a maharajah.”

“They are not here because they didn’t have enough to live on,” he told the jury in closing arguments. “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 California homes, a Sun Valley ranch, New York apartment, private planes and yacht. Attorney John Quinn, who represented Donald Bren, said the estimate of the real estate mogul’s liquid assets was exaggerated.

Quinn called the case a simple contractual issue and urged jurors not to be swayed emotionally by the children’s story.

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

He said the billionaire’s relationship to the children was always clear to their mother and that the promises she claimed he made never existed.

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

Associated Press Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

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