87-year-old woman loses case to Donald Trump

MICHAEL TARM
Last updated 10:05 24/05/2013
Donald Trump
Getty Images
BEING CIVIL: A jury has found in favour of US billionaire Donald Trump in a civil case with an 87-year-old woman.

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An 87-year-old grandmother took on US billionaire Donald Trump and lost.

Jurors early today (NZ time) sided with the real estate mogul-turned-TV showman in a weeklong civil trial focused on Jacqueline Goldberg's claim that Trump cheated her in a condo bait-and-switch scheme in a Chicago skyscraper he built.

The US federal jury in Chicago returned with a finding in Trump's favour after deliberating for more than five hours over two days. Goldberg, of Evanston, had sought damages totalling around US$6 million (NZ$7.3m).

"He's obviously very happy," said Alan Garten, an executive vice president of The Trump Organisation, after talking with his boss - who wasn't in court. In the wake of the trial, Garten added, "The Trump brand is stronger than ever."

As the judge read the decision in court earlier in the day, Goldberg showed little emotion herself. But her attorney, Shelly Kulwin, slumped over and buried his head on a courtroom table.

Outside court, Goldberg, clutching an Agatha Christie detective novel in one hand as she spoke, told reporters she has no regrets about suing Trump.

"I think I have exposed him for what he is," she said. "I had to do it. I had to try." She added that she hoped her four years of litigation would dissuade others from doing business with Trump.

The case pitted the suburban Chicago woman against a New Yorker who revels in his image as a big talker with big ideas. Many know him best for his catchphrase on his Apprentice TV show: "You're fired!"

In a sarcasm-filled closing, Kulwin described Trump in stark, extreme terms - as villainous and greedy. Trump wasn't in court, but Kulwin displayed a giant photograph of Trump.

"The thought of my grandma being in the same room with that guy. Yuck!" Kulwin boomed.

The dispute centred on the glitzy Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, one of several showcase towers Trump has named after himself elsewhere, including New York, Las Vegas and Hawaii.

Goldberg accused Trump of wooing her into buying two condos at US$1 million (NZ$1.23m) apiece in the mid-2000s by dangling a promise of share in building profits - then reneging on the promise after she committed to buying.

At trial, Trump's attorney, Stephen Novack, grappled with the portrayal of Goldberg as a former waitress and hat-check girl who learned her values living through the Depression and working her way through college.

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He told jurors in his closing he also loved grandmothers, saying, "I happen to be married to one."

But, he added, Goldberg was also a successful, sophisticated investor who signed a contract stipulating Trump could do what he did: cancel the profit-sharing plan anytime he saw fit.

Garten, who attended much of the trial, echoed that sentiment today (NZ time).

"This wasn't David versus Goliath. Mr Trump is wealthy and Mrs Goldberg is a wealthy woman," he said. "The jury put that aside."

Jurors did not speak to reporters afterward, but the fact Goldberg signed a contract with the stipulation could have been the deciding factor.

Goldberg seemed to acknowledge that herself. Asked what advice she'd give anyone who does decide to invest with Trump, she responded, "Read the contract carefully."

An often-scowling Trump spent two days testifying himself, bragging about the quality of his developments, verbally sparring with an opposing attorney and drawing rebukes from the judge.

On the stand, Trump denied he ever cheated anyone. Off it, he blasted the woman who brought him there, telling reporters he was the victim, not her. He declared, "She's trying to rip me off."

Goldberg isn't the first to complain about a Trump development.

Dozens of investors in the Las Vegas' five-year-old Trump International Hotel & Tower sued Trump, alleging he manufactured "a purchasing frenzy" to get them to buy in before the property market collapsed.

An arbiter, though, sided with Trump in 2011, and US District Judge Gloria M Navarro in Las Vegas later refused the disgruntled investors' request to nullify the arbitration finding.

Trump's testimony in Chicago offered a rare inside look at the business style of the 66-year-old who scrutinises the competence of contestants carrying out management tasks on his TV show.

He said, for instance, that he couldn't remember when key business decisions were made because he and his top executives aren't in the habit of taking notes.

At times, the trial was an odd, off-beat spectacle.

During his testimony, Trump kept talking over Kulwin while Kulwin kept rolling his eyes at Trump's answers, prompting Judge Amy St Eve to order both men to behave.

City pride also intervened at one point in closings when Kulwin made an unfavourable reference to executives in New York.

"Judge, he's mocking New York," Trump's attorney said, standing to object.

"I can't mock New York?" Kulwin shot back. "I thought it was every Chicagoans right to do that."

After today's (NZ time) verdict, Novack said the jurors in Chicago didn't buy into the appeal to city pride and, instead, decided the case on the evidence.

"None of them," he said, "bought into the, 'Let's hate New York.'"

- AP

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