(MCT) CHICAGO — On paper it’s a rather boring condo dispute, a classic confrontation between a buyer and seller over clauses buried deep in documents.
Throw in Donald Trump, an 87-year-old grandmother and a bruising, theatrical fight between opposing attorneys and it’s been as intriguing as an episode of “The Good Wife.”
Tension in the weeklong federal trial in Chicago peaked near the end of closing arguments Wednesday afternoon when Jacqueline Goldberg’s attorney lobbed yet another zinger at New York, home to the Trump Organization and many of the witnesses who had testified.
“Objection!” Trump’s attorney, Stephen Novack, cried out as he jumped to his feet. “He’s mocking New York!”
Goldberg’s lawyer, Shelly Kulwin, swung around to face the judge and came close to breaking out in song to defend himself.
“I can’t mock New York,” he answered incredulously, his voice rising. “I love New York! New York, New York!”
The heated exchange was the latest in a trial that started with Trump’s contentious testimony in which he insisted that Goldberg sued him after suffering buyer’s remorse in a free-falling real estate market. Goldberg, in turn, took the stand to tell her rags-to-riches story of having been raised in an orphanage, working as a hat check girl and waitress to get through college and eventually marrying and raising four children in Evanston, Ill., before investing in real estate.
On Thursday, Kulwin revealed for the first time to jurors what Goldberg wanted in damages from Trump — $6 million, far more than the $550,000 she lost on her purchase of two condos at the billionaire’s Chicago high-rise hotel. Kulwin contended Goldberg was conned and humiliated by a Trump who didn’t have the dignity to honor a deal.
While the trial produced its humorous moments, its high-stakes nature was evident in the pitched battle inside and outside the courtroom.
Speaking to reporters last week after he completed his testimony, Trump accused Goldberg of using the age card. Then following closing arguments on Wednesday, Trump executive Alan Garten pulled reporters into a conference room to offer his take.
He called Goldberg “pathetic” and complained that she was motivated by “her greed and her belief that the world revolves around her.”
“The lowest form of lawyer,” Garten said. “ … Mr. Kulwin has used Mrs. Goldberg for his 15 minutes of fame. Those 15 minutes are ticking away.”
Reached after court Wednesday, Kulwin declined to get into name-calling but said Trump was not used to being challenged.
“Because they have nothing substantive to say, they go on the attack,” Kulwin said. “That is what Mr. Trump has been doing from the beginning. He just attacks people.”
The jury is scheduled to resume deliberations Thursday after conferring privately for about 90 minutes Wednesday.
The dispute centers on the Trump International Hotel and Tower’s decision to take back an offer to share revenue from its ballroom and other meeting spaces with buyers of its condos — a major factor, Goldberg said, in her decision in 2006 to put a $500,000 deposit down.
Trump and his attorneys have insisted that a clause in the condo documents allowed the hotel to adjust plans and that Goldberg, cast by the defense as a savvy businesswoman, knew that at the time of her purchase.
Goldberg’s lawsuit contended that Trump never intended to follow through on such a lucrative opportunity for investors.
During his closing remarks Wednesday, Kulwin spun long metaphors, gestured and used sarcasm to express outrage over how he thought Goldberg was mistreated.
A mild-mannered Novack reminded jurors that neither Trump’s celebrity nor Goldberg’s age mattered. To illustrate the point, he announced that he liked grandmothers, too.
“I happen to be married to one,” said Novack, gesturing to his smiling wife in the front row. “She’s right over there.”
Seemingly sensitive to the David v. Goliath nature of the case, Novack cautioned jurors that they should not try to send a message to big business with their verdict.
“This isn’t the chance for you to show Wall Street … or … show these fat cats,” he said.
©2013 Chicago Tribune
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