Jury: No more child support for billionaire's kids

/ Source: The Associated Press

A jury on Thursday rejected a claim by billionaire Donald Bren's two grown children for $134 million in retroactive child support.

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.

The unusual case was a high-stakes contest between one of the nation's richest men and two adult children he fathered during a 13-year affair with Jennifer McKay Gold. She brought the lawsuit on behalf of her children, Christie Bren, 22, and her brother, David, 18.

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

The suit sought $400,000 a month for each of the children in retroactive child 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 it 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."

Donald Bren, a billionaire with 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.

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

Attempts to reach attorneys after the verdict were not immediately successful.

Lawyer Hillel Chodos, who represents the children, said in opening statements that they 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 Wednesday. "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, a New York apartment, private planes and a 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 contractural 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.

"This is not a case about whether Mr. Bren was a good father, a bad father or an indifferent father. He wasn't around so he wasn't a father for most of the time .... He's never going to be to those children's father of the year."

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.