Billionaire Donald Bren, who has spent a lifetime protecting his privacy, is breaking the pattern by showing up in a Los Angeles courtroom to air details of his private life in a legal battle with his two grown children from a long-ago love affair who are seeking millions.
The issue is money and alleged broken promises.
Bren's lawyer said Wednesday in opening statements to the jury that the 78-year-old real estate mogul didn't make or break any promises regarding the children. He just had no relationship with them.
"This is not a case about whether Mr. Bren was a good father, a bad father or an indifferent father," said Quinn. "He wasn't around so he wasn't a father for most of the time. ...He's never going to be to those children father of the year."
On one side of the courtroom sat Bren, a patrician looking gray-haired man who is one of the nation's wealthiest people. On the other side sat Christie Bren, 22, and David Bren, 18. They are suing their father for $400,000 a month in child support retroactive to the time they were born. That comes to about $100 million.
Attorney Hillel Chodos, representing the children, painted their father as a high-living executive who has two California homes, a New York apartment, a Sun Valley ranch, two yachts and five private jets.
"Donald Bren is able to live and does live like a maharajah," said Chodos.
Donald Bren, chairman of the IrvineCo., has an estimated net worth of $12 billion and is 16th in Forbes' Magazine's ranking of the 400 richest Americans. He once told the children's mother, Jennifer McKay Gold, whom he never married, that he spent $3 million to $5 million a month on personal expenses, Chodos said.
John Quinn, Donald Bren's lawyer, said the figure was probably closer to $125,000 and the planes were part of a private jet leasing company he owns.
Chodos said the children's mother will testify that Donald Bren promised to always claim the children as his and to retain a parental relationship with them.
Quinn denied that and painted a very different portrait of his client: a self-made real estate magnate who is obsessed with privacy and works seven days a week, barely taking time off for vacations.
"He doesn't have a chauffeur. He has only one car. He's a man who shines his own shoes, pumps his own gas," said Quinn.
"We don't apologize for it—he is a very wealthy man," said Quinn, who acknowledged that Donald Bren "lives a comfortable lifestyle."
The billionaire's attitude toward the children was always clear to their mother, Quinn said.
"Those promises were never made. There's not a scrap of paper. There are no witnesses. She never told anyone about these promises," Quinn said.
Quinn showed jurors a series of four legal agreements involving child support entered into by Gold each time she became pregnant and after the children were born. The contracts, beginning in 1988, rose from $3,500 a month to $18,000 a month between 1992 and 2002.
"These children never wanted for anything," he said.
Chodos said that was not the issue.
"They lived a nice life," he conceded. "But this is about what they were entitled to."