Jury Sides With Billionaire Donald Bren in Inflated Child Support Battle

Donald Bren does not have to pay adult children extra millions, jury rules.

August 19, 2010, 1:50 PM

Aug. 26, 2010— -- A jury sided today with real estate tycoon Donald Bren, ruling that he did not have to pay more than $130 million in back child support payments to his adult children.

Bren, No. 16 on Forbes' list of America's richest people, was not in the courtroom as the jury returned its 9-3 verdict stating that he had not made the children or their mother, his ex-girlfriend, any false promises.

Bren testified during court proceedings in Los Angeles that he believed he had already more than adequately provided for two children he fathered with his former girlfriend in the 1980s by paying for their health care and education, and providing cash for an estimated total of $9 million in their lifetimes.

"I feel for the two children," Bren testified, "but I believe I have provided for them."

The two children, Christie Alexis Bren, 22, and David Leroy Bren, 18, were seeking $400,000 a month retroactive to the days they were born -- a payout they said was commensurate to their father's lifestyle.

Hillel Chodos, attorney for the children, vowed to appeal.

The testimony from the billionaire was tense at times as he took the stand and testified about his purposeful distance from former girlfriend Jennifer Gold and the two children she bore.

"We weren't married, we weren't a family," Bren testified in front of his children. "I never told her I loved her."

Gold produced what she called love notes from Bren, 78, as evidence of their ongoing relationship.

"Jennifer, the enclosed check is for you to pick out your birthday suit. Love and kisses," one note read.

And another: "Happy Valentines Day. You see, I really do care in my own way. Love Donald."

Former Los Angeles prosecutor Robin Sax said the issue of whether Gold and Bren loved each other is a moot point compared to the valid agreement they had to make sure their children were provided for.

"The question of greed really seems apparent because they're coming back after the fact," she said.

That Bren, a fiercely private man, chose to go to trial rather than attempt to settle seems out of character. But Sax suggested that he may have had good reason to do so with two of those reasons waiting for him at home.

"There are probably a lot of other issues at play," she said, "including the fact that he is now married and has a 7-year-old."

Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co., has an estimated net worth of $12 billion. He is known as a generous philanthropist and political donor.

Bren's Lawyer: 'He's Never Going to Be to Those Children Father of the Year'

Gold and the Bren children sued him Los Angeles Superior Court in May 2003 for fraud and breach of contract, alleging the real estate magnate had given only minimal emotional and financial support to the children. The brother and sister are now involved in their own lawsuit because they are adults.

In opening arguments in a Los Angeles courtroom, Bren's lawyer, John Quinn, told the jury that the 78-year-old Bren 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."

Gold and her children for years had an out-of-court agreement with Bren that he would provide financial support to the children and maintain a parental relationship. On average, he was providing each child with about $10,000 a month during those years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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.

Chodos said that along with written agreements, Bren verbally promised to take care of them for life and acknowledge them as his. Chodos said that Gold would have received much more money for the children had she not abided by Bren's wishes to protect his privacy and instead gone to court for more support years earlier. According to Quinn, Bren paid his son and daughter a combined $3 million during that 14-year period. Quinn maintained that Bren met his financial obligations to both.

In court records, Gold described Bren's lifestyle: a fleet of five jets with two full-time pilots, a 240-foot yacht with a crew, lavish homes in Bel-Air and Orange County, Calif., a ranch in Idaho and large staff of servants. "It costs a lot of money to keep all of these things going," Gold recalled Bren saying in a conversation about his spending.

Chodos says the children deserve more, given the $3 million to $5 million per month Gold says Bren told her he spent on personal expenses. Chodos contends that the law requires that an obligated parent pay support "according to the parent's circumstances and station in life."

Bren's attorney disputed the per month spending figure of the mogul, saying the figure was likely closer to $125,000 and the planes were part of a private jet leasing company he owns.

"Donald Bren is able to live and does live like a maharajah," Chodos said in court.

Question of Promises Raised in Child Support Battle

Quinn made no apologies for his client's wealth and described him as being obsessed with privacy, working seven days a week and barely taking 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," Quinn said.

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 acknowledged Bren, who has other children from other relationships, was not a typical father figure for Christine and David.

What set off the legal fireworks? According to published reports, when Bren brushed off the children when they by chance ran into him at a upscale restaurant nearly a decade ago, Gold decided to sue.

The jury's decision on how much the children deserve will hinge heavily on how Gold describes Bren's wealth during their time together, 1984-1996.

Chodos conceded they lived a nice life. "But this is about what they were entitled to," he told the courtroom.

Attorneys for both sides could not be reached and daughter Christie declined to comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events