CHICAGO – An 87-year-old grandmother took on billionaire Donald Trump. And on Thursday, she lost.
Jurors 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 bait-and-switch scheme connected to condos in a Chicago skyscraper he built.
The 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 $6 million.
As the judge read the decision in court, Goldberg showed little emotion herself — though 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, told reporters she has no regrets about suing Trump.
“I think I have exposed him for what he is. I had to try,” she said, adding that she hoped the litigation would dissuade others from doing business with Trump.
Several hours later in a phone interview with The Associated Press, Trump heralded the verdict as “a complete and total victory.”
Asked about Goldberg’s comments, he bristled.
“She’s not glad she took me on — because she lost,” the famous executive said. And he called her comment about hoping to drive business away from him “disgraceful.”
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 “You’re fired!” from his “Apprentice” TV show.
In a sarcasm-filled closing, Kulwin described Trump as villainous and greedy.
“The thought of my grandma being in the same room with that guy. Yuck!” he boomed.
The dispute centred on the glitzy Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, one of several showcase towers Trump has named after himself in such cities as New York, Las Vegas and Hawaii.
Goldberg accused Trump of wooing her into buying two condos at $1 million apiece in the mid-2000s by dangling a promise to share in building profits — then reneging after she committed to buying.
At trial, Kulwin portrayed Goldberg as a former waitress who learned her values living through the Depression.
Trump lashed out at that portrayal Thursday. He said Goldberg was a successful, sophisticated investor who signed a contract stipulating he could do what he did: cancel the profit-sharing plan anytime he saw fit.
“I don’t have any admiration for her,” the mogul told the AP. “She knew exactly what she was doing. She should be ashamed of herself.”
A court clerk said jurors had chosen not to speak to reporters afterward. But the fact Goldberg signed a contract with the stipulation Trump could change the terms may have been the deciding factor.
An often-scowling Trump spent two days testifying himself, bragging about the quality of his developments and verbally sparring with Kulwin.
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 Goldberg. He declared, “She’s trying to rip me off.”
Goldberg isn’t the first to complain about a Trump development.
Dozens of investors in 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 U.S. 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. He said 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 attorney Stephen Novack said, standing to object.
“I can’t mock New York?” Kulwin shot back. “I thought it was every Chicagoan’s right to do that.”
After Thursday’s verdict, Novack said the jurors in Chicago didn’t buy into the appeal to city pride and, instead, based their decision on the evidence.
“None of them,” he said, “bought into the, ‘Let’s hate New York.'”
Follow Michael Tarm at http://www.twitter.com/mtarm .