By Sydney H. Schanberg
First published in New York Newsday, May 20, 1986
Donald Trump likes to get his way and when he doesn’t, he sues people. I don’t have a complete list, but recently he has sued New York State, he has sued real estate competitors and he has sued Chicago Tribune because the paper’s architecture writer said some unkind things about Donald’s taste in design.
When he loses a case—which he does with some frequency—he simply changes lawyers and tries again. One gets the feeling he doesn’t care much for lawyers.
In fact, his most recent court suit is against a law firm that had the effrontery to represent some tenants who Donald Trump was trying to evict.
He has accused this firm—Fischbein, Olivieri, Rozenholc & Badillo—of engaging in acts of wickedness, usually depicted only in headlines about the mob: harassment, coercion, attempted extortion and obstruction of justice “in furtherance of this illicit scheme of commercial blackmail.” And he is seeking $150 million in damages from them.
What the tenants’ lawyers actually did—one learns from the court history of the case—was get Donald angry by frustrating his desire to drive the tenants out of 100 Central Park South so he could tear down the 15-story building and put up another Trump tower or palace or hanging garden.
Donald wasn’t just angry, he was livid. The tenants had won; they were staying. He had lost and he still faces serious charges, now being heard both in court and before a state agency, of having abused and harassed the tenants.
Not one to stay on the defense, Donald went after the lawyers. His latest suit against them was filed last week in state Supreme Court. Donald tried out his act first in federal District Court some months ago; he got nowhere.
It was thrown out there with unusual celebrity by Judge Whitman Knapp, whose language was blunt. The federal Court of Appeals was equally curt, not only affirming the Knapp decision but sending it back to the lower court to consider whether Donald should pay damages for having brought a frivolous lawsuit.
The gist of Knapp’s decision was that the tenants’ lawyers had done nothing more than represent their clients in vigorous and effective fashion. Being a man of civility, the judge fell just short of laughing at the charges, which were brought under the federal law against racketeering, known as RICO. He did refer to them, however, as “ludicrous” and deserving of “short shift.”
Having failed in federal courtrooms, Donald changed lawyers and is now clogging the state calendar with this foolishness.
His old lawyer on the case was A. Richard Golub, whose failure in the racketeering field has nonetheless not disqualified him from other of Donald’s litigious activities; there is so much to sue about. Donald’s new representative on racketeering is the law firm of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, etc., whose reputation for serious endeavor seems jeopardized by the humorous papers the firm filed against the tenants’ law firm last week.
It’s not that anyone has to feel sorry for the tenants’ law firm or for the three partners who are names as individual defendants—Richard Fischbein, David Rozenholc, and Herman Badillo, the last being a former Bronx borough president, congressman and deputy mayor. They are not pussycats; they are tough, savvy, aggressive lawyers and can look after themselves.
But it’s a lousy precedent to fill up the court dockets with suits by losers against the lawyers who represented the winners. Just because Donald hates losing—and who doesn’t?—shouldn’t give him the right to misuse the justice system. Donald, however, sometimes behaves as if the normal rules that apply to others don’t apply to him.