Brothers Zygi & Mark Wilf / Getty
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A few months ago, on September 23rd, a judge in New Jersey ordered wealthy brothers Zygmund, “Zygi”, and Mark Wilf, co owners of the Minnesota Vikings, and their cousin, Leonard Wilf, to pay US$84.5 million to two former business partners the judge found they had defrauded. The case relates to an apartment building project gone sour as long ago as the nineteen eighties. Jewish Business News reportedon the case on September 24th, 2013 .
Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson’s ruling at that time awarded both compensatory and punitive damages to the two plaintiffs, Josef Halpern and Ada Reichmann of Toronto, Canada. It also covered a redistribution of real estate profits dating all the way back to the lawsuit’s initial filing in 1992 – twenty one years ago. With legal costs thrown in on top, the total judgment was for about US$100 million.
Judge Wilson ruled then that the Wilf brothers and their cousin had committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, and also violated the state’s civil racketeering laws. Judge Wilson also stated that Zygi Wilf demonstrated “bad faith and evil motive” in his trial testimony.
Well this case, which has run for twenty-one years already, now seems set to continue even longer. The Wilfs are reported by the Associated Press to have just filed an appeal of Judge Wilson’s decision, waiting over three months before doing so and therefore continuing to maintain its glacially slow rate of forward momentum.
Even earlier in the case Judge Wilson had said “To my knowledge, there has never been a case like this in New Jersey jurisprudence, ” one which had caused her even to delay her own retirement in order to hear the case to its conclusion. “We try to move cases along. There is no reason in the world for a case to be tried 20 years after it was filed.”
Well Judge Wilson may now have to wait to retire a little longer now the three Wilfs, brothers and cousin, have filed their formal appeal in the appellate division of New Jersey’s Superior Court. They are asking the Superior Court in their appeal to overturn all of Judge Wilson’s findings.
In an unusual twist the case seems to get much more publicity in the State of Minnesota than it does in New Jersey itself, where the Wilfs live and do most of their business, and where the apartment project at the heart of the original case is located as well.
The reason for the attention there is that at some point the Wilfs somehow became out of state co-owners of the Minnesota Vikings football team. Zygi Wilf is the team’s general partner, but both Mark and Leonard Wilf also hold stakes in the team.
The Minnesota Vikings are in process of preparing to build a new US$1 billion stadium for the football team, and to date have won a large public subsidy from the State of Minnesota to help pay for it.
As part of Judge Wilson’s judgment the Wilfs had been ordered to reveal their personal net worth to the court, and therefore also to the public. This is something they have been extremely reluctant to do, perhaps fearing it could impact the implementation of the state subsidy for the new stadium. Accordingly they seem to have been fighting this particular instruction of the judge by all possible legal means, and just as much as the outcome of the case itself.
Until now the Wilfs and their legal team have made few public comments about their legal strategy since September. However now the appeal is filed their attorney, Peter Harvey, told The Associated Press by telephone last week that in their view Judge Wilson had “made multiple errors of law, improperly expanded the scope of the case and failed to adequately wall off conflicts of interest.”
“This case was badly mismanaged, ” according to Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general. “The case is an example of trial proceedings out of control.”
Attorneys for the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit have all declined to comment on the latest developments in the case. The palintiffs now have until later in the month to file their formal legal responses to the Wilfs’ appeal, at which point no doubt they will then make their views known to the public.
If the Wilfs’ goal with the appeal is simply to drag out disclosure of their own personal wealth before the new Minnesota stadium gets built with a large slug of public money, they may well indeed succeed. If the Wilfs’ goal is to delay the resolution of the entire case for as long as they can as well, they may succeed there too.
However at the rate things have been going, at a certain point it ceases to be entirely facetious to suggest that actuarial considerations may also start to creep in involving the relative ages of all of the participants – none of whom are spring chickens at this juncture. So if the case continues at the same pace to the bitter end, it could well be only the heirs who are around for the final judgment, whichever way it goes.
Justice delayed really is justice denied on that basis.