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New York Yankees minority owner Jack Satter of Boca Raton keeps coming to bat in an extra-innings litigation game in which his lawyers have scored millions of dollars in divorce-related fees since 1990. “Jack went through law firms like dirty underwear,” says Nancy Bernard of West Palm Beach, Fla., his mistress of 17 years and spouse for six more until their 1993 divorce. “If you’re on Jack’s legal team, you have an annuity for life.” But at age 79 and in poor health, Satter may not live to see the end of this series of court combats, says Bernard. She predicts that he’ll fight even from his grave to keep her from collecting the $1.5 million due her from his estate. The fight now not only includes Bernard but also Satter’s different sets of attorneys, who are accusing each other of negligence. Satter hired Joseph J. Reiter and William “Bill” Williams of West Palm Beach to prosecute legal malpractice claims against Albert Gortz and his firm, Proskauer Rose, whom Satter accuses of bungling a premarital contract. Gortz and his firm, in turn, have countersued Reiter and his firm, alleging that negligence on their part cost Satter about $1 million in legal fees. Reached at his home in Boca Raton, Fla., Satter declined to comment. The twisted, tangled tale stems from the prenuptial agreement that Satter and Bernard signed on Dec. 23, 1986, four days before they were married. The agreement, written by Gortz, states that if Satter stopped living with Bernard or sued for divorce, she would receive $1 million in cash, a home and a new car, plus $1.5 million from Satter’s estate after his death. On the other hand, if Bernard stopped living with Satter or sued him for divorce, she would get nothing. Court records show Satter’s net worth in 1991 was close to $14 million, including his 5 percent slice of the Yankees. Bernard said in one of her divorce trials that she signed the contract as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. She said she didn’t marry Satter for his money, since she first became intimate with him when he was a meat salesman for Colonial Provisions. He later became Colonial’s vice president of sales. Satter bought the company in 1971, turning it into New England’s premiere meatpacking and processing company. He sold Colonial in 1983, becoming a wealthy man in the process. After they married, according to court records, Satter sometimes abused Bernard, both physically and emotionally, all the while engaging in extramarital affairs in Boston and Munich, Germany. So, citing the abuse, Bernard refused to move into Satter’s new home at St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton in December 1990. Satter, in turn, sued her for divorce. Each alleged that the other violated the prenuptial contract, setting the stage for serial court combat. The first court battle came in 1991 and focused on whether the prenuptial agreement was valid. Palm Beach Circuit Judge Gary L. Vonhof ruled it was. Vonhof then presided in a second divorce trial in 1992, this one to determine who had violated the prenuptial contract. Satter wanted the agreement strictly construed; Bernard asked the court to toss out the provision penalizing her if she stopped living with Satter. Vonhof ruled that Satter violated the prenuptial agreement. Vonhof concluded that Bernard was “subjected to a systematic series of mental abuses” and that she “sustained physical injuries as a result of physical abuse inflicted on her by the husband.” In a third trial in 1993, Palm Beach Circuit Judge John Wessel awarded her what she was entitled to under the prenuptial contract: $1 million cash, a home in Cape Cod, a new car and $1.5 million from Satter’s estate. A few months after the divorce, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that spouses could sue each other for intentional wrongs, such as assault and battery. So Bernard filed suit against Satter for $10 million. However, Bernard’s claims of abuse hit a wall when then-Palm Beach Circuit Judge Fred A. Hazouri ruled in 1996 that all but one of the battering episodes were barred by a two-year statute of limitations. And after only 45 minutes, the six-man jury found for Satter. That finding made Satter entitled to legal fees from Bernard, who also was liable for the money because she had failed to accept Satter’s earlier $250,000 settlement offer. But Lytal Reiter filed for legal fees nine days after the deadline. Bernard eventually paid $20,000 to Satter, settling his claims for legal fees. She also waived appealing the jury verdict and agreed to stop using Satter’s last name. Satter next turned his sights on Gortz. Satter hired Reiter in 1996 to prosecute the legal malpractice suit against Gortz and his firm. The prenup agreement, Satter claims, failed to provide protection against Bernard’s claims of physical and emotional abuse and failed to specify how personal property should have been distributed. Gortz denied liability. Then he and his firm countersued Lytal Reiter, claiming the firm blew an October 1996 deadline to demand that Bernard pay Satter’s legal costs in connection with the $10 million suit she lost in which she alleged physical and mental abuse. The mistake, according to court records, likely cost Satter $1 million in legal fees paid to several firms led by Lytal Reiter. Proskauer claims that Lytal Reiter should be held responsible for what it cost Satter by missing the deadline — but only if a jury finds Proskauer guilty of legal malpractice. Reiter admits that his firm blew the deadline by nine days to submit Satter’s claim for legal fees. But he insists the mistake was not malpractice. Reiter says he relies on a Florida Supreme Court decision handed down six months after the deadline incident, which he hopes to apply retroactively. The state’s high court ruled that a trial judge under some circumstances might forgive “excusable neglect” when a lawyer blows the deadline to file a claim for legal fees. Proskauer’s attorney, James W. Beasley Jr. of West Palm Beach’s Beasley Leacock & Hauser, says Lytal Reiter is now in a conflict of interest and should withdraw as Satter’s attorney. “Lytal Reiter is in a position where it is defending itself, at the expense of its client,” Beasley wrote in a letter to Palm Beach Circuit Judge Catherine M. Brunson before she dismissed his complaint against Lytal Reiter. “Lytal Reiter did not withdraw and advise Satter that he should consider suing Lytal Reiter.” Last month the 4th District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed Brunson and reinstated Proskauer’s legal negligence claims against Lytal Reiter. The case heads back to Brunson for a trial yet to be scheduled.

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