A retired Boca Raton attorney is in a fight with his siblings over the family’s $100 million-plus real estate fortune, including assets in a frozen Morgan Stanley brokerage account.
Ronald N. Dubner’s attorneys say he spent decades helping his father, Harold, develop a vast real estate empire with office buildings, multi-tenant holdings and commercial shopping centers in Florida. But they say most of that wealth went to Dubner’s half-sister Leslie Strupp and the estate of his half-brother Bradley when their father died in 2004.
“Our client is eager for his day in court,” said Ronald Dubner’s attorney, Daniel L. McDermott of Adrian Philip Thomas in Fort Lauderdale. “Ninety-seven percent of the family empire ended up with his siblings, to the detriment of my client.”
Ronald Dubner filed three lawsuits in Palm Beach County — trust, probate and tort actions — and one in Broward Circuit Court, claiming unjust enrichment, constructive fraud, tortious interference with a business relationship and exploitation of a vulnerable adult, according to an appellate ruling.
He alleged his siblings fraudulently influenced their elderly mother into changing her estate plan to give them millions in gifts during her lifetime. He then added the brokerage firm as a defendant because it held accounts for his siblings and family-owned entities.
“I grew up here in Palm Beach. I can’t tell you how often we see this here,” said family attorney Gregory Coleman, counsel for the personal representative of brother Bradley Dubner’s estate. “Anytime you see a family that has a substantial net worth and one of the children … feels slighted … the first thing they do is lawyer up. They create a case out of whole cloth with nothing to back it up. But the system is what it is. And that’s what they’ve done in the case. It’s a this-isn’t-fair type of case, with no legal basis to it.”
Ronald Dubner’s pleadings claim he only wants his fair share — a third of an estimated $100 million to $135 million fortune.
“We’re not at the end of the road,” his attorney said after a Fourth District Court of Appeal panel decided an interlocutory appeal on the Morgan Stanley funds in his favor Wednesday. “There’s a lot of fighting that remains.”
Dubner, 75, retired as an attorney because of an undisclosed medical condition. His attorneys say he used his professional skills over the years to help his father — a Chicago doctor who retired to Florida — amass a multimillion-dollar commercial real estate portfolio.
But his siblings’ court pleadings paint a different picture — of greed and dissatisfaction on their attorney-brother’s part.
“It’s insulting to his father to say he helped build this. … That’s just fantasy,” said Coleman, a partner at Critton Luttier & Coleman in West Palm Beach. Stepmother Annette Dubner “found a way to direct millions of dollars to the plaintiff and made arrangements for millions more to go to him after she passed. He just didn’t like the number of millions … and thought it should be more.”
The litigation came before the appellate court on a challenge to a Palm Beach Circuit Court order removing a unilateral freeze of some of the family’s brokerage accounts.
After the brokerage firm froze the accounts without a court order, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Roger B. Colton granted injunctive relief to one of the siblings and ordered the funds released.
The appellate panel disagreed and ordered the trial court to lift the injunction that stopped Morgan Stanley from freezing the funds at the center of the ownership dispute.
“The trial court failed to make the requisite findings, and the defendants failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success or irreparable harm,” Judge Melanie May wrote in a unanimous decision with Fourth DCA Judges Burton C. Conner and Jeffrey T. Kuntz concurring.
Ronald Dubner’s side hailed the appellate ruling as a victory as he and his relatives continue their fight.