The seemingly unending saga of the litigation between the Wilf family, co-owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and their former real estate business partners continues.
A New Jersey appeals court in three unpublished opinions issued June 1 handed the Wilfs a mixed bag, upholding portions of a $103 million verdict against them, but overturning other portions of the award, as well as the legal fee award.
Appellate Division Judges Harry Carroll, Patrick DeAlmeida and Joseph Yannotti also ruled that the Wilfs need not disclose to the public the family’s net worth, which was provided to other litigants in a stipulation that has since been sealed.
The court affirmed millions of dollars in compensatory damages, but reversed millions more, apparently ensuring that the litigation will continue. The litigation is now remanded to Superior Court in Morris County to determine what counsel fees and damages might still be awarded.
The Wilf defendants were successful in their quest to have stipulations of their minimum net worth kept under seal. The appeals court rejected attempts by the other litigants to have the stipulations released. The stipulations are meant to assure the court that the family has enough money to pay any damages.
“It is undisputed that defendants are active participants in the real estate market, and a significant part of that market involves the sale and purchase of real estate,” the judges said. “Defendants credibly established that disclosure of their minimum net worth would impair their ability to engage in their business activities.”
The Wilfs’ attorney, former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey, now with New York’s Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, issued a statement, saying the net effect of the decisions is that the damages have been reduced by about 70 percent.
“The appellate judges also ruled that the trial judge committed error when she ordered the release of the Wilfs’ net worth statements. Furthermore, we continue to believe that the appellate court did not go far enough in its review of the court’s conflict of interest and we intend to take this matter to the New Jersey Supreme Court,” he said in the statement.
The plaintiffs are represented by Price Gielin, of Neuberg, Quinn, Gielin, Rubin & Gibber in Baltimore, and Alan Lebensfeld, of Lebensfeld, Sharon & Schwartz in Red Bank. Gielin could not be reached, and Lebensfeld declined to comment.
The Wilf family has been attempting to make its case to upend a $103 million judgment levied against it in 2014 for allegedly cutting off its business partners from the proceeds of a real estate deal struck decades before.
The plaintiffs are Ada Reichmann of Toronto and her brother, Josef Halpern of Brooklyn, and their company, Jarwick Developments. They have claimed, in litigation dating back to 1992, that the Wilf family wrongly excluded them from the proceeds for developing Rachel Gardens, a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville.
According to court documents, when a partnership was formed in 1985 to purchase land and obtain approvals for the apartment complex, the Wilf family had a 50 percent interest, and Halpern and his brother, Abe, each had a 25 percent stake. Abe Halpern assigned his interest to Reichmann, their sister, in 1990.
Reichmann, on behalf of Jarwick Developments, filed the suit in 1992 after Zygmunt ”Zygi” Wilf removed her from the partnership on the grounds that she wasn’t contributing toward the cost of development. She also claimed the Wilfs transferred ownership of a portion of the apartment complex to a new entity without her consent. A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Reichmann in 2000, according to the documents.
The Wilfs moved in 2004 to buy Reichmann out of the deal, but her interest was found to have no value because the date of valuation was set at 1992, when the complex was still under construction. The Appellate Division, however, reversed in 2006, finding she was wrongly shut out of the partnership. The case was remanded for a new trial. Halpern joined the case in 2009.
In August 2013, after the lengthy trial, Morris County Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson found that the Wilfs committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, and violated New Jersey’s anti-racketeering law, by shutting Reichmann out of the partnership, and also took more than $16 million out of the venture without disclosing the withdrawals to Reichmann and Halpern. The next month, the judge ordered Zygi Wilf and brother Mark Wilf, along with their cousin, Leonard Wilf, to pay $19.2 million in compensatory damages, $36.8 million in punitives, and $29.5 million in prejudgment interest. Wilson set racketeering damages against Reichmann at $18 million and against Halpern at $16 million, but said those amounts were not collectible or payable because they were exceeded by the punitive damages. But she later used the racketeering statute as a basis to award a total of $17.5 million in attorney fees to the plaintiffs—bringing the final judgment to $103 million.
The Wilfs appealed, arguing that Wilson wrongly allowed new claims into the case, failed to recuse despite a conflict and made numerous other errors, while the plaintiffs cross-appealed Wilson’s reduction of the punitive damages and attorney fees, and her limitation of the scope of the racketeering claims. Reichmann and Halpern, while defending Wilson’s findings, had been challenging her reductions of the damages.