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Lawsuit of the Day: A ‘Big-Shot’ Lawyer Sues His Trust-Fund-Having Daughter — for Defamation?

A 43-year-old trust fund baby?

Talk about #RichPeopleProblems. And #DaddyIssues.

A prominent Manhattan lawyer is suing his own daughter. For libel. Because she allegedly harmed his reputation. By seeking an accounting of her trust fund. Which he set up for her and reportedly administers. Got that?

Yes, Dad v. Daughter. How could something this messed-up not be our Lawsuit of the Day? Especially given the claimed size of the trust fund, stocked with such goodies as Hamptons real estate?

It’s hard to get one’s head around these allegations, but the litigation is for real. Let’s take a look at the competing claims. And how much the trust fund was supposedly worth at one point — we’re talking seven figures here….

Here’s a report from the New York Daily News:

A big-shot Manhattan attorney slammed his daughter with a $3 million libel suit Tuesday, charging she maligned his “excellent reputation” by accusing him of mishandling her trust fund.

Richard Fischbein, 70 — whose clients included Donald Trump, the Black Panthers and the estate of slain rapper Tupac Shakur — blasted his daughter, Beth Fischbein-Bodner, calling an ungrateful child making “silly” accusations.

(Of course, when you represent the Donald, your reputation is already maligned.)

The legal salvo was prompted by his 43-year-old daughter’s July petition to the state Surrogate’s Court requesting an audit of her trust fund, claiming it was hijacked by her father.

A daughter’s allegations about a mishandled trust fund, followed by a father’s multimillion dollar libel suit against her? As the New York Post put it, “This’ll make for an awkward Thanksgiving.”

If Beth Fischbein-Bodner’s allegations are true, one can see why she’d be upset. Back to the NYDN:

The trust was set up in 1980 for when she turned 21, in 1990. Fischbein-Bodner claims her father and her stepmother, Mimi, asked to extend the terms of her trust twice. Then they swapped the two pricey East Hampton properties in her trust — including one with a sprawling mansion and pool — for two cheaper, vacant parcels.

Fischbein-Bodner, who is also an attorney, says the couple then used the properties to partially leverage $6.5 million worth of mortgages. Ultimately, Fischbein-Bodner claims, she only got $114,000.

Now, $114K is nothing to scoff at; in today’s world, it might buy you two years of law school. But compared to millions in Hamptons real estate, it’s chump change.

Speaking of paying for law school, that’s part of Richard Fischbein’s response to his daughter’s claims — which he denies, by the way:

The father shot back that his daughter levied charges “maliciously and in bad faith.” In his libel lawsuit, he’s asking for $3 million in punitive damage, plus compensatory damages for “substantial loss and damage in his profession and business.”

Fischbein — a partner in the law firm Olshan, Frome & Wolosky — says he paid for his daughter to attend elite private schools, summer camp, Union College and Brooklyn Law School, bought her luxury cars and covered her living expenses, and hired her at his law firm upon graduation.

Digression: unlike many other people, Beth Fischbein-Bodner faced little downside risk in going to law school. First, she got a free ride (to her father’s alma mater). Second, her dad was able to hire her after she graduated. [FN1]

Fischbein-Bodner — who now works at the personal injury law firm of her husband, Mark Bodner — declined to comment. Here is the Bodners’ New York Times wedding announcement, which notes that their wedding place took place at the Rainbow Room. That’s not a cheap venue. Query whether Richard Fischbein, in addition to paying for elite private schools, summer camp, Brooklyn Law, and luxury cars, also chipped in for the wedding.

As for Richard Fischbein, here’s what he told the Daily News:

Fischbein, who lives in a luxury Park Avenue pad, called his daughter’s petition “silly” and added, “I wish it didn’t happen.”

Fischbein’s spokesman released a statement, saying, “The accounting will find that, after it is completely done, he will be vindicated and she will find that she owes him money. However, he will not asked for it to be reimbursed.”

Richard S. Fischbein

That’s very gracious of him. In addition, Fischbein’s spokesperson told the New York Post that Richard hopes for this “family matter” to be “resolved amicably.”

Presumably Beth feels the same way. One has to wonder: why is she making such public accusations against her father, knowing that he is (1) presumably wealthy and (2) 70 years old? This won’t exactly endear her to dad when he’s making up a new will.

And she had to have known that her father might fight back. According to the NYDN, this isn’t his first time at the rodeo: he has filed at least 21 lawsuits since 1977, including one in which “he sued the Manhattan steakhouse Angelo and Maxie for $7 million, claiming he was detained and humiliated for not leaving a $353 tip.”

Richard Fischbein has been on the defendant side of things too. In 2009, one of his former firms — Cozen O’Connor, where he did a short stint, from March 2005 until June 2006 — sued him in federal court to collect on what it claimed was an unpaid loan in the amount of $314,000 (including principal and interest). The court entered a $320,000 judgment in Cozen O’Connor’s favor in June of this year.

One might think that a family like the Fischbeins — with millions of dollars in wealth, including real estate on Park Avenue and in the Hamptons — would be reasonably happy. But you never know what lies beneath a glittering surface. To quote Leo Tolstoy, “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Or as another wise man once said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

[FN1] Here’s my quick guide for whether to go to law school. It’s okay to go to law school if you can answer “yes” to at least two out of these three questions:

1. Do you have a free ride? For example, you have a guaranteed scholarship for all three years — not a contingent one — or someone else is paying for law school (like your parents or grandparents or a trust fund).

2. Do you have a guaranteed job upon graduation? For example, you have a parent or spouse who owns a law firm where they have the power to hire you. (Note that some Biglaw firms have anti-nepotism policies.)

3. Are you going to a “top” law school? One can argue about the cutoff here, but I’d say HYS or T14 to be on the safe side, or at least the flagship state school in the market where you’re planning to practice.

For more discussion of the topic of when it’s worthwhile to go to law school, see Professor Paul Campos’s new book, Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk (affiliate link).

Manhattan attorney says daughter maligned his reputation in $3 million libel suit [New York Daily News]
Dad sues own kid in matter of ‘trust’ [New York Post]
‘Big-Shot’ Lawyer Sues His Daughter for Libel Because She Sought Trust Fund Accounting [ABA Journal]
Beth Fischbein and Mark Bodner [New York Times]
Cozen O’Connor v. Fischbein [U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York]

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