Wilf attorneys confident in appeal, finances

Attorneys for the Vikings owners say they are confident their appeal of an $84.5 million judgment against the Wilfs will be successful, but it could take two to three years. They say that won't affect the Vikings' ability to pay their $477 million commitment to a new stadium.

Attorneys for the owners of the Minnesota Vikings are confident that a New Jersey appellate court will overturn or reduce an $84.5 million judgment against the Wilf family issued Monday.

The ruling against the Wilfs stemmed from a 1980s real estate development in which Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said brother Zygi and Mark Wilf, along with cousin Leonard Wilf, violated civil racketeering laws, were guilty of fraud and breach of contract. The suit was brought against the family by their partners in the 764-unit development, Josef Halpern and Ada Reichmann.

After the judgment Monday, lawyers for the Wilfs said the appellate court instructed the trial court to recognize "the value that the Wilfs created and the capital they invested over a period of more than 20 years," according to lead trial counsel Shep Guryan. "It was the Wilfs who provided the money, arranged for the financing, contributed the manpower and provided decades of construction.

"The decision today has unfairly deprived the Wilfs not only of their investment but of the entire value of their interest in the project, which but for the Wilfs would never have been built. Simply put, the determination by this court amounts to nothing less than a forfeiture."

Peter Harvey, a partner with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler and past Attorney General of New Jersey, said the Wilfs' appeal could "easily" take two to three years, but said neither the order issued Monday nor the appeal will affect the Vikings' ability to pay their $477 million commitment to a new stadium.

"The stadium will be built and there's going to be an opening kickoff long before this case is decided by the appellate division and, ultimately if necessary, the New Jersey Supreme Court," Harvey said.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affair/stadium development, said the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority backed that assessment with the statement it issued last week following a "thorough and detailed review" of the Wilfs' finances.

Harvey said the stadium authority's conclusion came after also talking to the NFL and the consortium of banks involved in financing the Wilfs' commitment.

"The people who are financing it, if they aren't worried, no else should be," Harvey said. "… It's a non-issue. It never was an issue, frankly."

Bagley said final negotiations for the stadium are progressing, and the project is on track and will be built "on time and on budget."

Attorneys called the 207-day trial and the oral ruling that was issued over a 13-day period "unprecedented" in New Jersey state court history.

Punitive damages were set at about $36 million, with the remaining balance of the $84.5 million judgment attributed to compensatory damages and accrued interest. A judgment regarding attorney fees could be issued in late October.

"We look forward to having this record reviewed on appeal. We look forward to highlighting for the appellate court a series of mistakes that the trial court has made … some of them are manifestly wrong," Harvey said. "And we believe the appellate court will see those errors quickly, immediately and will reach a different conclusion than the trial court."

He added later: "It is often the case in New Jersey law that trial judges giveth and appellate courts taketh away."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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