Chasing A Mirage - Fred Goldman's Quest for OJ Simpson's Money OJSimpson.co
Chasing A Mirage: Fred Goldman's Quest for OJ Simpson's Money

For over two decades, Fred Goldman has been on a mission to collect tens of millions of dollars from O.J. Simpson. But what if I told you that for over 20 years Fred Goldman has been chasing a mirage.

Chasing A Mirage - Fred Goldman's Quest for OJ Simpson's Money OJSimpson.co
Chasing A Mirage: Fred Goldman’s Quest for OJ Simpson’s Money

The Verdict in the Civil Trial Verdict Would Have Been Overturned If the Defendant Were Anyone Other Than O.J. Simpson

For over two decades, Fred Goldman has been on a mission to collect tens of millions of dollars from O.J. Simpson. But what if I told you that for over 20 years Fred Goldman has been chasing a mirage.

On February 4, 1997, a nearly all-White jury found O.J. Simpson responsible for the wrongful death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. The Santa Monica jurors awarded the Goldman family $8.5 million in compensatory damages.

The compensatory damages awarded to the Goldman family was the largest amount awarded in for the wrongful death of an adult child in the history of the State of California – more than four times the previous high of $2 million dollars in compensatory damages that was awarded in Wright v. City of Los Angeles (supra, 219 Cal.App.3d 318, 268 Cal.Rptr.). It is important to note that in the Wright case a municipality, not an individual, was responsible for paying the compensatory damages.

Six days after awarding the Goldman’s $8.5 million in compensatory damages, on February 10, 1997, the majority Caucasian jury reached a decision on punitive damages; awarding $12.5 million to the estate of Ronald Lyle Goldman and $12.5 million to the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson.

The compensatory and punitive damages that the Santa Monica jury determined Mr. Simpson must pay the families totaled $33.5 million.

COMPENSATORY DAMAGES

Under California law for wrongful death the heirs are entitled to “reasonable compensation for the loss of love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace, or moral support suffered as a result of the death, but not for their grief or sorrow or for the decedent’s pain and suffering.

The estate of Nicole Brown Simpson did not seek compensatory damages. The parents of Ronald Lyle Goldman, Sharon Rufo and Fredric Goldman, did seek compensatory damages and were awarded $8.5 million for the wrongful death of Ronald Goldman.

As noted, at the time of this decision, the largest award in California history for the loss of comfort and society in the wrongful death of an adult child was $2 million in the 1985 case Wright v. City of Los Angeles (supra, 219 Cal.App.3d 318, 268 Cal.Rptr. 309).

The award of $8.5 million in compensatory damages to the Goldman family was more than four times than the award in Wright v. City of Los Angeles. The judgement against Mr. Simpson by a nearly all-White jury is the first time an individual, not a municipality or corporation, was liable for a record high amount of compensatory damages awarded in the State of California.

PUNITIVE DAMAGES

The Santa Monica jury awarded the estates of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson a total of $25 million (to be split evenly) in punitive damages.

How Punitive Damages Were Determined

Following the jurors finding for the plaintiffs and determining the amount of compensatory damages that Mr. Simpson must pay the Goldman family, the jury heard testimony from both the plaintiffs and the defendant regarding Mr. Simpson’s financial status and assets.

Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki admitted questionable evidence and witnesses to establish the present value of projected income O.J. Simpson could earn on his name and likeness for the rest of his life.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki OJ Simpson OJSimpson.co
Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki

To establish Mr. Simpson’s potential future earnings, the Goldman family presented two witnesses: An alleged expert on the marketing of celebrities names and likenesses and a certified public accountant who evaluated Simpson’s financial condition in light of the findings of the celebrity-marketing expert.

The purported celebrity-marketing expert was Mark Roesler who was Chairman and CEO of CMG Worldwide. The company specializes in marketing and licensing for sports and entertainment personalities and the estates of deceased personalities. In the section of their website focused on “Celebrity Valuations,” CMG Worldwide boasts of their role in helping Fred Goldman achieve such a high award for punitive damages.

CEO Mark Roesler conducted the “Celebrity Valuation” of O.J. Simpson to provide the Goldman family with a financial estimate of the income Simpson could earn for the rest of his life from his name and likeness.

To determine this amount, Roesler testified that he examined trademarks Simpson had obtained or attempted to obtain, lawsuits Simpson had filed to prevent unauthorized use of his name or likeness, the current market for Simpson autographs, and contracts Simpson had entered since the date of the killings.   He considered seven areas of potential:  autographs, merchandise or memorabilia, endorsements, media, books and tapes, movies, and personal property actually owned by Simpson.

Roesler determined that O.J. Simpson could earn $2 million to $3 million a year for the rest of his life.

Roesler testified that he “had no doubt that Simpson’s name and likeness had a substantial value in the current market of $2 million to $3 million a year.”

In Roesler’s opinion $25 million was a reasonable amount that a reasonable person in Roesler’s business would pay in present dollars for the exclusive right to use Simpson’s name and likeness for the rest of Simpson’s life.

In addition to Roesler, the Goldman family presented the testimony of certified public accountant Neill Freeman. After reviewing Roesler’s report, which estimated that Simpson could earn $2 million to $3 million a year for the rest of his life exploiting his name and likeness, Freeman affirmed Roesler’s finding and testified that the present value of the exclusive right to exploit Simpson’s name and likeness for the rest of Simpson’s life would be just under $25 million.  

Freeman also testified that it was proper to include the $25 million, Roesler’s estimated Simpson would earn through his name and likeness for the rest of his life, to the statement of O.J. Simpson’s current wealth. According to Freeman, adding the $25 million “gives a complete picture of what the prospects or financial condition of Mr. Simpson is.”

Based on his review and corrections of the financial statements, Freeman opined that Simpson’s net worth at the time of his testimony was $15,703,529.

  • Freeman’s estimate on the asset side included $24,880,568 for the present value of the exclusive right to exploit Simpson’s name and likeness.
  • Liabilities of $9,177,039 brought his estimate of Simpson’s net worth down to $15,703,529.
  • This did not take into account the $8.5 million that the jury had just awarded to Rufo and Goldman for compensatory damages, which if subtracted would bring net worth down to $7,203,529.

Therefore, prior to deducting the compensatory damages from his net worth it would appear that Mr. Simpson had over 9 million dollars in liabilities and/or debt.

Mr. Simpson’s personal attorney, business attorney and business manager Leroy Taft, testified Simpson’s net worth in February 1997 was a negative $856,000.

Mr. Taft testified that if one subtracted the $8.5 million in compensatory damages from that amount, Mr. Simpson’s real net worth, including the verdict rendered by this jury, a negative of $9,356,157. 

Attorney Robert Baker asked Mr. Taft, who had been Mr. Simpson’s business manager for 27 years, his opinion of Mr. Simpson’s future opportunities:

For the last 12 months, and that’s been since January of 1996, I’ve seen a gradual drying up of demand for O.J.’s services in every area. All the areas that was testified by Mr. Roesler, none of them really exist. That’s pure speculation. And I saw it all drying up to where it’s virtually nothing in terms of anything concrete on my desk at this time or any even meaningful negotiations at this time. There is zero. That was before Tuesday’s verdict. Now, after Tuesday’s verdict, I would say that it substantially impaired even the prospects that existed before the verdict.

 

Mr. Taft’s testimony revealed the state of O.J. Simpson’s future prospects as of February 6, 1997:

Robert Baker: Now, as you sit here today, sir, do the contracts that request Mr. Simpson services, do they come across your desk?

Skip Taft: Every one of them.

Robert Baker: And do you review those contracts and then take them to O.J. and determine whether or not these contracts are going to be signed and whether he’s going to get any money from any personal appearance or interviews or that sort of thing?

Skip Taft: Yes.

Robert Baker: At the present time, is there any contract in existence or offered or made to Mr. Simpson for any personal appearance anywhere in the world?

Skip Taft: Not one.

Robert Baker: Is there any offer from any source that you’re aware of, anywhere in the world, to have him sign autographs for any purpose?

Skip Taft: Not one contract. There may be a small amount of ongoing business for autographs, but probably not more than — be lucky if it’s $5,000 a month.

Robert Baker: And does he have any employment contracts whatsoever, presently?

Skip Taft: None.

Robert Baker: In your opinion, is the likelihood of him obtaining any contracts in the next year good, bad, or horrible?

Skip Taft: Horrible.

Robert Baker: And do you think that Mr. Simpson, because of the accusation of murders in this case, in this jury’s verdict, is someone who is marketable as a sports personality?

Skip Taft: Absolutely not.

Robert Baker: Now —

Skip Taft: And there will be testimony to back that up.

 

The “testimony to back that up” revealed that corporations treated Mr. Simpson like a pariah:

Robert Baker: Let’s talk just a little bit about a — we’ve heard that Mr. Simpson could have — according to Mr. Roesler, he’s entitled to $4 or $5 million for a book deal. Did you hear that testimony?

Skip Taft: Yes.

Robert Baker: Now —

Peter Gelblum, Goldman attorney: Misstates the testimony. Doesn’t say anything about being entitled to it.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki: Sustained.

Robert Baker: Mr. Simpson tried to market a book after the criminal trial, did he not?

Skip Taft: That’s correct.

Robert Baker: And there were no buyers?

Skip Taft: No success at all.

Robert Baker: And the asking price at that time, has — from that time forward has been a million dollars; is that correct?

Skip Taft: What asking price?

Robert Baker: In other words, Mr. Simpson had offered Random House, Little Brown, Viking, Penguin, and Judith Reagan, all to write a book for a million-dollar cash advance and was turned down by all four.

Peter Gelblum, Goldman attorney: Objection. Leading.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki: Sustained, but you may answer.

Skip Taft: Well —

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki: Move it along.

Skip Taft: The actual offering and negotiations was handled by an agent in the east, and I’m not sure whether we start — whether on Mr. Simpson’s behalf, whether a dollar amount was assigned.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki: Excuse me, Mr. Taft. I’ll sustain it.

Skip Taft: Pardon me.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki: I’ll sustain it on the basis of that answer.

Robert Baker: Do you know whether or not Mr. Simpson has been rejected by four or more publishing companies for a book deal?

Skip Taft: Yes.

Robert Baker: And has he?

Skip Taft: Yes.

Robert Baker: Has he been rejected by every publishing company for a book deal?

Skip Taft: So far as I know, we’ve never received one proposal in writing to do a book deal. Everybody else has, but we have not.

Robert Baker: Now, was the video deal a failure?

Skip Taft: Pardon me?

Robert Baker: Was the video of Mr. Simpson’s commercial a failure?

Skip Taft: Yes.

Robert Baker: Okay. And he received certain guarantee payment; is that correct?

Skip Taft: That’s correct.

Robert Baker: And is there any suggestion or indication that he has any video, book deal, appearance deal, car deal, anything in the future?

Skip Taft: There is none at this point.

CNBC graphic on O.J. Simpson's Net Worth Before and After the Criminal Trial
CNBC graphic on O.J. Simpson’s Net Worth Before and After the Two Trials

CNBC Story on the Impact of the Trials on OJ Simpson’s Finances

THE LAW OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

“[T]he purpose of punitive damages is not served by financially destroying a defendant. The purpose is to deter, not to destroy.” (Adams, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 112.) “[A] punitive damages award is excessive if it is disproportionate to the defendant’s ability to pay.” (Ibid.) 

Case Law on Punitive Damages is Clear, but Not Applied in the Simpson Case

In Adams v. Murakami (1991), the Supreme Court of California were clear in their interpretation of the law regarding punitive damages:
the purpose of punitive damages is not served by financially destroying a defendant. The purpose is to deter, not to destroy.”

The Justices cited numerous examples of cases overturned for excessive punitive damages:

the well-established rule that a punitive damages award is excessive if it is disproportionate to the defendant’s ability to pay. (Egan v. Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co., supra, 24 Cal. 3d 809, 824 [punitive damages award reversed because it exceeded more than two and one-half months of defendant’s annual net income]; Merlo v. Standard Life & Acc. Ins. Co., *113 supra, 59 Cal. App. 3d 5, 18 [award of punitive damages excessive because it was more than 30 percent of defendant’s net worth]; Little v. Stuyvesant Life Ins. Co. (1977) 67 Cal. App. 3d 451, 469-470 [136 Cal. Rptr. 653] [award greater than 15 percent of net worth reversed]; Zhadan v. Downtown L.A. Motors, supra, 66 Cal. App. 3d 481, 500 [award excessive because it was one-third of the net worth].)[3]

The Justices provided clear language to define the parameters of “excessive”:

  • More than 2 ½ months of a defendant’s annual net income
  • More than 30% of a defendant’s net worth
  • More than 15% of a company’s net worth
  • More than 33% of a company’s net worth

The case law regarding punitive damages cited by the Justices in Adams v. Murakami dates back to the year 1066:

The principle that a punitive award must be considered in light of the defendant’s financial condition is ancient. After the Norman conquest in 1066, there arose in English law a system of civil sanctions known as “amercements.” (Browning-Ferris Industries v. Kelco Disposal (1989) 492 U.S. 257, 287-289 [106 L. Ed. 2d 219, 246-247, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 2927] [conc. and dis. opn. of O’Connor, J.].)

Because of the sometimes abusive nature of amercements, the Magna Carta prohibited those that were disproportionate to the offense or that would deprive the wrongdoer of his means of livelihood: “A freeman shall only be amerced for a small offence according to the measure of that offence. And for a great offence he shall be amerced according to the magnitude of the offence, saving his contenement; and a merchant, in the same way, saving his merchandize. (4, 5)(See fn. 4.) And a villein, in the same way, if he fall under our mercy, shall be amerced saving his wainnage.” (Magna Carta (1215) ch. 20, italics added.)[4]

Absent evidence of a defendant’s financial condition, a punitive damages award can financially annihilate the defendant. We see no reason why a modern-day civil defendant should be entitled to less consideration than one was given 800 years ago.

For over 900 years, between 1066 and 1997, the laws regarding punitive damages were explicitly clear: they cannot deprive the wrongdoer of his means of livelihood. A punitive damages award is deemed excessive if it is disproportionate to the defendant’s ability to pay.

Then, in 1997, a judge enabled a nearly all-White jury to disregard over 900 years of case law and use their power to financially destroy a defendant.

In the State of California, Judges on both the Superior Court and Court of Appeals are subject to recall elections. Justices on the California Supreme Court are subject to retention elections, meaning that if a majority of Californians vote “no,” on a Justice, his or her seat becomes vacant and may be filled by the Governor.

There is no doubt that any judge who ruled to overturn the decision in Rufo et.al. v. Simpson or to reduce the amount of compensatory and/or punitive damages awarded to the Goldman family, would have faced a massive recall campaign led by noted lobbyist Fred Goldman.

However over 900 years of legal precedent should leave no doubt that this decision would have been overturned had the defendant been anyone other than O.J. Simpson.

 

US SUPREME COURT RULING 2003

In the years since Judge Fujisaki’s decision to disregard 900+ years of case law and, for the first time in almost one millennia, allow a civilized system of justice to use punitive damages to knowingly and willingly destroy, not deter a defendant, the decisions of higher courts on other cases have cracked down on excessive punitive damages.

In 2003 the United States Supreme Court “drew some badly needed guidelines on what is reasonable when the courts award punitive damages in civil cases.

In Campbell v. State Farm Insurance Co (2003) the Court “concluded that an award of more than four times the amount of compensatory damages might be close to the line of constitutional impropriety.”

The majority decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, found that jurors shouldn’t take into account the “massive wealth” of defendants, nor should defendants’ conduct in other states be used to ratchet up the amount of punitive damages.

Justice Kennedy also faulted the state court for focusing on the defendant’s assets. The wealth of a defendant cannot justify an otherwise unconstitutional punitive damages award.

According to the Chicago Tribune,punitive damages are awarded in no more than 4 percent of civil cases, by one estimate. And the median award is relatively low, just $38,000. But the number of verdicts awarding punitive damages of more than $100 million began escalating rapidly in the 1990s.

What would the Supreme Court Decision in Campbell v. State Farm Mean for Simpson?

When one considers the fact that the compensatory damages awarded to the Goldman family was more than four times the previous highest reward of compensatory damages in the history of the State of California (which was against a municipality), it is clear that the compensatory damages would have been significantly lowered for any defendant not named O.J. Simpson.

Therefore by beginning with a far lower award for compensatory damages, the punitive damages could not be more than four times the compensatory award.

A True Injustice

Mark Roesler, Chairman and CEO of CMG Worldwide, has a proven track record of success marketing the name and likeness of deceased, legendary celebrities such as Jackie Robinson, James Dean, Andre the Giant, Malcom X and Amelia Earhart, among others. However the O.J. Simpson saga was unchartered territory for Roesler and his company.

While O.J. Simpson had one of the highest “Q Scores” in history and was a trailblazer for African-Americans on Madison Avenue and in corporate boardrooms, when he was charged with double homicide the value of his brand was completely destroyed. Although he was acquitted of those crimes, his brand value never returned, rather it continued to decline.

Never before in American history had we seen a man who was one of the most universally beloved Americans fall so far to become one of the most hated Americans.

I’d doubt that Mr. Roesler still stands by his 1997 valuation of Mr. Simpson.

Although Roesler set the value of Mr. Simpson’s brand at $25 million, it was Freeman who convinced the Court that Roesler’s valuation should be added to Mr. Simpson’s net worth as of February 1997.

In February 1997 Mr. Simpson was nearly one-million dollars in debt and had liabilities of over $9 million which needed to be paid. The compensatory damages awarded to the Goldman family added an additional $8.5 million to Mr. Simpson’s significant debt.

The true state of Mr. Simpson’s finances as of February 1997 was abysmal:

  • Liabilities totaling $9,177,039.
  • Current funds of negative    $856,000.
  • Compensatory damages $8,500,000.

 

However, Mr. Freeman persuaded the Court that the $25 million potential future earnings should be included when calculating Mr. Simpson’s net worth. Therefore Mr. Simpson’s net worth was presented as being $7,203,529.

The estimated future earnings of $25 million is a mirage; a figure with no actual value. Monopoly money has more real value than the $25 million in future earnings that was included in Mr. Simpson’s net worth; that money literally does not exist.

The non-existent $25 million was included in his net worth in order to make Mr. Simpson appear to be economically viable to the nearly all-White jury. This enabled the jurors to levy huge awards of punitive damages to the Brown and Goldman families.

How can a man whose financial records showed his net worth to be negative $850,000 with no earning potential be expected to fulfill a judgement of $33.5 million?

The compensatory and punitive damages levied against Mr. Simpson is arguably the most un-American civil judgement in history; for the first time in over 900 years the justice system of a civilized nation allowed for punitive damages to be used to knowingly and willingly destroy an individual defendant.

Make no mistake about it — had the defendant been you or I, the trial judge would have overturned me the decision in a heartbeat. Over 900 years of legal precedent guarantees that (unless you are O.J. Simpson).

In the years since he was awarded $21 million in damages, Fred Goldman has been single-focused on chasing a mirage. For over 20 years, Fred Goldman has been telling journalists ”The money is not an issue. It never has been.” However his actions prove his words to be empty.

The harsh reality is that, unless he has started to believe his own drivel, Fred Goldman knows that the money he has been chasing for over two decades does not exist and the only reason that people believe otherwise is a distorted presentation of Mr. Simpson’s net worth by his witnesses. Fred Goldman and his legal team orchestrated the adding of a non-existent 25 million dollars to Mr. Simpson’s net worth to make him appear to be cash fluid rather than nearly 10 million dollars in debt.

Fred and Kim Goldman OJ Simpson OJSimpson.Co
Fred and Kim Goldman

There should be no doubt that Fred Goldman is chasing a mirage of his own creation.

As a result of this un-American judgement being upheld and Fred Goldman believing that an imaginary $25 million dollars which was added to Mr. Simpson’s net worth actually exists, every few months the public is treated to Fred Goldman’s version of Groundhog Day.

Questions? Comments?

We welcome your feedback. You can contact the author using any of the links at the top of this page. Follow Brian Heiss on Twitter @BrianHeiss.

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