Earlier this year, Ron Gidwitz, James “Jim” Gidwitz, Nancy Gidwitz, Ralph Gidwitz, Betsy Gidwitz, Peter Gidwitz, Thomas Gidwitz and the Alan Gidwitz Trust (collectively “the Gidwitz Family”) was ordered by a Cook County judge to pay their former attorneys $5.7 million in unpaid legal fees.
Judge Patrick Foran Lustig ruled President Donald Trump’s Illinois finance committee Chairman, Ron Gidwitz, and his family breached their contract with Ungaretti & Harris by refusing to pay fair and reasonable legal fees incurred on their behalf.
The three week trial focused heavily on Ron Gidwitz’s unsubstantiated claim that in September of 2012 former state Representative and partner at Ungaretti & Harris Sam Vinson committed to completing an at that time soon to begin eminent domain trial in federal court for a fixed fee of $1.2 million. According to Ron Gidwitz, the agreement was reached on or around September 20, 2012, and the “agreed to” amount supposedly included all unbilled time from August and September of 2012, which at that time was nearly $1,000,000. Further, Mr. Gidwitz claimed that Mr. Vinson promised that the fixed fee would stand irrespective of how long the trial lasted. For his part, Mr. Vinson never denied that he gave the Gidwitz family an estimated cost of $1.2 million for the first part of the two phase trial but also consistently maintained that this estimate was given in anticipation of a short two-to-three week trial for that part of the case. Mr. Vinson testified that he could not have given an estimate for a longer trial, which it turned out to be.
Gidwitz, who claimed on the stand to be an astute businessman, was forced to admit that he did not have a single document detailing said deal, and acknowledged under cross-examination that a written contract requiring the attorneys to bill his family at their hourly rate was still in effect.
“You never put it into writing?” attorney Joe Power asked Gidwitz of the alleged $1.2 million deal.
“No,” Gidwitz testified.
“So this is based on your word, yes?” Power asked.
Gidwitz also stated that Vinson made the verbal commitment to the lower fees at a meeting involving members of the Gidwitz family, however, his brother, Jim Gidwitz, who Ron testified was in attendance at that meeting, gave two sworn statements prior to trial in which he testified that fees were never brought up in any discussion he had with Vinson. Subsequently, in what can only be described as a contrived attempt to prop-up Ron Gidwitz’s less than a credible claim, the Defendant’s called Nancy Gidwitz, Ron and Jim’s sister, to testify. Nancy, despite never having been identified as an individual with knowledge related to this or any other claim, testified that Vinson gave an approximate estimate of $1.2 million at the September 2012 meeting. On further questioning by Mr. Power, however, Nancy admitted that she had no memory of anything else that was discussed at the meeting, or of anything from any other that occurred before or after the September 2012 meeting, including one that took place less than a few months prior to her giving testimony. Based on this evidence, Judge Lustig rightly found that the Defendants failed to meet their burden with respect to this claim.
The Gidwitz family has appealed.