Betrayed?

Paul Zane Pilzer is suing a Dallas law firm for malpractice. His own high-speed liestyle may also be on trial.

PERHAPS WHEN AIL THE TROUBLE IS over-when cadres of lawyers have cashed all the checks, when he and his ex-wife have exhausted their anger, whena judge or jury sifts through the he-said, she-said, sorts the tangled evidence, and renders a verdict-perhaps then Paul Zane Pilzer will slow down. Maybe he’ll even stop.

If he does, it will be his first hiatus in years from a life of frenzied action, moving at a pace that would leave most people gasping for breath.

Here’s a man who teaches economics at New York University one day, skis at Park City, Utah, the next, and gives a speech to bankers in Dallas the day after that.

He’s a 41-year-old multimillionaire who, back in the Roaring ’80s, outran the financial shrapnel from the exploding real estate market to emerge still a rich man.

As the author of two popular books-Other Peoples’ Money and Unlimited Wealth-Piker was accused of using reporting and ideas from other people rather than taking time to do his own. (Oddly enough, his own press packet includes charges of plagiarism cited in The Wall Street Journal and The Dallas Morning News, suggesting that he may he too busy to read his own clips. )

No time to linger over such charges-it’s on to politics! After losing a whirlwind special election for Congress in 1991-he finished far behind the eventual winner, Sam Johnson, in a crowded field of Republicans-Pilzer amused himself over the next few months starting and then abandoning half a dozen business ventures when none of them blasted off fast enough to suit him.

And then it happened. Perhaps it was inevitable. When you live life as fast as Paul Piker does, someone moving more deliberately can swoop in under your radar and knock you off course, Perhaps Paul Zane Pilzer is now being ticketed for exceeding the speed of life.



ACCORDING TO PlLZER, LAWYERS AT THE DALLAS FIRM OF Stutzman & Bromberg have cost him millions of dollars-lawyers who worked for him while also, without his knowledge, advising his own wife, Donna Lynn Casey, on a potential divorce. Pilzer also accuses Stutzman & Bromberg of coaching Donna on how to divert funds from the Pilzers’ joint accounts as they counseled her.

As a result of this oh-so-tangled web, Pilzer is suing Stutzman & Bromberg for legal malpractice, asking damages of $5. 2 million. In court papers, the law firm denies his allegations. Allied with the legal malpractice lawsuit is a civil suit for undetermined damages alleging false imprisonment against family law attorney Aglaia Mauzy, who later represented Donna Casey. Mauzy also says that Pikers charges are groundless.

The story begins back in 1990, when Pilzer married Casey, an attractive young graduate of Hockaday and SMU and an Idlewild deb. The two had worked together and become engaged while on a business trip to Russia. According to Pilzer, the relationship was in trouble from the moment they got back to Dallas.

“It wasn’t a bad marriage, with a lot of yelling, ” he says. “It was really a non-marriage. Each of us went our own way. “

Casey tells a different story. Being married to Paul Pilzer, she maintains, was like befriending a tornado. Moving “100 mites per hour” was “normal” for him, she says; then, after weeks of manic deal-making, he would take to his bed in a near-catatonic state for days. Whenever they had a disagreement, Casey says, he would threaten to divorce her, then do an about-face, lavishing her with presents and attention.

Contrary to Pilzer’s account, Donna Casey maintains that there was plenty of screaming, that Pilzer refused to have sexual relations with her very early in the marriage, and that they argued over her closeness to friends and family. She wanted to go back to school, and she refused to convert to his religion, Judaism.

So, just two months after the marriage, Casey-who is 13 years younger than Pilzer-asked John Bromberg, a family friend and a name partner at Stutzman &. Bromberg, to recommend a divorce lawyer. He suggested Steve Hulme, a sole practitioner. Casey met with Hulme but did not file for divorce at the time.

A year later, Hulme joined Stutzman & Bromberg, and in October 1992, Donna Casey resumed her consultations with him. In a sworn deposition, Hulme admits that he never entered her name into the firm’s computer or followed procedures commonly used by firms to prevent the kind of conflict that results in legal malpractice claims.

That’s Problem One. But things got much more tangled.

According to Pilzer, real estate attorneys at Stutzman & Bromberg solicited business from him at the same time that the firm was representing Donna Casey. Pilzer’s real estate partnership was being sued for more than $6 million by BealBanc over a bad loan, and Stutzman & Bromberg wanted to handle the suit. Pilzer, who says he was unaware of the looming conflict of interest, hired the firm to battle BealBanc. The stage was set for a monumental mess.



While DAVID STUTZMAN OF STUTZMAN & BROMBERG HAS issued a blanket denial of all claims in the suit, Pilzer believes that depositions of Bromberg and Hulme in the divorce case substantiate many of his charges. Bromberg admits that he introduced Hulme and Casey. Hulme admits that he met with Casey once in 1990 and again in 1992, prior to Piker hiring the firm to represent him. And, through their depositions, both attorneys admit that they represented Pilzer and Casey simultaneously and that they decided not to tell Pilzer about it.

In their defense, the Stutzman &. Bromberg attorneys say they saw a “potential conflict” looming. They say they told Pilzer that a conflict of interest existed and tried to resign as his counsel in the real estate case. What they didn’t do, Pilzer says, was tell him the nature of the conflict.

Here again, Piker’s high-speed style comes into play. Pilzer says he assumed that the conflict of interest was with BealBanc-the law firm probably had some business with BealBanc, giving them so much information about the bank that they felt uneasy about representing him.

All the while, Pilzer says, he was “out there dodging bullets, ” trying to keep his real estate house of cards intact. It wasn’t just the $6 million BealBanc wanted. Pilzer and his partners owned properties with loans of more than $100 million against them. Most of these loans had a “comfort” clause-if the borrower has any loan in default, the lender can declare that person insolvent and demand full payment on other loans, even if the loan payments are up to date.

This Doomsday scenario had brought down many of the real estate titans of the 1980s. Pilzer had seen it happen to them. And the clock was ticking: If he didn’t get something done fast, in just a few days, the BealBanc loan would go into default. Then it would happen to him. Creditors would call his notes. He would be unable to pay. End of empire.

Pilzer says he called several other attorneys in an effort to replace Stutzman & Bromberg, but facing such short deadlines, other lawyers were afraid to step in. So he was forced to stay with Stutzman &. Bromberg.

Scaring at disaster, Piker settled with BealBanc in March 1993. He now alleges that he suffered $3. 3 million more in losses than he would have if he hadn’t settled so quickly. There were additional losses, according to Pilzer, caused by Stutzman & Bromberg’s simultaneous and, he says, unethical representation of his wife.



BOTH STUTZMAN & BROMBERG ANID DONNA CASEY DENY any such unethical activity. With Pitzer out there spinning at warp speed, Casey says, her job was to do research for his writings and pay their personal bills. Pilzer says he trusted his wife so much that he didn’t look at the checkbook or read various papers she asked him to sign.

In May 1993, Pilzer says, he opened some mail, something he rarely did, and was surprised to discover several bank accounts Casey had established in her name, without his knowledge, containing sizable amounts of cash.

Furious, Pilzer quickly filed for divorce, asking for those accounts to be frozen. Within a few days, he got a new shock when Stutzman & Bromberg sent a letter asking his permission to represent his wife. (Attorneys at the firm admit that no one disclosed that Hulme had already been representing Casey. ) Pilzer agreed to the waiver, although now he wishes he hadn’t. Looking back on it, he now wonders if the attorneys at Stutzman & Bromberg advised her on the diversion of funds. He thinks the law firm’s left hand knew what the right hand was doing-and both hands were picking his pocket.

“Donna was a young girl, ” Pilzer said. “Somebody had to tell her how to move that money around. “

Donna Casey maintains that someone did tell her how to move the money around, and that person was Paul Pilzer. In her sworn deposition, Casey says that Pilzer anticipated a meltdown of his real estate empire. He tried to get her to agree to a partition of their assets, a move that could shield the properties from creditors.

Casey says she objected because this action would include the legal equivalent of a divorce- which, according to her deposition, she did not want. When she refused, Casey claims, Pilzer instructed her to move money out of their joint accounts and into ones in her name only. She also claims his plan included deeding over properties to her.

It doesn’t take a financial rocket scientist to move money from one account to another. Transferring property, however, demanded Pilzer’s signature on documents with which he was very familiar. His claims of thievery, according to Casey’s attorneys, were never considered in their divorce settlement, and Casey didn’t “return” any money to Pilzer at the point of divorce.

Even with all the rancor between them, Pilzer and Casey reached agreement on the divorce in June 1993. But the papers sent from Stutzman & Bromberg contained a provision disclosing for the first time that Casey was the conflict in the BealBanc case. To Pilzer’s astonishment, Stutzman & Bromberg asked Piker to indemnify them against any damages caused by their attempted withdrawal from the BealBanc case.

“They were talking about damages to my partners, ” Pilzer said. “How could I indemnify them against those claims, even if I wanted to?”

Pilzer refused to let Stutzman & Bromberg off the hook, and what follows could be a chapter from The Death of Common Sense, the best-selling screed against the tyranny of lawyers. Only in this case, common sense may have died at the hands of clients as well as lawyers.

Since Stutzman &. Bromberg insisted on the indemnification, negotiations on the divorce were hopelessly stalled. To Piker, it seemed that they were saying: Be nice to us, or you can’t get a divorce. At this point, Pilzer and Casey could have decided to rid themselves of lawyers and agree on a settlement between them. Instead, Piker followed the litigious route, using the prior actions of Stutzman & Bromberg as a reason to disqualify Steve Hulme from the case. His hope was that a fresh attorney on the other side would jump-start negotiations.

Hulme did leave the case. But then Casey hired Aglaia Mauzy and Tom Goranson, and the saga of man against lawyer continued, and in many respects, intensified.

Aglaia Mauzy has a reputation as a hard-nosed advocate tor women in family court, but when she talks about Paul Pilzer, she sounds like she ran into a maximum-RPM buz: saw.

“This guy [Pilzer],.. “she says, “I don’t know if I should talk about this. He was moving so fast, we had a hard time serving him with any papers. We were unable to get documents, what he owed and what he owned. It was frustrating. “

Piker describes months of what he calls harassment by his wife’s attorneys, when he would he served with papers during a dinner party at his home in Utah, while getting into his car, or on an elevator. Mauzy describes playing a game of cat and mouse just to get the elusive entrepreneur to answer questions or appear in court.

The “game” came to a dramatic conclusion on May 9, 1994, the day Paul Pilzer went to jail.

That morning, Pilzer was scheduled to appear in court on a contempt motion arising out of the divorce proceedings. Mauzy wanted him to explain why he sold a property the court had ordered him not to sell. Pilzer says the hearing on the contempt motion had been canceled, and records substantiate this. But Mauzy and Goranson say they never received notice of the cancellation. They believed the hearing was still set.

Mauzy says she came to court that day, and when Pilzer didn’t show, her only recourse was to force him to appear. Mauzy admits having a judge sign the order to arrest Pilzer.

While preparing to leave his office in the Infomart for an afternoon speaking engagement, Pilzer was taken into custody by Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies and transported to Lew Sterrett Justice Center. He was booked and fingerprinted in the county jail, being careful not to get ink on the Presidential cufflinks given to him when he served as Chairman of the National Manufactured Home Advisory Board. He spent three and a half hours under lock and key.

In most cases like this, the person in contempt is brought to the courthouse, where he is asked why he didn’t appear and is allowed to post a cash bond and remain free.

Only when the person tries to evade sheriff’s deputies or is uncooperative, say local family law attorneys, do they have to “do it the hard way. ” Mauzy and Goranson say Pilzer behaved so badly that deputies had no choice but to haul him off to jail.

However it happened, throwing Pilzer in jail was viewed as a mistake by the court.

Seventeen days after the incident, Judge William Martin, who was sitting in for family court Judge Don Koons and had ordered Pilzer to jail, issued an Order for Expunction of Record. This order erases the record and authorizes Pilzer to maintain that his arrest never happened-an important technicality to a man whose dream is to be appointed an economic advisor to a future President.

(“That’s great, ” Tom Goranson says of Pilzer’s ambition. “All we need is another guy in the government who’ll sign any paper somebody puts in front of him. “)

Court records indicate that Pilzer didn’t learn much from his jail stint. Even after he was jailed, he was required to pay penalties for failing to produce documents. Mauzy says that Pilzer was “out of control” throughout the divorce proceedings. She and Goranson say Pilzer was so vocal in the courtroom that the judge had to tell him to quiet down.

If the case is not settled or dropped, David Stutzman makes it clear that Piker’s character and business practices will be under the spotlight in a courtroom. “The way Paul Pilzer does business will come to light, ” he says. “The way he is handling this approaches business slander. This law firm has a great reputation and has never had a legal malpractice claim against us. “

Mauzy and Goranson also say they may bring slander charges against Pilzer. They say that last year, he wrote a letter to the Dallas Bar Association accusing them of “having judges in their pockets” and of persecuting him because he is Jewish. Apparently, Pilzer has lodged the charge of anti-Semitism against most of the opposing attorneys, his former wife, his former father-in-law, and the voters of the Third Congressional District, who failed to elect him.

Piker’s newest attorney, Randy Johnston, freely admits that his client’s behavior is often outrageous. He knows that Pilzer’s antics serve to incite his opponents.

“And still, the facts are the facts, ” Johnston says, “They substantiate that Paul was wronged in several very important ways. “

The question remains, however: Was Paul Pilzer wronged by his lawyers, or by his own high-velocity lifestyle? The courts may be unable to answer that one.

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