O.J.'s finances may be next twist
Richard Price; Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Gale Holland
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- In two separate trials, much has been made of O.J.
Simpson's fame. But jurors in his civil trial may be asked to consider his fortune
If the jurors decide he committed the murders, they will face a new question:
How much money should it cost him? And that would set off a major
confrontation on the issue of Simpson's finances.
Fixing the amount of monetary damages and determining how it should be paid
are usually the most complicated and divisive issues in civil suits.
The issues can generate years of courtroom fighting and a tug of war over every
dollar. Winning a suit is one thing; collecting the money often requires an army
of accountants, court orders and infinite persistence.
Simpson gave the court a financial statement this week. It's believed it said his
net worth has plummeted to less than zero. It was estimated at $10.8 million
when he and his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, divorced on Dec. 31, 1991.
If they win, the families of Nicole and Ronald Goldman are expected to ask for
judgments totaling more than $12 million. That would be more money than ever
has been imposed on an individual defendant in a publicized verdict.
``Definitely an eight-figure amount,'' says Robert Hirschhorn, a Texas lawyer and
jury consultant who has followed the case since the murders occurred June 12,
The plaintiffs are Goldman's father and mother -- Fred Goldman and Sharon
Rufo -- and Nicole's estate, presided over by her father, Louis Brown. Fred
Goldman and Rufo both have filed wrongful-death actions for the loss of their
son. There are also two so-called ``survival'' actions filed on behalf of both
A survival action is a legal device that essentially allows a dead person to sue for
the damages he would have been entitled to if he had survived.
Sorting out the money
None of the plaintiffs believe Simpson is as broke as he is expected to claim. In a
hearing scheduled today, the two sides will argue over whether Simpson has
given the court adequate financial information.
The plaintiffs claim the defense has failed to provide nine categories of financial
documents that the judge ordered Simpson to provide. Among them: quarterly
net-worth statements, the most recent appraisal for his Rockingham estate, bank
statements, and full pension fund information. The plaintiffs say Simpson listed
his pension fund balances at $1. The defense argues the balances are not subject
to accounting in the civil case. Published reports have put their value at $2.5
The funds begin paying annuities in five years, when Simpson turns 55. At about
the same time, he'll start drawing a total of $2,000 in monthly pensions from the
Screen Actors Guild and the National Football League.
Even if Simpson were to prove that he's broke now, the plaintiffs would argue
for a big judgment, saying fame will earn him money in the future.
His normal TV, film and advertising incomes cut off, Simpson has been making
money off his notoriety. Although neither Simpson nor his business manager,
Leroy Taft, will discuss details, it's estimated that he netted $1 million from the
sale of his book, I Want To Tell You, and another $250,000 for autographing the
His income from the sale of family pictures taken in the weeks and months after
his criminal trial to tabloids has been calculated at $500,000 in reports citing
anonymous sources. He reported $250,000 income from the sale of a video on
his side of the case.
But his $950,000-a-year income from NBC and Hertz is gone. And his legal bills
have been enormous. His criminal case cost at least $3 million, possibly as much
as $6 million.
His defense in the civil case, estimated at close to $1 million, reportedly was
paid for by an insurance policy on his company, Orenthal Productions. Although
the policy didn't cover criminal charges, he qualified once he was acquitted. But
he paid an unknown out-of-pocket amount for his successful battle with Nicole's
parents for custody of his children, Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8.
Simpson joked on the witness stand that he used to be a wealthy man but that
now he has ``a lot of wealthy lawyers.''
Not that he lives poorly. The cost of running his Rockingham estate includes a
maid, a gardener, personal assistants and a full-time security guard.
To cover his lifestyle and pay his lawyers, he went through $500,000 in cash and
stocks, then sold a number of assets. He sold a 50% interest in a string of
HoneyBaked Ham franchises. He sold three Orange County condominiums for
$700,000 that he owned outright and some property in Mexico for an unknown
amount. He sold his New York apartment for a $1.1 million profit.
He borrowed an unspecified amount against his childrens' estate and
re-mortgaged his Rockingham home for a $3 million line of credit (his original
mortgage was almost paid before the murders). That left him about $200,000 a
year in interest payments. Sliding real estate values in southern California have
dropped the value from $5 million in 1994 to an estimated $4 million today.
Even if Simpson does get hit with a judgment, the plaintiffs can't seize any
property with a lien on it. The lien-holder has a previous claim. That makes the
Rockingham home untouchable, which means the only property that could be
seized by the plaintiff is the $250,000 San Francisco condominium where
Simpson's mother lives. Having her evicted could subject the plaintiffs to public
If Simpson loses this case and appeals, he'll continue piling up legal debts.
Losing parties who appeal typically are required to post a bond covering 11/2
times the judgment. A bondsman would post the money and require Simpson to
give him 10% of the amount.
But for the jury now considering Simpson's financial fate, his money situation is
irrelevant at least for the moment. If jurors don't find Simpson liable for the
attacks, the case is over. If they do find him liable, their first job is to set
compensatory damages. Those would be awarded with no regard for Simpson's
Nicole's family chose not to file a wrongful-death suit, so they'll receive no
compensatory damages. And the only direct loss to Nicole's estate under the
survival action is the black dress she was wearing when she died, valued at $250.
But Goldman's family did file for wrongful-death, leaving the jury to calculate a
figure for their pain and suffering.
Both sides already have been preparing the jury for that battle. Simpson's lawyer
has painted the families as greedy. ``This fight is not about justice. This fight is
about money,'' Robert Baker told jurors.
The plaintiffs stress money is the only recourse they have left. ``Justice would be
to see Ron Goldman walk through that door or Nicole Brown Simpson playing
with her children,'' Fred Goldman's lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, told the jury.
PHOTO,b/w,Jack Smith,AP; PHOTO,b/w,Eric Draper,AP