Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy said she found insufficient evidence that Roland Arnall made a verbal pledge to Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin of $18 million for the construction of a Chabad educational center before before he died in March 2008. Chabad's case hurt by ""discrepancies and lack of corroboration," judge says.
Judge denies Chabad of California claim for $18 million pledge
Contra Costa Times
A judge in a tentative ruling denied an $18 million claim that the president of Chabad of California Inc. maintained was verbally promised him by a philanthropist before the man's death.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy stated in a 69-page proposed statement of decision issued Tuesday that she found insufficient evidence after a non-jury trial that Roland Arnall made the pledge to Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin for the construction of a Chabad educational center before dying in March 2008 at the age of 68. Cunin maintained the pledge later became the obligation of Arnall's widow, Dawn Arnall.
"It is not for the court to decide whether Mr. Arnall actually promised $18 million to Chabad," Murphy wrote. "It is for the court to determine, based on the testimony of the witnesses and the exhibits admitted in evidence, whether Chabad proved by a preponderance of evidence that Mr. Anrall promised Chabad $18 million."
Murphy found that Chabad's lawyers failed to offer such proof. She said Chabad's case was hurt by "discrepancies and lack of corroboration."
Murphy had the case under submission since early November. Her decision will become final within 15 days unless she agrees to changes based on objections from attorneys.
Attorney John S. Gordon, who represents Dawn Arnall, said during final arguments that his client did not know anything about the alleged $18 million pledge until after her husband died and Cunin began making
demands of her.
Gordon claimed it was all part of the rabbi's plan.
"He knew he was better off waiting until Roland Arnall was gone before he sprung his claim that Roland had supposedly pledged $18 million," Gordon said.
He said Cunin contradicted himself numerous times during the course of the litigation. He also charged that the rabbi lied when he said he was surprised by Arnall's death and denied being told just days before that his longtime friend's health was quickly deteriorating.
Chabad attorney Marshall Grossman told Murphy that Chabad spent more than $800,000 in planning costs for the project in reliance upon Roland Arnall's pledge.
He also said the organization's leaders would have sold the Pico Boulevard property on which the center was to be built if they knew the money was not forthcoming. The real estate market since went sour, the attorney said.
According to Dawn Arnall, her husband never mentioned making such a pledge among the many they made as a couple to both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations.
She said their largest single contribution was $10 million to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which her husband co-founded, toward construction of a museum of tolerance in Jerusalem.
Chabad provides educational and social services under Jewish auspices in what its representatives describe as one of the most prominent Jewish communities in the nation outside of New York City.
Cunin testified Roland Arnall made verbal promises to him in 2004 and 2008 to donate at least $18 million to Chabad to build what was to be called the Arnall Family Center.
Roland Arnall made his fortune by helping create Orange County-based Ameriquest Mortgage in 1979 and later became embroiled in problems associated with the subprime market meltdown. Grossman said the Arnalls paid $325 million to settle actions brought against the company in 49 states.
Roland Arnall was ambassador to the Netherlands under President George W. Bush from March 2006 to March 2008, leaving the post to be closer to a cancer-stricken adult son from a previous marriage, his widow said.
Westwood-based Chabad actually sought $17.5 million, which the organization claimed was the balance due on the $18 million pledge after three payments of $180,000 were previously made by Roland Arnall.