$1 Billion Verdict Against Developer Is Validation For Lennar

, Daily Business Review

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Lennar Corporate Center

Miami home-builder Lennar Corp.'s long legal nightmare with California developer Nicolas Marsch III may finally be at an end.

A jury awarded $1 billion in damages after finding one of the nation's largest home-builders was the target of defamation and an extortion conspiracy by Marsch and his company, Briarwood Capital LLC.

The damages trial came after Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez in December 2012 entered a default judgment in favor of Lennar, finding Marsch destroyed emails between himself and one-time Wall Street wunderkind Barry Minkow.

Minkow was sentenced to five years in prison in 2011 for publishing lies about Lennar on his anti-fraud website that drove Lennar's stock price down 20 percent.

The jury late Monday awarded Lennar $802 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages.

"The jury's award sends an unmistakable message that you cannot extort companies and lie for money and expect to get away with it," said Daniel Petrocelli of O'Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles, Lennar's lead trial lawyer.

Marsch did not attend the trial or have an attorney present. He stated by email Wednesday that he did nothing wrong and what Minkow published on his website about Lennar was truthful.

"This case is a fraud on the court. The damage claims are fabricated," Marsch wrote. "Lennar and its lawyers manipulated the system to preclude us from defending the case. We were ready to do so."

The Third District Court of Appeal in September ordered sanctions against two of Marsch's attorneys—Grumer & Macaluso partner Keith T. Grumer and associate Jason N. Goldman of Fort Lauderdale—for filing a frivolous action tied to a judgment against Minkow.

Marsch said he asked to delay the trial so he could secure counsel, but the request was denied.

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