May 30, 2024
They have collected only a tiny fraction of the judgment, which their attorney claims has now ballooned to more than $100 million because of interest.

Hannah Fry | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — For the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, it has been nearly three decades of court fights, painstaking forensic accounting, detective work and, ultimately, frustration.

The goal: Make O.J. Simpson pay.

A civil court jury in 1997 found Simpson liable for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend and ordered the former football star to pay their families more than $33 million.

They have collected only a tiny fraction of the judgment, which their attorney claims has now ballooned to more than $100 million because of interest.

The question now is whether O.J. Simpson’s death last week opened a new door for the families to finally collect.

Legal experts said the death of Simpson — who had fought efforts to pay the judgment — offers a new window for the families, but they still face what could be a lengthy battle.

Malcolm LaVergne, a longtime attorney for Simpson who was appointed executor of his estate, said in an interview with The Times this week that a claim filed against Simpson’s estate by Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, is “going to be a valid claim that’s going to be accepted.”

It was a clear departure from a comment he made to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday when he said it was his “hope that the Goldmans get zero, nothing.”

LaVergne walked back that statement Monday, saying he was responding to “highly inflammatory” remarks made by the Goldman family’s attorney after Simpson’s death.

“It’s time to basically tone down the rhetoric,” LaVergne told The Times. “Let’s reduce the boiling water to a simmer and try to handle this thing in a calm and dispassionate manner.”

On Friday, Simpson’s will was filed in Clark County court in Nevada. It notes that Simpson’s personal property had been placed into a revocable living trust created in January. The will, unlike the trust — which has not been made public — does not detail Simpson’s assets or his wishes for any possessions left behind.

The Goldman family can file a claim against Simpson’s estate in an effort to extract some funds, but it’s not clear how much they could ultimately receive, said Elizabeth Bawden, an adjunct professor at UCLA School of Law who specializes in estate planning.

“In theory, it’s very hard not to pay those debts to the extent there are assets to pay them,” Bawden said. “The real question now is how much were his assets?”

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Debts and charges of an estate must be paid out in a particular order and, under Nevada law, the Goldmans’ claim would, in theory, be disbursed after first paying the expenses of administering Simpson’s estate and any medical and funeral costs.

Just how much money Simpson had at the end of his life remains a mystery.

LaVergne declined to disclose the estimated value and said he had just begun an inventory. He said there may be value in Simpson’s possessions simply because he owned them, which could increase the value of the overall estate. Simpson does not appear to own any property, LaVergne said.

“You’re basically dealing with household items that I can assure you are in your house — furniture, cabinets, TV sets … stuff that’s in an ordinary house,” he said of Simpson’s possessions.

Public records show a tangled web of corporations associated with Simpson.

He is listed as the chief executive of a handful of California-based businesses, most of which were created in the 1970s or ’80s. OJ Simpson Enterprises reported $873,000 in sales in March, though it’s not clear where that money originated.

Recovering the damages against Simpson has proved an arduous task for the Goldman family.

After the civil judgment was handed down by the court in 1997, Simpson said he didn’t have the money to pay them. In the late 1990s, estimates about his net worth varied from $850,000 to $15.7 million.

Simpson asked the California Supreme Court to overturn the judgment, arguing that he had been denied the right to confront evidence and witnesses in the civil trial. But the court turned down the request.

Simpson gave up his Brentwood estate and moved to Florida, where, under state law, his home could not be seized by creditors. He received pensions, including from the NFL and the Screen Actors Guild, which were protected from seizure under federal law.

For more than two decades, the Goldmans have chased down secret hordes of Simpson’s memorabilia. They took possession of “If I Did It,” the “fictional memoir” in which Simpson discussed how he might have committed the slayings.

In 2007, a judge ordered Simpson to give the Goldmans a Rolex watch, but it was later returned after a jeweler determined it was fake. A judge also ordered Simpson to turn over any memorabilia that could be traced back to him following an incident in Las Vegas that year that led to Simpson’s arrest.

Simpson was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery — ultimately serving nine years in prison — after he confronted two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel. He had alleged the items they had in their possession had been stolen from him. Those items were seized by Las Vegas authorities after Simpson was arrested.

In 2018, the Goldmans sought money that Simpson had been paid for signing jerseys, helmets and posters from “The People v. O.J. Simpson” television series. A judge said at the time that they’d have to identify exactly who paid Simpson in order to go after the proceeds.

The family received just over $132,000 of the total liability, according to a 2015 court document filed in the civil case. Ron’s sister, Kim Goldman, has said it was never about the money, but about holding Simpson accountable.

“For three decades we tirelessly pursued justice for Ron and Nicole, and despite a civil judgment and his confession in ‘If I Did It,’ the hope for true accountability has ended,” Kim Goldman and Fred Goldman wrote in a joint statement last week.

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