Fred Grimm

Uh-oh, the litigious scoundrel you sued might get to be president

Palm trees line the edge of the golf course, adding to its security and privacy from the surrounding homes at the Trump National Doral.
Palm trees line the edge of the golf course, adding to its security and privacy from the surrounding homes at the Trump National Doral. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

“Strange times,” Joseph E. Altschul said as he contemplated the glorious ascension of Donald Trump.

For years, Altschul had pursued the pugnacious real-estate mogul on behalf of 70 investors in a failed Trump International condo-hotel project on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. It would have been hard to imagine, back when the Pembroke Pines lawyer decided to take on the slippery developer, that a decade later Trump would be starring in the Republican presidential nominating spectacular this week in Cleveland.

“It’s surreal,” said Rod Hannah, who sued a Trump operation in 2015 on behalf of 48 temporary workers — busboys, waiters, cooks — who had been stiffed out of overtime pay at the candidate’s Doral golf resort.

Hannah said Trump’s legal team used “scorched-earth tactics” trying to get the case tossed out of court. When that failed, Trump ultimately settled for a sum that amounted to less than what he had already spent in legal fees.

Surely, Trump is the most litigious presidential candidate in American history. Last month, USA Today reported that he and his 500 companies were involved in at least 3,500 civil suits over the last 30 years. More than a few were filed in South Florida.

According to the Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach County has spent more than $600,000 fending off a long-running Trump lawsuit contending that flights out of Palm Beach International Airport were “creating an unreasonable amount of noise, emissions and pollutants” at Mar-a-Lago, his swanky beach-side club. Trump once hit the city of Palm Beach with a $25 million lawsuit contesting a city ordinance limiting the size of the flagpole at Mar-a-Lago.

Just in February, well on his way to the Republican nomination, Trump filed lawsuits against homeowners along the perimeter of his Doral golf resort, accusing them of vandalizing the palm trees his landscapers had planted to provide a screen between his fancy golf course and their unsightly homes.

Florida is brimming with plaintiffs and defendants in Trump lawsuits, including disgruntled former students who claim they were defrauded by Trump University or the Trump Institute, his pricey real-estate seminars.

Out on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, the never-to-be Trump International was marketed to condo-hotel investors a decade ago using the Donald Trump hype. More than 100 investors put 20 percent down for units priced between $500,000 and $3 million. Except when the unfinished Trump project went belly-up, hapless buyers discovered that the famous developer had simply licensed his name.

It was 2013 before Altschul finally reached a settlement for his disappointed clients. And now he’s wondering whether the defendant in that case will be bringing his brawling sensibilities to the White House.

“You’d be surprised,” Altschul added, but he suspects some of his clients still might vote for Trump. He thinks Americans, some of them anyway, are just in the mood for an “alpha dog leader.”

When I wrote about Altschul’s case in 2011, Trump threatened to sue me. Now I’m wishing I had saved the letter. But who would have guessed back then that Donald Lawsuit might ascend to the presidency.

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