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By Wealth Possessed : Love, Money and Property Don’t Always Mix--Just Ask Hannah Nash and Her Estranged Sons

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Instead of the love of her children, Hannah Nash has a condominium. It’s a very nice condominium, worth maybe a million, more or less, depending on the real estate market.

The condo and some other choice property are probably the closest she has to family after her self-declared Byzantine struggle with her two sons over the family’s multimillion-dollar real-estate holdings. From all indications, the sons would agree.

Located on the 14th floor in one of those West L. A. luxury fortresses with rooftop helipads, the place is full of her “English junk,” knickknacks and furniture acquired on trips to the country of her youth.

On the walls, dozens of photos record her globe-trotting with Jerome and David in the early 1980s. There they are in Siberia. No, make that Mongolia. And in Italy, India, Switzerland . . . Good times, judging by the young men’s smiles and mugging for the camera.

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Yet today, Hannah Nash and her sons are so alienated that the 62-year-old mother says she is not even sure where they live, except that they are somewhere in the L. A. area.

“I’m afraid I was a little bit materialistic and that started it all,” she says, serving coffee and pastries in the breakfast nook where the view is straight down into Wilshire Boulevard.

With that classic understatement, Hannah Nash, who came to this country in 1955, sums up the prolonged meltdown of her American Dream, Southern California-style.

But there are others, including her sons, who say Hannah’s version is a distortion of a past that is much darker than the green of money.

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Clearly, the family invested much emotional capital in a fight that was ostensibly over money and property. Equally clearly, they brought the unsettled accounts of decades to its courtroom confrontations.

The first glimmer of the financial disintegration appeared in the mid-1980s.

And although most family feuds occur in relative privacy, the Nash Armageddon has been fought in the courts, leaving a residue of legal papers filling 12 thick volumes in court files.

The letters, transcripts and briefs document a mother suing her sons over a family real-estate enterprise that she says she once envisioned as an expression of family solidarity.

Those files--batches of sleeping pill-strength legalese laced with riveting accounts of insult, intrigue, threat and consuming anger--chronicle the destruction of a family as well as the breakup of its empire.

Among other things, the files are an ode to the slippery qualities of money, property and love.

The combatants had different opinions about who owned what and how much it was worth. According to papers filed by Jerome Nash’s attorneys, he and his mother shared interest in seven properties, mainly apartments in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, with values ranging from $400,000 to $750,000. Jerome also owned, by himself or with other partners, a dozen or so other properties. One of Hannah’s attorney’s estimated the Nashes had equity in properties

worth nearly $8.2 million.

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During the course of a more than three-year legal battle, the Nashes fought in front of judges and judicial referees, frequently switching lawyers or sometimes acting as their own attorneys. Settlements broke down as the Nashes clobbered each other with family skeletons. Judges became exasperated and delivered stern lectures from the bench. Even real-estate experts bogged down in the morass of claims and counterclaims.

“Everybody’s got a problem in this case . . . including me,” Superior Court Judge R. William Schoettler Jr., asserted at one tense 1990 hearing.

The judge also said Jerome, 31, had “acted like an absolute barbarian, a renegade, a jerk.” The judicial rebuke came after Jerome reputedly had “verbally abused,” “threatened” and “cursed” a secretary, a receptionist and his brother, David, at an earlier settlement conference.

Both brothers heatedly dispute the court record of Jerome’s conduct. They and other supporters of Jerome say he never threatened the judge and the meeting was largely amicable.

David, 34, acknowledges a brief scuffle with his brother, but says other allegations of misconduct were concocted by attorneys. David, a physician who for the most part was a peripheral player with less involvement than Jerome in the real-estate business, says he is disillusioned with the judicial system:

“What’s important is not what the truth is but what you can put down in a document and get put in the court record.”

Not surprisingly, other stories that emerge from this legal encyclopedia--as well as interviews with friends and the Nashes themselves--are contradictory.

Some say Hannah Nash was an exemplary single mother struggling to raise two sons. Others maintain the sons were under the sway of a stern mother who turned inexplicably hostile toward her children.

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The lawsuit was just the tip of the family iceberg, according to Jerome: “This is not just a courtroom drama, this is a lifetime drama.”

Even Hannah agrees that the court record from the family feud is rich enough for a dozen “sick soap operas.”

In a sworn deposition, David Nash testified that Hannah had been an abusive mother and that on one occasion she “began hitting Jerome with a knife and she actually cut Jerome in several places and he was bleeding and that is one of the sorriest days of my life.”

David said he had also been physically beaten by his mother: “Sometimes she would use her fist. But other than that, she would use a baseball bat or a dog chain. . . .

“I believe that we had a dysfunctional family. And while my mother tried her best to bring us up, she had more than she could handle emotionally. . . . We had a very--what I thought was a bizarre family. Looking back, I see that it’s the same type of dysfunctional family that occurs over and over again in our society, but goes unchecked.”

Hannah denies the abuse charges, but does admit hitting Jerome because he was “naughty.”

Meanwhile, Jerome charged in court documents that his mother has called him a “thief” and “a liar” and that her accusations had exposed him to “hate, contempt, ridicule and obloquy, causing him to be shunned and avoided.”

A friend of Jerome also told the court that Hannah’s “vindictiveness has created much suffering . . . has turned brother against brother, has cost vast amounts of money and the court’s time and, most tragically has alienated both her sons.”

Firing back, Hannah alleged that Jerome “has become verbally abusive toward me and is always bitter and antagonistic . . . Jerome has on several occasions told me that he wishes I were dead.”

As Hannah Nash portrays it, the family financial break-up began innocently.

Divorced since 1962, Hannah says she worked as a travel agent and invested in real estate, working nights and weekends to fix up properties. Gradually, she prospered. By 1976, according to court papers, she wanted to include her teen-age sons in the enterprise “to give us a common purpose in working together as a family, and to give my children a start in life.”

In this era of good feeling, “the trust that I shared with my sons was so strong that we established and maintained a joint checking account.”

For almost 10 years things went swimmingly--from Hannah’s perspective.

But in the mid-1980s Hannah claimed that Jerome--whom all involved agree has a special talent for real estate--began shutting her out of the business, using family money to wheel and deal on his own.

“In or about 1986, Jerome became very insistent about making the decisions for all of us in exercising control over the properties in his own name,” Hannah alleged in one of many legal briefs. " . . . I allowed Jerome to have title to certain properties in his own name, primarily to satisfy his ego and appease his desire to appear to be a real-estate magnate.”

Through his attorneys, Jerome asserted that he was almost entirely responsible for the family’s success.

One brief states, “During the 14 years Jerome pursued his career in real estate, he has, from time to time, involved his family. He would involve his family because of his personal desire to maintain some semblance of a family relationship.”

But Judge Schoettler weighed in with the opinion that “I am persuaded that Mr. Jerome Nash, when he began his adventures, did not start with five cents in his pocket, that every penny he has came as a result of what Hannah Nash had done.”

Whatever they started with, the Nashes were no longer fighting over pocket change. The case files are larded with property lists, copies of canceled checks and various accountings of who got how much money and how it was used. Often the disputes were over hundreds of thousands of dollars generated by a single property.

For instance, Jerome’s attorneys alleged that Hannah improperly spent about $300,000 in profits from the sale of an apartment building. The attorneys said Hannah and Jerome had agreed to put the money in certificates of deposit. Instead, the money allegedly went to pay off a loan on a Mercedes, make a large down payment on a Jaguar, pay income taxes, reduce a line of credit, and pay for car repairs and medical bills.

Conversely, Hannah alleged that Jerome pocketed $156,000 after remortgaging three properties.

Mother and son also fought over lesser sums. At one point they argued about dividing up rents from a garage. Jerome’s share, according to Hannah’s lawyer, would have been $166.67.

Yet at the same time, Jerome’s lawyers contended that he was still supporting his mother, spending “at least $116,000" during one period on her expenses.

“Jerome Nash always made sure that Hannah Nash was well-provided for,” a brief on behalf of Jerome maintains. “Throughout 1987-88, he gave her substantial amounts of money . . . he spent approximately $100,000 in decorating her residence.”

As the lawsuit dragged on, Hannah says her income dropped precipitously, so that for a time she lived in her luxury condominium on monthly Social Security payments of about $700.

“Living here on SSI. Can you imagine anything so ludicrous in your life,” she says. “Mentally, I wasn’t able to work.”

In a 1988 statement filed with the court, Hannah listed monthly living expenses of $8,865, including $4,560 for a mortgage, $1,680 in fees to a homeowners association and $1,000 for food and entertainment.

Jerome disputes his mother’s pleas of poverty, saying she makes the claim in a bid for sympathy.

Early last year, the legal thicket--if not the family bitterness--began to be cleared away. In a hearing on Feb. 20, Superior Court Judge Stephen O’Neil ruled that Hannah never had a partnership with her children.

“She’s testified under oath at her own deposition that there never was a partnership . . . even if there were, how do you make a partnership with 14- and 15-year-old children?” O’Neill said.

After that ruling, about 20 Nash properties were placed in receivership--administration by a third party.

The properties came out of receivership last summer, and the final details were wrapped up early this year.

Hannah got three properties, her condominium and two rental buildings, one of which was sold, according to attorneys. Jerome got the rest, about 17 properties, although not all had been owned with family members. David, according to court papers, apparently sold his interest in the real estate holdings to Jerome for $450,000.

So that’s where it stands. For the moment. The Nash family is still divided and each has drawn his own lesson from this war of blood and money.

Sitting in her breakfast nook, Hannah Nash reels off names from the materialistic 1980s, all of them now or formerly in prison: Charles Keating, Leona Helmsley, Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky.

Then she delivers the moral of her story: “Don’t give too much, too soon. Too much is no good.”

And Jerome Nash says, “She is still my mother, no matter what . . . I don’t want her hurt. I don’t understand anybody who would hurt their own flesh and blood.”


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