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Continued: Schafer: In N.J., Wilfs' simple legal dispute goes haywire

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 1, 2014 - 6:08 PM

This was no ordinary trial. In conversations I had with New Yorkers, the Jarwick vs. Wilf trial invited comparison to the famous, year-and-a-half-long Pizza Connection heroin smuggling trial. Back home, a Minneapolis litigator said she couldn’t think of anything even remotely like it.

There are conflicting accounts of just how many pages the recent trial record contains, as Harvey said it’s 26,000 pages and the judge once was quoted saying 28,000.

“Why such a lengthy trial proceeding is beyond me,” said Jim Cohen, a professor at the Fordham University School of Law in New York. “It sounds like the judge was unable to control the case. It’s hard, frankly, to think of another explanation.”

Cohen also said that a complex case may have a principal witness on the stand for a week or more, but he couldn’t explain how Zygi Wilf could have been asked to testify for 28 days.

Harvey has an explanation. It was harassment.

“It’s almost mind-boggling,” he said. “There is no witness that ought to be on the witness stand that long. There is nothing that you could learn from a witness that you can’t learn in five days. Absolutely nothing.”

The basis of the appeal is broader than just their complaints about the judge’s fairness. As for the judge’s response, a call to the courthouse in New Jersey revealed that the judge had retired and could not be reached.

“You can imagine one thing for sure,” Cohen said. “The appellate court will be unhappy looking at briefs based upon reading a 26,000-page transcript. Very unhappy.”

Any decision on the appeal appears to be at least two years away, and given the extraordinary trial, there seems to be a reasonable chance the appellate court will decide that some or all of it needs a reboot.

That could even mean that after 24 years two very wealthy families may still need a court’s help to decide what a minority interest in a single apartment deal should be worth.

That level of stubbornness and sheer cantankerousness isn’t particularly admirable. But it isn’t evil, either.

lee.schafer@startribune.com • 612-673-4302

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