Lawyer duels The Donald

by Dave Eisenstadt

Published January 29, 2004

A Manhattan lawyer who fashions himself a small town practitioner has a legal fight against that foremost symbol of big-city bluster, Donald Trump.
And lawyer Milan Smith has at the ready a quiver of colorful descriptions of the New York developer drawn from his yearlong dealings with Trump over the case.
“Pompous,” “self-absorbed,” “arrogant,” were among them during a 45-minute interview.
Smith represents the Palos Verdes school district, which a Trump company has sued over the proceeds from a golf course on the peninsula, a part of which is owned by the schools and most by the New Yorker’s business. Millions are at stake in the dispute that centers on conflicting interpretations of when revenues from green fees on the course should be paid to the district.
Trump is trying to settle the case with the district and filed the suit as a negotiating tactic, Smith said.
“I have never had any contact with any human being who appears to be so self-absorbed and so impressed with himself,” says Smith. “He’s kind of like a big bag of wind.”
Hot air or not, Trump has fired off more than a few jabs at Smith.
In letter to Smith about the legal action surrounding the course, Trump devoted a good piece of the missive to denouncing the Manhattan resident and engaging in a bit of name-calling.
“Based on the fact that after our initial conversation three months ago, I realized you are nothing but a troublemaker who is primarily interested in fees,” Trump wrote, “…a nasty person who gets joy out of making things difficult. I hope you are capable of changing your ways.”
In Smith’s view The Donald, in fact, is a negotiator who underestimates his adversaries and doesn’t do his homework.
“I think he thinks we’re all just a bunch of rubes out here,” Smith says.
Smith calls the case a “low-level skirmish.”
“The schools aren’t going to settle for anything that’s not a good deal,” Smith says. “He’s dealing with a community that is made up of an eclectic, highly expressive people and by filing this lawsuit he has irrevocably prejudiced a great many people against him.”
Ironically, the land and the Ocean Trails Golf Course that has the parties at loggerheads probably is best known as having a chunk of it fall away into the Pacific about four years ago.
Trump, in fact, contends that he should pay a smaller portion of the green fees to the schools because the course is 15 holes instead of 18.
That, Smith said, is flat wrong.
The contract has no mention of the size of the course.
Smith and school district call the suit a bad negotiating tactic that is an “utter misjudgment” of the beach area. Trump fired a letter to Smith last year in which Trump called the Manhattan resident “a nasty person who gets joy out of making things difficult. I hope you are capable of changing your ways!”
Smith expects some kind of result within a year.