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Trump fundraiser Gidwitz ordered to pay $5.7 million in legal fees

Ron Gidwitz has been ordered to pay millions in legal fees, but a spokesman said the businessman will appeal. | Shia Kapos/For the Sun-Times

Ron Gidwitz, a Chicago businessman and fundraiser for President Donald Trump, has lost his court fight against a law firm that says he owes them millions for legal work. But don’t think you’ve heard the last of this case. Gidwitz plans to appeal.

Cook County Circuit Judge Patrick Lustig has ruled Gidwitz and several family members and associated companies owe $5.7 million to Ungaretti & Harris law firm, which is now under the Nixon Peabody umbrella.

After hearing testimony from 20 witnesses and going through the “voluminous” number of exhibits, Lustig said Gidwitz’s Burnham Companies “entered into a valid and binding written contract.”

In his order, handed down Wednesday, Lustig said the Gidwitzes “breached the contract they had with the plaintiffs” when they stopped paying for legal services.

Ungaretti had filed the suit saying it was owed more than $6.3 million, but Lustig ruled $5.7 million was a “fair, reasonable and necessary” legal fee. The judge didn’t award interest.

Joe Power, the attorney for Ungaretti, praised the court order, saying the judge showed “that the contract was valid.” Of Gidwitz, Power said, “He’s trying to renege on what he owes.”

A spokesman says Gidwitz plans to appeal.

“This may have been the first decision in this case, but it won’t be the last,” a spokesman for Gidwitz said in a statement. “The underlying facts show that a law firm, which no longer exists, over-billed its clients – both in time and unreasonable fees – by millions of dollars more than their commitments and estimates. While the court found some of their fees unreasonable, we look forward to a further review of those remaining fees in the appeal process.”

Ungaretti had been hired back in 2005 to defend Gidwitz in a fight against the city of Joliet over the controversial Evergreen Terrace housing project that was rife with problems. Gidwitz lost that case and was compared at the time to being a slum landlord in how the development was run.

Evergreen Terrace in Joliet, shown in 2003. | File photo
Evergreen Terrace in Joliet, shown in 2003. | File photo

Ungaretti attorneys, now with Nixon Peabody, said Gidwitz had abruptly stopped making payments.

Gidwitz countered that he and his family had reached an alternative agreement on fees. Ungaretti sued and all the ugly details about the Evergreen Terrace case were revisited during the recent trial.

Gidwitz blamed the Evergreen Terrace case for losing his 2006 bid to become governor. He’s also co-founder of GCG Partners, a consulting and equity firm.

Gidwitz, the former CEO of Helene Curtis, most recently raised money for Trump’s presidential campaign. He also led fundraising efforts for Bruce Rauner’s successful bid for governor.

Judgment Order by Judge Patrick Lustig by jroneill on Scribd