Legal Issues and Simon Property Group and Lawsuits and Courts and Mel Simon and Law and Real Estate & Retail

UPDATE: Bren Simon criticizes stepchildren in court hearing

July 15, 2010

Bren Simon described her stepchildren as spoiled, vicious and hurtful, and said they refused to accept her as family despite her best efforts during 37 years of marriage to late shopping mall billionaire Melvin Simon.

Bren made the claims in a videotaped deposition, parts of which were aired in a Hamilton County courtroom on Thursday during a high-profile battle over Mel Simon's estate.

She said her stepchildren have been “cruel, insensitive and hurtful on a fairly regular basis” since she joined the family.

The long-simmering feud among Simon family members now is playing out in public as Mel’s daughter from a previous marriage leads an effort to challenge her father’s will. Deborah Simon claims Bren treated Melvin poorly in his final days and tricked him into reducing his childrens’ share of an estate estimated to be worth about $2 billion.

Bren Simon and Deborah Simon glared at each other from opposing tables at a feisty hearing Thursday over whether Bren is fit to serve as trustee over her late husband's estate. The hearing, which began at 9 a.m. and ended around 5 p.m., was scheduled to resume Friday morning.

Attorneys for Deborah Simon played snippets of the videotaped testimony, taken in March, in part to demonstrate the level of animosity Bren feels toward her stepchildren, which they say renders her unfit to fulfill her duties as trustee. Bren did not give live testimony.

Bren sat with several of her attorneys, watching the previously recorded statements in which she blasted Deborah and her siblings Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group.

She responded to questions about scathing e-mails she had sent before and after her husband died, including one she sent to the security detail at the Asherwood estate in Carmel, to "keep all Simon family members off the property."

She explained that she was referring to her quest for a board seat on a family-controlled company called Melvin Simon & Associates when she wrote in another e-mail, "In the words of MLK, Thank God Almighty I'm free at last."

In February 2009, when she was a candidate for a U.S. Ambassadorship, Bren expressed in an e-mail how frustrated she was with the Simon family as a whole, including her husband, who died about seven months later.

"If Mel joins me, ok. And if he doesn't, I don't care. He has betrayed me in every sense," she wrote. "They don't know how to be loved. They punish the people who love them and praise and reward the bastards. I'm not spending one more minute on this family."

Bren said Deborah constantly “harangued” Melvin about money. And she described David Simon's behavior over the years as "terrorism."

David would come to the family’s Asherwood estate almost every day to play golf but wouldn’t even go in the house to see his father, Bren claimed. He would openly mock Mel at the company’s board meetings—troubling Mel to the point he would come home in tears, convinced it was time for him to resign from the company he founded.

Bren at various points in the testimony appeared upset, saying she couldn't understand all the hostility from her stepchildren. After all, she said, she never missed a "birthday, anniversary or grandparent's day at Park Tudor."

At other points, she came across as cold-hearted, even belligerent. Bren frequently shot back with questions of her own, describing one line of questioning from opposing counsel as "petty".

"Business is business is business," she sneered in another clip. "There's no emotion in business."

Michael Ciresi, an attorney for Bren, said his client regretted her harsh words. But he said negative things were said on both sides, and the animosity has not colored Bren's approach to her role as trustee.

He said Bren has several ugly e-mails, too, but hopes not to introduce them in court.

"I don't think Mel Simon would have liked to see these e-mails put in the public record," Ciresi said.

An earlier story about the hearing is available here.

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