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Jerome Bernard Rosenthal

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ROSENTHAL, Jerome Bernard Born on April 1, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois, died 96 years later on August 15, 2007. There was no obituary posted at the time. A controversial figure, he was respected, loved and admired by family and the close friends who knew him well. After practicing law in Chicago, Rosenthal served in World War II as an Army reconnaissance pilot in the Pacific. He was injured and awarded a Purple Heart. After his discharge he settled in Los Angeles and in 1946 was admitted to the California bar. His obloquy began in 1975 when the California Supreme Court decided in favor of Doris Day in an ongoing legal dispute between them and ordered him to pay over $26 million dollars in damages. At the time it was the most publicized case ever against an entertainment lawyer, earning front-page coverage as far afield as in the Wall Street Journal. Rosenthal appealed, but Day's autobiography (as told to A.E. Hotchner) was published the following year. In it Day wrote that she had been left bankrupt by Rosenthal's bad investments, and most of the public and Hollywood cognoscenti took her story at face value. It was also suggested that he was to blame for the death in 1965 of Dorothy Dandridge, another of his clients. Though never proved, it was enough that the innuendo was widely circulated and, as with the judgments, endlessly recycled. In and out of court over the issue for over a decade, against a backdrop of negative publicity, Rosenthal eventually lost his appeal. He didn't have the $26 million, so Day settled for $6 million, paid by his insurers. Then Rosenthal sued the lawyers who had acted for the insurers, claiming they had misrepresented him. In all the years of litigation connected with the case, this is the only time he won. But two years after losing the appeal Rosenthal was disbarred. Meanwhile, Rosenthal had attempted to protect his legal practice by selling it to a young lawyer who had recently joined the firm, and arranging for him to re-employ Rosenthal as a counsellor-at-law. The plan backfired and thus began another string of litigation, lasting 27 years. Because of his reputation, Rosenthal was vulnerable. In any case he fought it was his word against the opposing litigants, and his word was rarely deemed creditable. It was also thought that he had more money than he had. People came to believe that the $26 million Day was awarded was the sum Rosenthal had allegedly taken from her. Instead, it was largely what she was judged to have lost through investments she made on his advice. Yet Rosenthal always maintained that Day hadn't suffered losses and in fact had benefited from that advice over a period of some 15 years, and that had she held on to the investments instead of selling when she did, they would have yielded her a fortune. Hyperlitigious, many would say to a fault, Rosenthal became a fighter against the ropes, swinging punches right and left, and to add to his already blackened name, gained a reputation as a nuisance litigant, making it next to impossible for him to win another case. He did it, ironically, because he loved the law, and always believed it would redeem him. Before his troubles began, he was known as one of Hollywood's most able lawyers, a brilliant, erudite strategist. In his youth he was a wunderkind, the youngest freshman to matriculate at the University of Illinois. A classmate at University of Chicago Law School was California Supreme Court Judge Stanley Mosk, and every day in his nineties Rosenthal took the bus downtown to the law library named for Mosk and rummaged through the casebooks, looking for the one case through which he might find redress. For those who knew him well, he was totally unlike how he has been portrayed in court or Day's reminiscences or the many stories that have been spun and posted from them. He was kind and caring, though it is true that he didn't like to be crossed. He was funny, charming, and loved a good joke. For years he suffered from severe back pain resulting from his war injuries, but managed to stay fit through periods of unbelievable stress by exercise and a 91010
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Apr. 6, 2008
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