Posted: June 26, 2006
FILE WHEN READY
By Celia Cohen
Richard J. Korn brought the script with him. He tried to sue his way into public office in Nassau County on Long Island, N.Y., but it did not work. Now he is trying again in Delaware.
Korn, a serial candidate who has the campaign smile and the handshake down pat, was on the perimeter of New York politics when he went for a burst of publicity and a David-against-Goliath image by taking the county to court for bungling its bookkeeping of a budget surplus.
He was right, and the county retooled its budget. Korn vaulted into the race for county executive, while insisting to a newspaper he had not planned to run but was “surprised and overwhelmed” by a surge of support after the lawsuit.
If it sounds familiar, it should. Transplanted from New York, Korn trotted out the budget-surplus attack on New Castle County and got a court ruling that made the County Council put a patch on the way it accounts for reserves. He was back running for county executive and back protesting he “did not move to Delaware ever thinking, dreaming or planning that he would run.”
Both campaigns for county executive were in vain, but Korn was not about to give up politics, not with those lawsuits still there as fuel for his ambitions. Now he wants to be elected to the Delaware General Assembly.
Lawsuits have been a big part of Korn's life for the better part of two decades. He is eager for the voters to know about the ones against the county governments, but as for others, well, they are what they are.
There were the legal wranglings in New York over a business relationship that soured, not to mention a defamation case from an embarrassing episode about his love life that made it onto "A Current Affair" and also the way he outsmarted himself by filing for personal bankruptcy protection.
Those are some highlights. Korn says he has not even counted up all the times he has gone to court.
He uses lawsuits for offense and for defense. When he was interviewed last Thursday for this story, the friendliness in his eyes faded away to a freezing stare, and he reached for his weapon of choice. "I want to be honest with you. I don't want us to wind up in court," he said.
Korn previously had similar words for Brian N. Moore, his opponent for the state legislature. Moore said Korn approached him at a civic association meeting and warned, "I hear rumors, I hear talk that someone's looking into my background, and I hear you're behind it, and if something comes out, I sue people. I take people to court, and you wouldn't be excluded from it."
Korn, 55, has been in Delaware since 1999, explaining he moved to Hockessin not for political advantage but to tend to his aging parents, also New Yorkers who arrived in the area earlier to be near grandchildren living outside of Philadelphia.
In his second try for public office here, he is a Democratic legislative candidate for a seat held for 30 years by state Rep. Roger P. Roy, a Limestone Hills Republican who is retiring and giving his political blessing to Brian Moore, his neighbor and a fellow Republican. Korn says he is running full time, while his wife Magda, a Venezuelan native and artist he married in 2002, works at a bank.
The last time, Korn was a me-too candidate in the Democratic primary for county executive, a footnote in a much-publicized venomous slugfest that had Christopher A. Coons winning the party nomination over Sherry L. Freebery and going on to win the 2004 election.
Korn is no stranger to running for a legislative seat, either. His political past in New York includes an unsuccessful try for the state Senate in 1976, according to Newsday, a New York newspaper.
Korn is not a lawyer. He has a legal background -- he was the son of a lawyer, he went to Hofstra law school, and he clerked for a federal judge -- but he says it was a means to his "first love" of government and politics. In fact, lawsuits have been his entree.
Only in Nassau County, it spun out of control. Lawsuits begat lawsuits begat lawsuits that begat a black hole of legal misery. "There were so many documents. You have no idea. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them," Korn said.
A number of the proceedings converged in Korn's bankruptcy case, for which the records were made available to Delaware Grapevine from storage in Missouri, the place where outdated New York bankruptcy records go. They tell the story of his political, business and personal entanglements.
In 1989 Korn ran for county executive against the Republican machine that controlled Nassau County, one of the largest local governments in the country, and lost. Afterwards, a communications consultant sued him for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.
While Korn was dealing with that case, there were more court squabbles because of a falling out with Gary Princz at PrinczCo Productions Inc., a New York video company that the two of them ran. Their disputes continued even after Korn agreed to sell his half of the business for more than $700,000.
Korn was dating around. He was single after splitting from his second wife Julianne about the time of his campaign for county executive, according to Newsday. His romancing turned ugly when three women tattled about him to "A Current Affair," the tabloid television program. A show about it aired on Nov. 3, 1992.
"He's the Democrats' handsome hotshot. His angry girlfriends say he's a candidate for playboy prison," the broadcast said. "He's got the right words, the right moves and the right hair."
The "right hair" -- which he still has -- probably resonated more with viewers then than it would today, because it was hair reminiscent of Gary Hart, the Democratic presidential candidate whose 1988 campaign foundered after he was caught with a woman on a boat named "Monkey Business." Korn had a boat, too, according to the show. It was called "Clowning Around" when he was with one woman, "Princess Bobbie Lee" with another.
The episode also happened to be shown on the day Bill Clinton was elected president.
"A Current Affair" made Korn out to be a conniving cad who not only was promising to marry more than one socialite at a time but manipulating them to give him the deed to their million-dollar houses.
One of the women, Barbara Ozer, said she was married for 28 years when she began a relationship with Korn after meeting him at a political function at her house. Four to six weeks later, he proposed and pressured her to divorce quickly, and he insisted on getting the house title, Ozer said in an interview on camera.
Korn called the portrayal an "absolute lie" when a reporter for the show found him for an ambush interview in a Long Island parking lot, and he still was saying it in the interview last week.
"That is absolutely, categorically false. That is the subject of libel and slander and defamation suits. It was all a made-up story on the show," Korn said.
Korn says the broadcast was a set-up by his political enemies with the help of Ozer, who had family ties to the Fox television network, which produced the show. He sued for $102 million.
Another woman, Shelly Silver, recanted in 1994, although Korn refuses now to characterize his relationship with her at that time. Before she recanted, he was supposed to have sent her a dozen roses twice in one week to patch things up, as the show said when it aired. After she recanted, court documents show Korn was living with her at least by sometime in 1996.
"The program stated that Richard Korn 'preyed upon' me as a 'wealthy Long Island socialite' and that Korn persuaded me to sign over the deed to my house to him. This is a lie. None of this is true. This was made up by the show," Silver was quoted as saying in Newsday.
Amid all the legal hubbub, the communications consulting firm that was stuck with the unpaid campaign bills won its suit for $593,281 and was ready to go after Korn for payment. As the judgment came down on June 19, 1996, Korn fled for bankruptcy protection.
Although he says now he was not in a rush, his bankruptcy lawyer at the time says he was. In a court statement filed July 30, 1996, Mitchell H. Levitin said he had planned to take a vacation day when Korn contacted him with such "urgency and desperation" that the attorney told him to come to the house.
"Mr. Korn advised me that he had just gotten my name from the Nassau County Yellow Pages and contacted me because my advertisement provided for 'rush emergency service,'" Levitin wrote.
"Within 20 minutes Mr. Korn was at my home, and we sat down at my dining room table with my laptop computer. . . . Mr. Korn's demeanor at that time was disturbing. He was visibly upset, flushed, perspiring, chain smoking, and convinced by his discussions with his litigation attorney . . . that his sole source of income would be garnished . . . [so] he must file his bankruptcy immediately."
Korn's bankruptcy case was filed, but once he was in, he wanted out. David J. Doyaga, a new bankruptcy attorney, told the judge that Korn had not understood what would happen to him, according to a court transcript.
Despite Korn's legal background, his lawyer said Korn did not realize that a bankruptcy trustee would be appointed by the court to assume control of his financial and legal affairs to pay off his creditors.
The trustee would take over the outstanding balance of roughly $287,000 that Korn was receiving in monthly installments of $7,763 from his PrinczCo buyout, which he was living on, and she also would try to settle his lawsuits.
Korn particularly did not want to give up his right to the "personal vindication" he was seeking in his business dispute with PrinczCo and his defamation action over "A Current Affair," his lawyer said.
Bankruptcy Judge Dorothy T. Eisenberg did not let Korn out. When he skipped meetings and failed to produce records -- which he blamed on the difficulty of accumulating those "thousands and thousands and thousands" of documents -- she found him in civil contempt of court and gave him a month to comply or face jail. Korn complied.
Korn himself was squared away with the court by August 11,1997, but it took another two years for the bankruptcy trustee to resolve the tangle of financial and legal matters.
The trustee settled over "A Current Affair" for $50,000 -- with $2,000 coming from Fox and $48,000 from Ozer family members -- and no way to sort out who had harmed whom. Under the terms of the agreement, there was "no admission of wrongdoing" and nothing was to be "construed to be an admission of the truth or falsity . . . or as to any fault or liability."
In negotiating the $50,000 settlement, the trustee noted dryly, "[Korn] alleges that the broadcast has effectively destroyed his personal life. . . . The trustee believes that Korn's lifestyle was surely a factor in 'destroying his personal life.'"
The judge approved the settlement on June 14, 1999. The bankruptcy trustee turned in her final report on August 12, 1999.
Korn put New York behind him. County property records show he had a house in Hockessin on August 18, 1999, six days after the bankruptcy trustee put Korn behind her. He also had intact his craving for political attention, and his instinct for lawsuits did not die.
"I would sue anybody again if I had to, if something were not right or accurate," Korn said. "I will go to the ends of what it takes if I feel I've been slandered, libeled or maligned in any way."