A California Superior Court in Los Angeles is to decide this month whether Union Bank of California should pay $31 million to a real estate investor who claims it defrauded him.
Martin M. Schultz of Santa Monica, Calif., charges that he was driven out of business by the $31 billion-asset bank.
James A. Frieden, Mr. Schultz's lawyer, says the lawsuit could have been mostly settled in 1991 for $425,000.
Instead Union, which is 80% owned by Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., finds itself planning its next legal move.
If there was ever a case of the little guy taking on a giant, this is it. Mr. Schultz is going up against the world's biggest bank, which hired the largest law firm in California.
But in July, Judge Peter S. Smith recommended a $31 million judgment against the bank. The actual sum is to be decided by Superior Court Judge David Horowitz on Nov. 18.
Union's lawyers said they would ask for a new trial. "Smith's consistently adverse rulings exhibited bias," they said in a statement.
Meanwhile Mr. Schultz said that during a settlement conference this year one of the lawyers for the bank told him, "We're going to litigate this until the day you die."
"The arrogance of this bank is just unparalleled," said Mr. Schultz's lawyer, Mr. Frieden.
Mr. Schultz, 66, effectively went out of business as a workout specialist for troubled real estate syndicates after Union filed suit against him in 1991.
At the time his net worth was $10.8 million. But legal costs forced him to sell his assets at a discount, he said. He filed for protection from creditors in bankruptcy court a year ago, and this year his house was nearly foreclosed on, he said.
Union argued in court that the real estate recession in the 1980s, not the lawsuit, caused Mr. Schultz's financial losses.
Mr. Schultz tells it differently. "Once a bank decides it's going to sue you, nobody's going to give you money."
His case against Union stemmed from a series of transactions that followed the default of a real estate syndicate that had borrowed $2 million from the bank.
The bank sold the debt to Mr. Schultz for $800,000 and assigned to him the collateral, which consisted of stakes in apartment complexes and office buildings.
But another investor, Fulton Associates, claimed the right of first refusal on the collateral and sued the bank and Mr. Schultz.
Union eventually settled with Fulton, agreeing to pay $250,000 of its own money and $175,000 of its expected winnings from a lawsuit against Mr. Schultz-$425,000 in all.
The bank sued Mr. Schultz for breach of contract, claiming he had agreed to indemnify it in case of a suit over their deal. Mr. Schultz countered by suing Union for fraud and breach of contract and fiduciary duty.
Judge Smith tried the case without a jury.