The billionaire CEO of Marvel Entertainment is countersuing a Canadian multimillionaire for defamation in a long-running legal battle that was sparked by a dispute over a female tennis pro at their exclusive Palm Beach enclave.
Isaac Perlmutter, one the largest shareholders in the Walt Disney Company, filed a lawsuit against Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom on Tuesday, alleging he illegally obtained DNA from Mr. Perlmutter's wife, Laura, and falsely implicated the couple in a hate-letter campaign.
The reclusive 73-year old Mr. Perlmutter, who sold Marvel to Disney for $4-billion (U.S.) in 2009, has never given an interview. Mr. Peerenboom, who owns the international head-hunting firm Mandrake and other Canadian businesses, has a defamation suit pending against Mr. Perlmutter in a Palm Beach, Fla., court.
The civil litigation stems from a dispute over Karen Donnelly, the tennis pro at the wealthy gated community where both men reside. Mr. Peerenboom alleges that Mr. Perlmutter, an avid tennis player, launched a hate-mail campaign against him after he sought to open Ms. Donnelly's contract to a competitive bid.
The high-stakes legal clash includes DNA evidence collected from one of the hate letters that allegedly matches DNA on a water bottle that Laura Perlmutter left in court in an unrelated legal matter. Mr. Pereenboom testified in court that he paid a private lab to conduct tests on the bottle, and they allegedly showed a 97.6-per-cent match with the DNA on one of the letters.
A Florida judge ruled earlier this month that Mr. Peerenboom and his previous lawyer, William Douberly, "acted fraudulently" to obtain the DNA and released the results without the consent of the Perlmutters.
The court also found that Mr. Douberly could no longer claim attorney-client privilege and would now face cross-examination by Mr. Perlmutter's lawyers in the litigation still before the courts. He must answer 16 questions related to the DNA collection, something he refused to do when he claimed attorney-client privilege.
Mr. Perlmutter's lawyer, Jared Lopez, alleges in the lawsuit that Mr. Peerenboom attempted to carry out an "international conspiracy to surreptitiously and illegally collect, analyze, and disclose the Perlmutters' genetic information in violation of Florida statutory and common law, in an effort to defame the Perlmutters by falsely implicating them in criminal conduct."
Mr. Perlmutter alleges that Mr. Peerenboom "wrongfully manipulated" the DNA evidence to support his defamation suit. The Perlmutters deny they had anything to do with the slanderous letters and argue that Mr. Peerenboom is a serial litigator, seeking to shake them down for millions of dollars.
The counterclaim also made a series of allegations about Mr. Peerenboom and his past legal entanglements over many decades.
Mr. Peerenboom's New York lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said that the Perlmutter counterclaim is without merit and will be dismissed.
"It is remarkable for its defamatory, mean-spirited, irrelevant allegations that dredge up previously debunked smear campaigns against Mr. Peerenboom that occurred decades ago," Mr. Kasowitz said in a statement.
"What is particularly noteworthy, however, about the ugly tone of this document – which the Perlmutters have evidently filed in order to harass and injure Mr. Peerenboom – is just how much it has in common with the anonymous hate-mail campaign that is the subject of Mr. Peerenboom's pending lawsuits against the Perlmutters."
The hate-mail campaign, which included more than 1,000 letters, was directed at members of the Palm Beach community where the two men live, inmates at federal and state penitentiaries, and business associates and friends of Mr. Peerenboom in Canada. Some of the letters were reported to be on his stationery. The letters alleged he molested an 11-year-old and murdered a couple. Other letters stated Mr. Pereenboom believed in Hitler's "Final Solution" and wanted to attack Jewish neighbours, including Mr. Perlmutter, an Israeli-American.
Mr. Peerenboom, who has never been accused of these crimes, has obtained Marvel e-mails that his lawyer alleges suggest Mr. Perlmutter was behind the conspiracy to defame him. Mr. Kasowitz said that recent discovery proceedings show that Marvel Entertainment resources were used in "carrying out his [Mr. Perlmutter's] vicious anonymous hate-mail campaign against Harold Peerenboom."