When Ron Perelman filed suit in 2008 against his former father-in-law, Hudson News founder Robert Cohen, over millions he claimed his ex-wife Claudia’s father had promised their daughter Samantha, he probably thought it would be easy. The man was 82 years old, afflicted with a rare neurological disease that has him paralyzed. He can’t bathe, dress, or feed himself, and can barely speak. But as it turns out, Cohen still had a quite a bit of fight in him. “Bobby,” he croaked to the lawyer he hired to defend himself, according to this month’s Fortune, from Perelman. “I want you to fight him and fuck him.”
Cohen also managed to hold his own later that year, when Perelman’s lawyers had him ordered into the courtroom, just so the judge could get a sense, in person, of how old and infirm and probably senile he was.
“Cohen looked awful,” reports Fortune. “His mouth was frozen open like a cave, and his breathing was ragged.” But in the end, he pulled it together:
The court took two days of testimony from Robert Cohen. Asked by his lawyer, Gold, whether he had ever made a promise to divide his estate equally among his children, Cohen answered no. He answered yes when asked if he always intended to transfer the vast majority of his assets to James. No, he did not want a court-appointed guardian for him, and yes, he wanted his lawyer to keep fighting for him. “Mr. Cohen, having spent the last 13 months in litigation, can you tell Judge Koblitz how you feel about your former son-in-law?” Gold asked. Cohen’s answer was difficult to understand.
“I’m going to object,” said Martin Flumenbaum, Perelman’s lead trial lawyer, his voice rising in pitch. “There are no articulable, intelligible words that were uttered. It’s just unfair.”
“Overruled,” said Judge Koblitz, asking the speech therapist to continue.
After that, no one could really argue that he wasn’t of sound mind.