SANTA ANA — The trial is a classic case of "he says, she says," but legal experts believe it could lead to the biggest palimony settlement ever in a case that is dripping with enough romantic intrigue, high finance and secrecy to hold captive an audience of courtroom TV watchers.
Opening statements began Thursday in the palimony trial of Anthony Maglica, the founder of a $300-million flashlight empire, and Claire Maglica, the vice president of his company and a woman who took Maglica's name and lived with him for more than 20 years.
They told people they were married, but never were.
On Thursday, just one week after moving from the couple's Anaheim Hills estate, Claire Maglica took the multimillionaire to trial, saying she deserves half of the empire they built together as they transformed a humble machine shop into what attorneys described as a premier flashlight company.
Claire Maglica, 60, alleges that Anthony broke an oral agreement they made when they met in 1971 to always share everything and "live out of one pocket."
"This is a case about trust, and it is a case about greed," Claire Maglica's attorney, John W. Keker, told an Orange County Superior Court jury as the trial got under way live on the Courtroom Television Network.
"It's a case about love, and someone who didn't remember the promises he made once he stopped loving."
But attorneys for Anthony Maglica, 64, say he was burned by a divorce once and vowed from the beginning of the relationship never to marry again in order to protect his property. He contends that he only let Claire Maglica use his name and publicly introduce herself as his wife "in order to avoid embarrassment to her."
Anthony Maglica says the couple signed an agreement in 1977 vowing to keep their property separate.
"You'll find that this is a story that is truly rags to riches," Anthony Maglica's attorney, Dennis M. Wasser, told jurors.
Those riches, he argued, belong to Anthony Maglica, not Claire.
In court Thursday, her attorney showed jurors snapshots of the couple's life together. There were photos of them standing with former President George Bush when he visited their Ontario-based Mag Industries Inc. Other pictures showed the couple in matching fur coats, the company Rolls-Royce that Claire drove and their executive office at Mag with side-by-side desks.
It was a quite a change from their circumstances when they met in 1971. Anthony Maglica was a Croatian immigrant who eked out a living in a machine shop so sparsely furnished that he hung his clothes on a pair of skis in the corner, showered in a wash basin and walked across the railroad tracks to the local hot dog stand for meals.
Claire had come from an impoverished past in New York, where she spent her teen years in an orphanage. Both were at the end of failing marriages.
Mag Industries Inc. now employs more than 600 people and occupies 11 buildings in Ontario. Their relationship began to sour in 1992, when Claire says Anthony told her she was neither his wife nor his business partner and never had been.
Since then, his assets have become something of a mystery. According to Claire Maglica, Anthony has funneled millions of dollars out of the company since she filed her suit in July. So sensitive are his business holdings that Superior Court Judge Robert J. Polis agreed to seal the file in the case to keep financial information from the preying eyes of business competitors.
The case that coined the term \o7 palimony \f7 caught the public's attention in the 1970s, when Michelle Triola sued actor Lee Marvin after they separated. Like the Maglicas, they never married. A judge found there was no agreement to share income but still awarded Triola $104,000. That was overturned on appeal.
In another high-profile case, actress-director Sondra Locke filed a palimony suit in 1989 against longtime lover Clint Eastwood--even though she was still legally married to, but separated from, her first husband. Records were sealed in the Eastwood case and proceedings were later held behind closed doors. Rumors circulated that Locke received several million in a settlement, but Locke has denied those reports.
In 1992, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury rejected a palimony suit brought against the estate of the late multimillionaire Henry T. Mudd by one of his seven mistresses. Mudd, who co-founded Harvey Mudd College in Claremont in his father's name, died in 1990, shortly after Eleanor (Lorraine) Oliver filed a $5-million lawsuit seeking compensation for her "wife-like companionship."
After learning about the Marvin case, Anthony Maglica contends that he and Claire drafted the 1977 agreement to keep their property separate. But she says he stuck a document in front of her face one night and told her to sign it.
Her attorney said she believed the document stated that they would marry one day.
In her testimony, Claire Maglica said she laid out Anthony's clothes every day, taught him how to improve his English and went to 15 to 20 trade shows a year in the early years of the business.
She said she was the one who suggested to Anthony that they make a smaller flashlight and market it to a wider audience in a variety of colors.
"My role began at the very beginning," she said.
Attorneys said the case will boil down to whether jurors believe Claire's version about an oral agreement or Anthony's version of events about the written agreement.
"We'll ask you whether or not that contract they made 23 years ago should be honored, or whether Tony is right," Keker said. "He gets everything and she doesn't get a knife, spoon or a teacup."