The professional life of Richard Goldberg, attorney at law, was full of contrasts.
Early in his legal career, about 30 years ago, Goldberg was chief of the consumer frauds and crime division of the Ohio attorney general's office. By the early '80s he was making a name for himself and was a governing trustee of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers.
With success came a reputation for flamboyance -- in clothes, in cars, in private airplanes. He cultivated the image of a high-flying, successful litigator for more than two decades, until it all came crashing down in 1999, when he tried to bilk the wrong client -- a woman whose son was a lawyer in Cleveland. The obfuscation Goldberg used to hold other clients at bay didn't work in that case. After Goldberg was exposed as a thief in one case, other cases representing millions of dollars in misappropriated assets were discovered.
Up and down
Goldberg went from investigating frauds to perpetrating them. He went from owning real estate (homes, commercial buildings, apartments), flashy cars (as many as 50 at a time) and mink coats to disbarment, bankruptcy, and living in jail, wearing nothing flashier than federal-prison denim.
Now he's out of jail, at least temporarily, and back in court, as a defendant not a litigator. And his latest appearance in court has raised some questions that we believe demand answers.
In an effort to avoid further jail time, Goldberg negotiated a plea agreement that requires him to pay $636,705 to five of the families he defrauded.
So where does Goldberg, who was supposed to have liquidated all his assets to pay off his debts and who declared bankruptcy after going to prison, get $636,705?
From a friend, we're told.
Which isn't nearly good enough as an answer.
There is no doubt that it would have been difficult for Goldberg to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets. Attorneys, probate court investigators and the Ohio Disciplinary Counsel have all looked at his books. But Goldberg was demonstrably a clever lawyer and a deceitful thief. No possibility should be overlooked.
Last Friday this newspaper reported that, barring any last-minute delays, jury selection would begin Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for Goldberg's trial on state charges of theft and forgery.
Hoping for probation
Well, a last-minute delay did present itself. Goldberg's plea agreement negated the need for a trial, and delayed his sentencing on 29 state charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft and forgery until after a presentencing report is completed by the adult probation department. Goldberg could face as little punishment as probation or as much as 54 to 75 years in prison.
Clearly, before the judge passes sentence, both he and the public should have concrete information about the source of the money Goldberg has been given or loaned. Goldberg is a convicted criminal who proved his cunning over the years -- victimizing the very people who he represented in court as victims of incompetent or callous medical practitioners.
At the very least, the court should be provided with an affidavit from Goldberg's benefactor attesting to the source of the money and the circumstances under which the debt is to be forgiven.
Complete openness is the least that should be expected in determining the punishment of an attorney who has betrayed his clients, the legal system and almost singlehandedly broke the fund established by the state to compensate the victims of lawyerly misconduct.