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Rodenstock may default in Jefferson case

A federal judge in New York City warned Hardy Rodenstock – who has been accused of counterfeiting wine – yesterday that if he failed to cooperate in a lawsuit against him, a default judgment might be entered in the case.

In a court hearing, Rodenstock, speaking on a phone from Germany and using a translator present in New York, repeatedly said he was ‘getting out of the case’, according to Bloomberg News.

William Koch, a Florida billionaire collector, has accused Rodenstock of fraud in representing bottles as having belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Koch paid some $500,000 for such bottles.

The judge, Debra Freeman, said: ‘If this court orders that discovery go forward and you, Mr Rodenstock, refuse to participate in that process, you can be sanctioned in various ways, including the severe sanction of a default judgment being entered against you.’

According to Bloomberg, Freeman gave Rodenstock two weeks to send a letter declaring an intention to cooperate. She said that if the court entered a default judgment, based entirely on testimony by Koch, he would be unable to contest his liability.

Freeman said Rodenstock could nonetheless come to court to contest any damages. If Rodenstock did not appear in court, Freeman said, a judge would set damages based solely on Koch’s testimony.

Rodenstock maintains that the court, in New York City, lacks jurisdiction over the case. He warned that if a default judgment was pronounced, he would fight it in a court in The Hague.

Birgit Kurtz, Rodenstock’s lawyer, wants to quit the case. Judge Freeman requested that she remain his lawyer for two weeks.

Brad Goldstein, Koch’s spokesman at the Oxbow Group, an energy company based in Florida, said today, ‘Rodenstock is gaming the system. He tells the magistrate he cannot afford the legal bills, yet he hires one of the most expensive lawyers in Bavaria.

Saying Rodenstock had ‘contaminated’ the wine market, Goldstein claimed the collector did not provide the documentation requested, and that he ‘duped the European wine experts’.

Kurtz could not immediately be reached at her New York City law firm, Alston & Bird, for a comment on Rodenstock’s behalf.

  • Christie’s New York office said in a statement: ‘Christie’s has never seen or given an opinion on the authenticity of the bottles of wine bought by Mr Koch. We can also confirm that a subpoena from the US authorities was received by Christie’s in December – although it was focused on the activities of a particular consignor and not on the activities or practices of Christie’s itself.

    ‘We would point out that the bottles owned by Mr. Koch, which we understand to be the subject of the claim by Mr. Koch against Mr. Rodenstock, were never purchased at Christie’s, nor is Christie’s a party to those legal proceedings.

    ‘The legal proceedings and Mr. Koch’s bottles of wine are of interest to us, however, as over 20 years ago we offered two bottles and one half-bottle for sale which were similarly engraved. As a matter of policy, Christie’s will not sell any lot that we know or have reason to believe is inauthentic or counterfeit.

    ‘We therefore take very seriously any suggestion that the authenticity of a lot which we have sold is open to question and will carefully review any new evidence that is presented to us.’

    Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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