Fred Furth, the brash and grand, cigar-puffing, high-flying attorney, vintner and philanthropist who made an international destination of Chalk Hill Winery near Windsor, died Saturday, one week after he struck his head in a fall at his home in Florida.
Furth, who sold the elite winery in 2010 and moved to Palm Beach County about two years ago, was 84.
The nationally prominent antitrust lawyer and avid pilot married his third wife, Maryann Polizzi, in a Sonoma County wedding just 13 months ago.
“He was bombastic, and we became friends,” said Quentin Kopp, the attorney and former judge, California state senator and San Francisco supervisor. Furth managed Kopp’s unsuccessful 1979 run for mayor of San Francisco.
“Fred was extraordinary,” Kopp said. “He was incisive. He was generous. And he was a person of many dimensions.”
A millionaire many times over, Furth made his name and fortune suing corporations for alleged price-fixing and other anti-competitive practices and abuses of employees, consumers and investors. In a historic case, in 2005, he won a $172 million judgment on behalf of nearly 116,000 Walmart employees who claimed they were denied meal and rest breaks.
“I’m a modern-day, legal Robin Hood,” Furth told The Press Democrat in 1991. Another time he said, “I’ll pull for the little guy getting pushed around every time.”
Furth’s bravado and pugnacity prompted one admirer to dub him the “jurisprudential Joe Frazier.”
Furth was living in south Florida with his wife, Polizzi-Furth, an actor and model. Sometime after 2 a.m. on May 5, he fell in a bathroom at their home and struck his head on the floor.
Severely injured, he was admitted to Delray Medical Center, where he was comatose and, for a time, on life-support. He died early Saturday morning.
A native of the tough, poor Chicago satellite of West Harvey, Illinois, Frederick Paul Furth worked with attorney and future San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto prior to opening his own law practice, The Furth Firm LLP, in San Francisco in 1966.
That firm was a predecessor to the current Furth Salem Mason and Li LLP.
“He was active in the practice until three or four months ago,” longtime partner Daniel Mason said.
Early on, Furth staked his ground as a leader in taking on businesses in large antitrust and class-action cases. In a pioneer case, he won a judgment of more than $67 million from presumable competing makers of gypsum wallboard after proving they’d cheated consumers by fixing prices.
“He handled some of the most interesting and significant cases of the last 40, 50 years,” said friend and law partner Mason in San Francisco. He said Furth was among a handful of U.S. attorneys who developed the antitrust class-action suit as a vehicle for large numbers of wronged people to recoup compensation.
Both Mason and Kopp recalled Furth’s 1991 antitrust lawsuit, with co-counsel Joe Alioto, that won former New England Patriots owner William “Billy” Sullivan a multimillion dollar settlement from the National Football League for having prevented Sullivan from selling shares in the team.
Mason said Furth also had a hand in making the National Basketball Association what it is today through the two antitrust lawsuits he filed and fought on behalf of the former and rival American Basketball Association.
Furth was responsible also for fending off attempts by auto industry executive Lee Iaccoca and late businessman-investor Kirk Kerkorian to seize control of carmaker Chrysler; by Kerkorian to take over Columbia Pictures; and by the Federal Trade Commission to break up the cereal-maker Kellogg Co.