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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.

He was motivated, Mason said, by “ambition and a desire to excel. Great energy and a love of being a lawyer.”

Furth moved to Sonoma County following his 1972 purchase of 242 acres of land off Chalk Hill Road, in the hills east of Windsor. He created Chalk Hill Winery and expanded it to more than 1,200 acres. The grounds are graced also by opulent homes and a world-class equestrian center.

Furth ran the winery with his second wife, the former Peggy Jane Wollerman, an ex-Kellogg’s vice president who served as Chalk Hill’s chief executive officer. The couple divorced in June 2009.

A year later, Fred Furth sold the winery and estate to insurance magnate William Foley and his company, Foley Family Wines.

Furth, a military veteran, was renowned as an adventurous aviator and a generous benefactor. In 2007, he flew around the world in his Cessna Citation Mustang jet with Branden, his Great Dane, as co-pilot. He continued flying high-performance jets until about two years ago.

Furth founded, financed and served as chairman of the International Judicial Conference, which since 1993 has brought together high-ranking justices from around the world to examine “key issues related to establishing an independent judiciary and strengthening the rule of law.”

The 20th conference met a year ago in Paris. Since Furth created the International Judicial Conference, it has allowed more than 1,400 chief and associate justices from 110 countries to gather informally and exchange ideas.

Furth’s philanthropy includes financial support of a Catholic academy in San Francisco that he saved and sustained in the memory of one of his three children.

The Sacred Heart Church and school in the Western Addition had been closed by the regional archdiocese and faced demolition when Furth purchased it in 2005. He supported the school through the foundation he named for daughter Megan Louise Furth, a writer, linguist and former championship equestrian who died in Germany in 2003 at the age of 31.

Fred Furth also created at Windsor’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church the Mary Agatha Furth Center, a community gathering place he dedicated to the memory of his late mother.

Gini Christani manages the Furth Center. She struggled for composure while speaking of Furth.

She said she and the staff will miss his visits.

“He was such a dynamic and kind man,” Christani said. “I say his mother’s name probably 50 or 60 times a day when I answer the phone, and I think of him every time.”

She said Furth was rare in that he was larger than life and internationally known, but also remarkably down to earth.

“Fred was the only person I know who drives a Rolls-Royce. But at the same time, Fred’s one of the few people that when I say something, he believes that it’s worth listening to.”

At the Furth Center, Christani said, “His presence just kind of consumed us all, he was such a big person.”

In addition to his wife in Florida, Furth is survived by daughter Darby Furth Bonomi of San Francisco and son Ben Anthony Furth of Las Cruces, New Mexico; sister Mary Jo O’Dell of Marin County; and three grandchildren.

Colleague and friend Mason said preparations will be made for a memorial service in Sonoma County.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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