Editor’s note: This report first appeared at BusinessDen.com, a BizWest news partner.
The late Denver wildcatter Jack Grynberg “suffered from insane delusions” in the waning years of his life, a Centennial judge says, but that doesn’t nullify a contract he signed.
“A party can be insane for some purposes and still have the capacity to contract,” Arapahoe County District Court Judge Peter Michaelson determined this month.
Grynberg, a self-described Holocaust survivor, built a fortune digging for oil and gas in far-flung places after graduating from the Colorado School of Mines in the early 1950s. He died at age 89 in 2021 after several years of cognitive decline, family feuds and constant litigation.
In March 2022, Grynberg’s family sued several of his former lawyers, accusing them of making millions of dollars by hiding Grynberg’s deterioration and allowing him to file frivolous lawsuits against his wife and children, among others. The lawyers deny wrongdoing.
For nearly one year after it was filed, that case was bogged down by a procedural matter — whether former Grynberg attorney Bruce Marks of Pennsylvania can be sued in Colorado — that also sought to answer a key question in the case: Was Grynberg delusional?
Under an agreement Grynberg signed with Marks in 2016, any legal dispute between the two had to be handled in Pennsylvania courts. But Grynberg’s family argued that since Grynberg was delusional by 2016, the agreement he signed is void. Michaelson heard three days of arguments and testimony on the matter in February and early March.
Grynberg’s son, Stephen, testified that his father sent the prime minister of Japan a letter in 2014 claiming he leased 7.6 million hectares of sugar fields when he leased none. Grynberg also told the president of Botswana that he had $2 billion in a bank there. The African president, outraged, then kicked a representative of Grynberg’s company out of Botswana.
Rachel Grynberg, his daughter, testified that her father was delusional by 2015 and lost tens of millions of dollars to scammers as a result. He claimed to own a Wyoming oil well with 30 billion barrels in it – a massive number greater than the nation’s entire reserves – and a power plant in Nigeria that doesn’t exist, then tried to buy $100 million in generators for the plant.
Jeffrey Wallace, Grynberg’s doctor, testified that he diagnosed the oilman with dementia in 2016. But Stanford Finkel, an expert in geriatric psychiatry, testified that Grynberg had dementia in 2014 and was delusional, as evidenced by him sending bank information to a Gmail account he believed belonged to a Brazilian princess who’d been dead for a decade.
Much of the testimony centered on whether Grynberg understood his 2016 agreement with Marks, one of several attorneys representing him in his many lawsuits then.
Rachel Grynberg doubts he actually read the agreement and signed it, but Marks said that Grynberg both fully understood it and signed it. Grynberg employee Terrence Burns testified that his boss was delusional but also well-versed in legal matters and knew contracts.
On March 17, Michaelson sided with Marks and ruled that he can’t be sued by the Grynbergs in Colorado. In a 10-page decision, the judge determined that Jack Grynberg “suffered from insane delusions and failed to make rational decisions about many business matters” but “when it came to the engagement of attorneys, he did not suffer at all” and knew what he signed.
The decision does not close the case. Former Grynberg attorney Gregory Tamkin and his firm, Dorsey & Whitney in Denver, are still being sued by the Grynbergs.
Attorneys for the Grynbergs and attorneys for Marks declined to comment on the ruling.