By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The suit, whose documents fatten seven file folders and spill out of a large box, went to trial in 2003. A jury ruled against Deen. They found him guilty of fraud and malice and ordered him to pay some $40,000 in damages. They also slapped him with $100,000 in punitive damages. Yet oddly, the jury also ruled that Deen was in effect forcibly evicted by the actions of Parker and the Atrium. Both sides eventually settled after Deen threatened to take the dispute to an appeals court. "What the jury said in this case is that a deal's a deal," says Parker's attorney Ralph Perry-Miller, quoted in a press release dated December 2003. "He may be the president's caterer, but that doesn't give him the right to thumb his nose at business obligations."
Parker speaks in more savage terms. "He's a goddamn crook," he says. "We sued the shit out of him for being a crook, and we won...Eddie Deen's a lyin' son of a bitch, and everything about him is a lyin' son of a bitch."
Deen is circumspect, even philosophical about his jury loss. He maintains that Parker abused his tenants, often small family antiques dealers, and he was one of the few who had the gumption and resources to stand up to him. "There were a lot of lawsuits and a lot of pain," Deen says. "A lot of the tenants had the same problems, but it was easier and quicker just to write the guy a check and move out. I was the only one who refused to reward the landlord. A lot of them just filed for bankruptcy."
Indeed, court records show that Parker has sued several of his tenants, and at least one of them filed bankruptcy before the case could be settled. "I really think I slowed up this guy," Deen says.
Still, a jury ruled against him. Deen blames it on his sudden switch in defense attorneys just before trial and the poor job he did explaining the case. Though terms of the settlement are confidential, Deen says they each spent more than the $350,000 in accrued rents and related charges Parker was seeking in the lawsuit.
"Right in the middle of the trial, it hit me," Deen says. "What's creating so much havoc and chaos in people's lives is not the desire to create havoc and chaos...It's the fear of not having control. That's when I immediately got involved with the shelters."
Deen says his first act after losing in court was to offer a free fund-raising event for the Nexus Recovery Center, a shelter that assists women with alcohol and drug abuse problems. He sees his earnest shelter work as a way of licking his wounds. "What I saw was a way to take away some of my pain, because I could relate to what some of these people were going through," he says. "I got a good education out of that."
But when reminded of the stain that may linger on his reputation, he sighs and his voice becomes quietly steely. "People know who I am. William Fields knows who I am. The people in the shelters know who I am. Rick Perry knows who I am. One of my customers is the president of the United States. "