Albert Latner made his fortune in real estate, health care and casinos, and lavished his four children with riches. After his wife died, he gave them their inheritance early. Now they’re feuding over the estate, launching lawsuit after lawsuit and tearing the family apart. A cautionary tale about the burdens of love and money
In February 2010, Joshua Latner was alerted by several friends about a photo posted on the Internet. He sat down at his computer, Googled himself and was disturbed to find his picture with the word “loser” scrawled across his face.
Joshua is not, and has never been, a man with a nine-to-five job. An enthusiastic collector of fine wines and rare antiques, he is 49 years old and lives in Zurich with his wife, Kendal, and their two young children. He also maintains residences in Toronto, Key Biscayne and Tokyo and on the Greek island of Mykonos, where he raises chickens and honeybees as a hobby. He inherited $150 million when his father, Albert Latner, a Toronto property developer and entrepreneur, decided to give each of his four children what’s known in high-net-worth circles as the velvet handshake—shorthand for early inheritance.
Joshua had his suspicions about who posted the photo. His lawyers obtained a court order to uncover the Internet service provider, which turned out to be Rogers. The communications giant was compelled, in turn, to produce the name of the subscriber. It was Steven Latner, Joshua’s older brother and former business partner.
Although the photo soon disappeared from the Internet, Joshua was not willing to let the matter drop. Like the rest of his family, he knows how to use lawyers to inflict pain and make a point. He launched a defamation suit against an as yet unidentified person, and had his lawyers bring a motion to examine his brother to discover if he was the perpetrator. Steven’s lawyer, Ronald Moldaver, contested the motion on the grounds that his client has approximately five computers in his house and other members of the family and house staff all had access to them.
The presiding judge, Joan Haberman, wasn’t buying it. She ordered Steven to submit to a 90-minute cross-examination. Moldaver, without success, had asked the judge to recuse herself from the case, on the grounds that she had presided over another Latner vs. Latner case earlier that year. In that previous instance, Haberman had described the Latners as “extremely litigious” and expressed her disappointment that such an affluent family could not find better ways to spend their money. “Litigation is not a sport,” she said, “and should never be treated as such.”
Haberman had reason to complain. For the past half-decade, the Latner family has been enmeshed in a web of litigation that is dizzyingly complex. Claims concerning an old car, a coin collection, a hand-embroidered chuppah and paintings by Picasso have been launched. Most are still crawling through the courts, and the allegations of all parties remain unproven.
For the super rich, the civil court system offers the promise of a place where feuds and rivalries can be redressed and sorted out by justice professionals. The Latners’ fight is one that takes place in the tender spot in all families, where love and money intersect. It’s the story about what a once-humble family can lose in the process of becoming great.
The Latner name is more established in Ontario than those of many of the old WASP families of Rosedale. The family first came to Canada in the late 1800s, emigrating from eastern Europe. Albert was born in Hamilton in 1927 and later moved with his parents to Toronto, where they lived in a house on Major Street, near Kensington Market, then the city’s thriving Jewish enclave. Albert’s dad worked at Tip Top Tailors, and the family got by, but just.