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Trial more likely

Like two heavyweight champion boxers, the slugfest between the United States of America and the descendants of Philadelphia coin dealer and jeweler Israel Swift over the fate of 10 1933 double eagles continues in a titanic federal court battle.

Both sides are likely to stay in battle mode, thanks to a busy May 7 court date before federal Judge Legrome Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that resulted in an opinion and four separate court orders on the now three-year-old matter.

In a 19-page, 5,800-word opinion on cross-motions or applications from both sides that were both aimed at knocking out the other side’s star expert witness, Judge Davis found that neither side connected and ordered them to continue negotiating with each other while simultaneously moving the case toward summary judgment or a trial.

The pugilistic contest is over whether the 1933 double eagles lawfully left the Mint and now whether or not the government must allow the Langbord family to regain possession of 10 double eagles dated 1933 that were turned in for authentication. Mint laboratories say the coins are genuine.

One t.k.o. was scored by plaintiff’s attorney Barry Berke who objected to being bombed with a request from the government that was hundreds of pages long, asking for various admissions, a technical way of speeding up the trial of the case. Berke said the questions were extraneous and irrelevant; the government said, in essence, tough tarts.

Judge Legrome tossed the admissions on the technical ground that the government failed to negotiate in good faith over the differences with Berke, who represents Joan Langbord and her two adult sons, the daughter and grandchildren of Swift. 

The occasional coin dealer’s imprimatur appears on virtually all known 1933 double eagles that escaped the Mint’s melting cauldrons, including the King Farouk specimen that Sotheby’s and Stack’s sold for $7.59 million in 2002, and 10 more brought forth by the Langbord clan.

Berke also led the defense team when dealer Steve Fenton tried to sell King Farouk’s specimen in the United States, only to have it seized by the government.  That resolved itself successfully with the multi-million sale, and probably created the opportunity for the succeeding litigation.

In the latest skirmish between David and Goliath, the U.S. was trying to remove Berke’s expert witness, Q. David Bowers, the well-known dealer, on the grounds that he was not an expert; that he had no direct knowledge of the coin’s removal from the Philadelphia Mint and that his opinion was not scientific.

Not surprisingly, Langbord’s trial team was trying to toss David Tripp, who cataloged the Fenton coin and wrote a best-selling book about the “illegal” coin, on the same grounds – namely that he wasn’t an educated historian or expert and had no direct knowledge about how the 1933 coin left the Mint.

Both experts took the same set of facts and came to different conclusions – one that the coin left the Mint lawfully, the other that it left illegally. The judge essentially said both men were highly qualified, and that they used the facts to reach a hypothetical conclusion was permitted.  The battle of the testifying Davids therefore will continue.

Summary judgment motion components are due to be filed by the week after Memorial Day, and either a decision or a trial will then follow.

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