Orioles legend, wife trade charges

Jim, Joan Palmer in fight over finances

January 16, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

On the final day of his fabled baseball career in 1991, Jim Palmer walked off the field with his wife, Joan. Now, the two are walking into Baltimore's federal court, accusing each other of financial misdealings.

The Palmers, who have been married nine years and are in the midst of a divorce, are locked in a bitter civil dispute focused on Jim Palmer's retirement plan. He says she took more than $200,000 from the pension fund, while she says Palmer never paid money owed to her for managing the plan.

A lawyer representing the Hall of Fame pitcher said that the Palmers -- who met about 20 years ago at a Pikesville supermarket after an Orioles game -- are trying to work out the complaints.

"The parties are discussing resolution and are hopeful they'll get it resolved," said the lawyer, James B. Astrachan.

Neither of the two, reached at their separate residences, would comment on the complaints. But in court filings, Jim Palmer charged his wife with breaching her fiduciary duty as his pension plan's investment manager. She had handled the affairs of the plan since 1990, making all the investment decisions.

Palmer's court filings say his wife made unsecured loans of more than $180,000 without his permission to her friend's hair salon and accuse her of forging his name on a $100,000 check drawn on the pension plan's bank account. A source familiar with the case said his alleged losses represent about 1 percent of his total assets.

Joan Palmer vehemently denied her husband's allegations, describing them in court papers as "inaccurate, worthless, and seeking to elevate form over substance." She said he allowed her to sign his name on documents.

`Doing what he asked'

"Mr. Palmer, who prefers not to deal with business matters and routinely directed all business inquiries to Mrs. Palmer, authorized her to sign his name to business documents," according to her court filings. "Mr. Palmer is suing his own wife in federal court simply for doing what he asked her to do."

She added that under her direction, Palmer's company pension fund grew from $570,000 in 1990 to over $2.8 million by June 1999.

"Mrs. Palmer rendered valuable services," her court filings said. "James A. Palmer Enterprises have never paid Mrs. Palmer for her valuable services as an investment adviser."

Palmer began James A. Palmer Enterprises in 1981. It contracts for product endorsements, speaking engagements, personal appearances and sports broadcasts.

Storybook couple

The Palmers at one time were a storybook pair and made numerous public appearances together. They once appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show to talk about Jim Palmer's thriving underwear modeling career and had their picture in People magazine. She often attended practices during Palmer's brief and unsuccessful return to baseball in 1991.

They separated in January 1998, according to his court filings. Eight months later, Jim Palmer's lawsuit alleges, "Joan embarked on a scheme to abuse her position" and wrongfully divert assets to herself.

Joan Palmer said she never diverted assets for her own use. At one point in 1998, according to her court filing, she divested the pension plan of holdings in a Maryland company, but it was done at Jim Palmer's request after his golf partners said the investment was "too risky."

She accused her husband of "unjust enrichment" from her work on the plan.

Thomas C. Ries, Joan Palmer's divorce attorney, said his client did nothing wrong financially.

"She played a primary role in managing their finances, and she did extremely well," Ries said.

Palmer is the Orioles' all-time winningest pitcher, with eight 20-win seasons and 268 career victories. When he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990, he was heralded as "the high-kicking, smooth-throwing symbol of Baltimore's six championship teams."

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