|The New York Times, June 30, 2004 pA16
Paralyzed by a Gun, Boy Now Seeks to Buy Maker.
(National Desk) Fox Butterfield.
The California attorney general's office has intervened in a
federal bankruptcy trial in a way that could help a teenager buy out
and shut down the manufacturer of a semiautomatic handgun with a
design flaw that has left the boy paralyzed from the neck down since
the age of 7.
In a highly unusual action, Randy Rossi, director of the firearms
division of the California Department of Justice, wrote to a federal
bankruptcy judge in Florida yesterday that Paul Jimenez, the man the
judge tentatively approved to buy the manufacturer, was ineligible
to make guns because he lacked federal and California firearms
Therefore, Mr. Rossi wrote to the judge, Jerry A. Funk of United
States Bankruptcy Court, he was ''submitting this written objection
to the sale'' on behalf of the California attorney general, Bill
Mr. Lockyer's intervention could benefit Brandon Maxfield, now
17, who was accidentally shot through the chin and spine in 1994
when his baby sitter tried to unload a .38-caliber Bryco handgun
owned by Brandon's parents.
Last year Brandon and his lawyer, Richard Ruggieri, won a record
$24 million jury award in Alameda County Court in Oakland, Calif.,
against the gun's manufacturer, Bryco Arms, and Bryco's founder and
the gun's designer, Bruce Jennings. The teenager and his lawyer
showed that because of a faulty design, the sitter had to turn the
safety off to unload the gun.
Now, after having helped force Bryco into bankruptcy proceedings,
Brandon and Mr. Ruggieri are trying to raise at least $150,000 to
buy out the company, one of the leading makers of inexpensive
handguns, known as Saturday-night specials, and melt down its
inventory of 75,000 handgun frames and slides.
|Richard Ruggieri, right, Brandon Maxfield's
lawyer, won $24 million from the manufacturer and designer of
the gun. A similar model is shown. (Photo by Peter DaSilva for The New York
Judge Funk gave tentative approval last week to the sale of
Bryco's machinery for $150,000 to Mr. Jimenez, a former Bryco plant
manager who Mr. Ruggieri claims is simply a stand-in for Mr.
Jennings. But Judge Funk allowed 20 more days for objections and
left open the possibility of higher bids.
''The attorney general's action could give us more time to raise
money and make a higher offer,'' Mr. Ruggieri, of San Rafael,
But Mr. Jennings's lawyer, Ned Nashban, of Boca Raton, Fla.,
said, ''The attorney general is barking up the wrong tree.'' Judge
Funk, Mr. Nashban said, is only deciding who will buy the company,
not whether the new owner will manufacture guns.
''Mr. Jimenez could use the machinery to make widgets,'' Mr.
Neither Mr. Jennings nor Mr. Jimenez responded to messages left
on their answering machines, but Mr. Nashban strongly denied any
collusion between the two men. ''I am not aware of any deal between
Jennings and Jimenez,'' Mr. Nashban said.
Mr. Ruggieri said he believed Mr. Jennings ''is just flipping the
business over as he has done in the past.''
In 1986, after losing an earlier lawsuit, Mr. Jennings sold his
gun manufacturing company to his manager at the time, only to
re-establish the business later, said Dr. Garen Wintemute, director
of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of
In their effort to buy out Bryco, Brandon and Mr. Ruggieri have
taken the name Brandon's Arms and appealed for donations on a Web
site. They have also asked for contributions from gun-control
groups, celebrities and politicians with strong antigun views,
though with little success so far.
''I was very naive about it,'' said Mr. Ruggieri, who gave up his
law practice three years ago to represent Brandon full time. ''I
thought here was a concrete chance to actually do something about
stopping gun violence, not just make a donation to some
An official for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said the
center's president, Michael Barnes, had been approached to give
money to Brandon's Arms but declined to do so. ''Obviously no one
wants to see Bryco back in business under any name,'' said the
official, who said the organization had limited resources and was
gearing up for a fight in Congress over renewing the assault-weapons
ban. Brandon has received a payment of $3 million from one of Mr.
Jennings's three ex-wives, as well as $5.75 million from the
insurance companies for an unrelated gun distributor.
But he does not have much money to buy Bryco, Mr. Ruggieri said.
First, he said, Brandon must reimburse Medi-Cal, California's state
health care system, $1 million, and there were $500,000 in expenses
for the trial, for expert witnesses, depositions and travel, Mr.
Ruggieri said. He would not disclose his fee, set by the court. The
rest of the money has been deposited in a trust for Brandon's
lifetime medical care, estimated at $11 million, and his education.
Collecting the judgment against Mr. Jennings has been complicated
by his efforts to protect his assets.
In a 1999 interview in Business Week magazine, Mr. Jennings
described his strategy for dealing with lawsuits against his
companies: ''They can file for bankruptcy, dissolve, go away until
the litigation passes by, then re-form and build guns to the new
standard -- if there is a new standard.''
Mr. Jennings not only controls Bryco, the gun maker, but also B.L.
Jennings Inc., which distributed the guns; seven trusts in the names
of his three children; and a string of luxury boats, cars and
planes, Mr. Ruggieri has said in court documents.
In 2002, shortly before Brandon's case went to trial, Mr.
Jennings, who lived in Southern California and Nevada, traveled to
Florida to consult with Mr. Nashban, a bankruptcy lawyer, on what
Mr. Nashban has described as estate planning.
Within a few days, Mr. Jennings bought a house in Daytona Beach
for $950,000 and an annuity for $500,000, according to the
bankruptcy court records. Under Florida law, people sued for
bankruptcy can protect the entire value of their houses and in many
cases their annuities.
Mr. Jennings sold Bryco's factory building in Costa Mesa, Calif.,
to a real estate company, Knowleton Communities Inc., for $4
million. The money was deposited in some of the seven partnerships
in the names of Mr. Jennings's three children, Mr. Ruggieri has said
in court documents.
In a deposition for the bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Jimenez said
he would buy Bryco with a loan from Knowleton Communities.
Mr. Nashban, Mr. Jennings's lawyer, said his client's purchase of
a home in Florida and the annuity were ''prudent estate planning to
protect his family from his business. Anyone in a high-risk business
Mr. Ruggieri has objected to Judge Funk's decision to allow the
proceeds of the sale to Mr. Jimenez to be deposited in the bank
account of Mr. Nashban's law firm, Quarles & Brady, rather than a
''Here's the guy who advised Jennings on how to hide his assets
now being in charge of holding the money to pay the creditors,'' he
The federal bankruptcy trustee in Jacksonville, Felicia Turner,
filed a motion with Judge Funk on Monday supporting Mr. Ruggieri's
Last week Brandon was in Children's Hospital in Oakland, Calif.,
for what he said in a telephone interview was a ''very minor''
operation, a skin graft to relieve a pressure sore.
Brandon is in high school in Willits, in Northern California,
where he lives with his mother and father. He is hoping to be
admitted to the University of California, Davis, to study marine
biology or paleontology.
Brandon said he harbored no personal grudge but wonders of Mr.
Jennings, ''How can he look at himself in the morning, knowing some
kid is going to be injured by one of his guns?''