Neither sibling is a stranger to civil litigation.
Karen Feld has sued a man she was in an auto accident with and her former private nurse, who countersued alleging Karen Feld was abusive. Karen Feld tried but failed to persuade Huvelle to bar evidence of her nurse’s suit and the airport and concert incidents from being introduced in this case.
Kenneth Feld’s former right-hand man, Charles Smith, sued after he was fired as a Feld Entertainment executive and eventually reached a settlement. The case revealed Feld’s management of a multiyear, multimillion dollar plot against author Jan Pottker, who had written a local Washington magazine article on the Felds in 1990.
Pottker’s article described the entrepreneurial background of their father, a rock-and-roll promoter who bought the Ringling Bros. circus in 1967, and his homosexual affairs. Pottker wrote that their mother, Adele, blamed herself for her marital problems before she committed suicide in 1958 by shutting herself in the garage with a running car. Young Ken and Karen were then raised in the penthouse with sweeping views of Washington by their uncle Israel and aunt Shirley and got little attention from their surviving parent, according to Pottker.
Feld responded to the article by hiring former top CIA operative Clair George to investigate Pottker. George was fired as the head of CIA covert operations after being convicted of lying to a congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair. George was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992 and became a consultant.
As part of George’s spying mission for Kenneth Feld, he obtained an outline of a biography of the Feld family that Pottker was writing, according to court documents. George oversaw a scheme to spy on Pottker and arrange to secretly fund other writing projects to divert her from the Feld book. George dispatched an associate to one of her appearances who offered assistance on her projects and successfully inserted himself into Pottker’s life for eight years as an editor and confidant, while secretly sending Feld written reports on her activities.
George’s associate even helped Pottker get a contract for a book about the wealthy family that controls the Mars chocolate candy business, to keep her too busy to pursue the Feld book. When Pottker learned of the spy plot from the Smith suit, she sued Feld. The litigation lasted nine years before ending in a confidential settlement.
George also revealed that Feld authorized spying on critics of the circus, in particular animal rights groups that alleged the animals were abused. The Performing Animal Welfare Society and People for the Ethical Treatment sued Feld, too. His company went on trial on allegations from animal activists that it abuses its elephants, but the case was dismissed without a ruling on the merits.
“Just as he’s treated animals cruelly, he treated people cruelly in some cases,” Karen Feld said in the interview at her Georgetown home, with her dog, Campari, on her lap. “And I think I’m one of them.”
Huvelle rejected Karen Feld’s request to introduce evidence of the covert operations in her suit to demonstrate what her brother is capable of. The judge also agreed with Kenneth Feld that there should be no testimony about anyone’s sexual orientation or about his sister’s allegations that he may be a member of a “Jewish mafia” involved in money laundering and murder.
Kenneth and Karen Feld have been in legal disputes since their father died in his sleep in 1984. Irvin Feld gave his company to his son and left very little to his daughter. Kenneth Feld also took ownership of their father’s properties, including the Georgetown house where his sister lived.
Karen Feld filed suit saying he was trying to have her thrown out of her home. The eventual settlement allowed her to continue living there, surrounded by her photos with celebrities, including The Beatles on their first trip to the U.S., which her father promoted, and the sculptures of dogs and nudes she now creates for therapy and for hire.
The Feld siblings’ relationship further deteriorated after the Pottker article. Karen Feld says her brother thought the personal details could only have been revealed by his sister, who has written for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, the Washington Times and the Washington Examiner.
Both siblings have said Kenneth was groomed from an early age to take over the company. Karen Feld said her father didn’t believe women should go into business, and in her deposition she said he physically abused her to the point of giving her multiple concussions.