SAN JOSE -- Even after his vindication in a lurid and sensational hearing this past summer, Silicon Valley millionaire Clyde Berg's bizarre legal battle with his estranged wife is heading back to court next month.

Ellena Berg had accused her husband of horrific abuse, including an assertion that he outfitted her with a spiked dog collar, chained her to a bed and sexually assaulted her with a golf club while she was nine months' pregnant. But a judge dismissed the felony sexual assault and domestic abuse case against Clyde Berg, concluding that his wife was lying and opining that she suffered from mental illness. If the real estate magnate had been convicted, he would have been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Clyde Berg with his dog Rudy, at his office in Cupertino, Calif., on Friday, August 1, 2014.  (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
Clyde Berg with his dog Rudy, at his office in Cupertino, Calif., on Friday, August 1, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Despite her public humiliation, Ellena Berg, 38, is continuing to pursue two legal actions she filed before the ruling by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ron Del Pozzo. In a paternity suit set for trial next month, she makes the same assertions as she did in criminal court -- that Clyde Berg, 75, signed a generous postnuptial agreement granting her at least $2 million if they divorced and also promised to support her daughter, whom she contends she conceived with his knowledge using a known sperm donor.

And in a civil lawsuit, she is still demanding millions in punitive damages for what she says was a decade of domestic abuse at his hands, including the disgusting golf-club incident.


Advertisement

"I have a right to participate in the process," Ellena Berg said in an interview, adding she is acting for the benefit of her nearly 2-year-old daughter. Asked if she told the truth during the preliminary hearing in criminal court, she said "yes," but did not elaborate.

As for Clyde Berg, he's outraged that the courts haven't already dismissed both cases. After Ellena Berg was discredited in criminal court, he thought he'd proved that he was the real victim -- of a greedy scam aimed at getting around a restrictive prenuptial agreement.

"To have to prove the same thing in paternity court as in the criminal case is a joke," he said.

Clyde Berg's situation is rare but not unprecedented. Family law experts pointed to O.J. Simpson as an example of someone who was acquitted in criminal court (of killing his wife) but still faced a civil lawsuit (in which he was held liable for her death). However, few predict that Ellena Berg will easily prevail.

"A finding in a criminal case will come in at some point into the civil case," said San Francisco family law attorney Ariel R. Sosna. "Eventually, there could be comeuppance."

In a prenuptial agreement, the two had agreed in writing not to have children, and that Ellena Berg could expect only $1 million of her husband's fortune, and then only if he died.

Clyde Berg with his dog Rudy, at his office in Cupertino, Calif., on Friday, August 1, 2014.  (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
Clyde Berg with his dog Rudy, at his office in Cupertino, Calif., on Friday, August 1, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Ellena Berg has admitted in a deposition after Del Pozzo's ruling that she signed Clyde Berg's name on medical documents having to do with the fertility treatments, though she argues it was with his permission. And a handwriting expert hired by Clyde Berg found that she forged his name on the postnuptial agreement, according to court documents. Among other things, Del Pozzo found Ellena Berg's claim that an experienced businessman like Clyde Berg signed a postnup without a lawyer unbelievable, and her description of how she called 911 while handcuffed to the bed during the golf club incident "preposterous."

Even her family law attorney quit shortly after the judge's ruling. But now, she's found other lawyers to represent her, including a Berkeley attorney who specializes in abused women.

Meanwhile, Clyde Berg has to foot her legal bills as well as his own, for a total of nearly $2.5 million so far. He's also had to support her and her daughter, paying $550,000 to cover her expenses (in monthly payments ranging from $17,000 to $25,000). Clyde Berg is the brother and business partner of billionaire Carl Berg, one of the richest people in the United States. The two developed campuses for many of Silicon Valley's signature companies and recently sold their firm for $1.3 billion.

If Clyde Berg wins, Ellena Berg would have to pay him back, but he believes his chances of ever seeing the money are slim.

"She's playing the system," he said. "I've had 20 people say, 'It's not worth your time, pay her off.' But I'm not going to pay her a penny."

He said he used to feel sorry for his estranged wife, but he is now fed up. He's filed a complaint against her with Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies, who confirmed that they are investigating whether she filed a false police report over the golf club incident and at least one break-in.

Ellena Berg denied that she's prolonging the legal battle in order to keep collecting monthly support from her husband. But she acknowledged that the money covers the cost of a full-time nanny while she pursues an MBA degree at Santa Clara University that she hopes will help her relaunch a career as a manager for a high-tech company.

And if Ellena Berg loses her court cases and finds she can't get a job in Silicon Valley because her reputation is ruined, she said she might have to return to Sweden to live with her parents. The couple met after the Swedish native, then in her early 20s, placed a singles ad in the Mercury News.

"I'm very grateful to have funds available" for the "transition," she said. "I'm aware many women in my situation live in their car."

Tia Katrina Taruc Canlas, Ellena Berg's attorney in Berkeley, acknowledged that there were "inconsistencies" in her client's testimony in Del Pozzo's court. But she noted that the standard of proof in the upcoming civil case -- preponderance of the evidence -- is lower than in a criminal trial, where it's beyond a reasonable doubt. And she asserted that Ellena Berg was still traumatized when she testified about the alleged attack, which she'd reported 11 months earlier.

"Now she has more strength," Canlas said. "She's healed a little. Her testimony can be more consistent."

But Clyde Berg argues that he's the one still suffering from her lies. After his arrest in September 2012, he spent nine days in jail. He had a GPS unit attached to his ankle for months after posting $3 million bail. He recovered much more slowly from knee surgery because of the stress, he said.

Even the one small victory he has achieved in court since the criminal charges were dropped was limited. Ellena Berg had taken his beloved dog, Rudy Valentino, asserting that he abused the plump Weimaraner, though there never was any evidence to substantiate the claim. Shortly after the criminal case against him was dropped, he got Rudy back.

But he still has to bring the pet to the vet every month for court-ordered checkups, even though Rudy has gotten a clean bill of health for the past 11 months.

"The system is screwed up," he said. "I've aged 10 years over this whole thing."

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.