The 2008 recession, however, devastated his business; his second marriage collapsed; and a fire destroyed his sprawling Westhampton Beach home, which was also the house he grew up in. A few months after Mr. Guldi’s arrest the following year, District Attorney Thomas Spota froze his assets, forcing him to slowly sell off his possessions and dismiss his legal representation.
“I can’t count the number of times that the electricity’s been off at [his] office, or he’s lost computer service at home, or the cell phones have gone off,” said Terri Scofield, a loyal ex-girlfriend of Mr. Guldi’s who has chronicled his court battle on the message board 631Politics.com. Her daily transcripts of the court proceedings, taken down in longhand, include not just every moment of legal minutiae, but also fanciful flights of observation, like her note on Feb. 4 that “I almost dry retch when I notice number eight is picking his nose AGAIN!”
Ms. Scofield, a hyperkinetic citizen journalist, has known Mr. Guldi for nearly 20 years, and she describes a very different man from the stubborn crusader on display in Judge Doyle’s courtroom. On the phone last week, she called him “wickedly funny,” “fairly spiritual” and “big on thrill,” a downhill skier with an abiding love for his children and his Harley.
“He’ll do stuff like outrun the cops,” she told The Observer. “He calls the bike his vibrator.”
Mr. Guldi was not born rich. He comes from a family of electricians with deep roots in the area–they did the wiring for the Vanderbilt estate on the North Shore–and he trained to join the business before deciding to go into law. Building a fortune as a property lawyer in the booming Hamptons real estate market, he was elected to the Legislature in 1993.
“When he was engaged in legislation, he was very engaged,” said Vivian Viloria-Fisher, one of Mr. Guldi’s fellow legislators. “When he didn’t deem it to be important, he wasn’t.” Meetings of the Guldi-dominated Ways and Means Committee dragged on, she said, “because he would talk and talk and talk.”
He embraced big causes, opposing development that threatened the East End’s parks and sponsoring legislation for sweeping housing reform. In 1995, he spearheaded a campaign for pool safety, after finding a neighbor’s child drowning in his backyard pool. He dove in to save the child, but the boy died soon after.
Although impressed by the ease with which he “sold the room,” Ms. Viloria-Fisher remembered Mr. Guldi as a man who talked down to his aides and had “a sense of immunity to those rules that govern everybody else.” That he is defending himself is appropriate, she went on, because “there’s no other lawyer as brilliant as he thinks he is.”
In 2003, Mr. Guldi ran for reelection against Jay Schneiderman, and the race turned vicious as only local politics can. In one debate, he accused Mr. Schneiderman of taking money from drug traffickers; at another, he declared that the U.S. attorney’s office had investigated Mr. Schneiderman for fraud.
These were not outright lies, but distortions of innocent facts: The fraud charges were determined to be baseless, and the supposed drug trafficker was in fact a donor to Mr. Schneiderman who had helped the F.B.I. arrest one of his own employees for smuggling–an act of courage that won him the Presidential Medal of Honor.
“He didn’t lie, he just skirted, he shaped the truth in a crafty, clever way,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who won the election and sent Mr. Guldi back into private practice.
According to Ms. Scofield, he was happy to be out of politics, because putting three boys through college, paying alimony and supporting an ex-wife who didn’t work was impossible on a legislator’s salary. Returning to private practice also meant more money for his hobbies, which included collecting rare guitars and flying small planes. But then in late 2008 came an expensive divorce from his second wife, who took their two young children and moved out–”as soon as he stopped marking $50,000 a month,” said Ms. Scofield.