MONTE CARLO, Monaco — Actress Kelly Rutherford appeared to finally get a happy ending late last week in an epic and ultra-messy court battle rooted in what a legal expert once called one of the worst custody decisions ever.
A Los Angeles judge reversed a bizarre 2012 court order forcing her two American-born children to live in Monaco with their German father, Daniel Giersch, who was expelled from the U.S. under mysterious circumstances—and awarded Rutherford temporary sole custody after a bitter six-year battle with her ex-husband.
Superior Court Judge Mark Juhas said that the couple’s son Hermes, 8, and daughter Helena, 5, should be brought back to the U.S.
Rutherford, who played matriarch Lily van der Woodsen on the teen drama Gossip Girl, seemed to be vindicated after the Kafka-esque decision made by Judge Teresa Beaudet, who decided that the couple’s children should move to Monaco to live with their father for most of the year since Giersch’s American visa had been revoked—for reasons that remain cloudy—and he was no longer able to live in the U.S. or return there to see his kids.
A hearing is scheduled in Los Angeles on June 15. But sources in the south of France tell The Daily Beast that the one-time Gossip Girl star and TV soap opera vet could still face a fight getting her ex to return her kids to her from the south of France where they attend an elite international school and yacht clubs, and Riviera beaches are their new playgrounds. They spend time in both Monaco and nearby Mougins, France, where Giersch’s mother lives.
Rutherford recently reported that she was denied access to the children Not Without My Daughter-style the last time she tried to visit them in France—in a dispute over who would hold the children’s U.S. passports during the visit.
“A lot of stuff is in play right now,” said one source close to the case in Monaco. “Anything could happen in the next couple of weeks.”
People who know Giersch, 41, warn he’s not to be underestimated. In fact, his story appears to be a classic south of France tale—a kind of twisty emotional shell game in which nothing is quite what it appears.
For example, don’t believe any Internet links describing Giersch as a “senior vice president” at the Los Angeles investment bank Greif & Co. during the time he was married to Rutherford and living in L.A. A spokesman for Greif said Tuesday that Giersch never worked there.
Giersch has been accused of being everything from a drugs and arms dealer in South America (a “source” told People magazine that Rutherford made that up in an attempt to get the court on her side in the custody battle) to engaging in visa and tax fraud, according to federal documents obtained by the New York Post.
What hasn’t been reported much outside Germany when it comes to the custody battle is that Giersch is well-known in his native country for being so litigious, savvy, and tenacious that he took on corporate behemoth Google for years in a lengthy court battle over rights to the name “Gmail” in Germany and the domain name, gmail.de. He successfully sued the corporation in 2007, forcing Google to rebrand its service there as googlemail.
Giersch trademarked the name “G-mail” in 2000 for an electronic postal delivery business he created and later acquired the gmail.de domain. G-mail was short for “Giersch mail,” and he fought back hard when Google tried to introduce the gmail address in Germany in 2004, reportedly turning down an initial offer of $250,000 in addition to suing them.
“Google's behavior is very threatening, very aggressive and very unfaithful, and to me, it’s very evil,” Giersch said in a 2006 interview.
“Neither G-Mail nor I can be bought,” Giersch said around the same time. “I have made it clear since the beginning that I will never sell the name. It is my sole intention to realize my intention for a hybrid mail system and I am absolutely convinced of its success. Neither G-Mail nor myself are for sale.”
According a German businessman who told The Daily Beast he was one of many sued by Giersch, as well as reports in German media, Giersch made a lot of money suing unsuspecting small companies for their use of the “Gmail” name. He reaped an even bigger (undisclosed) fortune when he finally settled with Google in 2012, oddly right around the time he was deported from the U.S. for reasons that still remain unclear.
“We lost 10,000 euros to him for just using the Gmail trademark,” Michael Ganss, a Berlin-based tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Yopoly, told The Daily Beast. “Before he contacted us we didn’t even know this guy existed and we had no idea that using the word gmail would get us in trouble. A lot of small businesses suddenly got these cease and desist letters out of nowhere and we had to pay up.”
“He’s tough,” said another German small-business owner who did not want to be publicly identified but said he was sued by Giersch for using the word Gmail.
Ganss said Giersch, who’s currently involved in ongoing patent litigation with a large Austrian company, “is notorious for extracting money from all kinds of small businesses.”
“He calls himself a businessman but he really makes his money in trademark & patent trolling activities,” Ganss said.
Giersch’s L.A.-based attorney, Fahi Takesh Hallin, did not return phone calls from The Daily Beast or respond to emails. Giersch did not respond to an email sent to his current email address. Giersch was last interviewed in 2014 for his latest entrepreneurial venture, Blipcard, a digital postcard app.
Rutherford and Giersch were married in 2006 and separated in 2008. Rutherford filed for divorce when she was pregnant with Helena and reportedly suspected Giersch might be cheating on her. She allegedly refused to put Giersch’s name on the girl’s birth certificate. But their nasty split took a very ugly turn in 2012 when Giersch’s U.S. visa was revoked and he had to leave the country.
People magazine’s report at the time indicated that the reasons for Giersch’s deportation may have came directly from Rutherford. “Kelly stated on the record that Daniel was dealing drugs and weapons in South America, which under the Victory Act is considered terrorism,” a source told the magazine. The source also told People the accusations were untrue.
But even some of Giersch’s enemies in Germany say they never heard of him being involved in drugs and weapons dealing or smuggling.
Rutherford’s Boston-based lawyer refused to answer specific questions from The Daily Beast and instead issued an optimistic statement by email Tuesday:
“We are... hopeful that Monaco will respect the California court’s ruling and send the children home,” attorney Wendy Murphy wrote.
“It has long been our position that Monaco has no jurisdiction because Hermes and Helena, as American citizens, have an absolute right to live in their own country. If the citizenship shoe were on the other foot and these children were citizens of Monaco, I have no doubt the United States would respect their right to reside in Monaco. Monaco officials know that sending the children back to America is the right thing to do. I look forward to the happy reunion of the children not only with their mother, but also with their country.”