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Jordan Schnitzer Gets a Son—and a Court Battle

[cites CGS' Marcy Darnovsky]

by Nigel JaquissWillamette Week
March 16th, 2016

Statue of a young boy in the Reflection Garden at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon (Flickr/Mary Harrsch).

Untitled Document

Portland businessman Jordan Schnitzer owns a billion-dollar real estate portfolio. He has homes in San Francisco, Palm Springs and Gearhart, and four residences in Portland. He has a private jet and the nation's largest collection of fine art prints. He's one of the city's top philanthropists, collects honorary degrees, sits courtside at Trail Blazers games and even has a museum named after him.

The only thing Schnitzer, 64, didn't have? A son.

Three days before Christmas, he fixed that.

On Dec. 22, 2015, Schnitzer's son was born at Samaritan Albany General Hospital, a modest, 69-bed Linn County facility.

That location—far from Oregon Health & Science University, to which Schnitzer's family has given millions, or any of the other large Portland hospitals—was close to the home of the woman who gave birth to Schnitzer's son. She was a surrogate mother, paid by Schnitzer to carry and deliver his child.

Gestational surrogate pregnancies—in which a woman carries another woman's fertilized eggs and gives birth for pay—are increasingly common in Oregon and elsewhere. (See sidebar.)

Frequently in gestational surrogacy, the donor of the eggs remains anonymous.

But Schnitzer knew the woman whose eggs produced his son. He'd dated her for nearly two years.

That woman is Cory Noel Sause, 37, an executive at her family's Coos Bay barge and tugboat company.

Sause and Schnitzer's baby emerged from the genetic material of two Oregon business dynasties.

In Portland, the Schnitzer family's two branches—one in the steel business, the other in real estate—have been outsized players in economic and philanthropic circles for a more than a century.

In Coos Bay, the Sause Bros. operation is nearly as old. The family runs a fourth-generation tugboat and barge business that stretches from Alaska to Mexico.

When Schnitzer and Sause decided to try a surrogate pregnancy, Schnitzer left nothing to chance, employing a controversial approach to select the sex of the child.

He also took legal precautions.

His attorney drew up a contract specifying Schnitzer would not accept just any baby—he'd only take a boy.

"Schnitzer hereby relinquishes any claim to or jurisdiction over any female embryo from Sause and any resulting female offspring that might result from the use of Sause's eggs," reads the contract, dated June 2, 2014.

On Dec. 22, Schnitzer's dream came true: his son arrived.

On March 3, that dream turned into a nightmare when Sause challenged him in Multnomah County Circuit Court, saying he was violating their contract by denying her parentage of their son.

Filings in that case provide much of the information presented in this story.

Sause declined to comment. Schnitzer, however, sat down for a two-hour interview during which he often grew emotional. He proudly displayed cellphone photos of his young son and of himself as a baby. The two are nearly identical. "This is a wonderful story and one people can learn a lot from," Schnitzer says.

Schnitzer and Sause's experience shows that for people with financial resources, science can reduce the uncertainty and physical challenges of pregnancy.

Despite the sophistication of the boy's genetic parents and the legal precautions they took, however, the issue of the baby's parentage is now in dispute.

That disagreement, pitting powerful family against powerful family, may have the trappings of private planes, massive ocean-going vessels and multimillion-dollar estates, but at its essence, is still about primal human impulses.

For Sause, it's the desire to be a mother to a child whose genes are half hers. For Schnitzer, who already has two daughters, the imperative is to have a son he can raise without interference and who can carry on his family name.

Selecting the sex of a baby for nonmedical reasons, although possible, is controversial. People who study the ethics of surrogacy are uncomfortable with Schnitzer's approach.

"It seems like a really unfortunate situation brought about by new technology and a man harking back to a previous era of male progenitor rules," says Marcy Darnovsky, director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, Calif. "What can you say? It's just bizarre."

Samuel Schnitzer, an immigrant from Russia, founded the Alaska Junk Co. in 1906 and brought his five sons into what is now one of the nation's largest scrap metal businesses, publicly traded Schnitzer Steel, based in Portland.

In 1950, one of those sons, Harold Schnitzer, split from the scrap business and started Harsch Investment Properties. By the time of his death in 2011, Harold had amassed 21 million square feet of commercial real estate in five states—the equivalent of 21 Big Pink towers. He also owned 1,000 apartment units.

Harold's widow, Arlene, is a longtime patron of the arts. Her name adorns the city's best-known concert hall. She and her husband gave more than $80 million to charity during his lifetime.

Harold and Arlene had one child: a son named Jordan.

Jordan Schnitzer inherited his mother's passion for art. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon bears his name, and he owns a collection of 9,500 prints, which have been exhibited at 75 museums across the nation.

Schnitzer's board memberships and civic contributions are too numerous to list. In 2009, he honored his maternal grandparents by donating nearly $2 million toward the construction of Director Park, just west of Fox Tower in downtown Portland. His alma maters, the University of Oregon and Lewis & Clark Law School, have heaped awards on him.

He spearheaded the renovation of the Astoria Column, helped find a new home for the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and is a major benefactor of the Portland Art Museum and Oregon College of Art and Craft.

In 2014, when Schnitzer gave $5 million toward a new art museum at Washington State University, the school named him commencement speaker and awarded him an honorary doctorate in humanities.

But Schnitzer says that the accumulation of wealth, art and accolades pales in comparison to the joy he felt when his daughters were born—and that he wanted to feel one more time, with a son.

"I loved the emotion you feel when you have a little baby and they put their little fingers around yours," he says. "I loved being a dad."

Jordan Schnitzer says he discussed his desire to have a son with his mother, Arlene, a couple of years ago. “She said, ‘you’re older. Are you prepared for this? Is this what you want to do with the rest of your life?’ I said ‘yes,’’’ he recalls.

As a young man, Jordan Schnitzer struggled to prove himself as independent from his family.

A toy company he bought in 1981, Northern Specialty Sales, flopped, causing the loss of about $30 million. In 1989, he bought Casablanca Industries, an electric fan company, for $60 million. The company declared bankruptcy two years later.

Eventually, he came back into the family fold, working alongside his father at Harsch's headquarters on Southwest 11th Street. He's continued to build Harsch's holdings across the West.

Schnitzer's only marriage ended in divorce in 2005. Since then, he's squired a succession of women around town.

When he and Cory Sause started dating in January 2014, they were in some ways an odd couple.

He was a Democrat and a leading benefactor of Jewish causes. He belonged to the ultra-exclusive Bohemian Grove club in California and often flew in his 16-seat Bombardier Challenger 300 jet to his home at the Vintage Club in Indian Wells, Calif., where his neighbors include Bill Gates and Charles Koch.

Sause, 27 years Schnitzer's junior, had never been married. A graduate of a Catholic high school and college, she was a Republican living in a small town far from Schnitzer's West Hills world. A keen distance runner, she kept a low profile, hiding behind oversized sunglasses in the few pictures available on social media or online.

Sause made headlines in 2006 when she was sentenced to 40 months in prison for negligent homicide ("Two Crimes, Two Punishments," WW, Nov. 28, 2006).

In 2004, while she was a student at Lewis & Clark Law School, a very drunk Sause was speeding along South Shore Boulevard in Lake Oswego when she collided with another car, killing the driver, a 21-year-old Lake Oswego man, and leaving his younger brother critically injured.

The man who died in the crash, Patrick Kibler, was an honors student at George Fox University, recently engaged and working part-time as a model for Abercrombie & Fitch. His parents continued to pay his cellphone bill for years so friends could hear his voice.

When Sause and Schnitzer met, she'd been out of prison for five years and coming out of a relationship with Chuck Engle, a Coos Bay man who's won more marathons than any other runner. Schnitzer had recently broken up with Sally Hopper, a mysterious ex-Playboy model whom a former boyfriend had accused of being an art thief ("Puttin' on the Schnitz," WW, July 30, 2013).

Schnitzer recalls their first date being at the Portland Brewing tasting room in Industrial Northwest Portland. "She was lots of fun," Schnitzer says.

For all their differences, Schnitzer and Sause did share a bond: the desire to create their families' next generations.

Sause recalls in her March 3 court filing that her thoughts were focused on the future: "I had recently turned 35 years old, and although having a child was not part of my immediate plan, I believed it was in my best interest to freeze genetic material in case I or one of my siblings had difficulty conceiving a child in the future. I paid OHSU for the retrieval and storage of my eggs."

For Schnitzer's part, he had two daughters from his marriage. One daughter is in high school and one in college. He was eager to add a son. "I have two wonderful girls, and I thought it might be nice to do some balancing," he says. "And, frankly, being a divorced dad was complicated. The idea was that I'd have this son without complications."

Schnitzer had already begun exploring less traditional ways of obtaining a son, working with doctors at OHSU to mix his sperm with eggs from an anonymous donor.

He had his sperm combined with anonymous donor eggs twice. The first time, Schnitzer says, the surrogate did not become pregnant and the second time the surrogate miscarried.

He says he and Sause talked about his desire to have a son. He says she was eager to help. "Cory said, over and over, 'I took a life and I want to help create a life,'" Schnitzer recalls.

Sause decided she'd allow her eggs to be mixed with Schnitzer's sperm. "I agreed given our budding relationship, and my own decision to have my eggs retrieved, to create embryos with [Schnitzer]," Sause wrote.

A test developed in the early 1990s allows prospective parents to screen embryos for genetic disorders. Using the test, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, to determine the sex of the child is controversial.

It's illegal in some countries to choose the sex of the child when not medically necessary. In the U.S., where it's legal, parents who want to choose the sex of their baby have found their way to fertility clinics to get PGD testing.

Sause's legal filing says she and Schnitzer used PGD and screened the embryos to choose males for a surrogate pregnancy.

"[Schnitzer] told me that he only wanted a male heir and wanted to attempt pregnancies with as many male embryos as possible," Sause wrote. "I agreed that [he] could take  possession of the male embryos and implant as many as he wanted in the surrogates of his choosing.

"I did not want the female embryos to be destroyed," she wrote, "so I agreed to take possession of the female embryos and [Schnitzer] would relinquish all rights to any female offspring produced from those embryos since he did not want any more female children."

For many parents pursuing surrogacy, the prospect of having a healthy child is enough.

But Sause says Schnitzer told her he was only interested in a boy and wanted to eliminate any potential confusion by documenting that goal.

In June 2014, Schnitzer's attorney, Jeff Nudelman, emailed Sause a contract outlining the terms of the proposed pregnancy.

The contract language emphasized Schnitzer wanted nothing to do with a baby girl. Here's how the contract expressed it:

"Schnitzer hereby relinquishes any claim to or jurisdiction over any female embryos from Sause and any resulting female offspring."

Sause renounced rights to any male embryo but not any male offspring in that contract. That meant, her attorneys now claim, she was acknowledging Schnitzer would have custody of their son but she could still be the boy's genetic mother and enjoy visitation rights.

The contract specified that no money would change hands between Schnitzer and Sause. Both prospective parents also agreed to confidentiality.

"Neither party will be involved in the preparation of any article, story, video, film, or book regarding the other party or family members," the contract said.

In 2015, OHSU fertility consultants helped Schnitzer and Sause find a Springfield couple, Cassondra and Charles Gibeaut, who were willing to serve as surrogates.

On April 29, 2015, doctors at OHSU Fertility Consultants in Portland performed an embryo transfer to Cassondra Gibeaut.

In her court filings, Sause quoted from text messages she says Schnitzer sent her as the pregnancy progressed.

"Very soon, we will know whether you are going to be a mom," Schnitzer texted Sause in early May. "This is our baby."

"Cassie says everything is fine with your baby," Schnitzer texted Sause on May 21, 2015.

"We are having a baby," Schnitzer wrote on Aug. 5, 2015. "Do you realize that?"

But as the due date approached, Schitzer and Sause's relationship cooled.

"During the summer of 2015, I was pulling away from the romantic relationship with [Schnitzer]," Sause wrote. "He had encouraged me to marry him and/or move in with him so we could raise the child together. However, I did not want to marry Mr. Schnitzer or share a life with him."

On Dec. 22, the boy Schnitzer wanted was born.

The birth took place in Linn County, near the surrogate parents' home.

"[Schnitzer] notified me of the birth and I visited my son in the hospital in Albany," Sause wrote.

She says she was thrilled to meet the boy she thought of as her son. But her happiness would be short-lived.

That same day, Dec. 22, Schnitzer filed a petition in Multnomah County Circuit Court saying he was the baby's sole parent.

People who employ surrogates routinely go to court to file declarations of parentage even before the birth to establish their custody and that the surrogate parents have no claim to the child.

In Schnitzer's case, however, he went further by omitting in court filings that Sause played any role in the baby's creation.

"The embryos were created with Jordan Director Schnitzer's sperm and donor eggs, which were the exclusive property of [Schnitzer]," he said in the court filing. "It is in the best interests of [the baby] that the child's birth records and birth certificate accurately reflect the child's genetic and intended parentage to the fullest extent possible."

Sause says when she learned that her name wasn't on the birth certificate, she was "shocked," and further dismayed that Schnitzer went to court and obtained a judgment certifying that he was the sole genetic parent.

In her court filings, Sause challenges the court's Dec. 29 finding that Schnitzer is the boy's sole genetic parent.

"It was always my intention to be the biological mother of any child that resulted from our embryos," Sause said in a March 3 declaration. "I am the biological mother."

When she learned she was not allowed visitation rights, Sause first tried to communicate with Schnitzer and then his attorney. Those talks went nowhere.

The goal of Sause's court filings March 3 is to force Schnitzer to appear in court April 4. In court, she hopes to establish her right to visit the boy, and to be designated on his birth certificate as his mother.

Bob Barton, one of Sause's attorneys, argues that in the contract prepared by Schnitzer's attorney, Schnitzer renounced any involvement with any female "offspring," but that Sause made no such concession about a son. Barton says Sause acknowledged Schnitzer's sole custody of a male baby—but did not renounce either her parentage or visitation rights.

Schnitzer, whose attorneys are preparing to file a response to Sause, says her claims are without merit.

Schnitzer says Sause never expressed interest in being a mother, genetic or otherwise, before the baby was born.

"Cory said, 'I'm not a breeder. I'm not sure I want kids,'" he recalls. "She signed away her rights to everything."

In his quest to create a son in his image, Jordan Schnitzer has used cutting-edge science and his financial resources to guarantee the result he sought. But in his desire to be a father again, Schnitzer may have reached the limits of what money can do.

The son he wanted so badly was born into a legal dispute. And even if Schnitzer wins that dispute, his son will be a boy who has everything—except a mother.

Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society, says adults need to remember that children are not commodities to be chosen for their gender or other genetic attributes.

"What if this boy grows up to have no interest in real estate or his father's other pursuits?" she says. "What then?"

WW staff writer Rachel Monahan contributed reporting to this story.

Image via Flickr/Mary Harrsch



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