Family feud fuels flurry of lawsuits

CEO's lawyers say he is victim of 'carefully planned scheme to squeeze him out'

By Mike Mosedale
BridgeTower Media Newswires

MINNEAPOLIS - What do you get when you combine a highly successful family-owned business with a patriarch's long-running extra-marital affair, an extremely contentious divorce, and an internecine fight for control of the company?

In the case of the Plymouth-based Twin City Fan Cos., the answer includes scathing allegations of wrongdoing from and by all parties, an unholy blizzard of lawsuits, and the involvement of a virtual who's-who of the Twin Cities' biggest law firms and best known litigators.

Among those donning their battle gear are lawyers from the firms of Bassford Remele, Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louagie, Briggs & Morgan, Winthrop & Weinstine, Dorsey, Fox Rothschild, and Henson & Efron, as well as the prominent criminal defense attorney William Mauzy, the former Robins Kaplan litigator Chris Madel (now of Madel PA) and even a retired justice from the Minnesota Supreme Court, James Gilbert.

At the center of this epic family feud: Charles "Chuck" Barry, the CEO and longtime chairman of the board at Twin City Fan. Barry's lawyers say he is the victim of a "carefully planned scheme to squeeze him out of the highly successful company" that he built over four plus decades and which now has close to $300 million in annual sales.

The scheme, according to a minority shareholder lawsuit Barry filed in Hennepin County District Court in October, was orchestrated by his son, Twin City Fan President Michael Barry, and ex-wife, Melanie Barry.

Since October, Charles Barry has bankrolled five other lawsuits targeting Melanie Barry, Michael Barry, Twin City Fan, and company-related related entities.

For her part, Melanie Barry has since sued Kathleen Bryan - Charles Barry's longtime mistress and now wife - on claims of fraudulent transfer, unjust enrichment, conversion, and civil theft. In that action, Melanie Barry says her husband of 55 years wrongly gifted or transferred more than $11 million in marital assets to Bryan over the course of a long-running affair.

Even as the couple's divorce was pending last summer, Melanie Barry claims, Charles Barry flouted a Florida court's order not to "conceal, horde or waste" marital assets by making expensive gifts to Bryan and her adult children.

Those allegedly illicit extravagances include the purchase of a 2017 Porsche Macan for one of Bryan's daughters, a $143,000 horse for another, and a $39,000 round trip flight to Naples, Florida, on a private jet.

In late March, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen dismissed Melanie Barry's lawsuit against Bryan, ruling that it was not ripe because the financial terms of Melanie and Charles' divorce have yet to be finalized by a Florida court.

Joseph Anthony, one of Melanie Barry's Minnesota lawyers, said he expects to appeal that ruling.

Bryan, meanwhile, is pursuing separate defamation and invasion of privacy claims against Michael Barry over a 2016 report by the Robins Kaplan law firm that Michael Barry commissioned to investigate possible malfeasance by his father.

According to a recent court filing from Twin City Fan's lawyer, Jeffrey Bouslog of Fox Rothschild, the Robins Report revealed that the elder Barry had misappropriated "millions of dollars' worth of TCF assets for his personal benefit and the benefit of his mistress."

The report also spawned a separate lawsuit against Twin City Fan by Charles Barry, who, after learning of its existence, retained criminal defense ace Bill Mauzy to defend him against possible prosecution. According to a recent court filing from Mauzy, an IRS investigator informed him in January the agency is not pursuing a criminal case against Charles Barry.

After Twin City Fan's board of directors refused to pay Mauzy's fees in December, Barry sued the company, saying he is entitled to indemnification under both state law and company policy. In response, Twin City Fan filed for sanctions, alleging improper claim splitting because Charles Barry made the same demand for indemnification as part of his shareholder suit.

In an order on April 10, Hennepin County Judge Bruce Peterson granted Barry's motion for attorney's fees in the shareholder suit. At the same time, Peterson rejected a motion from Michael Barry for an injunction to bar his father from bringing any new lawsuits without first getting approval from the court.

In yet another recently filed lawsuit, Charles Barry seeks to dissolve the real estate trust that owns nine commercial properties across the Midwest that house Twin City Fan's offices and factories.

In court filings, Chris Madel, Michael Barry's lawyer, cast the lawsuit as a transparent bid by Charles Barry to force Twin City Fan to give him the buyout he wants or bankrupt the company. Madel argues that it is part of a larger pattern of abusive litigation on Charles Barry's part.

"The sheer quantity of lawsuits plaintiff has filed in the last two months demonstrate both complete disregard for the legal system and this Court, as well as the length he will go to harass and financially ruin TCF and his family," Madel wrote in one recent memorandum.

Madel, who wants to have the lawsuits consolidated, said he is puzzled by Charles Barry's reliance on multiple lawyers and firms, as well as his apparent reluctance to litigating the various claims before a single judge.

Lew Remele, partner at Bassford Remele and one of Charles Barry's lawyers, acknowledged that the myriad actions - and the number of firms involved in them - are a bit unusual.

"Believe me, the point has been made that we're spending an inordinate amount of money on legal fees and other costs and that the money could be used more productively to reach a settlement," Remele said over the phone. "But unfortunately there's a lot of emotion involved in this case."

That point was underscored once again in the court filings from the latest party to be drawn into the Barry family feud.

On April 18, the Minnesota Vikings filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment in a dispute between Charles and Michael Barry over ownership of $75,000 worth of seat licenses at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"[The team] believes that if it unilaterally awards the right to purchase the tickets to one of the parties, it will certainly face litigation from the other," Vikings attorney Gregory Merz wrote.

Meanwhile, a special litigation committee at Twin City Fan - which is headed by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice James Gilbert - is scheduled to release its findings soon. The committee is charged with investigating claims of wrongdoing by and against both Charles and Michael Barry. It is expected the report will become the basis for Twin City Fan's anticipated counterclaim against Charles Barry.

Published: Mon, May 01, 2017

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