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Fistfight Caps Falling-Out of Pair Who Own Several La Lanne Spas : Health Club Partners Battling in Court

April 14, 1986|TOM FURLONG | Times Staff Writer

It was on a Thursday in late January that a business dispute between Win Paris and Bill Hubner, co-owners of several Jack La Lanne health clubs in the Los Angeles area, turned ugly enough to make the evening news.

Paris beat up two of Hubner's business associates at the Jack La Lanne club headquarters in Downey during a confrontation that was captured on film by a news crew from KNBC.

A segment of tape shown on television that evening showed John Laspia, one of Hubner's corporate attorneys, staggering out of an office, blood flowing from his face. Laspia was later hospitalized with a broken nose and Paris was arrested for assault.

Paris later told The Times he was temporarily insane at the time. "I write of God and love," he said in one interview, "but if someone is driving you bankrupt, you've got to go a little crazy."

So it goes these days in the impassioned feud involving two of the leading personalities of in the U.S. health club field.

Helped Found Clubs

Hubner is one of the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs in the industry, while Paris is a highly visible figure who helped found the Jack La Lanne health clubs nearly 20 years ago, when the industry was still a pup.

Image-conscious health club insiders feel the fight has soiled the reputation of an industry that has had its share of bad press for years because of high-pressure sales methods and well-publicized failures. There are an estimated 7,000 health clubs in the United States, industry experts say.

"Anything like this doesn't do the industry any good, I'll tell you that," says Ray Wilson, a health club executive in San Diego who founded the Family Fitness Centers.

The battle has now shifted to the Los Angeles Superior Court. The issues are relatively narrow but the squabble is intense.

Three lawsuits have been filed since the altercation, two by Paris and one by Hubner. Paris filed the latest one just last week.

In court papers, Paris accuses Hubner and his business associates of trying to drive him out of business, while Hubner claims Paris libeled him and damaged business at the Jack La Lanne clubs. Hubner owns a half interest in 30 Jack La Lanne clubs in Southern California, including four in partnership with Paris.

One of Paris' companies, Spa Nutrition, filed the first court action in early February--a $10-million suit charging Hubner's business associates with illegally interfering with the juice bars and nutrition centers that Paris operates at 22 Jack La Lanne health clubs in Southern California.

Filed Countersuit

Hubner retaliated with a $2-million suit on Feb. 11 that accused Paris of writing "defamatory materials" about Hubner and business associate Carmen Baratta, as well as telling customers and employees that the Jack La Lanne clubs were "going into bankruptcy and would be closing."

Hubner, in pressing his suit, has obtained a court order preventing Paris from entering the Downey headquarters building without 24 hours advance notice. The order also prevents Paris from harassing, either verbally or physically, the employees of the Jack La Lanne clubs.

Paris fired the latest salvo last Thursday in a $250-million damage suit that accuses Hubner and Baratta, among many others, of conspiring to cut off his income and ruin him financially.

According to associates of both men, Hubner and Paris have sharply contrasting business and personal styles that make them natural adversaries. Both men, in interviews with The Times, openly expressed a deep dislike for one another.

"This is a collision of two very different personalities," said Long Beach lawyer Don Caffray, a friend of Paris'.

Paris is a classic Southern California fitness zealot with a child-like enthusiasm for good health. Exercise has kept his body rock-hard even though he's in his early 50s, and he likes to be called "Dr. Paris" because of his Ph.D. in physical education from a correspondence school.

Never one to understate his accomplishments, Paris describes himself in his writings "as the father of fitness medicine, one of the pioneers in the fitness industry, the father of nutrition in the fitness industry, the founder of the Jack La Lanne health spas in 1967 . . . and one of the most educated fitness educators in the fitness industry in the world."

Luxurious Life Style

Hubner has a life style of expensive homes, luxury cars and travel by corporate jet. Associates say he's an indefatigable, street-smart entrepreneur for whom physical fitness is a business, not a way of life.

His financial interests include real estate, restaurants, health clubs and a gym-equipment company. He is "one of the few businessmen in this field who could make money at anything he does," says one associate.

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