BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren was so intent on gaining control of the company he now heads that he deliberately provoked a quarrel with the huge land development firm's then-chairman in 1982, attorneys for heiress Joan Irvine Smith said Friday.
And feelings between Bren and former chairman A. Alfred Taubman grew so strained in late 1982 that a company director accused them of acting "like two kids," according to court testimony.
Bren is battling Smith in a Michigan state court over the $88 million Bren offered for her share of the company. Smith contends that she is owed $500 million for the 11% stake once held by herself and her mother, Athalie Clark.
Lawyers for Smith tried Friday to portray Bren as provoking a quarrel with Taubman to drive him out so Bren could gain control of the Irvine Co.
But Bren, who finished 10 days on the witness stand Friday, testified that the quarrel with Taubman was patched up quickly and had no influence on his purchase of controlling interest in the company the next year.
Taubman, a wealthy Detroit developer, led a group of investors who bought the company in 1977. Bren was one of the group and became a director of the Irvine Co. at the time.
He has testified that by 1982 he was dissatisfied with the company's president and fearful for his investment.
He sent a memo sharply critical of the company's business plan to other directors in September of that year. In response, Taubman fired off an angry letter to Bren.
Bren then met with oil magnate Max Fisher, another director, who offered to mediate.
Fisher said the two were acting "like two kids," according to Bren's handwritten notes of the meeting, quoted by Smith's lawyers Friday.
Taubman and Bren have testified that they quickly settled their dispute, which occurred shortly after Bren became co-chairman of the company.
The three-month-long trial, held near Detroit because the Irvine Co. is incorporated in Michigan, is expected to resume later this month and continue into the spring.