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Long Irvine Co. Trial Ends With Lawyers Agreeing That Decision Is Months Away

June 17, 1989|MICHAEL FLAGG | Times Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — The Irvine Co. trial ended Friday morning, but lawyers for both sides said a decision in the case is at least several months away.

The company's lawyers had the last word Friday, and they again accused Joan Irvine Smith of seeking a windfall profit from the sale of the company in 1983.

Smith wants half a billion dollars for her 11% stake in the giant land developer, counting five years' interest.

Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren, who bought most of the company in 1983, is offering $88 million plus interest.

Smith, the granddaughter of the company's founder, rejected his offer of $200,000 a share in 1983. She also rejected a later offer to double her shares.

Bren's lawyers say either offer was fair and that Smith seeks to unjustly enrich herself without incurring any of the risks the company faced in the last five years.

"If you dissent from a transaction, why should you get the benefit of it?" lawyer William Campbell asked Friday.

The company contends that Smith, who did not testify in the nearly two-year-long trial, has not adequately explained why she rejected the deal.

"Her absence from this courtroom speaks volumes," Campbell said.

Bren underwent eight days of grueling cross-examination by Smith's lawyer in 1987 and attended the final three days of oral arguments this week.

Bren stepped out of character during the three days and spoke often to reporters, emphasizing the importance of the trial to the company. If Smith wins the half-billion dollars, Bren said it could seriously delay the company's plans to develop its enormous holdings in Orange County.

Both sides concede an appeal is likely.

Michigan state court referee Robert B. Webster, a retired judge, is now confronted with thousands of pages of trial transcripts and lawyers' briefs and is likely to take as long as until November to rule. The trial was held in Michigan because the company is incorporated there.

After 157 days in the courtroom, the trial broke up with some ribbing between the two squads of lawyers and the referee.

As Campbell concluded his arguments and turned over his last page of notes, Webster, smiling, said: "Well, I'm not going to pull (a ruling) out of my pocket."

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