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Ex-Baldwin Executive Awarded $2.5 Million

June 24, 1997|MELINDA FULMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Superior Court jury in Los Angeles has awarded $2.5 million to a former executive of bankrupt Newport Beach home builder Baldwin Co. after finding that the owners reneged on a promise to make him a partner in the company.

The jury found that brothers James and Alfred Baldwin breached their contract with Robert B. Burns, who headed their company's Los Angeles-Ventura division. However, the jury awarded damages only against James Baldwin, who directly supervised Burns' division.

The Baldwins could not be reached for comment on the award, which was handed down Friday.

Burns claimed that the Baldwins had promised him a 10% stake in his division, which would have made him a partner in the company, when they recruited him from a Boise, Idaho, law firm. He said that similar partnership agreements had already been extended to the two other division presidents, Geoffrey Fearns and Greg Smith.

Burns became head of the division when it was established in 1988. He departed in 1994.

After he was hired, Burns said, the Baldwins repeatedly put off executing a formal written partnership agreement, and told him that a 10% stake exceeded industry standards.

Instead, his suit states, Burns was offered a 4% "discretionary" bonus and was told he was an employee, not a partner. Burns was seeking $35 million in damages.

Burns, who has since moved back to Boise, could not be reached for comment.

But his attorneys are considering seeking a new trial because they believe that the Baldwins did not fully disclose their net worth when they testified during the trial, according to John Olson, a partner in the law firm that represented Burns.

The home-building company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the Baldwin brothers have since been pushed out of the daily operations by court order. The company has been run for the last year by Lusk Co. executive James Johnson.

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