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Behind the News: '80s anti-takeover law helped sow Emmis win in court

Greg Andrews
September 26, 2012
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Emmis Communications Corp.’s tactics as it plotted to strip preferred shareholders of their rights were “admittedly unusual,” Judge Sarah Evans Barker acknowledged in her Aug. 31 ruling that let the company go forward with a shareholder vote a few days later that did just that.

But if a company was going to press the limits of normal business conduct, Indiana was the right place to do it. That’s because the Indiana Business Corporation Law — enacted in the mid-1980s to help Hoosier companies fight off a wave of attacks by corporate raiders — gives boards of directors unusually broad authority to exercise judgment as they see fit.

As Emmis wrote in a court filing defending its conduct, “Plaintiffs’ argument that they are entitled to a different substantive outcome because they dislike the result dictated by unambiguous statutory and contractual language is a plea properly directed to Indiana’s General Assembly, not this court.”

Corre Opportunities Fund and other preferred shareholders had argued Emmis used a succession of illegal, sham transactions to amass two-thirds voting control of preferred shares late last year and early this year.

Reaching that threshold set the stage for the vote, which wiped out $34 million in unpaid dividends. Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan had pushed for the changes as a way to boost the company’s long-slumping common stock, which surged following the Sept. 4 vote.

Emmis isn’t out of the woods yet, because the plaintiffs still can press for damages in a full trial. However, Barker’s 48-page ruling was replete with language suggesting she doubts plaintiffs can prevail.

To understand why, it’s helpful to take a trip back to December 1985, when Canada’s Belzberg family was threatening an assault on Arvin Industries Inc., then a powerful Columbus-based auto-parts maker.

In response, Arvin CEO James K. Baker called on his old friend Robert Garton, president pro tem of the Indiana Senate, for help. As The Wall Street Journal later recounted, within weeks Garton had steered a tough anti-takeover measure, drafted by Arvin’s own lawyers, through the General Assembly.

One of Arvin’s attorneys who helped craft the legislation was none other than Jim Strain, who, as a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, now represents Emmis. So the company clearly grasped the legal landscape it was navigating when it decided to get tough with preferred shareholders.

Ted Boehm, who served as an expert witness for Emmis in the lawsuit, knows the terrain as well. Boehm, a corporate lawyer before serving as an Indiana Supreme Court justice from 1996 to 2010, also had a hand in drafting the Indiana Business Corporation Law.

At the time, he said in his deposition for the Emmis suit, “there was considerable concern that the phenomenon of hostile business takeovers that was prevalent was resulting in a severe depletion of locally based businesses in our state.”

The concern was so great, he said, that lawmakers wanted “to make Indiana as hospitable as it could to boards of directors’ governance of the company, and to make it as easy as possible for the board to accomplish what it determined to be in the best interests of the corporation.”

So, asked David Campbell, an attorney with Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP representing preferred shareholders, “If the board of directors made a decision that it’s in the best interests of the corporation to entrench management and allow management to take over economic control of the company at the expense of preferred shareholders, that’s fine?”

Boehm’s response: “Well, you put it in terms that are slightly pejorative, but ultimately I’d say the answer is essentially yes.”

Trustee, counsel keep jobs

Federal bankruptcy Judge Basil Lorch has refused to remove the high-profile legal team that’s untangling the massive Eastern Livestock Co. fraud.

Indianapolis Business Journal reported Aug. 27 that some parties in the case were seeking the ouster of bankruptcy Trustee Jim Knauer and his legal counsel — Faegre Baker Daniels LLP — over their failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest at the outset of the 21-month-old case.

At issue was whether they should have disclosed their representation of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which was a so-called participant in Fifth Third Bank’s loan to Eastern Livestock.

Faegre Baker Daniels and Knauer, a partner with Kroger Gardis & Regas LLP, argued disclosure was not necessary because loan participants don’t count as creditors and have no legal rights in bankruptcy cases.

Lorch, in an Aug. 31 ruling, concluded removal was unwarranted and would delay efforts to recover money for creditors by many months. But in his order rejecting Faegre Baker Daniels’ dismissal, he wrote that the brouhaha served as a lesson “on the wisdom of a forthcoming and openhanded approach to disclosures that goes beyond the minimum required by the law.”•
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Originally published in the Sept. 10, 2012, Indianapolis Business Journal.

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  1. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

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