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Marsh defense: Travel was integral to company success

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Without membership in certain international business organizations, Don Marsh says he could not have built his grocery chain into a billion-dollar company.

His frequent trips overseas were so integral to the success of Marsh Supermarkets Inc., he claimed in testimony Thursday morning, that when his lawyer in his civil trial asked him to rate the meetings on a scale of 1 to 10, Marsh didn’t hesitate when replying “10.”

“I couldn’t have run the company without them,” he said.

Marsh’s testimony on cross-examination in his civil trial revealed part of his lawyers’ strategy to convince jurors that the frequent trips the former CEO of the locally based grocery chain took on the company jet were for business and not pleasure.

Marsh Supermarkets is suing Marsh, 75, alleging that he used company funds to pay more than $3 million in personal expenses during part of his time as CEO until after the company he led was acquired in 2006.

Don Marsh belonged to several global organizations, including the World Presidents Organization, Chief Executives Organization, World Economic Forum, American Arbitration Association and American Management Association.

One such organization took him to Berlin for a speech he gave in 1989 at the time the Berlin Wall fell, he told the jury.

While Marsh Supermarkets never operated stores outside of Indiana, Ohio or Illinois, Don Marsh traveled around the world to such wide-ranging destinations as Cuba, India, Libya, Russia and Venezuela in hopes that the Marsh brand could gain market share in those countries.

In Russia, for instance, Marsh private-label products were sold in Russian grocery stores for a short time until Don Marsh said he “pulled the plug” after he couldn’t compete with cheaper, Chinese projects.

Russia is where he met the director of the Russian ice ballet, with whom he had an affair. Marsh put her up in a New York City apartment as he considered sponsoring the tour in the United States.

When asked by his lawyer what bearing his physical relationship had on his idea to bring the ballet to the United States, Marsh replied: “None.”

The affair was one of four extra-marital relationships Marsh has admitted to during this week's ongoing testimony.

He also flew to Libya a handful of times in an attempt to open a distribution center in the country to serve “mom and pop” stores, he said. Marsh’s sale to Sun Capital Partners in 2006 interrupted the project, which Don Marsh said had the support of former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar.

Florida-based Sun Capital Partners terminated Don Marsh’s contract “without cause” after it took over, then stopped paying his $4.2 million severance in early 2008, after it claims it discovered personal expenses charged to the company.   
 
Don Marsh is countersuing Sun Capital, claiming it still owes him about half of his severance.

Meanwhile, Don Marsh’s attorney, Andrew McNeil, presented evidence Thursday morning regarding the various condominiums either Don Marsh or the company owned or leased.

A rental agreement for a condominium in the Dominican Republican, documented in a 1996 company directors meeting, showed the condo registered to the company.

Marsh said he used it as motivation for employees who “hit certain incentives” to vacation there. He also would take workers, as well as customers, who won contests, on cruises to tropical destinations such as Tahiti.

Less glamorous were plane flights to his condo in Saugatuck, Mich., along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, where he would take various employees every year to pick their brains about the company in a relaxed atmosphere.
 

The IBJ is a sister publicatio of Indiana Lawyer.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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