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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. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

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  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

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