By: Rich Bergeron
An adversary case filed in Nevada bankruptcy court by the trustee's counsel for Xyience against Fertitta Enterprises, Zyen, and Zyen's General Manager William Bullard is suddenly getting very interesting. A contentious hearing Friday, October 30th in the case addressed a sanctions request for discovery violations. The hearing gave way to suggestions from Trustee's Counsel Jon Backman that Lorenzo Fertitta could be named in an entirely new future complaint as a result of what his recent, last-ditch discovery efforts uncovered.
Bankruptcy Judge Lloyd King seemed to take some limited interest in the sanctions motion and made some remarks indicating he agreed with Backman's factual take on the situation. Still, he made no final decision on the motion and asked for supplemental briefs from both sides regarding the procedural technicalities involved. Judge King also indicated that a follow up hearing featuring witness testimony would likely have to be held to determine the direction and breadth of any sanctions that could possibly apply. The judge also later set a proposed trial date for the existing case in April, 2012.
Despite what Backman described as harsh conditions for collecting evidence, he explained to Judge King that what he did find so late in the game changed the whole direction of his case. Backman argued that the lack of cooperation from his adversaries made the case far more difficult to deal with. The real tragedy, he explained, is the evidence that's just impossible to uncover. "We're never going to see those emails," Backman lamented about a situation in which he sought official Xyience email servers his adversaries somehow could not produce despite rigorous attempts to force them to. "There's nothing left to compel production of."
The complicated scenario that led to the sanctions request left both sides in the legal wrangling claiming the other was being unreasonable. A previous article previewing this hearing explains the nuances of the trustee's claims. Missing and now impossible to recover email communications are at the center of the controversy. A Fertitta right hand man of sorts, William J. Bullard, became public enemy number one for Attorney Backman at Friday's hearing.
Bullard is the General Manager of Zyen, LLC, formed as a Fertitta Enterprises subsidiary to provide a loan to Xyience. Once in the chief lien position over Xyience, the Fertitta side company quickly foreclosed on the debt. Zyen then became Manzen and assumed control of Xyience after the company declared bankruptcy in early 2008. Manzen was actually a combination of the Fertitta group (Zyen) and a company made up of four individuals named Manchester Consolidated. The combined parties coordinated to enter into a payment program in order to allow Manchester to appear to be buying the company out of bankruptcy. The monthly payments from Manchester eventually stopped coming in, giving control of Xyience back to Fertitta Enterprises once again.
To add another layer of intrigue to the complicated scheme, Machester Consolidated consisted of a total of four people with two of them being former executives of Cott beverages. Cott is the manufacturer of Xenergy. Had the bankruptcy resulted in another ownership group acquiring the company, Cott might not be guaranteed a chance to continue doing business creating the company's popular drink product that touts itself as the official energy drink of the UFC.
Friday's hearing discussed emails, some of which were only discovered after the trustee had to resort to delivering a subpoena to Gordon Biersch, a brewery and restaurant chain also owned by the Fertittas and managed by Bullard. Due to what he described as a painstaking process, Backman eventually did get a hold of some crucial emails, including one he described as "one of the hottest smoking guns I've ever seen in litigation." Fittingly called Exhibit G, the email between Bullard and Lorenzo Fertitta mentioned a $150 million offer for the purchase of Xyience from the Cott Corporation. The date of the email was aligned very closely with the first $12 million in financing the Fertittas provided to Xyience to gain control of it down the line.
The offer, if company officials capitalized on it, could have helped Xyience shareholders recover some value for their shares. Instead, it seems the Fertittas were intent on locking the shareholders out at the first opportunity they could, refusing to hold scheduled shareholder meetings and neglecting to pay the first interest payment on their loan with company funds. Hundreds of shareholders lost nearly all hope of any recovery when the Cott offer morphed into a scheme involving former Cott executives and their associates pretending to purchase the company for $15 million as a "stalking horse bidder" in the bankruptcy.
Coincidentally, I have a pending motion in these proceedings under my own adversary case which seeks $150 million in relief to be granted to shareholders burned by a campaign to silence my reporting that was trying to bring the whole Fertitta scheme to light. At the time I filed that motion I had no idea this smoking gun of an email existed, but it certainly fits a pattern I've described time and again for my readers here and at xyiencesucks.com in intricate detail.
Traditional mainstream media surrounding the sport of MMA and the world of finance is really missing the boat when it comes to the meat of this story. Yet, even a publishing entity that painted the Fertittas in a more positive light in the past picked up this vein of the tale surrounding Backman's sanctions request. Forbes Magazine didn't afford the trustee's attorney the courtesy of spelling his name correctly in the piece, and the author falsely asserted there is formal mediation involved in the case, but they did make an attempt to tell the story's most important points.
Forbes didn't send anyone to the actual hearing, though. None of the local papers had reporters there, either. It was not hard to find a seat in the courtroom. This is a story that's still unfolding in a controlled environment of sorts, so damage control for the Fertittas and the UFC so far has been fairly limited.
Backman is on track to make this case into much more of a spectacle if he indeed names Lorenzo Fertitta in any future complaint. The subpoena of Gordon Biersch's email server information led Backman to some documents he professed to never seeing before, documents that could pinpoint Lorenzo Fertitta's role in the conspiracy to bankrupt Xyience and defraud the company's shareholders and creditors.
"Whole cases can turn on single documents," Backman reminded the judge in open court on Friday. Getting a hold of the evidence that turned his case in a completely new direction added enormous excess costs for Backman to absorb on a case he took on contingency. These very documents, had Backman acquired them earlier, could have allowed the estate to make much more progress in the complicated litigation surrounding the estate at a much earlier date in the process. Instead, Backman now has to backtrack and reflect on the countless hours of wasted time spent chasing down company email servers he could never actually obtain.
The destruction, loss, and/or failure to preserve these servers and hard drives sought by Backman leaves a gaping hole in the case. The frustrating scenario caused irreparable damage that Backman had some trouble fully quantifying for the judge Friday. During much of his argument before the court, Fertitta Attorneys Gregory Garman and Joel Schwarz busily took notes, whispered to each other, and appeared to be genuinely agitated by the accusations against them and their clients. There really isn't much hard evidence of a driven, purposeful campaign to destroy the evidence in question, but the situation is about as suspicious as it could possibly be.
Attorney Garman explained away the accusations from Garman as "outrageous" and personally referred to Exhibit G sarcastically with the same "smoking gun" label Backman applied to it. Garman provided a basic timeline and list of efforts he personally undertook to assist the trustee in finding evidence. He vehemently disputes the claims that his actions constituted the hindering of Backman's discovery efforts. Instead, he explained that he did everything in his power and his clients assisted to the best of their abilities to voluntarily provide every shred of evidence they possibly could. Garman, at one point citing his high blood pressure, seemed clearly disturbed that his reputation might take a hit because of this case. Deep into one of his rants about how cooperative and misunderstood he is, he actually had to apologize when he almost uttered my name instead of Backman's.
Even though Garman is an expert litigator and an excellent speaker, Backman's accusations and evidentiary support are clearly bothersome for the Gordon Silver attorney. During my own past interactions with Garman he's come across as overly concerned about how others perceive him professionally. He told me himself at one point earlier this year that he considers the Fertittas one of his least significant clients, but at this point the task of protecting them and their associates seems to be causing him some "xtreme" stress. He even asked the judge for a recess and extra time afterward to argue more points surrounding his purported cooperation with the discovery process that he felt Backman misrepresented. Traditionally, a lawyer bringing a motion introduces it, the opposition gets a chance to refute the claims, and the moving attorney gets the final word. Garman's protests led to another round of back and forth at this hearing, and it seemed to expose the attorney's nervousness.
My personal impression of Garman's tactics--though certainly swayed by my intimate knowledge of the case and his basic character--left me convinced that he is running out of confidence on this one. He let the judge, Backman, and the few in attendance at the hearing see him sweat Friday. Backman, even when he was at a loss for words, came across as perpetually relaxed in his tone, speaking with the conviction of someone who knows he is right.
Backman wore a sharp suit that seemed a little too big for him Friday, but he filled the courtroom with the authority in his voice. He called the evidence debacle "one of the most egregious discovery violations I've ever seen." He seemed to have trouble even fathoming a world where sanctions would not apply to what his opposition's been caught in the middle of. Judge King conceded that there was no question he had the power apply sanctions, but he also said he wanted to know "the source" of that power. There are multiple categories and tiers of sanctions based on certain litigation behavior. Whatever stream of relief is applicable here will be best suited to become the basis for a formal order on the matter. Judge King seems to be thinking ahead about not wanting his order appealed if he sides with Backman.
Backman described the discovery difficulties as a "shocking development" in the case and confessed, "I want this case to be over." He further explained he had no vendetta or personal issues with Garman or his clients. "A serious mistake was made here," he stated plainly at one point.
Garman, in his second crack at a response to the charges against him and his clients, reported that he'd never been engaged in "such contentious litigation." He called Garman's strategy a "fabricated emergency." He insisted Backman's allegations did not mesh with the established record in the case and that he and his clients "did comply" with the discovery process. "I took this case exceptionally seriously," he said before listing off a series of numbers quantifying how many documents were turned over to Backman and when. He argued that some of the same emails Backman recovered from the Gordon Biersch subpoena were volunteered by other defendants in the case on previous occasions.
Garman went on to contend that he's gone out of his way to try to offer Backman concessions in the wake of the discovery mess. He told the court he was willing to expand the discovery process and allow further depositions of key witnesses but Backman refused these options. Garman also spent a considerable amount of time harping on the $150 million Cott offer being insignificant since it never actually materialized.
The question Garman seemed to miss in his explanation of the multi-million dollar Cott purchase offer is why it went away so fast after a meeting between Xyience insiders and the Cott folks in Canada. The deal didn't dissolve for no reason. There's no witness testimony as of this point in this litigation that adequately gives the exact reason why the $150 million offer came off the table and why it's not suspicious that people associated with Cott ended up with an ownership interest in the company anyway. Still, Garman insisted that if there was any conspiracy involved in this case it was "a conspiracy in the light of day" and his clients were open and honest about their intentions and actions.
The record simply doesn't reflect Garman's explanation as the full truth. The shifty approach to discovery adds more suspicion to what's already a clear-cut case of deceptive practices involved in the takeover and bankruptcy of Xyience by the Fertitta group. Garman also made the mistake of calling Former Xyience Co-CEOs Adam Frank and Kirk Sanford cooperating witnesses in Backman's case. Backman clarified that while Sanford and Frank agreed to provide information and evidence without the need for subpoenas and settled their own adversary cases, they are still "co-conspirators" in the case and will be treated accordingly.
Perhaps the most pretentious portion of Garman's argument on Friday was his framing of Backman as being dishonest for not holding up his end of a bargain struck at a previous hearing to split the costs of restoring computer drives that were reportedly destroyed by a system crash at Xyience. The agreement between attorneys came to pass only because the drives were represented to Backman as the ones with the company's crucial email servers contained within them. It turned out the drives were essentially worthless once they were restored and did not contain any email records whatsoever. So, essentially Garman wants full payment on a debt for services provided that were wholly misrepresented by him and his clients.
Judge King admitted not even bothering to read previous filings I presented to the court when it came time for hearings regarding those matters. I came into Friday's hearing not expecting him to give Backman much more of a fair shake. He surprised me when he picked up on a nuance neither side considered up to that point.
Focusing on Bullard's lack of record preservation related to his emails, Judge King pointed out that Bullard was savvy enough to know that being on Xyience's board of directors would require him to fulfill certain fiduciary responsibilities including keeping accurate records. Yet, at the same time, Bullard insisted that he did not save certain material because he did not anticipate being named in litigation. Bullard pointed to the liability issues he would be embroiled in as his reason for not wanting to be on Xyience's board as a formal member. So, the evidence shows Bullard purposely avoided being held accountable for accurate record keeping at one point and yet he still claims not keeping and volunteering crucial emails was an honest and innocent mistake.
Garman did not seem to have any adequate explanation for that reality. He later wondered aloud why both sides were spending so much money on a sanctions motion and requested a trial date at "the earliest possible date." Depending on how dueling summary judgment motions end up impacting the case once they are heard in December, the two sides will face each other at trial the week of April 9th, 2012. Before then, Backman will pursue some other serious evidence issues through additional motions for relief.
It's clear that Backman's approach has Garman flustered and desperate for a rush to judgment before the case gets out of hand. His clients are in a precarious position at this point, and it's not looking like conditions will ever improve. The Fertitta attorney was clearly off his game on Friday, apparently the result of knowing that the longer this case goes on, the worse he and his clients will look in the end.