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RPS jurors hear both sides called greedy

Thu., July 29, 2004, 3:26 p.m.

Mall manager not paid all he was worth, lawyer claims

Lawyers for the owner of River Park Square and the mall’s former manager each accused the other of greed before a Spokane County Superior Court jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon in a civil trial.

Robert Dunn, attorney for RWR Management, told jurors that mall manager Bob Robideaux was a “trusting and trustworthy” person who worked for years without a contract for the mall development companies and their president, Betsy Cowles, as the downtown project was redeveloped. He wasn’t paid all that he was worth, and in 2002, he was fired, Dunn said.

“These are people with lots of power and control who decided they were going to beat up on their management company,” Dunn said. “They took the lifeblood out of” RWR Management.

But Diehl Rettig, attorney for the mall developers, said Robideaux averaged more than $300,000 a year between 1994 and 2002 and got some of the increases he requested in the later years when he said he was in financial trouble.

“The defendants tried to do right by Mr. Robideaux,” Rettig told the jury of seven women and five men. “Every step of the way, she (Cowles) is met with a request for more money.”

The mall is developed and owned by companies affiliated with Cowles Publishing Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Robideaux had been the mall’s manager since 1988, and he had a major role in the property’s expansion and redevelopment that was first proposed in the mid-1990s. Although he had certain agreements that covered some aspects of his work, Robideaux contends he had another oral agreement for more compensation when the mall redevelopment project was complete.

For his work on various aspects of the mall project, Robideaux contends he’s owed $3.6 million. But Dunn reminded the jury that the mall redevelopment was a $117 million project, and witnesses testified that an industry standard for compensation could be as high as 6 percent.

“Bob Robideaux is wrong that $3.6 million is reasonable; $7.8 million is fair,” Dunn said.

Rettig told the jury that Dunn was trying to appeal to their emotions by describing the dispute as a big company versus a little company, or the rich and powerful against a small businessman. But Rettig said it was a case in which Robideaux was making claims about an oral agreement that didn’t exist.

Cowles had denied on the stand that there were any oral agreements, and Rettig said that such agreements are not standard in the industry nor were they standard practice for Robideaux.

“Mr. Robideaux believes in putting his agreements in writing. The defendants believe in putting things in writing,” he said. “You have misunderstandings when you have oral agreements.”

RWR Management had a contract to manage the mall until 2007 but was served notice in 2002 that the mall was exercising an option to cancel the contract in six months. Shortly after that, Robideaux sued, and the contract was terminated immediately.

“It was terminated because of a breach of loyalty,” Rettig said. Loyalty is “shattered” when an agent sues an employer, he added.

Filing of the suit was also orchestrated to make “a big splash in the paper, that Betsy’s been sued,” he said.

Dunn argued that the mall developers had decided months before the lawsuit that “Bob Robideaux was history.” He accused the development company of causing Robideaux to file the suit so it could walk away from its commitments to him.

Dunn also contended that with the massive tangle of litigation over River Park Square, Robideaux’s suit couldn’t have been a shock to Betsy Cowles: “She had 14 lawsuits going. What’s another lawsuit?”

The jury will resume deliberations today.

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