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Saturday, April 10, 2021

At the bar: Billy Bob’s legal issues head back to court

What began as a difference of opinion among owners of Billy Bob’s Texas has erupted into a showdown that could jeopardize the future of the world’s largest honky-tonk.

The direction of the iconic water hole that is woven into the Old West mystique of the Fort Worth Stockyards is now at the center of a lawsuit that appears “hopelessly” deadlocked, according to attorneys representing parties on both sides of the dispute.

Attempts to settle the matter out of court or through court-ordered mediation have failed so the two sides will be back in State District Judge Mike Wallach’s courtroom on June 27 for a hearing that could place Billy Bob’s into receivership.

The case plays out with the intensity and intrigue of a primetime TV soap opera, pitting friends and relatives against one another amid claims of vendettas and allegations of meddling and mismanagement. At one point, locks were changed to keep opposing parties from entering the establishment, according to court documents.

“I look upon this as a very unfortunate situation,” said attorney Marshall Searcy of Kelly Hart & Hallman, who represents a large group of owners in the case. “This is an internal matter that should never have reached this level of intensity.”

The bitter divide also has parties disagreeing on the cause of the feud. The majority of the honky-tonk’s 12 owners contend the problem is the management by Billy Bob’s president, Concho Minick. His father, Billy Minick, is aligned with this group, which is trying to force the younger Minick out.

But Concho Minick and his ally, a company owned by former Fort Worth City Councilman Steve Murrin and his relatives, say that the feud is about the refusal of the majority of owners to follow the rules of the company operating agreement that require unanimous agreement on major decisions.

Concho Minick’s lawsuit seeks the appointment of a receiver because owners have “found it increasingly difficult to find unanimity in the wake of personal disputes and personality conflicts that have little or nothing to do with Billy Bob’s.”

Concho Minick’s attorney, Stephen Pezanosky, says the lawsuit was prompted by the actions of the majority of owners to circumvent the rules in their attempt to oust Minick, who is a minority owner with a 3 percent share. The Murrins own a 22.5 percent share.

“Lacking the unanimous consent required under the company agreement, these renegade members recently anointed themselves as the exclusive sovereigns of the company,” the lawsuit says.

Their actions “threaten to irreparably damage Billy Bob’s, its equity value, its brand, and its reputation” as well as its relationship with artists, their managers and patrons, the suit states.

On the other side, a group of 10 owners including Brad Hickman and his family, who have about a 40 percent ownership stake, filed a countersuit, alleging that Concho Minick “has increasingly acted in an autocratic manner largely ignoring and thwarting the wishes of the majority ownership interest to perpetuate his own self-interests.”

Searcy, who represents the majority owners including Billy Minick, said Billy Bob’s is a “legacy family-owned company and should remain what it is.”

In their countersuit, the majority owners oppose the appointment of a receiver for the purposes laid out in the original lawsuit that it would “preserve the status quo of allowing Minick to continue as president and managing member.”

“With no financial investment in the company and a negligible ownership share, Concho purportedly seeks a receiver to sell the company if his demands are not met,” the countersuit states.

Instead, the majority owners seek a receiver that would help change the company agreement to ultimately end the deadlock.

“A receiver with such authority can accomplish what both parties seek – an end to the deadlock – and prevent what only Concho, a 3 percent owner, is willing to threaten – a forced sale of the business,” their suit states.

According to the court documents, the problems began in 2014 when Hickman, an owner and investor in large holdings of Stockyards property aside from Billy Bob’s, introduced a $175 million plan for a mixed-use redevelopment in 1 million square feet that would add hotels, shops, restaurants and residences. The project would be done in partnership with Majestic Realty Co. of California.

A brewing rift between Hickman-led developers and preservationists and other Stockyards property owners over the redevelopment plan apparently spilled over into the ownership ranks of Billy Bob’s.

The caustic claims in the dueling lawsuits portray Concho Minick in vastly different ways.

Concho Minick’s suit describes him as the driving force behind new financial and budget controls as well as a human resources division that produced nightclub industry awards and record profits.

“An all-time high for revenues was set in 2016, with a 54 percent increase over 2010 revenues before Concho became BBT’s president,” the original suit states.

But Concho Minick’s critics contend in their suit that he fired experienced managers, drove off long-time vendors, reimbursed himself or authorized payments to others through improper charges to the company “all the while taking steps to keep the owners in the dark and cut off from critical business information.”

They also contend that he manipulated the reporting of profits and losses in 2016 to justify larger employee performance bonuses.

Their suit also accuses Minick of trying to extort “a king’s ransom” by perpetuating the deadlock. Furthermore, it states that Concho Minick terminated his father, who brought him into the business as a trainee, after forcing his mother to resign as director of marketing.

The elder Minick was hired to run Billy Bob’s after the club was resurrected from bankruptcy in 1988 through the efforts of several Fort Worth families, including the Hickmans, the Murrins and the Jurys. Billy Minick was eventually made a partial owner.

In a memo accompanying Concho Minick’s lawsuit, Billy Bob’s CFO and former owner Don Jury told owners that “if you do not find a way forward, it may destroy the company.”

“I have witnessed its destruction and have helped to resurrect it,” Jury stated. “I do not intend to participate in those events again … The current relationship among the owners has driven a wedge between my friendship with Steve [Murrin] and Billy [Minick]. That makes me sad.”

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