A Fort Worth judge declined Tuesday to appoint a receiver to help the bickering Billy Bob’s Texas owners resolve a dispute over how to manage the world’s largest honky-tonk.
State District Judge Michael Wallach denied a request for a temporary injunction that asked for outside help in mediating their differences. At the same time, he also opted not to extend a temporary restraining order issued in May allowing Concho Minick to stay on as manager past midnight Tuesday.
Wallach’s ruling follows five days of court-ordered mediation — including a 13-hour face-to-face session on Friday — in which the majority and minority owners were unable to find common ground.
Minick filed a lawsuit in May after a majority of the owners tried to fire him over his management of the bar. His attorneys said the judge’s terse, two-page ruling leaves too many of the issues that have divided them unresolved. They filed an emergency appeal with the 2nd Court of Appeals late Tuesday night.
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“We’re concerned that since the ruling resolves none of the disputes between the parties and doesn’t preserve the status quo, it will create more chaos at Billy Bob’s,” said Mark Torian, one of Minick’s attorneys. “The fact that the owners are deadlocked has been further corroborated by their inability to mediate a resolution over the past several days.”
Marshall Searcy, one of the attorneys for the majority owners, led by Brad Hickman, said he was gratified by the judge’s ruling and made it clear that majority rules at Billy Bob’s. He didn’t know if Minick would be immediately replaced as manager, but he said “there will be changes.”
“I’m hopeful that everyone will continue to discuss an amicable resolution that makes sense to everyone, rather than turning over the future of their operation to someone else,” Searcy said. “It is what needed to be done from Day One.”
It has been mentioned in court documents that Concho Minick’s father, Billy, who was the previous manager and is an investor, and his step-mother Pam, the former marketing director, will be asked to take the reins at the club.
While the lawsuit is technically over the management of the 127,000-square-foot bar and concert hall, the squabble has taken on broader interest as it became clear that the partners differed over how to develop the historic Stockyards.
Minority owner Donnie Nelson, who owns about 10 percent of the bar, has said that the nightclub has become a “pawn” in the fight over the $175 million Stockyards redevelopment and blamed “real estate crazy” people with creating the discord. Nelson, who is president of the Dallas Mavericks, has offered to buy the Fort Worth landmark.
But Hickman, whose family is leading the Stockyards redevelopment with the Majestic Realty Group of California, say they are not interested in selling.
Donnie Nelson talks to reporters after testifying in the Billy Bob's Texas case on July 24, 2017. Nelson, who owns slightly less than 10 percent of Billy Bob’s, has previously complained that the bar is a “pawn” in the bigger fight over redevelopment in the Stockyards area of Fort Worth. Max Bakermaxbaker@star-telegram.com
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Minick, who was joined in his lawsuit with the Murrin family that owns about 22 percent of the company, said the bar had experienced “explosive” growth in revenue since he started running the bar in 2011. Minick said he was being punished mostly for voicing concerns to the Fort Worth City Council about Hickman’s plans for the Stockyards.
While the future of the Stockyards has swirled around this legal battle like a West Texas dust devil, at its heart is a nuanced scuffle over management of an iconic Fort Worth business.
Minick, Murrin and Nelson believe the company should be controlled by an operating agreement that was signed in January 2011 and established a process by which every major decision at Billy Bob’s had to be approved by “unanimous affirmative vote.”
On the other side, the group led by Hickman argues that a certificate of formation creating the corporation and filed with the state in April 2011 dictates who runs Billy Bob’s. They argue that a majority of a six-member board is the “governing authority” that actually decides what happens at the entertainment venue.
Attorneys for both sides have criticized the company agreement which has been described as “gruesome” and written by someone who was “inebriated,” as well as honored and ignored. Since Billy Bob’s ownership was made up of people who worked together for decades, there was a degree of informality.
“This isn’t the annual meeting of Exxon where you have an entire agenda,” said Hickman’s attorney, Marshall Searcy, said in an earlier interview. “But it’s when the rubber meets that road you have to define who is running the show.”
While the company agreement says no member can file a lawsuit without unanimous approval, Concho Minick filed suit against the majority owners. He’s also been accused of independently firing his father and stepmother. Concho Minick denies this; he says they retired.
But Hickman, who has argued against the company agreement, has actually used it to block the adoption of budgets and projects, including a proposed Billy Bob’s Texas Hotel. It also came out in court that the six-member governing body never met or conducted any business until it was involved in firing Concho Minick.
“While the court did not grant the temporary injunction, it also did not determine that the company agreement is invalid and did not authorize or empower (the majority owners) to operate Billy Bob’s irrespective of what the company agreement requires,” Torian said.
“There is no clarity regarding which group of members will serve as Billy Bob’s managing or governing authority,” he said.