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Maris case is back in a Florida court.

Associated Press--Anheuser Busch's chairman took away a lucrative beer distributorship from the family of the late Roger Maris so he could give his half-brother a share of the business, an attorney for the baseball legend's family alleged last week.

August Busch III wanted to give control of the distributorship to his half brother, Peter, who has a distributorship in Fort Pierce, said attorney Madison McClellan at a pretrial hearing for the Maris family's breach-of-contract lawsuit. Busch's daughter, Susan, has a distributorship in Tallahassee.

The distributorship was given to businessmen Bernie Little and Burk Hardt, but McClellan argued that was only a short-term plan. Eventually it would to go to Peter Busch.

Anheuser Busch attorneys said the allegations were pure fiction.

"There are no facts to support it," said Peter Moll, an attorney for the brewery.

The trial is scheduled to start May 1. A judge heard motions Tuesday asking that the lawsuit be dismissed and that he rule on whether punitive damages can be awarded. Circuit Judge Buzz Green refused to grant an immediate dismissal and delayed making a decision on the punitive damages.

The Maris family, who lost the distributorship in 1997, is seeking $2.5 billion, most of it as punitive damages. The family lost a related case in federal court last year.

McClellan, arguing that punitive damages should be awarded, cited an Anheuser Busch internal document known as the Adkins Plan.

The Adkins Plan, named after a brewery executive, identified 155 distributors nationwide, including the Maris family, that the company targeted to wrest away control of distributor ships in the mid-1990s. The brewery also made up false evaluation reports to make the Maris family look bad, McClellan said.

"It was a takeover not based on anything done wrong by the Marises," McClellan said. "The intention was to take over the distributorship from the Marises and give it to Augie Busch's relatives."

Anheuser Busch attorneys argued Tuesday that the distributorship was taken away because the Maris family allowed overaged beer to be repackaged and permitted workers to forge documents. In addition, the distributorship was understaffed, employees didn't get raises and several complaints had been made.

"Anheuser Busch gave Maris Distributing every opportunity to fix those things," said Peter Moll, an attorney for Anheuser-Busch.

The Adkins Plan didn't target distributorships for takeover but was used as a plan for profitability, said Anheuser Busch vice president John Jacob. "It was never designed to be a blueprint for action," Jacob said.

Emotions ran high outside the hearing with Maris attorney Willie Gary shouting at Moll outside the courtroom over comments made to reporters. Mr. Gary recently won a $240 million verdict against Walt Disney World and is representing plaintiffs in discrimination cases against Microsoft and the Coca Cola Company.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 30, 2001
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