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Opening arguments begin in Maris trial.

Associated Press--A former Anheuser Busch secretary told the family of the late Roger Mans that executives at the world's largest brewer had plotted to take away their beer distributorship as far back as 1995, attorneys for the family said Wednesday.

Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial pitting the Mans family against St. Louis-based Anheuser Busch. The Marises are accusing the company of defaming the family by making up bad evaluations about their distributorship, and breach of contract for wrongfully taking away their business in 1997. They are seeking $1.3 billion in damages.

But an Anheuser Busch attorney told jurors Wednesday that Mans Distributing had repeatedly violated the terms of its agreement by repackaging outdated beer, falsifying reports and having dirty warehouses.

The distributorship was understaffed, workers were underpaid and retailers had complained about Mails Distributing since 1991, said Peter Moll, an attorney for the brewer.

The trial in Alachua County is expected to last two months. The family previously lost a related lawsuit in federal court.

"It's a case of Anheuser Busch corporate greed and exploitation in the worst way," said Madison McClellan, the family's attorney. "They destroyed the family with false allegations."

Mans Distributing was run for 28 years by the children of Roger Maris, his brother, Rudy, and Rudy's children.

"Mans Distributing lied to Anheuser Busch ... repeatedly," Moll said. "When they got caught redhanded, they pointed their finger at everyone and they're still doing it."

The case is being watched by the industry because brewers rarely terminate contracts with distributors, said Jerry Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights, a trade publication based in West Nyack, N.Y.

"If Anheuser Busch loses, it opens up the door for other lawsuits," Steinman said.

The former Anheuser Busch secretary, Debbie Earley, contacted Randy Maris in 1998 after seeing him on St. Louis television during the publicity over McGwire breaking Roger Maris' home run record, attorneys said.

She told Randy that while working as a secretary for an Anheuser Busch executive, she had typed up documents outlining the brewer's effort to oust the Maris family. Earley was scheduled to testify Thursday.

But Moll said Earley was a disgruntled employee who was put on probation numerous times, took extended leaves of absences and had filed several complaints and lawsuits against the brewer. There was no plot against the Mails family, Moll said.

Attorneys for the Maris family also said an Anheuser Busch document known as the Adkins Plan showed that the brewer, seeing a profit source, had planned to take control of the Maris distributorship and 154 other distributorships.

The brewer made up false evaluations about the Maris distributorship to achieve their goal, McClellan said.

Anheuser Busch can't own distributorships in Florida but can buy them and sell them to other distributors.

The Maris distributorship was very profitable, earning $6 million in 1996, and had paid the brewer $200 million during the last six years it operated.

"Their success, their thriving made them a secret target," McClellan said.

But Moll said the Adkins Plan was merely a "theoretical" examination of the company, pointing to a disclaimer on the report that said "the plan does not necessarily represent the company's position."

Maris Distributorship's many problems, Moll said, jeopardized the brewer's reputation and that's why A-B took away the distributorship. "The quality of Anheuser Busch's product is at stake here and nothing is more important," Moll said. "Anheuser Busch's reputation is under attack."
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Title Annotation:Mans Distributing; Anheuser-Busch Companies
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 14, 2001
Previous Article:Heineken U.S.A.
Next Article:Court rules on Anheuser's trans European ads.

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