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34–9. A Question of Ethics—Duties of Directors and Officers. New Orleans Paddlewheels, Inc. (NOP), is a Louisiana corporation formed in 1982, when James Smith, Sr., and Warren Reuther were its only shareholders, with each holding 50 percent of the stock. NOP is part of a sprawling enterprise of tourism and hospitality companies in New Orleans. The positions on the board of each company were split equally between the Smith and Reuther families. At Smith’s request, his son James Smith, Jr. (JES), became involved in the businesses. In 1999, NOP’s board elected JES as president, in charge of day-to-day operations, and Reuther as chief executive officer
(CEO), in charge of marketing and development. Over the next few years, animosity developed between Reuther and JES. In October 2001, JES terminated Reuther as CEO and denied him access to the offices and books of NOP and the other companies, literally changing the locks on the doors. At the next meetings of the boards of NOP and the overall enterprise, deadlock ensued, with the directors voting along family lines on every issue.
Complaining that the meetings were a “waste of time,” JES began to run the entire enterprise by taking advantage of an unequal balance of power on the companies’ executive committees. In NOP’s subsequent bankruptcy proceeding, Reuther filed a motion for the appointment of a trustee to formulate a plan for the firm’s reorganization, alleging, among other things, misconduct by NOP’s management. [In re New Orleans Paddlewheels, Inc., 350 Bankr. 667 (E.D.La. 2006)] (See Duties and Liabilities of Directors and Officers.)
- Was Reuther legally entitled to have access to the books and records of NOP and the other companies? JES maintained, among other things, that NOP’s books were “a mess.” Was JES’s denial of that access unethical? Explain.
- How would you describe JES’s attempt to gain control of NOP and the other companies? Were his actions deceptive and self-serving in the pursuit of personal gain or legitimate and reasonable in the pursuit of a business goal? Discuss.