Dueling lawsuits settled at Canopy

Published March 10, 2005 12:01 am
Venture firm: Ousted execs and the company had sued each other
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Attorneys for both the Canopy Group and three ousted executives confirmed Wednesday that a settlement of their dueling lawsuits is in place, with a formal announcement expected by week's end.

As The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier, lawyers for the Lindon-based technology venture firm and the trio challenging their December firings - chief executive Ralph Yarro, chief financial officer Darcy Mott and corporate counsel Brent Christensen - notified 4th District Court of the settlement late Monday.

Judge Anthony Schofield subsequently canceled a four-day hearing scheduled to begin Tuesday on the trio's motion for preliminary injunction and reinstatement. "Reason: Case Settled," a court docket entry noted.

Anthony Kaye, an attorney representing Canopy and its founders, Ray and Lawena Noorda, confirmed a deal had been struck between the sides, although he could not offer details Wednesday.

"Obviously, it is a matter of public record that the case has been settled," he said. "The terms are confidential, and there will be a joint statement issued at the appropriate time."

"I concur with that statement," said Stanley Preston, an attorney representing Yarro, Mott and Christensen.

David B. Watkiss, another Canopy attorney, also declined to offer details of the settlement, although he expected what he called "a joint press release" to be issued "in a day or so."

Canopy is one of Utah's most prolific tech incubators, with dozens of companies under its umbrella. One of Canopy's best-known offspring is the SCO Group, which has grabbed headlines for its controversial $5 billion lawsuit against IBM and others related to Unix and Linux operating-system rights.

Staff members on both sides reportedly were busy Wednesday crafting final versions of a statement on the settlement, carefully vetting what information about its terms could be discussed.

Yarro, Mott and Christensen sued for at least $100 million and reinstatement, alleging they were illegally ousted in a Dec. 17 vote in which the elder Noordas out-balloted fellow Canopy director Yarro. The suit contends the coup was led by the Noordas' daughter, Val Noorda Kriedel of Orange County, Calif.; longtime Canopy investment adviser Terry Peterson; and William Mustard, an independent senior executive consultant appointed CEO in Yarro's place.

Canopy countersued, along with the elder Noordas, as officers of the Noorda Family Trust, Canopy's founding and primary investor. They accused Yarro, Mott and Christensen of siphoning off nearly $25 million via "a series of self-dealing and wasteful transactions."

Both sides alleged the other took advantage of the Noordas' trust and purportedly failing health. The mental acuity of Ray Noorda, 80, was questioned in particular.

Will Yarro, Mott and Christensen return to Canopy, or retain board memberships in other Canopy companies, especially SCO? Will Mustard retain his Canopy CEO post? Will the Noordas retain their Canopy directorships and control of the trust's millions?

No one could say for sure Wednesday, although Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio had some advice for those watching the fortunes of both Canopy and the Noorda Family Trust - two entities controlling hundreds of millions of dollars.

"This is all about the money, and the ones most closely following the money are the Noordas' [four] kids," she said. "Who stands to gain the most? And what's the only thing that stood between them and the money?

"That was Ralph Yarro. So, good-bye, Ralph," DiDio added. "I don't think Yarro will be reinstated. I find that highly unlikely. . . . They will just pay him off and send him on his way - but they won't countenance anyone who's a threat" to their monetary access.

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