2003 - 2004
February 26, 2004
Ex-hockey coach's suit may involve city
The outcome of the lawsuit could determine the future of the Greensboro Generals franchise.
BY MATT WILLIAMS
Jeff Brubaker claims that he was wrongfully fired as coach of the Greensboro Generals in 2001.
GREENSBORO - A state judge suggested Wednesday that the city of Greensboro be included in settlement talks over a lawsuit filed by a former coach of the Greensboro Generals minor-league hockey team.
The city has been drawn into the case since it took over management of the hockey franchise last summer. If a judge rules in favor of plaintiff Jeff Brubaker, a court could take the ECHL franchise away from .the city-owned Greensboro Coliseum and a local ownership group.
The move would inject the city into a years-old effort by Brubaker to collect back wages owed to him by Generals owners. If the dispute is not settled, the judge could order that the franchise be seized and sold to pay the coach's judgment.
Brubaker's attorney, Ervin Brown, asked the court to add the city and the Generals new ownership group as parties because he said they played a part in financial transactions that were aimed at avoiding responsibility for paying the court-ordered judgment.
At a North Carolina Business Court hearing, Superior Court Judge Ben Tennille did not officially rule on Brown's request, but he privately urged both sides to enter talks with the city and the ownership group to settle the case, Brown said.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Brubaker in 2001 claiming that he was wrongfully fired as coach by then-owner Art Donaldson. Last year, a jury ruled in favor of Brubaker, awarding him $109,752 for salary he would have earned in the final year of his contract.
A judge ordered the Generals' holding company, Greensboro Professional Sports, to pay the judgment, but authorities were unable to collect the money.
According to court documents, shortly after Brubaker was fired, Donaldson shifted the company's assets to several holding companies he also owned.
Doug Cox / News & Record
Because of the transfers, the original holding company didn't have any assets to pay the court judgment.
After learning of the transfers, Brubaker filed a second lawsuit against Donaldson and the holding companies, saying the transfers were a "subterfuge" to evade responsibility for paying the judgment.
The Greensboro Coliseum became involved in June when Managing Director Matt Brown worked out an agreement where one of Donaldson's holding companies would lease the team to a company headed by Don Brady and Bill Black called the Generals Brigade. Brady and Black then turned over responsibility for operating the Generals to the coliseum for this season.
After hearing arguments from attorneys for Brubaker and Donaldson, Tennille said he wasn't inclined to decide the case immediately.
If mediation isn't successful, Tennille said the case 'would have to be decided by a jury.
If Brubaker succeeds in his claim, Tennille suggested that he would be forced to seize the team from the coliseum and the Generals Brigade and put it in the care of a court-appointed receiver.
Ervin Brown said his client might accept a settlement where Donaldson, the Generals Brigade or the city agreed to pay the claim instead of trying to seize the team's assets.
He said that the evidence clearly showed that Brubaker was entitled to collect.
Donaldson and his attorney declined to comment on the case. Assistant City Attorney Mike Williams declined to comment on the city's role in the case. Brown said settlement talks would be scheduled later this week.
Contact Matt Williams at 373-7004 or firstname.lastname@example.org