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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2004

The power of evidence

What a difference a set of notes makes, especially when they are evidence in a billion-dollar lawsuit; especially when then seem to make the plaintiff s point; and especially when the defendant is a firm on which the economic viability of this community relies so much.

In this instance, the newly discovered notes brought to a temporary halt the trial in a lawsuit billionaire Kirk Kerkorian filed against DaimlerChrysler, challenging the nature of its union with Chrysler Corp., in which Mr. Kerkorian was a major stockholder.

Called a merger of equals by the companies, the union quickly appeared to be a Daimler-Benz takeover, one that Mr. Kerkorian says deprived Chrysler stockholders of $6.4 billion in acquisition premiums. He thinks he was cheated of $1 billion in the transaction. He wants his money and he wants the deal nullified, which could be problematic.

To make his case he has pointed out, among other things, the firing of key Chrysler executives after the alleged merger and a loss of American or Chrysler management people on the DaimlerChrysler management board.

The documents came to light as former Chrysler Director and Chief Financial Officer Gary Valade, flying to Wilmington, Del., to testify in the case, asked an attorney whether he would have to testify on the material contained in the pages of notes he had, most of them his own, one page on the letterhead of former Chrysler President Thomas Stallkamp.

The DaimlerChrysler team quickly realized they didn t have these documents and so hadn t turned them over to Mr. Kerkorian s legal team. To their credit, they did so immediately.

“Senior management sold out,” read one underlined phrase on Mr. Stallkamp s letterhead. Other concerns checked off were “Loss of independence. Sell out for profit. Why didn t we buy?”

U.S. District Judge Joseph Farnan, Jr., has the notes under seal until the master he assigned to oversee the admissibility of evidence in the case has a chance to hold hearings on them. This master has reviewed volumes of documents already. What happens after that is unclear.

Mr. Kerkorian s lawyers want to recall other witnesses whose testimony seems at odds with these notes. On the face of it they seem to rip sizable holes in DaimlerChrysler s defense. But while they suggest a hole in legal preparation for trial, there seems little malicious intent.

Of concern to the Toledo community is the issue of honesty of DaimlerChrysler managers. Officials have just completed details of a contract with workers in this city that guarantees certain jobs and production levels.

It is one that will continue to support a significant amount of personal and public life in northwest Ohio. One would like to rely on their word.

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