California Bank Sues to Recover Severance Pay from Competitor

Article excerpt

A California court has dismissed Westamerica Bancorp's unfair competition complaint against a longtime local banker, paving the way for him to open a new community bank in Auburn, Calif.

But San Rafael-based Westamerica is still seeking repayment from John G. Briner for a severance package it awarded him last April, after Westamerica acquired Mr. Briner's former employer, Vallicorp Holdings Inc., Fresno, Calif. Mr. Briner was regional president at Vallicorp.

A trial date has been set for Feb. 10-eight days after the scheduled opening of Mr. Briner's bank-in Placer County Superior Court in Auburn. In the most recent court filing, Westamerica has asked that the case be decided by a judge instead of a jury, a motion that Mr. Briner's attorneys will contest.

"This case is based on facts, and in California a jury gets to decide facts," said Patrick Becherer, an Emeryville, Calif., attorney representing Mr. Briner.

A hearing on that motion will be held Jan. 13.

Westamerica purchased Vallicorp last April for about $300 million. At the time, Mr. Briner was working as regional president for Vallicorp, which, one year earlier, had purchased Mr. Briner's former bank, Bank of Commerce, Auburn.

Mr. Briner was not offered a job by Westamerica. He was, however, awarded a severance package last April that included $120,000 in cash, stock options, and retirement benefits.

The dispute began after Mr. Briner filed applications to form Auburn National Bank last April 25, his last day working at Vallicorp. (The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. approved those applications last summer. …