In yet another case, Stifel Nicolaus has beaten back claims that it raided several brokers who moved to the St. Louis-based regional brokerage firm from A.G. Edwards following its merger with Wachovia.
A FINRA panel granted Stifel more than $900,000 in attorney’s fees and denied all of Wachovia’s claims in a bitterly disputed raiding case involving four financial advisors and their assistant.
The brokerage firms were battling over a four-person team of advisors plus their assistant based in Grass Valley, Calif.
The four men, Michael Chris Nielsen, Herbert C. Keyser III, Donald L. Johns and Christopher S. Drake, were legacy A.G. Edwards advisors, each with more than a decade of experience. They and their assistant, Lisa Evans, left A.G. Edwards in October 2007 following its merger with Wachovia, which has since been acquired by Wells Fargo.
Jack Ballard, the lawyer representing Wells Fargo, Wachovia and A.G. Edwards, said, “we have no comment” when called about the award.
Stifel’s attorney, Joseph Dougherty, a partner with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, said the advisor team opened an office for Stifel in the same area within days of the merger. That was when A.G. Edwards/Wachovia went to federal court in Sacramento to get an injunction to prevent the team from soliciting their former clients, the lawyer said. “The majority of the clients chose to go over with the advisors,” Dougherty said.
The court denied the request and the case proceeded before a FINRA arbitration panel.
A.G. Edwards was claiming breach of contract; misappropriation of trade secrets; breach of fiduciary duty; breach of duty of loyalty; inducing breach of contract; both intentional and negligent interference with actual and prospective economic advantages; conversion and raiding/unfair competition.
After 28 hearing sessions this year, FINRA “denied all of A.G. Edwards’ claims in their entirety.” The panel ordered A.G. Edwards to pay Neilsen’s attorney’s fees and costs of $282,143.57 as well as Stifel’s attorney’s fees and costs of $632,748.14.
The FINRA award is “consistent with other arbitration panel awards in similar raiding cases involving Wachovia against Stifel,” he said. It “confirms that arbitration panels will expect that when you tell financial advisors that you are free to leave, those representations will be upheld by the panels.”
A number of similar arbitration disputes are pending before FINRA involving Stifel and Wachovia/A.G. Edwards/Wells Fargo Advisors, Dougherty said.