By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Dallas-based CompUSA Inc. and its former chief executive James Halpin must be feeling pretty happy this week, thanks to a decision by District Judge Carlos Lopez that took them off the hook for a multimillion-dollar judgment awarded by a local jury earlier this year.
Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú, one of the wealthiest men in Latin America, may be feeling a bit less happy. He and his companies still face a bill for $121.5 million for their part in Slim's purchase of the computer retail chain.
Last week, Judge Lopez reduced the jury's $454 million judgment in favor of a group of local businessmen who alleged that CompUSA and Slim screwed them out of a deal to expand the chain into Mexico when Slim purchased CompUSA. (See "With Friends Like These," April 5.) Lopez ruled that Halpin and CompUSA don't have to pay a cent. Slim and two of his companies, Grupo Sanborns and Grupo Carso, still are faced with the $121.5 million hit.
Mark Werbner, the lawyer representing the three Dallas businessmen who sued Slim, put the best possible spin on the judge's ruling. "Now this won't have a bull's-eye of $454 million on it," he says. "If they want to pay us $121.5 million right now, we might not have time to appeal."
The other camp was also happy.
"Will we see as much favorable press concerning the exoneration of Halpin as we did when the jury erroneously found liability?" wrote Joe Harrison, lawyer for the former CompUSA CEO. "I suspect I already know the answer to that rhetorical question."
If he suspected the answer was "no," he was right. To Buzz, who is not rich the same way a cow isn't a tree, $121.5 mill still seems like a buttload of dough, even if Halpin doesn't have to pay it. But what do we know? We don't even have a paltry $36,000 to throw around to get a dinner reservation, unlike Dallas businessman John Buffa. (Hey, if you want writing free of non sequiturs, pick up a publication you have to pay for.)
Buffa, whose staffing firm recruits health-care professionals, has agreed to pay $36,000 to Pappas Bros. Steakhouse simply for the option of reserving a table for four at the restaurant. No special service. No top shelf tequila. No extra sour cream for his baked potato. Just an option on a four-top at a 500-seat restaurant for one year.
"Mr. Buffa is just a busy professional who has the wherewithal to throw money around and doesn't want surprises," Pappas Bros. general manager Judd Fruia said in a press release. (Buffa couldn't be reached for comment. We suspect he was at lunch. Our guess is that it wasn't at Taco Bell.)
Our point: To rich people, the diff between $454 million and $121.5 million is not that big a deal. Nearly 40 grand for a table at a steakhouse? Chump change.
And here you were, worried about the economy because you just got laid off from your factory job. Silly you.
Now excuse us. It's time for lunch, and there's a Frito burrito with Buzz's name on it.
--Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams