Slim Pickens

There was a time when T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman-turned-corporate-raider, graced the cover of Time, struck terror into America's most powerful boardrooms, and cut deals the way he, and only he, wanted them.

These days, Pickens has had to give up half his dog.
Pickens, to be more precise, gets Winston the dog the third weekend of every month. The rest of the time, according to a ruling by Dallas Family Court Judge Dee Miller, the once revered and feared corporate raider must "surrender" Winston to his estranged wife Beatrice.

Bargaining for doggy time ranks as the least of the indignities the founder and former chairman and CEO of Mesa Inc. has suffered since last summer, when he became embroiled in a vicious divorce battle with his second wife. The Pickens' marital row, as played out in public court documents, demonstrates once again that even the mighty can stoop to the most ridiculous level when it comes to family matters.

A decade ago, Pickens and his wife were the envy of high fliers around the world. Dubbed by The Wall Street Journal as the "Learjet Cowboy," Pickens was making deals, threatening takeovers, and raking in millions. The corporate carnivore even toyed with political ambitions, talking up the prospect of running as a Republican in the Texas gubernatorial race.

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Beatrice is Pickens' second and, according to his autobiography, most beloved wife. His ardor for Beatrice was made abundantly clear when the Texan named not only a ranch, but an oil field after her. Obviously moony with love, he described her in his book as his "best deal."

Last summer, the roof fell in on Pickens.
For 18 months, he had been fighting off a hostile takeover of his own company, Mesa. Ironically, the assault was led by a man who studied the takeover game at Pickens' side--former protege David Batchelder. With a hostile takeover looming and Mesa on the brink of bankruptcy, Pickens agreed to turn over control of his company to Fort Worth investor Richard Rainwater.

At the same time, Pickens' marriage was falling apart. In her amended divorce petition, Beatrice Pickens claims that Pickens was "guilty of cruel treatment...of a nature that renders further living together insupportable."

Pickens has filed a counterclaim, also citing cruel treatment as the grounds for divorce. The couple's pleadings have strewn the legal battlefield with dirty laundry. "Boone has verbally abused me throughout our marriage," Pickens' 65-year-old wife states in her answers to interrogatories.

In the court pleadings, Beatrice Pickens recalls with pain the time early in their 25-year, childless union that her husband chewed her out for putting an onion in his tuna fish sandwich. "He accused me of being thoughtless and insensitive to his wishes," she claims. "He totally overreacted and berated me."

During a trip to Canada in the 1980s, Beatrice alleges, she accidentally failed to make sure their hunting gear got on the plane. "Boone was furious with me and ruined the weekend. He blamed me and, once again, belittled me," Beatrice Pickens states.

Then in 1992, she alleges, Pickens "jumped" on her for asking to switch dinner seats at a political function. "Boone has called me an alcoholic and accused me of being conniving," she states.

But the thorniest of her charges, predictably, center on sex. Beatrice Pickens claims that while Pickens never physically abused her, he "insisted on having sex" after she had had a hysterectomy--even though her doctor recommended she wait six months. He did not physically force her to submit, she makes clear, but pressured her emotionally.

For having had to suffer such anguish, Beatrice Pickens wants a bigger piece of the couple's community property pie--a figure that some former Pickens executives have put as high as $30 million.

In his counterclaim, Pickens alleges that his wife has "deprived" him of "meaningful sexual relations since 1978." She has falsely claimed that she was sexually abused by him, Pickens contends. But "any sexual dysfunction experienced by [his wife] was caused by her mental and/or emotional and/or character defects instead of any improper or abusive action on his part," he argues.

Pickens labels her spending as "compulsive" and cites an "addiction to material things, and pathological relationship with money and acquisitions."

Her relentless buying has hurt more, Pickens contends, since he has "encountered business difficulties" and a "significant reduction in his net worth."

Besides providing juicy reading, the divorce documents have shed some light on the value of Pickens' assets. A list of Pickens' accounts with financial institutions included in the court records shows that the former Mesa CEO had more than $21 million in the bank.

Beatrice argues that more of that money should go to her because Pickens has emotionally abused her, forcing the divorce. Not only does responsibility for the breakup lie with him, Pickens' wife has told the judge, but she will suffer more because of it.

So far, she has succeeded in getting the court to order him to pay her $28,000 a month for living expenses. The judge denied her request for a lump-sum $2.5 million payment. She has gotten the couple's house in North Dallas, a 1979 Mercedes, and a 1989 Suburban. He got the couple's apartment at the Warrington and a 1993 BMW. Their use of their various ranches is controlled by a court-set schedule. They both can come and go as they please at their country clubs and the Crescent Club.

Who will prevail remains an open question. Both sides are beginning to talk settlement and have agreed to go to mediation. They are both planning to postpone a scheduled May trial date, her lawyer says. But his lawyer says he will be ready to go to trial then if necessary.

In the meantime, Beatrice Pickens has managed to tie up her husband's business transactions in a way that his former corporate-takeover foes would have to admire. Employing litigation tactics reminiscent of those Pickens himself used in the heat of a hostile bid, his estranged wife's lawyers have successfully persuaded the judge to issue a temporary restraining order restricting her soon-to-be ex-husband's financial trading and even barring him from making political contributions without her agreement.

Pickens' lawyer says his client agreed to the restrictions--and even offered to pay $1 million to his wife--to move the two sides closer to a deal.

When Pickens' lawyers were questioning his wife in a deposition, they barely concealed their doubts about her allegations of abuse. At one point, they asked Beatrice Pickens, who had at one time carried running bills of more than $1,400 each at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Stanley Korshak: "Do you think your low self-esteem and your spending are related in any way?"

"I don't know," she told them. But then she added, "...I think my low self-esteem came from my husband, who would beat me down all the time.

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