When Mayor Mike Rawlings and sundry other dignitaries gathered in Pleasant Grove last month to unveil the almost-open Texas Horse Park's enormous new sculpture, there was much self-congratulatory gushing, multiple allusions to an imagined horse/cowboy culture, even a laughable pitch by Councilman Tennell Atkins for the Trinity toll road ("We'll probably need that parkway also to bring more people here to get here without congestion in this part of town"). Missing from the morning's oratory was any mention of River Ranch Educational Charities founder Wayne Kirk, the guy the city chose to run the bulk of the facility, rent-free, for the next couple of decades.
The omission was understandable. Kirk has been a source of embarrassment for the horse park since it was revealed that he'd previously been accused of mistreating horses on River Ranch's property in McKinney and had a less-than-pristine business background: allegations of fraud from people who bought oil and gas securities from him, claims of unpaid rent on two ranches he leased before moving to McKinney, a remarkable trail of lawsuits.
But maybe the southern Dallas City Council delegation was right. Maybe Kirk was being unfairly tarred by disgruntled former employees. Maybe it was wrong to attack him for a pattern of allegedly screwing over former business partners. Maybe he would prove himself an honest, reliable partner Dallas was wise to put its trust in.
Or maybe not. The hope that the public spotlight now shining on Kirk might prompt him to reform the slapdash way he has historically done business appears to have been unfounded.
Take his current dispute with his former employer, Reef Securities. Reef fired Kirk in September 2013 because, according to filings with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, he "provided inaccurate information regarding his outside business activities," a claim Kirk denies. This is old news. Fresher is the allegations Reef included in a lawsuit it filed against Kirk in Collin County last month accusing him of violating his employment contract by poaching Reef clients after being fired. To wit:
Kirk contacted Roy and Mary Louise B---, Bob and Kelley W-------, and Bob S------- to discuss their Reef investments and investment opportunities with other security companies. Upon information and belief, Kirk has contacted other customers of Reef to discuss their Reef investments and investment opportunities with other securities companies. Upon information and belief, Kirk [has] also contacted Reef's prospective customers to discuss their investment opportunity.
The agreed-upon penalty for violating the non-compete portion of his employment contract, according to the lawsuit, is $100,000, plus whatever other damages a court might add on.
This doesn't necessarily contradict the theory that Kirk has shaped up. These are unproven allegations concerning actions that would have taken place in the fall of 2013, after River Ranch had contracted to run the Texas Horse Park but before he had truly entered the public spotlight.
Reached this morning, Kirk said Reef merely wants to make sure it keeps the client base he built up over his 15 years with the firm and filed the lawsuit as a precaution because it knows he's planning to launch his own oil and gas investment business. "I'm not going to breach that contract, and I haven't breached that contract, and that's all it is," Kirk said. Reef's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment.
Perhaps more revealing is how hard it was to serve Kirk with the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on February 6. Six days later, after trying and failing multiple times to serve Kirk with the lawsuit in person, the court granted Reef's request to serve Kirk through alternate means. On February 13, Reef affixed a copy of the suit, along with a notice that they planned to take his deposition on March 11, on his front door. They also sent copies via certified mail and emailed a copy to a Houston attorney "who represented that he was assisting Mr. Kirk in this matter until Mr. Kirk was able to retain counsel."
A February 23 deadline for Kirk to answer some questions posed by Reef came and went with no response. When the deposition rolled around on March 11, only Reef's attorney and the court reporter showed up. So rather than an interrogation, the attorney gave a brief monologue:
We're here this morning for the deposition of Harris Wayne Kirk Jr. This was ordered by the court to happen on an expedited basis in connection with a temporary injunction that is scheduled to occur next week...
We were informed yesterday that Mr. Kirk did not intend to appear for his deposition here today because he's out in California," the attorney said for the record. "However, he never filed any kind of objection to the deposition notice, never filed a motion to quash. And it was never agreed that we would postpone the deposition from today, and we haven't had any alternative dates offered for the deposition.
Another week passed with no response from Kirk. Only on the morning of March 20, six weeks after Reef first tried to serve Kirk and just hours before a hearing on Reef's request for a temporary injunction barring Kirk from poaching its clients, did Kirk, through a newly hired attorney, make an appearance in the case. He and Reef agreed to the temporary injunction, obviating the need for a hearing.
Kirk has a straightforward explanation for his delay in responding to the lawsuit: "I've been traveling."
That may be true, but ducking legal service seems to be Kirk's m.o. In 2006 when one of his former employees sued him over unpaid debt. A deputy constable tried five times to serve him with notice of the suit at his West Plano McMansion, which doubles as an office. The first four times, the deputy was told that Kirk wasn't home. Describing his fifth and final try, the deputy wrote, "No answer. I observed white male standing in kitchen. Would not answer the front door."
Plus, Kirk wasn't traveling the whole time Reef was trying to serve him. At the very least, he was in town at the aforementioned ribbon cutting on February 19.
Kirk downplayed the significance of the lawsuit and said Reef need not worry about him poaching its customers. "I'm not selling oil right now," he says. "I'm running the horse park."
Its grand opening is scheduled for Saturday.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.