The Trials of Chris Tigani
When Robert Tigani mounted a multi-million dollar legal battle against his son for control of the family business, financially strapped Chris Tigani fought back by representing himself. He saved untold dollars and earned respect in the legal community. But has he saved his job?
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Christopher J. Tigani calls it his office, but it’s really his war room. This is where he mounted his court battle against his father, Robert Tigani, for control of N.K.S. Distributors, a 61-year-old, third-generation family business that has dominated Delaware’s liquor distribution industry. This is where he created 1,500 exhibits, only a fraction of which were ever introduced into evidence. This is where he set about trying to disprove a hoary maxim sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
The room is on the second floor of Tigani’s home at 1111 Berkeley Road in Westover Hills, Wilmington. The 24,000-square-foot house sits on 4.5 acres that boast a tennis court, two gazebos, a greenhouse, a caterer’s prep building, a three-bedroom carriage house and a car barn. He lives here with his two young sons, of whom he shares custody with his ex-wife, Candice, who lives down the street.
Tigani has testified in court that his purchase of this mansion—the former home of MBNA founder Charles M. Cawley—set off the blood feud with his father, a feud that captivated much of Wilmington’s business and legal communities even before it played out over 12 days last spring in Delaware’s Court of Chancery.
For more than a year, Robert and Christopher traded charges of disloyalty, scheming and mismanagement. On May 3, 2009, Robert removed Chris, who ran the day-to-day operations of the business for more than five years, from all positions with the company. N.K.S. and Robert, who controls the majority of N.K.S. stock, brought the suit against Chris, alleging in court papers that his mismanagement led to a financial crisis at the firm. Chris countered, seeking reinstatement as head of the company and contending that his father, having become envious of his son’s financial success, “began [a] scheme to wrongfully usurp control of the Company from Chris—control which Bob had relinquished in 2006—and bludgeon his son out of the family business.” A tsunami of filings and complaints from both sides ensued, and by the time the trial began in late April, more than a dozen parties had been named.
Conducted before Vice Chancellor Donald Parsons, the dispute rose “to the level of a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy,” according to one participant. Both father and son shed tears on the stand while ugly testimony flew back and forth.
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