A California jury awarded Chino Valley Bank an additional $1.3 million in a suit last week against the bank's former president and chief executive.
The award, to cover court and legal fees, brings the total judgment in the case against John Cavallucci and Metro Commerce Bank, San Rafael, Calif., to about $2.1 million, including the original damage award of $795,000. Lawyers in the case said the amount of the judgment was unusual for so small a bank.
A jury found that Mr. Cavallucci, now the chief executive of Metro Commerce, breached a retirement and nonsolicitation agreement between himself and Chino Valley Bank, Ontario, Calif., which is 450 miles south of San Rafael.
"This is one of the largest awards I've ever seen in this type of case," said Robert H. Platt, partner with Manatt Phelps Phillips, the Los Angeles law firm representing Chino Valley Bank. "This is a very significant ruling, because it sends a message to bankers that if they represent to their bank that they're going to retire and they sign an agreement, they have to honor that agreement."
Mr. Cavallucci disputed the decision, saying an appeal has been filed based on the judge's instructions to the jury regarding the definition of solicitation.
"We had three officers who asked for jobs and four customers who wanted to put their money in the bank," Mr. Cavallucci said. "All seven came 450 miles north and approached me, but the judge gave a very wide view of what solicitation is. He did not explain that solicitation can depend on who approaches whom."
Mr. Cavallucci headed Chino Valley Bank for 11 years and spent 17 years in all at the institution. According to Mr. Platt, at the end of 1990 he approached the bank's board and told them he was interested in retiring.
Ultimately the bank agreed to pay a retirement lump sum in exchange for an agreement that he would not compete with Chino Valley Bank, take customers or employees from the bank, or take confidential information with him. He remained on the payroll until the end of 1991.
In the summer of 1991, Mr. Cavallucci signed a contract to become president of Marin Community Bank, San Rafael, which is now known as Metro Commerce Bank. Chino Valley Bank alleged he began working with his new employer while still on the Chino Valley payroll.
Chino Valley Bank alleged that its executives defected during the remainder of 1991, and that customers began moving accounts northward also.
In summer 1992, Mr. Cavallucci was served with a cease-and-desist order, but Chino Valley said he ignored the letter. A suit was filed in October 1992.
A five-week trial was then held, beginning April 1995, and in June Chino Valley Bank was awarded $795,000 in compensatory damages.