Family ties run deep, to a certain point. I recently came across a Supreme Court filing against Raymond James Financial Services and Dwight Wanken, a branch manager, that exemplifies the dangers of the family business. The claimant, Chris Wanken, is the branch manager’s son!
Chris’s blog, MyFINRAClaim.com , chronicles his four-year legal battle regarding his termination from his father’s RJFS branch in Dallas, Texas. He claims he was a partner in the firm, not simply an employee, and that he was wrongfully terminated by Dwight. Of course, these types of legal battles are always a case of ‘he said, she said,’ and it’s impossible to know who’s right. But the situation illustrates where family relationships can go horribly wrong in this industry.
According to FINRA arbitration documents, the family feud started when Chris filed an arbitration claim in 2008, claiming breach of contract, breach of partnership, failure to pay commissions and compensation, libel and slander on Form U5, wrongful termination and defamation. Dwight also filed a motion for permanent injunction for Chris’s blog. In the end, the panel ordered Chris’s U5 termination comment to be changed from “Job performance,” to “No fault, non-investment related, irreconcilable differences with branch office.” All other claims were denied.
Chris took his fight to the courts (from a statement):
The case began in federal district court when Chris Wanken filed a motion to vacate the arbitration award following an arbitration conducted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in December 2009. At arbitration, the Respondents’ testimony matched perfectly. They corroborated each other’s testimonies completely, down to precise and specific details – though they had no evidence to substantiate either of their testimonies.
Shortly after the arbitration concluded, however, Petitioner has alleged that Raymond James’ branch manager offered testimony to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) that wholly contradicted all material testimony he and Raymond James offered at FINRA arbitration. Petitioner argued this post-arbitration contradictory testimony and evidence would prove his allegations that the award was fraudulently procured by Respondents and pleaded with the lower courts to subpoena the evidence, but they refused to do so.
Just last month, Chris filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court seeking a review of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision not to vacate the award and review the additional evidence.
In e-mails  posted on Chris’s website, his father’s lawyer claims that there was no partnership with Chris, and that he failed to carry out his responsibilities in running the office and became “insubordinate to his father.” Dwight’s wife, Vicki, the office manager, became ill with cancer, and Chris was asked to take over more responsibility at the firm. The lawyer also claimed that his misconduct hurt Dwight’s business and relationships with clients, so he ended up terminating him. The email also claims Chris started a libelous and slanderous campaign against his father with his blog at the time—evildad.org—as well as the MyFINRAClaim.org blog.
Again, there are always two sides to the story, and there is no way of knowing who’s in the right here. But in my opinion, this is just a tragic tale of where family relationships can be damaged when business interferes. Family succession planning is not for everyone. Here’s one father-son team  that has worked quite well because the two laid out specific ground rules and came to an understanding that if the son was ever unhappy, it wouldn’t split up the family if he were to leave.
Tread lightly on bringing family into the business, because blood only runs so deep.
(Read more from Staff Writer, Diana Britton on her blog, Yield of Dreams. )