OAKLAND – An Alameda County jury decided in favor of NBA players Gary Payton and Brian Shaw Wednesday after a five-week civil trial in connection with a defunct Emeryville billiards club.
The four plaintiffs, who demanded $300,000 compensation and punitive damages, accused Payton and Shaw as well as mutual friend William Brew and Payton’s agent Aaron Goodwin of reneging on a verbal agreement to invest in the club First Place Sports Bar and Billiards.
Though the jury said in its questionnaire that it believed Payton and Shaw made false representations, it also said neither man crossed the line of fraud and owes nothing to the plaintiffs.
Payton currently plays for the Seattle Supersonics and Brian Shaw plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Both are originally from Oakland.
Though Payton and Shaw were acquitted, the jury ordered Brew, a part owner of the club, to pay $150,000 to plaintiffs Michael Ohayon and brothers Robert and Victor Aissa and Goodwin to pay $38,160 to Glenn Matsuhara.
In October 1995, under the name First Place Development Partnership, Ohayon, and the brothers became minority shareholders of First Place Sports Bar and Billiards. In a partnership with Brew and Matsuhara, Robert Aissa said he and his brother refinanced their home and invested $300,000 in hopes of expanding the business, which collapsed in 1998.
Robert Aissa said Payton and Shaw gave numerous “legally binding” verbal assurances they would also invest in the billiard club.
“They were hanging out at the club all the time, drawing people there, and telling us that they were in for sure,” he said. “Brian Shaw said he just needed to wait until after he renegotiated his contract with the [Orlando] Magic, [Shaw’s team at the time].”
The defense attorneys for both players said the case had no merit.
“The plaintiffs don’t have a right to money because Gary Payton has money,” said John Burris, Payton’s attorney, in his closing statement. “You don’t have to let someone ride your coattails unless you give them permission.”
Robert Aissa said the partners planned to open up more billiards clubs in the East Bay and attract customers based on the popularity of other NBA players who expressed interest in the business.
However, the business venture began to unravel in June 1997 when Matsuhara accused partner Brew of using $196,000 of the business’ funds for personal expenses. At the time, the club was late on rent payments and had taken on a $380,000 loan.
In August 1998, Matsuhara said he sold his shares of the company as part of a deal in which Payton agreed to spend $150,000 on business expenses and Brew offered Matsuhara a $95,000 buy-out. Ohayon and the Aissa brothers said the deal meant that Payton should be liable for some of the their loses when the business went under, but Payton’s attorney said they were mistaken.
“Payton would have been responsible for the corporation if he was a director or operator, but he wasn’t,” Burris said.
David Bass, the attorney for Brian Shaw, argued that his client’s interest in the business did not qualify as commitment to invest. He added that Shaw and the plaintiffs had informal discussions, but no binding contract was signed.
Plaintiff Robert Aissa said he was baffled by the jury’s decision.
“They’re saying that [Payton and Shaw] lied, but didn’t commit fraud,” said Aissa. “I don’t understand the logic of the jury’s decision.”
William Brew said the verdict against him could have been worse.
“I’m very, very happy [with the jury’s decision],” Brew said.