Audit Notes: Ellison’s Battle of the Bay View, Biovail Blues, Liz Warren’s “Cult”

What does the fifth richest man in the world do when the neighbors’ trees spoil the view of San Francisco Bay he enjoys from his 11,000 square foot mansion, one of six homes in his portfolio?

The Wall Street Journal had a great ahed on Saturday reporting that Larry Ellison, a billionaire forty times over, hired tree-trimmers to surreptitiously cut off the tops of the trees (and denies it). He offered to pay the downhill neighbors $15 million for their house. They refused, so he hired a “tree lawyer’ and tied up the court system suing them for “irreparable injury.” Here’s the tree attorney:

The Von Bothmer’s green canopy has grown to block a swath of Mr. Ellison’s view from the third-level living room of his four-level home, Ms. Bonapart says. She adds that the Oracle chief uses the contemporary-style abode—one of his six residential properties—for entertaining and plans to spend more time there during the 2013 America’s Cup yachting race that he is bringing to San Francisco.

Now Curbed reports that this little spat has a happy ending: Ellison is going to buy the house next door for $40 million. It has an unobstructed view, and he can pay for it with the $69 million in executive compensation he took from Oracle shareholders last year and still have change to pay a median household income to about 600 American workers.

— Jesse Eisinger revisits the tale of the Bank of America stock analyst David Maris, who slapped a rare “sell” rating on pharmaceutical company Biovail, which sued Maris, BofA, and others, saying they were conspiring to drive its price down.

It turned out that Maris was right, and that Biovail was a fraudulent company, but BofA had fired him in 2006. Eisinger:

In recent years, Biovail retreated from virtually every allegation it made in its lawsuit. It dropped its claims against Mr. Maris and Bank of America in 2007. As part of a settlement, Mr. Maris agreed not to countersue.

The company also paid $10 million to SAC and forked over $138 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit.

So here’s the final Biovail vs. Maris scorecard: Mr. Maris was right on the facts. He was right on the stock. He was right with the law.

For his success, he was sued, fired and stripped of compensation. He also lost access to the world of bulge-bracket Wall Street, was shunned by some institutional investors, and because of the settlement for which he said he felt he had no choice than to enter, he couldn’t sue Biovail to seek vindication…

But because Mr. Maris is willing to be publicly negative on stocks, he continues to face obstacles. He is prevented from asking questions on conference calls. Companies don’t allow him to bring clients on visits. Some clients seem concerned about the lawsuits in his past.

— Elizabeth Warren’s fans took to Facebook to defend her against Representative Patrick McHenry’s, after the congressman smeared her before Congress, on CNBC, and on Twitter last week. I wrote about McHenry’s lies and the mostly awful press coverage of them here.

What does the sometimes-liberal New Republic take away from the fact that Warren has hundreds of people leaving comments on McHenry’s Facebook page slamming him and defending her? That Elizabeth Warren has a “cult.”

Regular folks find someone who articulates their concerns clearly and fairly about how the economy is rigged against them and get mad about her getting smeared by bank lackeys, and they’re labeled a “cult.”

To make matters worse, the author of the piece, Tiffany Stanley, doubled down today after getting flamed by Warren fans for the headline (which she didn’t write, but most non-journalists don’t understand how that works) on the first piece.

Her peeved supporters had zeroed in on the article’s headline, which labeled them a “cult” and they were responding en masse with vitriolic missives. “Watch out who you call a cult, buster!” read one. “Are you part of the cultish far right?” asked another. Others stuck with a simple, “Shame on you,” “Clean up your act!” or the succinct yet effective, “Cult … my ass.”

Apparently, getting mad about being called a cult member after getting tipped off to it by an advocacy group is also evidence you’re part of a cult. Um, no, TNR. Boo.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,