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Just outside the Amarillo city limits, near where Route 66 once carried travelers across the Texas Panhandle, 10 vintage Cadillacs are lined up, partially buried nose down on the plains, a startling monument to Amarillo businessman Stanley Marsh’s artistic vision. The art, known as the Cadillac Ranch, attracts Route 66 enthusiasts and tourists to Amarillo, the largest city in the Panhandle. Marsh is a larger-than-life figure in Amarillo, not only for the Cadillac Ranch, but for other eccentricities such as the offbeat, thought-provoking signs he’s installed in and around Amarillo. Those signs, with sayings like “Road Does Not End,” keep the decidedly unconventional businessman and art aficionado in the minds of people living in Amarillo. But an opportunity for the public to learn much — maybe too much — about Marsh’s role in some long ago and bizarre incidents was averted in May with the settlement of a long-running legal battle between Marsh and prominent Amarillo lawyer George Whittenburg. Whittenburg sued Marsh in 1995 in a suit rife with scandalous allegations involving false imprisonment in a chicken coop, forced skinny-dipping and threatening visits by gang members wearing masks. The suit was set for trial earlier this year in Randall County, which includes the southern section of Amarillo. In the suit, Whittenburg’s son Ben, three other Amarillo youths and one of Marsh’s former employees alleged Marsh and other defendants engaged in a civil conspiracy of “lawless conduct” directed toward young people in Amarillo. The four other defendants, who were all nonsuited, were friends of or employees of Marsh. Terms of the settlement are confidential, except for a brief statement from Marsh. He writes, “Through this litigation it has been made clear to me that my conduct directed toward these young people was inappropriate, and I apologize for anything I said or did that may have caused them anguish.” Broadus Spivey, a lawyer for Whittenburg, and Kelly Utsinger, a lawyer for Marsh, both say their comments are constrained by terms of the agreement. “I think that both sides are satisfied at the way it was resolved,” says Utsinger, a partner in Amarillo’s Underwood, Wilson, Berry, Stein & Johnson. The trial would have been an event, at least in legal circles in Amarillo, pitting Spivey, an Austin trial lawyer who is president of the State Bar of Texas, against Houston’s Stephen Susman, the famed commercial litigator who is a partner in Susman Godfrey. “Lawyers discussed it a lot,” says Utsinger. “I couldn’t go anywhere without somebody saying, ‘What’s going on in Stanley’s case?’” Others say outsiders were much more interested in the tiff between Marsh and Whittenburg than people in Amarillo. “I think the locals are really sick of Stanley Marsh and Whittenburg both, and view this as a duel between feudalists that nobody really cares about,” says Amarillo solo practitioner Jeff Blackburn, who represented one of Marsh’s co-defendants. “People around town viewed this . . . as part of a running feud between Whittenburg and Marsh in a lot of ways.” COOPED UP The allegations are interesting reading. “[D]efendants acted in concert and engaged in a conspiracy to intimidate, embarrass, humiliate, abuse and subjugate young people and to shock and outrage ordinary people in the community for defendants’ amusement or perverted sexual gratification,” wrote Whittenburg, a name shareholder in Whittenburg Whittenburg & Schachter and the father of Ben Whittenburg. As alleged in the pleadings, Marsh and others confronted Ben Whittenburg in 1994 for allegedly participating in the theft of one of Marsh’s road signs. Marsh threatened the then-18-year-old with a hammer and helped lock him inside a chain-link chicken coop on land owned by Whittenburg’s family, the suit alleged. Two other plaintiffs, Blake Junell and Jerry Wilhite, alleged Marsh and other defendants forced them with threats and intimidation in 1994 to go skinny-dipping in a pond and listen to a naked Marsh read poetry while sitting on a rock by the pond. Another plaintiff, Jodi Parker, alleged Marsh and a gang of masked people threatened her at her house in 1994 and accused her of hiding some of his missing signs. Plaintiff Don Wright, who worked for Marsh for several months in 1994, alleged Marsh fired him after he turned down Marsh’s sexual advances. The suit was filed in 1995, but nothing much happened in it until May 1998, when 251st District Judge Patrick Pirtle denied a defense motion to dismiss the suit for want of prosecution. Whittenburg said in 1998 he didn’t do much in the civil suit because related criminal charges against Marsh were pending. In a March 1998 plea bargain, Marsh pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint and criminal trespass in connection with the chicken-coop incident, in exchange for the dismissal of five felony charges. Marsh was ordered to do community service. Criminal-defense attorney Charles Rittenberry, a solo practitioner in Amarillo, says he and co-counsel Dick DeGuerin, a partner in DeGuerin & Dickson of Houston, were prepared to go to trial on the serious felonies pending against Marsh. He says a trial on those criminal charges would have been a hot ticket in Amarillo. Rittenberry says he lived down the street from Whittenburg’s family when growing up, but Marsh has been a close friend for many years. He says Marsh is a successful businessman, but has his quirks. “He probably spends 10, 15, 20 percent of his time doing funny stuff, which some people don’t think is funny and which probably started this, and the other 80 percent of his time, he’s all business,” Rittenberry says. Although the civil suit, Ben Whittenburg, et al. v. Stanley Marsh, et al., never made it to trial, in 2001 in a courtroom in Canyon, south of Amarillo, the settlement prevented what might have been an ordeal. In April 2000, Senior Judge John Forbis of Childress granted a motion filed by lawyers for Marsh to sever the suit into four parts, meaning four separate trials. Spivey unsuccessfully tried to get an appeals court to overturn that decision, and the skinny-dipping suit filed by Wilhite and Junell was in line to be the first before a jury. The start of the trial was delayed at least four times, Spivey, a partner in Spivey & Ainsworth, says. At least one of the trial delays was due to the recent ill health of the eccentric Marsh. In April 2000, Forbis postponed the trial for a few months because Marsh was still recovering from a December 1999 bout with pneumonia and prostate surgery. Utsinger says, however, Marsh’s health is better this year than last.

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