Howe family wins appeal over destroyed memorabilia

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

The day before hockey legend Gordie Howe died last Friday, the Michigan Court of Appeals quietly affirmed a $3.2 million jury verdict against his former business managers for destroying priceless memorabilia previously ordered returned to Howe years earlier.

Gordie and Colleen Howe pose at Joe Louis Arena in 2011 when they were named Detroit News Michiganians of the Year.

Attorneys for Del Reddy, Aaron Howard, and Del’s father, Michael Reddy and their company, Immortal Investments, had appealed the 2013 Oakland Circuit Court jury verdict and sought a new trial.

A 2007 civil case was reopened after the Howe family learned truckloads of photos, CDS, books, and tapes ordered returned to Howe in 2008 had instead been sent off to a Shred-It facility. It is believed that among the items were home movies of Howe and his late wife, Colleen, and also sports legends from hockey and other sports.

A three-judge panel consisting of Donald S. Owens, Stephen L. Borrello and Cynthia Diane Stephens, rejected seven issues raised by the ex-business managers, and affirmed all court actions and jury decisions in an opinion released Friday.

“It’s a sad day today,” said Kellie Blair, one of the attorneys for the Howe family, when reached Friday for comment. “We are all saddened by the news of the death of the 88-year-old Howe.

“We are, of course, happy that judgments in his and his family’s favor have been upheld. But we always expected nothing less.”

Blair said she would be surprised if attorneys plan to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Mike Reddy stands in his Warren, Mich., Immortal Publishing office in this photo taken on Thursday, July 15, 2004.

Howe and his Power Play International Inc. sued Del Reddy and Aaron Howard, and Immortal Investments, for unpaid royalties from sports memorabilia shows where Howe appeared and autographed photos and other materials for fees ranging from $100 to $1,000. That lawsuit ended in 2008 with a $60,000 settlement and an order that all property, including recordings and books, be returned to Howe.

It also banned Immortal from profiting off Howe’s name or likeness.

Howe, formerly of Bloomfield Hills, filed a second suit in 2011 for damages when he learned of the Shred-It incident. In June 2013, a six-person jury returned a verdict of $3 million in favor of Howe and his company, which includes his two sons, Marty and Mark. Additionally, the Howes were awarded attorney fees, with interest, which amounts to more than $261,000.

Attorney Anthony A. Randazzo, who represented Immortal Investments, the Reddys and Howard, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Court of Appeals opinion noted how ownership of the destroyed property was never an issue, that Oakland Circuit Judge Leo Bowman had ordered the materials returned to the Howes as part of a settlement agreement and withholding them constituted a breach of contract.

Michael Reddy testified at trial that he had property in a 16-foot moving truck and two passenger vans sent to a Shred-If facility and destroyed in part because he was being vindictive toward Mark Howe.

The eight-day trial exposed other secrets, including perhaps the first public admissions of the long rumored, declining mental health of the elder Howe, whose NHL career spanned five decades in which he set numerous records as a Detroit Red Wing while helping the team win four Stanley Cup championships.

Mark Howe testified his father had dementia and he personally became concerned about his father’s financial affairs in 2008 when he heard Del Reddy slam Gordie Howe up against an office wall during an argument, knocking a framed picture to the floor. Howe escorted his father out of the office and Reddy and Howard resigned two weeks later claiming they were pushed out by Mark Howe.

Another son, Marty Howe, testified how his father, who he described as mentally incompetent, began suffering memory problems two years before Colleen Howe’s death from Pick’s Disease in March 2009. His 76-year-old mother, who once handled all of her husband’s financial affairs, had hired on business managers as her own health deteriorated until she eventually required 24-hour care.

Howe, who sat flanked by his two sons throughout the trial, was never called to testify.

Randazzo believed his clients were entitled to another trial on several issues, ranging from questionable witnesses and damages to confusing jury instructions. He contended Howe’s chief trial witness, film producer Howard Baldwin, was not qualified as an expert and should have been stopped from testifying regarding potential damages.

Baldwin — who has produced Ray; Mystery, Alaska; Sahara; and a 2012 film on Howe titled Mr. Hockey — said in his 30-year career has paid between $500,000 to $1 million to life rights of some people. Baldwin paid the National Hockey League $75,000 for 90 seconds of footage of Howe and said the 1,389 tapes reportedly destroyed would have been “incredibly valuable” and worth millions of dollars.

Several of the videos reportedly involved Howe discussing sports with other hockey stars and counterparts from golf, major league baseball and other sports.

Another Howe witness testified Reddy and Howard followed Howe around to countless personal appearances between 1996 and 2006, filming Howe at all the events.

None of that film footage was ever returned to the Howes and is apparently lost forever.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319