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Children vow to save La Caille, have strong words for former partner



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SANDY -- A war of words between family members of late La Caille co-owner Steven Runolfson; his late wife, Lisa; and the attorney representing the Runolfsons' former partner erupted Wednesday afternoon.

The Runolfsons were found dead in a Provo hotel room on Christmas Day after apparently fulfilling a pact to end their lives together. Police believe Steven Runolfson, 56, shot and killed his wife, 57, before turning the gun on himself.

Wednesday afternoon, the children of the Runolfsons and Dave Johnson -- Runolfson's longtime business partner and La Caille co-owner -- issued a joint statement addressing the recently well-publicized legal problems the Runolfsons were facing. In a strongly worded statement, the families called La Caille their "world."

Steve and Lisa Runolfson
Steve and Lisa Runolfson

"The lawsuit instigated by Mr. Haug became an extraordinarily personal assault that threatened to destroy that world," the children said in their statement.

Earlier this year, a court ruled in favor of former La Caille co-owner Mark Haug, awarding him $4.7 million in a civil lawsuit filed in 2006. Haug had been a minority partner.

Following their statement, James Magleby, Haug's lawyer, said his office felt great sympathy for the Runolfson and Johnson families and the pain they were suffering, but felt compelled to issue a statement on behalf of his client due to the "inflammatory and misleading nature of the comments" from the Runolfson and Johnson children.

"We are disappointed that the Runolfson and Johnson families have decided to retry the jury trial in the media. We are disturbed that the families would try to use the personal tragedy of a murder-suicide for political and legal gain," Magleby said in his statement. "Attempting to blame our client, Mark Haug, or the lawyers representing him, for the Christmas day murder-suicide, is -- in simple terms -- ridiculous."

If the families are going to blame Haug and his attorney, they might as well blame the judge, jury and legal system, too, Magleby said.

In the civil suit, Haug claimed that Runolfson and Johnson attempted to "expel" Haug from the partnership and filed false criminal charges with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office accusing Haug of misappropriating funds and fraudulently receiving more than $240,000 by "improperly obtaining a credit card in the company name."

Prosecutors later dismissed the criminal charges, and this past March a jury awarded Haug the $4.7 million, including punitive damages in the civil case.

In a ruling handed down by an appeals court in June, a judge ruled that "by clear and convincing evidence," the Runolfsons "breached their fiduciary duties owed to Haug," which was the result of "malicious or intentionally fraudulent conduct."

At the time of the shootings, the two sides were awaiting a ruling on Haug's $2 million in legal bills. Also, international realty firm Sotheby's has the La Caille property listed for sale for about $20 million.

The family contended that Haug tied up La Caille's assets for year.

"The tactics adopted in post-trial proceedings demonstrated that he was bent on destroying what Steven and David had created," they said.

During a court hearing on June 24, "Mr. Haug's lawyer told the judge, 'Your Honor, I do want to put La Caille out of business. It's the only way I'm getting paid,'" according to the family's statement.

On Dec. 23, the Runolfson and Johnson families contend that Haug's lawyer "filed what we consider a groundless motion to hold our parents in contempt and essentially permit him and his client to take control of everything our parents have. We are determined not to let that happen. La Caille will stay in business and continue to operate the same successful way it has for decades. We believe there were serious constitutional, procedural and other legal errors in the trial."

Magleby said the families' press release was mostly inaccurate and took portions of what happened out of context.

"The court -- and not the defendants or their lawyer -- will decide the merits of the dispute, and in fact the court has already repeatedly done so (in our client's favor). In short, we hope this brings to a close the unsavory attempts by the defendants to escape the consequences of their actions."

In an obituary that appeared in Wednesday's newspaper for the Runolfsons, the family called Steven and Lisa "soul mates." They also noted that the couple was now "free of relentless legal struggles."

The Runolfson family said "their children will remember them privately this weekend."

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com.

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Pat Reavy

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