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Family Fight Threatens to Break Up Utah's Biggest Law Firm

Family Fight Threatens to Break Up Utah's Biggest Law Firm

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Utah's largest law firm -- known for heavy-rotation television ads with the "One Call, That's All" slogan -- is in the middle of a messy family fight.

At stake is the future of Gregory, Barton and Swapp, which brings in about $600,000 a month.

Keith Barton, the public face of the firm in commercials, is being sued by his sister-in-law for allegedly not paying her for advertising services. His father-in-law , Buddy Gregory, has accused him of borrowing money against the firm's assets for personal use and now wants to kick Barton out of the firm.

A receiver was recently appointed to help Barton and Gregory, each 50 percent partners in the Lehi-based firm, liquidate their corporation and ensure the firm's estimated 5,500 clients continue to be represented adequately.

"If you want to be vindictive, hateful and look for ways to hurt people, there are ways to do that with everyone," he said during an interview Friday with the Deseret Morning News. "This is a family business, and it's become very emotional."

Barton said he didn't want to address the allegations against him because "it's unprofessional to air out family matters in public."

However, he said he hopes his family can patch up their differences once the firm's future is resolved.

His sister-in-law, Kim Brown, said she wants to make sure her father Buddy Gregory "is made whole" in the dissolution of the firm and to be paid what Barton owes her. Brown does advertising for the firm and has sued for alleged nonpayment of $750,000 in fees.

Barton acknowledges he spread himself too thin financially, but insists he did nothing wrong in borrowing against the firm's assets.

"As a business owner I have every right to use as collateral my interests in the business," he says.

The problem, he says, is that settlement fees he expected to get from product-liability cases did not come in as soon as he expected.

But once those settlements come in, he says, he will pay off all his debts.

In the meantime, Barton says he is selling all his assets, including his $14.9 million mansion in Alpine.

Barton says he had one time planned to buy out his father-in-law, but Gregory told him he wasn't ready to retire.

"The business plan had always been Keith was going to buy his father-in-law out. He would be the sole owner," says Peggy Tomsic, Barton's attorney. "Then this family dispute escalated into the situation we're at today, where both sides want to go their separate ways."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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