From the back of the Missouri Court of Appeals' dimly lighted courtroom in Kansas City, David Francis fixes his gaze on his former business partner, Terry Clark.
Francis shakes his head often as Clark, a military veteran, pleads with the court's three-judge panel to reverse a 2012 decision by the Circuit Court of Jackson County that sliced away Clark's stake in Hillcrest, a struggling south Kansas City country club that narrowly avoided being sold in 2011 on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse.
Since 2003, Clark and Francis had done golf-course business together. Now their paths cross only in courtrooms; the two have been locked in a protracted legal battle over the fallout from their failed partnership at Hillcrest.
Hillcrest has long been a troubled enterprise and it fared worse after Francis bought it in 2006 for about $3 million. Members left in droves due to the way Francis and Clark managed the course. Hillcrest sued former members for leaving, and the former members filed countersuits.
In 2010, Francis testified under oath that Clark owned 50 percent of the business, even though Clark had no direct financial stake.
The Clark-Francis partnership was an odd pairing. Francis, a Mission Hills resident, comes from old Kansas City money; his father made a fortune running the Puritan-Bennett Co.
Clark, a Kansas City, Kansas, native, has a blue-collar background.
On this early October morning, Clark represents himself; he says he can no longer afford a lawyer. Judges Karen Mitchell, Lisa Hardwick and Gary Witt listen patiently to Clark, who won't win this appeal. The law, the appellate judges rule on October 29, isn't on his side. But the long-simmering feud between former friends may not be over.
David Francis met Terry Clark in 2001. Clark was a course marshal at Prairie Highlands, an Olathe golf course owned by Francis.
Clark was a former air-traffic controller (one of the 11,000 fired by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 when union controllers went on strike). Francis flew planes as a hobby. They struck up a conversation about aviation in the Prairie Highlands' pro shop.
In 2003, they became reacquainted when the city of Olathe wanted to open a municipal golf course near Prairie Highlands. Clark argued that the city was wasting taxpayer money by getting into the golf business, and Francis wasn't keen on having competition. Francis eventually sued Olathe over the proposed golf course, which never came to fruition.
That same year, Clark took on more responsibilities at Prairie Highlands, but he wasn't getting paid. Francis comped him rounds of golf, meals and various golf accessories. In turn, Clark would do improvement projects. He built a couple of bridges on the course, installed garage doors on the pavilion and held tournaments at Prairie Highlands.
"I really turned it around businesswise," Clark tells The Pitch. "He didn't care. He's just greedy."
Francis and his attorneys did not respond to messages for this story. But in court testimony, Francis minimizes the role that Clark played in his golf business. Francis refers to Clark as a consultant who was using Prairie Highlands to test his ideas for other golf courses that he wanted to run.
"And I said, 'Why are you doing this?'" Francis testified during a January 3, 2012, Jackson County Circuit Court hearing. "He said, 'Because I'm looking at the future.'"
In testimony, Francis passed Clark off as a mere acquaintance, but the two were frequently seen together in Johnson County in the mid-2000s, vexing city officials and institutions. At Olathe City Council meetings in 2006, Clark and Francis often spoke in favor of a small-business owner who wanted to build a small convenience store but was running into opposition from city officials.