Charges, countercharges fly as son, father battle for renowned Mardi Gras float-making company

By Michael Kunzelman, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Mardi Gras float-makers spar over company control

NEW ORLEANS — A father and son are battling over a family business that has made Mardi Gras floats for more than 50 years, and the son accuses his 83-year-old father’s much younger fourth wife of manipulating the older man.

The power struggle came to a light in a lawsuit filed Friday by Barry Kern, former president of Blaine Kern Artists Inc., that seeks to oust his father, Blaine Kern Sr., from the company that bears his name. The company is one of New Orleans’ oldest Mardi Gras institutions.

Barry Kern says he resigned last month after his father tried to fire him without authority.

The lawsuit claims Blaine Kern Sr. has mismanaged the business, leaving it “technically insolvent.” Barry Kern also accuses his father’s fourth wife, Holly Brown, of manipulating her husband and dominating his business and personal relationships.

“I love my dad and will continue to support him, but recent actions have forced me to respond to protect him, my family and our employees,” Barry Kern said in a statement. “Furthermore, we have an obligation to preserve the integrity of Mardi Gras and to ensure that it remains a world-class celebration of our rich culture and heritage.”

Blaine Kern Sr. wouldn’t comment on his son’s lawsuit, but his lawyer said Barry was fired last month for “serious wrongdoing.” The lawyer, Scott Whittaker, wouldn’t elaborate on that claim.

Whittaker also claimed Barry Kern is trying to form a competing company and lure away customers and employees from Blaine Kern Artists. Blaine Kern Sr. will “respond aggressively” to his son’s actions, Whittaker added in a statement.

“The decision to fire Barry Kern was very difficult, and Blaine Kern Sr., out of concern for his son and family, has attempted to keep the details of his son’s wrongdoing out of the public eye,” Whittaker said.

Blaine Kern Artists designs and builds many of the floats used in the city’s carnival parades and runs Mardi Grad World, a float warehouse and tourist attraction in New Orleans.

The suit, which Barry Kern filed in state court against the company, claims his father’s personal expenditures on houses, cars, travel, entertainment “skyrocketed” along with his debt after he met Brown, who is nearly 50 years younger than her husband.

Barry Kern says he urged Brown to stop “badgering” his father for money after the elder Kern started demanding advances from the company, the suit alleges.

“Instead, Holly Brown has manipulated her 83-year-old husband and largely alienated him from his family, friends, business associates and employees,” the suit says.

Blaine Kern Sr. took over as company president after his son’s departure, according to Whittaker.

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