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The POWER 30: Janel M. Dressen

Minnesota Lawyer//October 27, 2022

Janel M. Dressen, Anthony Ostlund Louwagie Dressen Boylan P.A.

Janel M. Dressen, Anthony Ostlund Louwagie Dressen Boylan P.A.

The POWER 30: Janel M. Dressen

Minnesota Lawyer//October 27, 2022

The Evenstad family pharmaceutical business, Upsher-Smith Laboratories, is now owned by a Japanese company, but litigation between the family members continues.

The plaintiff, daughter of the founder, has sued the company and her brother Mark, saying she is not receiving her due of the over $1 billion paid for the company, which manufactures generic medicines. The complicated case consumed four weeks of Zoom trial time last summer before Hennepin County District Court Judge Edward Wahl, but no decision is expected until December.

Father and company founder Ken Evenstad died in the course of the trial. The family also owns Domaine Serene, a winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon, famous for its Pinot Noir.

Representing the company is Janel Dressen, who has been associated with this kind of internecine business dispute since the Lund case in 2019 where Kim Lund received a $45 million buyout from the grocery store trust. The plaintiff amended her complaint after the court affirmed Lund’s “reasonable expectation of liquidity”

Of the plaintiff, Dressen says she’s received more than $250 million from the family assets but is not content. “Who would do that to their parents?” she asked. (See case sidebar.)

Dressen said it can be hard for women to enter a male-driven world of business litigation, but it is very important for them to be in the courtroom, or on their computer screen.

“Trial lawyers need to learn to present on Zoom. It’s hard for young lawyers who aren’t getting to know anything other than remote work,” she said.

She warned that “proximity bias” can influence training and mentoring, to the disadvantage of lawyers working from home, many of whom are women. To counter that effect, Dressen said, “Speak up even if you’re working from home. You have to be proactive to overcome proximity bias. If you’re just keeping your head down and doing the work that comes to you, that isn’t going to cut it.”

Case sidebar

Steven Wells, the attorney for the plaintiff above, responded by email. “Our client is a 43% shareholder in a Minnesota company.  She was promised fair separation from the company by her brother (then the CEO), and the Court already has found that our client’s ‘expectations for liquidity and financial separation . . . were reasonable.’ The case is about the fair value of our client’s shares. However, after redeeming many of their own shares for more than $178 million, Defendants now have told the Court that our client’s shares are worth nothing.  Minnesota law protects shareholders in this situation. This is a case about a shareholder’s rights under Minnesota law; it is not a case about hurt feelings or emotions.”

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