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Bender v. Jordan

July 21, 2006

MORTON A. BENDER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CAROLYN D. JORDAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Morton A. Bender and a majority of the Board of Directors of Independence Federal Savings Bank ("IFSB" or "Bank") are opposing contestants for control of the future direction of the Bank. The Bank was labeled a "troubled" institution by the Office of Thrift Supervision ("OTS") in 2003 and has never shed that label. Together with his wife, Mr. Bender owns 21% of the Bank's outstanding stock. He has been an active and vociferous critic of the Bank's management since 2003 and has tried, with varying degrees of success, to change its direction by voting his candidates onto the Bank's Board of Directors. A majority of the Board of Directors has, to put it mildly, resisted Mr. Bender's efforts.*fn1 The last such vote for members of the Board was held in October 2005. That voting process was riddled with improprieties, of which Mr. Bender complains here.

In this suit,*fn2 Mr. Bender sues certain of the Bank's Directors: chairman Carolyn D. Jordan, vice chairman David Wilmot, and Board members Michael J. Cobb, William B. Fitzgerald IV, and Eugene K. Youngentob ("Director Defendants"), and its former Acting President and Chief Executive Officer, Thomas L. Batties. The Bank itself is a nominal defendant. Mr. Bender*fn3 alleges that the Director Defendants and Mr. Batties violated numerous securities laws and the Bank's bylaws by their actions leading up to, and in conducting, a shareholders' meeting in October 2005. As relief, Mr. Bender seeks an injunction requiring the Defendant Directors and Mr. Batties to comply with their disclosure obligations under § 13(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 ("Exchange Act" or "Act"), 15 U.S.C. § 78m(d), and regulations promulgated thereunder; to neutralize shares that the Defendant Directors and Mr. Batties allegedly acquired in violation of those obligations; to void the election results from the October 26, 2005, Shareholders' Meeting; to compel accurate proxy disclosures pursuant to § 14(a) of the Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78n(a), and accompanying regulations; to forbid further shareholders' meetings until the procedural irregularities are resolved; and to compel adherence to the Bank's bylaws in any future meetings. Mr. Bender also seeks a court order preventing IFSB from indemnifying, or making advance payments to, the Director Defendants and Mr. Batties for expenses and fees incurred in defending this action. Finally, Mr. Bender prays for $10 million in compensatory damages, $10 million in punitive damages, and an award of attorneys' fees. Compl. at 38-39.

As preliminary relief, Mr. Bender requests an injunction specifying that, until further order of the Court, no proxy materials shall be disseminated to Bank shareholders; no annual or special shareholders' meeting shall occur; and that the Bank shall be prevented from indemnifying, or making advance payments to, the Defendant Directors and Mr. Batties for their defense expenses.*fn4 Pls.' Proposed Order at 46-47 [Dkt. #37]. The Director Defendants and Mr. Batties oppose the application for a preliminary injunction and move to dismiss Mr. Bender's Complaint on various grounds.

Although the Complaint brings six counts against Defendants, only four of those request preliminary injunctive relief and are relevant for present purposes: alleged violations of § 13(d) of the Exchange Act (Count I) and § 14(a) of the Exchange Act (Count II); alleged violations of the Bank's bylaws (Count III); and the request for a declaratory judgment barring indemnification and advancement of fees (Count VI).

This opinion addresses Counts I, II, and III only; the Court defers decision on Count VI. Finding in Mr. Bender's favor on the main points, the Court will deny the Director Defendants' motion to dismiss in part; grant Mr. Bender's application for a preliminary injunction in part; and enjoin the Bank and its Board from disseminating proxy materials to shareholders and holding shareholders' meetings until further order of the Court.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

This matter came on for hearing during three successive weeks, working around the Court's criminal trial schedule. Witnesses for IFSB included Ms. Jordan, Messrs. Wilmot and Batties, and Christopher Chambers, a part-time in-house lawyer at the Bank. From their testimony, one has to conclude that this is the most incurious group of persons in the world. Faced with a crisis at the Bank that all were working frantically to address, they say they never spoke to one another, never followed up on assignments, never read email or talked to their assistants, and cannot remember the details of critical conversations. To a person, they were evasive, non-responsive, and internally contradictory. It is an understatement to say that the Court has a difficult time crediting much of their testimony. For present purposes, the Court makes the following findings of fact:

A. Background Facts

1. IFSB is a federally-chartered savings and loan ("S&L"), with its principal place of business in the District of Columbia. Its stock is publicly traded on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange and it is under the regulatory jurisdiction of OTS. IFSB is a historically Black-owned-and-operated S&L that concentrates its marketing and loans in the Black and African-American community.

2. Defendants Jordan, Wilmot, Cobb, Fitzgerald, and Youngentob are members of the Bank's Board of Directors and, until June 21, 2006, Defendant Batties was its Acting President and Chief Executive Officer. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 5 (Jordan); Id. at 73 (Wilmot); Id. at 114 (Batties); Fitzgerald Dep. 44; Defs.' Rule 8K Notice [Dkt. #49]. Defendants Jordan, Wilmot, and Batties are attorneys and members of the Bar of the District of Columbia. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 5 (Jordan); Id. at 73 (Wilmot); Id. at 114 (Batties). The Defendants and all other Bank Directors are African-American.

3. The Bank's fiscal year ends on December 31 of each year. Id. at 52 (Jordan). The Board of Directors scheduled a Special Meeting in lieu of the Annual Meeting of Shareholders for May 11, 2005; thereafter, the meeting was scheduled and re-scheduled and ultimately conducted on October 26, 2005. Id. at 115-16 (Batties); Id. at 6 (Jordan).

4. Plaintiffs Morton and Grace Bender own approximately 21% of the Bank's outstanding shares as joint tenants. Defs.' Exh. 211. The Benders are White.

B. Communications in Advance of the May 11, 2005, Meeting and Its Delay

5. In anticipation of the scheduled May 11, 2005, meeting, at which three directors would be elected to the Bank's Board, Mr. Bender notified the Bank's secretary, by letter dated April 26, 2005, that he would be nominating two persons for election to the Board. Mr. Bender wrote to all shareholders on May 2, 2005,*fn5 setting forth his positions regarding the Bank's performance and providing information regarding his nominees. Defs.' Exhs. 207, 208.

6. Mr. Bender had previously submitted a draft copy of his May 2, 2005, letter to OTS and had made certain amendments to it at the request of OTS. Defs.' Exh. 205; Defs.' Exh. 208. However, the May 2, 2005, letter did not contain all of the changes the federal agency had requested. Defs.' Exh. 208.

7. A different letter was sent to shareholders dated May 4, 2005, purportedly from the "Committee to Save Independence Federal Savings Bank" (the "Committee" and the "Committee Letter"). Trial Exh. 1. The Committee Letter was apparently signed by Bishop Clarence Long and Reverend Douglas Moore, who are prominent African-American clergy in the District of Columbia. Id. Reverend Walter Fauntroy, a prominent clergyperson and former District representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, was a visible supporter. Fauntroy Dep. 12-14.

* Reverend Fauntroy testified that he had no role in authorship of the letter and did not see it until the day of his deposition. Fauntroy Dep. 65-67.

* Bishop Long testified that he did not write the letter, that he did not authorize anyone to send it on his behalf, and that he saw it for the first time at a press conference on May 10, 2005. Long Dep. 26-27, 36.

* Reverend Moore testified that he has no idea how the letter went out with his name on it; he did not remember seeing it before his deposition. Moore Dep. 37-42, 47.

8. Testimony from Christopher Chambers, an attorney and part-time Bank employee, clarified the provenance of the Committee Letter. Mr. Chambers worked with Judy Smith of Impact Strategies, a public relations ("PR") firm retained by the Bank, to provide information for the Committee Letter and to set its tone and arrange its mailing. Apr. 28, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 57, 67-68 (Chambers). As Mr. Chambers described in an email, he was actively involved in:

PR and grassroots - lining up folks and implementing the strategy, beginning the tactics. There is now a list of small shareholders, but we must be careful to have the "Committee to" contact them, and of course it's not going to be a question of supporting the current management slate - now it is a question of not selling to [B]ender or his allies.

Pls.' Exh. 106 (Apr. 18, 2005, email). Further, Mr. Chambers wrote that he had "some deliverables to Impact Strategies so that they may complete their tasks regarding grassroots and media work." Pls.' Exh. 107 (April 22, 2005, email). Ms. Smith forwarded two mailings for the Bank's use, telling Mr. Chambers that she would call to "di[s]cuss contacting potential signers." Pls.' Exh. 105 (May 4, 2005, email). As Mr. Chambers informed Mr. Batties on May 5, 2005:

Judy Smith is planning the Committee to Save IFSB-related press conference ASAP. FYI the grass roots packages have gone out (last night). They are not as inflammatory as originally envisioned; they are more akin to shareholder fight-letters. I will forward you the essence of what went out to smaller shareholders . . . . Additionally, another 1500-1800 . . . letters went out to friends of the bank . . . .

Consequently . . . the fur will be flying. . . . Bender's putative nominees have been painted in the Committee mailings as innocent puppets at best, racial traitors at worst, so I would suggest [that] Carolyn Jordan brief Mr. Parks. . . . We must make sure that Dave Wilmot and Bill Fitzgerald are playing along with the orchestra rather than tooting their own horns.

Pls.' Exh. 104 (May 5, 2005, email).

9. Mr. Batties instructed Mr. Chambers to work with Ms. Smith, and Mr. Chambers sent Mr. Batties copies of all email exchanges between Mr. Chambers and Ms. Smith (as an addressee in either the "to" line or the "cc" line). Apr. 28, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 92 (Chambers); see Pls.' Exhs. 104-109. Each was sent to Mr. Batties' IFSB email address or to Mr. Batties' home email address or to both. Pls.' Exhs. 104-109. Mr. Chambers also talked directly with Mr. Batties about "grass roots, direct mail, lobbying[,] the whole thing." Apr. 28, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 94 (Chambers).*fn6

10. Mr. Batties testified that he had no involvement in the Committee Letter. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 117-19 (Batties). He further testified that he did not read the emails from Mr. Chambers when they were sent and did not know if Judy Smith of Impact Strategies was involved with the Committee or the Committee Letter. Id. at 126-31 (Batties). Given the importance of the efforts against Mr. Bender, Mr. Batties' direct instructions to Mr. Chambers, and the involvement of Ms. Jordan, chairman of the Board, and other Board members, the Court does not credit Mr. Batties' denials.

* Mr. Batties appears to have been directly involved with contacts with Reverend Fauntroy and Bishop Long. See Pls.' Exh. 108 ("Thomas might have to make another call to both [Rev. Fauntroy and Bishop Long]." (emphasis added)).

* Mr. Batties appears to have been making the important decisions rather than delegating them to a part-time employee. See Pls.' Exh. 104 ("The bigger shareholders have been contacted . . . . I don't know how much you would be involved in that specific aspect of preparatory work, Charlie, but my vote is that you attend, pending what Thomas decides." (emphasis added)).

* Mr. Batties received oral reports and copies of all emails from Mr. Chambers. Apr. 28, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 91-94 (Chambers).

* Mr. Batties admitted that some of the information in the Committee Letter and its attachments could only have come from confidential OTS examination reports, which are maintained in the Bank's file. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 120-24 (Batties).

* Mr. Batties' professed inattention and ignorance of the Committee and the Committee Letter rings hollow. The Bank paid Impact Strategies to develop the PR program, of which the Committee Letter was a part. The Bank paid Impact Strategies, and its own employee, Mr. Chambers, to write the Committee Letter and to mail it. Based on the contents of the Committee Letter, Mr. Chambers or some other Bank representative was the source of confidential Bank documents and information. Only 28 people work in the Bank office where Mr. Batties works and Mr. Chambers has a desk immediately outside Mr. Batties' office. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 132 (Batties). Mr. Chambers reported to Mr. Batties by email and in-person conversations on his activities. From these facts, the Court concludes that Mr. Batties authorized and was aware of Mr. Chambers' participation in the creation and mailing of the Committee Letter. It also finds that Mr. Batties authorized and was aware that the Committee was being portrayed falsely to shareholders and the public as an independent group. See Pls.' Exh. 104 ("The Committee to Save IFSB is an independent association."); Trial Exh. 1, Committee Letter ("Acting separately from IFSB, we aim to expose the motivations of those wishing to harm IFSB's mission.").

* Further, the Court finds that it is more likely than not that certain Directors of the Bank were, at a minimum, informed of the Committee Letter before its mailing. The emails strongly suggest that Defendants Jordan, Wilmot and Fitzgerald were either involved in, or aware of, the fabrication of the Committee and the Committee Letter. See Pls.' Exh. 107 (Apr. 22, 2005, email) ("Pls. note that in addition to Carolyn Jordan of our Board, Director David Wilmot, Esq. wishes to be included in some of these discussions confidentially."); Pls.' Exh. 104 (May 5, 2005, email) ("I would suggest [that] Carolyn Jordan brief Mr. Parks . . . . We must make sure that Dave Wilmot and Bill Fitzgerald are playing along with the orchestra rather than tooting their own horns.").

11. On May 9, 2005, OTS notified Mr. Bender that it was "considering whether to issue a cease and desist order, and to assess civil money penalties, against you for false and misleading statements" contained in Mr. Bender's May 2, 2005, letter to shareholders. Defs.' Exh. 208. Mr. Bender sent a detailed response to OTS, Pls.' Exh. 113, and OTS notified Mr. Bender on September 14, 2005, that no enforcement action would be taken. See Defs.' Exh. 214.

12. On May 10, 2005, OTS sent a letter to IFSB indicating its initiation of an investigation into the Committee Letter and asking IFSB to tell OTS "whether any officer, director or employee of Independence is affiliated with the Committee or has provided information to the Committee." Defs.' Exh. 209. The Bank conducted an "investigation" limited to officers (vice presidents and above) and Board members, which, naturally, failed to ask Mr. Chambers anything. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 143-44 (Batties). The Bank's responses all declared no role in providing information to the Committee. Mr. Chambers helped process these inquiries and compile the response to OTS but, because "[t]he [Bank's] position was I believe it was Mr. Batties and the board members" who were asked to respond, he did not correct their erroneous response to OTS. Apr. 28, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 67 (Chambers). In fact, Mr. Chambers was intimately involved in developing the Committee Letter and creating the charade that a Committee even existed. Id. at 68.

13. Mr. Batties and all Director Defendants have consistently denied any individual or Bank involvement with the preparation or mailing of the Committee Letter. See Defs.' Opp'n ¶ 27 ("No officer, director of employee of the Bank was involved with the Committee [L]etter."); Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 119-24 (Batties) (same). Those denials were obviously untrue but no one has so informed OTS, even now. By letter dated September 14, 2005, OTS notified the Bank that no enforcement action would be taken with regard to the May 4 Committee Letter. See Defs.' Exh. 215.

14. The shareholders' meeting scheduled for May 11, 2005, was continued to June 8, 2005. Because new proxy materials were not ready, the meeting was again continued to September 14, 2005. Mr. Bender filed an amended Schedule 13D*fn7 in early September, indicating that he had filed a change-of-control application with OTS and, upon its approval, would seek to increase his ownership interest to 51% through purchases from existing shareholders. Defs.' Exh. 211. As a result, the Board continued the shareholders' meeting to October 26, 2005.*fn8 Trial Exh. 47.

C. Communications In Advance of the October 26, 2005, Shareholders' Meeting

15. On October 3, 2005, Mr. Bender sent a letter to IFSB shareholders which identified his nominees for directors as Osborne George and John Silvaneous Wilson Jr. ("Bender Nominees"). Trial Exh. 33. The letter explained that Mr. Bender was not soliciting proxies and that the only way to vote for the Bender Nominees was to attend the meeting in person or to send someone with a legal proxy.

16. The Bank distributed its proxy materials to shareholders on October 4, 2005. The Bank's nominees for directors were Marion O. Greene Jr. and Defendants Fitzgerald and Wilmot ("Management Nominees"). Trial Exh. 2.

17. On October 21, 2005, a letter was sent to shareholders by Gilbert Douglas and Catherine McPhail, IFSB shareholders. See Trial Exh. 3. Mr. Douglas drafted the letter with input from Mr. Chambers, who "responded positively" when Mr. Douglas suggested sending a letter. Apr. 28, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 75 (Chambers). Mr. Chambers reviewed and commented upon one or more drafts of the letter, id. at 77-78, put Mr. Douglas in contact with Impact Strategies so that the letter could be mailed, id. at 80, and helped Mr. Douglas find citations to bank documents for the text. Id. at 76-77. "[I]t did not occur" to Mr. Chambers that the Committee Letter had forced a postponement of the May 11 shareholders' meeting and that sending another letter might not be a good idea. Id. at 86.

D. The Thompson and Doley Shares

18. On March 3, 2005, Doley Securities LLC entered into an agreement to purchase all of the IFSB shares owned by Carver Bancorp Inc. ("Carver") for $10.50 per share.*fn9 Trial Exh. 58 (Securities Share Agreement). At the time, Carver owned 150,000 shares, or 9.47% of the total IFSB shares outstanding. See Trial Exhs. 58, 59. Prior to the purchase of Carver shares, Doley Securities and its affiliates owned 3,834 IFSB shares. Trial Exh. 59.

19. Some of the shares purchased by Doley Securities were retained by that firm; some were sold to Logan Delany, a friend of Mr. Doley; and others were sold to clients of Doley Securities (collectively, "Doley Participants"). Doley Dep. 90-95. All told, the Doley Participants together owned 154,685 shares of IFSB stock, which was just under 10% of the total shares outstanding. Neither Doley Securities nor any of the Doley Participants has ever filed a Form 13D with OTS. See Trial Exh. 2 at 20-21; May 4, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 89 (Freedman).

20. Beginning in early August 2005, and during the 45-day period immediately prior to the September 26, 2005, Record Date for the Shareholders' Meeting, Jeffrey Thompson - a friend and client of Defendant Wilmot and a partner with Defendant Cobb in the same accounting firm - purchased 98,600 shares of IFSB stock. Trial Exh. 42. Mr. Thompson filed a Schedule 13D in late September indicating that he owned 111,600 shares, which is 7.2% of IFSB stock. Id.

21. On the evening of October 25, 2005, Mr. Doley was contacted by Ms. Jordan, who then connected Mr. Wilmot to the call at approximately 11 p.m. Doley Dep. 158-59; Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 74 (Wilmot). The parties discussed the sale of the Doley Participants' shares, to persons suggested by Mr. Wilmot.*fn10 Doley Dep. 158-62; Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 74-77 (Wilmot) (Wilmot suggested Jeffrey Thompson, Bob Johnson, and a Mr. Liggen). Immediately upon hanging up the telephone, Mr. Wilmot called Mr. Thompson and left a message, talked directly to Mr. Liggen, and then talked to Mr. Thompson. Id. at 76-77.

22. The evidence shows that Mr. Thompson was willing to purchase the Doley Participants' stock, at $18 per share (well above market), conditioned upon Mr. Doley's voting all shares for the Management Nominees. Id. at 99; see Trial Exh. 70. However, a combination of the Doley Participants' stock and the stock Mr. Thompson already owned would exceed 10% of the Bank's outstanding shares; no such agreement could be reached without prior OTS approval. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 101 (Wilmot); see 12 C.F.R. § 574.3(b). Apparently for this reason, Mr. Thompson directed his counsel, Daniel Weitzel, to prepare a purchase agreement for the Doley Participants' stock with Mr. Wilmot's name on it as the purchaser. Id.; see Trial Exh. 70. Mr. Weitzel forwarded the purchase agreement to Marie Wood, Mr. Wilmot's assistant, by email to her home on the evening of October 25, 2005. Defs.' Supp. Facts ¶ 3. Ms. Wood then forwarded Mr. Weitzel's email and attached draft purchase agreement to Mr. Doley during the evening of October 25, 2005. Id. ¶ 5. When Mr. Wilmot talked to Mr. Thompson "shortly after talking to Mr. Doley" around 1 a.m. on October 26, 2005, Mr. Thompson explained his plan. Mr. Wilmot testified that he responded, "[Y]ou can't do that." Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 101 (Wilmot).

23. Mr. Doley traveled from New York on October 26 to attend the shareholders' meeting, which was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. He planned to vote all Doley Participant shares for Mr. Bender's nominees. Delany Dep. 43 ("Q. And did Doley tell you that was his intention? A. Yes.").*fn11 In part because Mr. Doley had not arrived on time, Royer Dep. 51-52, and in part because Mr. Bender had made two challenges to the vote-counting procedure which threw the Board into a tizzy, the start of the meeting was delayed to 3 p.m. by the unilateral action of Ms. Jordan. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 8 (Jordan).*fn12 As soon as Mr. Doley arrived, he was whisked away by Ms. Jordan to lunch at the Prime Rib, a local restaurant, even though the Bank was buying lunch for all shareholders at the Mayflower Hotel because the meeting was delayed. Id. at 34-35. According to Ms. Jordan, she and Mr. Doley did not at any time discuss the Bank. Id. at 34-36. The Court declines to credit this testimony: Ms. Jordan was a singularly incredible witness and, at a minimum, she would have explained to Mr. Doley why the meeting was continued to 3 p.m., but her denials were absolute.

24. Mr. Royer and then Mr. Wilmot joined Ms. Jordan and Mr. Doley at the Prime Rib. A discussion ensued concerning whether there was a buyer for the stock Mr. Doley controlled. Apr. 21, 2006, Hr'g Tr. 39 (Jordan) ("There was a discussion of, it was Mr. Doley I guess inquiring whether there would be anyone interested in buying his stock and that he was interested in selling."). Messrs. Wilmot and Doley discussed a purchase whereby either Mr. Wilmot or a group assembled by Mr. Wilmot would purchase the Doley Participants' shares. Delaney Dep. 39-40; Doley Dep. 184-85; Royer Dep. 76. The price per share under discussion was either $17.00, Thompson Dep. 110-11, or $18.00, Delany Dep. 39-40; Doley Dep. 184-85. A down payment of $1.00 per share was also discussed. Delany Dep. 50-51; see also Doley Dep. 185.*fn13

25. An integral part of the sale agreement required Mr. Doley to vote the shares he controlled for the Management Nominees. Delany Dep. 39-40, 44; see also Trial Exhs. 70-77. Mr. Doley called Mr. Delany and said that he was going to vote for the Management Nominees and that Mr. Delany should do so as well. Delany Dep. 43-44. Mr. Doley told Mr. Delany "that there were a bunch of people from the community saying if Bender takes over the Bank, they were going to withdraw their money." Delany Dep. 38; see also id. at 46, 133. Mr. Delany's initial response to Mr. Doley's calls was negative; he said, "no, I am voting for Bender because Bender knows how to make money." Delany Dep. 39. Ultimately, Mr. Doley called after he "met with a group of people" - at the Prime Rib - and told Mr. Delany "that [Mr.] Wilmo[]t is thinking about putting together a group that would buy - that would be willing to buy my stock for $18 . . . but the condition of that was that the management had to retain control of the Bank. I asked Harold [Doley] whether that was real, whether he had the money, and Harold said, yes, he thought it was real and that he had the money." Id. at 39-40. Mr. Delaney responded that he "still thought that Bender knew how to make money, Wilmo[]t could not write a check." Id. at 41. In one call, Mr. Doley told Mr. Delany that he had been promised a deposit worth $1 per share. Id. at 50; see Doley Dep. 185. Based on these discussions, Mr. Delany agreed to vote his shares for the Management Nominees. Delany Dep. 46.

26. Proxies representing the Doley Participants' shares were faxed from Doley Securities in New Orleans to the Mayflower Hotel on October 26, 2005, between 12:47 and 12:55 p.m. (presumably Central Time). See Trial Exh. 56; Doley Dep. 47. They were then ...


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