The battle for control of Republic First Bank is reaching a fever pitch, with a federal judge ruling Friday that CEO Vernon Hill’s slate of board directors must respond to a lawsuit brought by activist investor Abbott Cooper.
Cooper is leading the so-called Driver slate of board members, which has been backed by South Jersey heavyweight George Norcross III in the currently stalemated proxy war for control of the bank.
The May 6 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Diamond came in response to an injunction filed May 2 by Cooper’s group, attempting to force Republic First Bank to hold its public meeting as scheduled on May 10, or as soon as practicably possible, before June 29.
The bank’s board is split 4-4, with the annual meeting delayed while an independent audit is conducted looking into alleged self-dealing by Hill, his family and allies.
The split board is divided on how to respond to the Cooper lawsuit, with the bank’s lawyers asking the court if they could file two separate responses.
As NJBIZ has reported, Norcross is leading another activist investor group, with hopes to install former TD Bank U.S. CEO Greg Braca as the new chief executive officer of Republic First Bank. Norcross’ group has gotten behind the Driver slate, in an attempt to drive Hill out of power from the bank. Hill has been with Republic since 2008, helping grow it from eight to 33 branches, and from $700 million in assets to $5.6 billion.
The ruling is the latest chapter in a chaotic few months of this power struggle between some of the state’s most notorious businessmen. The delay of the annual meeting threw the stalemate into further turmoil with both sides of the split board digging in their heels.
Diamond has given the bank until noon on May 9 to argue why the annual meeting should not be held.