LOS ANGELES – A longtime Southland banker has dropped a lawsuit he brought against a former business associate who allegedly defamed the plaintiff by saying he used his Jewish heritage for pandering purposes and exploited personal tragedies to evade professional obligations.
Lawyers for plaintiff David I. Rainer — the current chairman and CEO of Southern California Bancorp, the holding company for the Bank of Southern California — filed court papers on Wednesday with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen I. Goorvitch asking that their client’s case against Matthew P. Wagner be dismissed. Wagner is the CEO of PacWest Bancorp, the holding company of Pacific Western Bank.
Rainer’s suit was filed in December 2020, alleging defamation and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. The new court papers did not state whether a settlement was reached with Wagner or if Rainer was not pursuing the case for other reasons.
In their court papers, Wagner’s attorneys maintain the allegedly defamatory statements “constitute protected speech under California law because they pertained to issues of direct significance to a large number of shareholders and investors” of the Bank of Southern California.
Rainer is described in his court papers as a “giant in the Southern California banking community” for more than four decades. Early in his banking career, Rainer served as president and CEO of Encino-based California United Bank, which was sold to the Bank of Hawaii for $183 million in 1998, according to his court papers.
The next year, Western Bancorp sent a small team, led by Wagner, to recruit Rainer, the suit states. The hiring efforts were lengthy and so rigorous that Wagner joked that most courtships for marriage were quicker and less painful, according to the plaintiff.
Rainer agreed to join Western Bancorp and in 2001, the company was sold to U.S. Bancorp, after which he served as executive vice president and head of commercial banking for the western U.S., the suit stated.
In 2004, Rainer said he was “hit with a staggering amount of personal tragedy and heartbreak” in which he lost three immediate family members within a short time, leading him to resign from U.S. Bancorp “to process his grief and take a brief step back from his career.”
Rainer, after starting another bank that became the subject of acquisition talks with PacWest, later entered into a three-year, non-competing consulting agreement with PacWest and Wagner spanning the period from Oct. 20, 2017, to October 2020, the suit stated.
After fulfilling his obligations under the PacWest consulting agreement, Rainer attended a meeting with other banking executives to discuss a possible future opportunity with the Bank of Southern California, according to his court papers.
Wagner “evidently caught wind of Mr. Rainer’s consideration of pursuing a future employment opportunity with the Bank of Southern California” and “embarked on a campaign to sully and disparage Mr. Rainer,” the suit alleged.
Wagner falsely told one banking executive that Rainer was fired from his position at Western Bancorp and that the plaintiff “had a pattern of exploiting personal tragedies, like the loss of his immediate family members to evade his professional duties and obligations and manipulate his employers,” according to the suit.
Wagner also said Rainer had a history of “illegally poaching employees” and that the plaintiff used his Jewish identity to “fabricate rapport and pander to those in his professional network,” the suit alleged.
Rainer asked Wagner to retract the “false and outrageous statements,” but the defendant refused, hampering the plaintiff’s efforts to identify new investors and raise capital for the Bank of Southern California, according to Rainer’s court papers.