A bitter feud in the Windermere real-estate brokerage empire has spilled into a federal court in Los Angeles, showing how an effort to expand the Pacific Northwest’s largest real-estate firm into the Golden State blew up.

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A bitter feud in the Windermere real-estate brokerage empire has spilled into a federal court in Los Angeles, showing how an effort to expand the Pacific Northwest’s largest real-estate firm into the Golden State blew up.

Seattle real-estate agents Bob Bennion and Joseph “Bob” Deville allege Windermere abandoned its obligations to more than a dozen franchised real-estate offices they owned in Southern California and systematically sought to ruin them financially, according to a lawsuit filed last month in federal court. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

After negotiations to sell the franchises to Windermere ended earlier this year, they allege Windermere President John “OB” Jacobi used confidential information about their company and “brandished it as a weapon to use in its campaign against the plaintiffs.”

This week, Windermere fired back against Bennion & Deville Fine Homes with a counterclaim that denies wrongdoing and seeks at least $1.2 million in damages.

Founded in 1972, privately held Windermere says it now has about 300 offices and more than 7,000 agents in the Western United States.

“Bennion and Deville exercised poor business judgment in growing faster than their cash flow could support,” Windermere alleged in its counterclaim.

The roots of the dispute go back 15 years, to when Bennion and Deville, both Windermere agents in Seattle, sought to expand their real-estate brokerage to California. In 2001, they became owners of a Windermere franchise in the Coachella Valley, a Southern California desert region that’s perhaps best known for Palm Springs.

Bennion and Deville opened its first office under that deal in Palm Springs, and ultimately opened 14 franchised offices in the valley.

In 2004, the two parties struck another deal under which Bennion & Deville could offer Windermere franchises throughout California.

Bennion & Deville’s suit alleges that from the beginning, it received poor support from Windermere even though its franchises had to fork out monthly license and technology fees to Windermere’s headquarters.

“Windermere knows very little about the California market,” Bennion & Deville allege. Its “antiquated, incomplete and obsolete technology systems” don’t even cover the multiple-listing services in Southern California, the company alleges.

As Windermere gradually raised its monthly technology fee per agent from $10 to $50, franchisees left in droves, Bennion & Deville alleges.

Windermere counters that its technology fee of $68 per agent per month is “extremely low by industry standards,” and that its system is so good that other real-estate brokerages pay to use it.

The relationship began to grow strained as the housing bubble burst.

Windermere claims it forgave Bennion & Deville $500,840 in franchise fees for 2006 and deferred the payment of 2007 franchise fees. It also alleges it made personal loans to Bennion and Deville of $1.25 million in 2009 and 2011 to assist them with financial troubles.

Using these funds, Windermere says, Bennion & Deville opened offices in the San Diego area in early 2011.

Bennion & Deville failed to give the same support to other Windermere franchisees in Southern California that it gave to its own offices, Windermere alleges. For example, Bennion & Deville hosted a listing seminar in Carlsbad, but didn’t invite anyone from a Windermere office in the same city.

Each side accuses the other of surreptitiously trying to poach sales agents and employees.

In December 2012, the two agreed to some new compromises. In exchange for Bennion & Deville agreeing to pay $181,000 in past-due fees and staying with Windermere for five years, Windermere says it waived $1.15 million in past-due fees and capped monthly technology fees for five years. It also agreed to “do something” about a website called “Windermere Watch.”

The website was started by Gary Kruger, a writer in Nevada who sued a Windermere franchisee in the Seattle area in 2002 for fraud.

Bennion & Deville says Windermere Watch “had a very significant and monetarily damaging effect” on its business in California, and that their firm has spent more than $125,000 trying to counter claims by the website, which shows up in Google results when consumers search for Windermere.

Bennion & Deville says Windermere agreed to pursue litigation if necessary to shut Kruger’s website down but has failed to follow through.

Last year, Bennion & Deville alleges, a Windermere executive systematically sought to push them out of the Windermere system so the company could resell the territories to new buyers and collect new initial franchise fees.

Windermere counters that it had the authority under its agreements with Bennion & Deville to solicit new franchisees in the area.