Leaders of Bremer Financial Corp. and the Otto Bremer Trust for two years have accused each other in private and public of putting their own finances above the future health of their organizations.

Bremer Financial took early control of the narrative in November 2019 by filing the first public lawsuit of the dispute. The bank laid out details of what the three trustees are paid, showing they make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for jobs they inherited and that most people would perceive to be relatively easy.

In the suit, the bank also speculated how trustees' pay would increase if the trust sold its majority stake in the bank and then used the proceeds to double the size of the trust. By running a larger foundation that distributed more money, Bremer Financial reasoned the trustees would pay themselves even more.

In the evidentiary hearing that unfolded in before a Ramsey County District Court judge over the past four weeks, evidence showed that the bank's chief executive, Jeanne Crain, received about $3 million pay and bonuses in both 2019 and 2020 — and is likely to receive a similar amount or more this year. And Bremer Financial last week reported its latest quarterly profit was 10% higher than a year ago.

Crain faced repeated questions about her self-interest in Bremer Financial's future from the attorney representing the trust, Mike Ciresi, a well-known Minneapolis litigator. Crain took on the issue when she first took the stand, noting she would benefit financially if the bank were sold, as the trustees wished, because of her share ownership in it. And if she lost her job in a sale? "At this point in my life," Crain said, "I could retire comfortably."

A compensation expert called by the trustees used tax filings to show that their combined salaries and benefits of $1.5 million put them below the $1.7 million median for three top officers in comparably-sized private foundations. At other times in the hearing, Ciresi and trustees noted that any change in trustees' pay requires court approval.