Androvett Legal Media and Marketing
2501 Oak Lawn Avenue  |  Suite 650  |  Dallas, Texas 75219
Tel: 214.559.4630  |  Fax: 214.559.0852

Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 10:52:50 am

Attorney Michael Hurst: Bid process unfair and should be voided
Work on a Dallas county hard copy records preservation contract came to a screeching halt Monday after a Dallas district judge determined that county officials did not follow proper competitive bidding requirements last year when it awarded a $17.3 million records preservation contract and issued an injunction.

The Dallas Morning News reports that District Judge Bruce Priddy ordered the county and its contractor, GTSI Corp. and its subcontractors, AmCad and Louisiana Binding Services, to immediately stop work on the contract  to preserve various historical records such as property deeds. The lawsuit filed by Business Resources Corp. alleges the county tried to justify bypassing state law by "piggy-backing" the contract on an unrelated national purchasing agreement. The judge found no evidence that any governmental agency or purchasing organization sought competitive bids as required for the specific services covered in Dallas County's contract with GTSI.

"It's apparent that Dallas County officials either willfully disregarded the law or were misled about how the contract was awarded," says attorney Michael Hurst of Dallas' Gruber Hurst Johansen & Hail LLP and counsel for Business Resources. "Based on the ruling we hope the county will cancel the existing contract and follow Texas law."

Judge Priddy had some harsh words for the way the contract was initially awarded. "The (competitive bid) process was not followed," the judge said in issuing his order, adding that the pricing agreed to in the contract was not a consideration, but that the relevant issue was the failure of the county and GTSI to follow Texas Local Government Code statutes. "GTSI was aggressively trying to use an exception in violation of Texas law."

by Robert Tharp at 10:16:50 am

Just recognized in The National Law Journal for winning more of the country's Top 100 verdicts than any other law firm for two years running, McKool Smith is continuing the firm's push as a national litigation powerhouse with the promotion of four attorneys to principals and the addition of six experienced lawyers in the firm's rapidly growing New York office.

New principals  Laurie Gallun Fitzgerald and Joel Thollander practice in McKool Smith's Austin office, and  Darryl Burke and Garret Chambers practice in Dallas. In New York, the firm has added Sachin Bansal, John C. Briody, Yusuf A. Rangwala, Elizabeth Raskin, Kevin Schubert and James H. Smith as associates.

With the latest additions, the firm now has 25 attorneys practicing in New York after opening the office in late 2007. New York principal Hugh Ray, who also practices in McKool Smith's Houston location, recently was featured in a story published by The Wall Street Journal that examines how firms like McKool Smith are increasing their bankruptcy litigation workload because of the many client conflicts faced by larger law firms.

by Robert Tharp at 12:06:48 pm

It's easy to lump law school students into one big me-generation cliché.  Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP established the McCleary Gardere Leadership Scholarship to identify second-year law students who are committed to the kind of leadership, community values and diversity championed by the firm's popular former co-managing partner.  

The 2010 recipient of the Donald C. McCleary Gardere Leadership Scholarship is Rebekah Bailey. Rebekah, like past scholarship winners, was selected following a rigorous review that considered the applicants' character, academics, leadership, and involvement with the law school and community. Not only is she in the top 25 percent of her law school class, she has served as an intern at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, and spent six months as an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She also co-founded the Cornerstone Kids Weekend Ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Fair Park, providing a safe and stable environment for children.

"Rebekah's involvement in law school and the community is impressive," says Gardere managing partner Steve Good. "She embodies the spirit of leadership and community involvement that Don McCleary hoped to inspire. We feel that she is a fitting recipient of this honor." 

In an interview with the SMU Daily Campus, Bailey described her strong desire to better the community. “My mom has been involved in non-profit work as long as I can remember and she inspired me to do the same,” she said. “Given the unique way the law intersects every aspect of life, there are great opportunities to serve the community with and through a career in law.”

Mr. McCleary, who passed away in 1996, served as the firm's co-managing partner from 1991 to 1995. During his brief tenure leading the firm, he championed diversity and promoted a concept of leadership rooted in the belief that a shared vision was the basis for a successful law firm. 

Mr. McCleary's vision for Gardere included participation in local, state and national public affairs, humanitarian activities and pro bono work, and he encouraged everyone to get involved. Among other things, he established many of the community outreach programs that have become a hallmark of the firm, including the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, which was launched in Dallas in 1993, and GardereProud, which honors the military service of firm members and their families.


by Robert Tharp at 10:36:50 am

Lanier: Toyota's problems go beyond sudden acceleration
Renaming allows plaintiffs to address automaker's concealment of vehicle defects
The national litigation over recalled Toyota vehicles has been consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and the litigation has been renamed based on a request from noted Houston attorney Mark Lanier.

The federal judicial panel overseeing the litigation granted Lanier's request to rename the litigation "Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation," after the award-winning lawyer argued that the litigation moniker should address Toyota's alleged concealment of vehicle defects, rather than the mechanical/electronic problems themselves.

"We're thrilled," says Lanier, who earlier this month was named one of the decade's most influential lawyers by The National Law Journal. "This is far from merely a mechanical problem. We intend to show that the unintended acceleration of Toyota vehicles is almost certainly the result of electronic problems that Toyota failed to disclose for years."

The cases have been consolidated before Judge James V. Selna, who is already presiding in at least one Toyota case filed by Mr. Lanier and Dana Taschner, Managing Attorney of The Lanier Law Firm's Los Angeles office.

Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles covering 17 different models, including recalls based on unexpected acceleration, faulty floor mats, brake problems, drive shaft malfunctions, and other problems. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recorded more than 30 deaths attributed to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

The Lanier Law Firm's Los Angeles office already is representing multiple plaintiffs in claims against Toyota nationwide. The firm, whose Los Angeles office sits only a few miles from Toyota's U.S. headquarters, expects to file many additional Toyota claims in the coming weeks and months.

by Robert Tharp at 1:48:36 pm

Thompson & Knight's Houston offices are a bustling place, serving as focal points of the international firm's energy practice, as well as litigation, real estate, corporate, securities, finance and banking, among many other things. In selecting a leader for the office, the firm turned to longtime Thompson & Knight lawyer Alfred M. Meyerson, a highly respected commercial real estate attorney who already serves as the firm-wide leader of the Real Estate and Banking Practice Group. He is a widely published authority on commercial real estate and a longtime supporter of Houston civics issues.

"This represents a tremendous professional opportunity for me to reinforce Thompson & Knight's role in the diverse and dynamic Houston economy," says Mr. Meyerson. "This office serves as the centerpiece for the Firm's comprehensive energy practice, as well as our expanding responsibilities for clients with interests in Latin America, and I look forward to a number of exciting challenges in supporting all of our clients, attorneys, and staff." 

With 70 attorneys, Houston is the second largest office of the 350-attorney firm. In addition to other Texas offices in Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, Thompson & Knight also maintains a New York office and international offices and associations in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

by Robert Tharp at 1:45:38 pm

For highly educated foreign-born workers, the economic downturn coupled with the country's strict immigration laws has had a big impact on demand for the once-coveted H-1b work visas, according to Harvard Law School research associate Vivek Wadhwa. "We're in the midst of a massive brain drain," Wadhwa told the USA Today last month.

Case in point: demand for the H-1b has dropped sharply. Until last year, for example, immigration attorney Irina Plumlee of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP says the limited number of visas were typically exhausted within a few days of the April 1 start of the petition acceptance period. But demand dropped significantly last year, and it took most of the year to exhaust the 65,000-application quota. But that doesn't mean those hoping to score an H-1b this year should take their time applying for a visa. Afterall, Ms. Plumlee says its just impossible to predict demand this year.  "In previous years, you knew that if you didn't have the application in on April 1, you would not receive a visa," she says. "That's no longer a certainty, but waiting too long to make your bid for an H-1B work permit could leave you without a visa."

by Robert Tharp at 3:03:09 pm

Popularity of so-called "pre-pack" bankruptcies has been rising for several years now. As we noted here last November, the number of filings tripled in 2009 alone. For businesses facing the likelihood of bankruptcy, prepackaged bankruptcy allows them to reach agreements with creditors on a reorganization plan before filing. Meanwhile, traditional bankruptcies can take months or years to churn through the system.

The idea is that by shortening and simplifying the process, companies save legal and accounting fees, as well as the amount of time spent in bankruptcy limbo. The sooner the company can emerge from bankruptcy, the sooner it can turn the operation around and start making money.

Consider Houston-based Cross Canyon Energy Corp.'s recent prepack handled by attorneys in  Thompson & Knight's Houston and New York offices. By going the prepack route, Cross Canyon emerged from bankruptcy in just six weeks. "Transactions of this type involving publicly traded securities often take several months or more to go through the bankruptcy process, but after a brief hearing, we were able to obtain confirmation in 42 days after filing the case," says bankruptcy attorney Matthew S. Cohen. "Properly managed, pre-packs can be an efficient and cost-effective way to resolve balance sheet issues and help businesses restructure."

by Robert Tharp at 4:11:28 pm

As he prepares to take on Toyota over vehicle defects, Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston has been singled out as one of "The Decade's Most Influential Lawyers" by the editors of The National Law Journal. Lanier is the lone plaintiffs' attorney recognized by the NLJ for this list, and one of only four lawyers highlighted for their work in litigation matters, along with famed courtroom attorneys Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Brendan Sullivan Jr. of Williams & Connolly; and Theodore Wells Jr. of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The NLJ calls Lanier a "superstar among plaintiffs' lawyers," while noting his massive win in the nation's first trial over the popular pain medication Vioxx. Lanier's $253.5 million verdict in that case is widely recognized as the turning point in the national litigation over Vioxx, which was later resolved with a $4.45 billion settlement. In an article describing his selection, the NLJ notes Lanier's prominent role in the ongoing litigation against Toyota, including his work for more than 1,000 individuals with claims against Toyota.

by Robert Tharp at 2:08:47 pm

It's only Wednesday and already three different publications have weighed in on McKool Smith's record two-year string of courtroom victories and head-turning verdicts against household name corporations, particularly Microsoft Corp. Dallas Morning News business columnist Cheryl Hall devoted her Sunday column to firm co-founder Mike McKool and principal Doug Cawley, noting the firm's big verdicts and internal culture, as well as a forward-thinking hybrid fee structure that allows the firm to pursue a mix of contingency fee cases, traditional hourly work or a combination of both.

Hall notes: In the last year, McKool Smith PC has won nearly $400 million in two patent infringement victories against the Redmond, Wash., software giant. It just filed a third suit, hoping for more of the same. But Microsoft is not the only company feeling the McKool Smith bite. The Dallas-based law firm racked up more of the Top 100 largest courtroom verdicts than any other firm in the country with four in both 2008 and 2009. Given its latest verdict against Microsoft of $106 million for Silicon Valley-based VirnetX Holding Corp. two weeks ago, McKool Smith may be off to another banner year.

In a Monday piece for the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, Ashby Jones focused on how the firm's work on behalf of plaintiffs might serve as a model for big firms across the country

The leaders of the nation's largest law firms didn't get to where they are by happy accident. Not only have many of them spent years as successful lawyers and developed the work-the-room shmooziness of politicians and university presidents. They also spend every waking hour thinking about one thing: making their firms more profitable.
So our question to them is this: If profitability is your thing, why haven't you taken a page from the books of Wiley Rein, Dickstein Shapiro and McKool Smith and at least dabbled in handling work for plaintiffs, work that can pay off big if you're successful?
Sure, there are risks. Still, you've seen how it can go. In the early part of the aughts, Dickstein Shapiro brought home a bundle handling contingency fee work for plaintiffs in antitrust litigation. In 2006, Wiley Rein made silly money representing a company called NTP in patent litigation with RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry.
And that brings us to McKool Smith. In the last year, the firm has brought home nearly $400 million for plaintiffs in two patent suits against one company - Microsoft. And it just filed the third. In fact, in the last four years, McKool Smith's contingency fees have exceeded $100 million, according to the story.

Meanwhile, IP Law360 looked at McKool Smith and agreed that other firms might do well to take a page from the firm's plaintiff's side playbook.
Law firms are looking to diversify as a buffer against an unforgiving economy. And a cutthroat legal market has forced some firms to take what they can get.

by Robert Tharp at 2:00:00 pm

Ask any lawyer, and they'll probably tell you that the governing philosophy at their firm is something like "democracy run-amok" or, at best, an oligarchy. But one Dallas law firm has been singled out by D CEO Magazine for being run like a corporation.
According to the story, "The Divorce CEO," Dallas' 17-lawyer McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, L.L.P., which houses some of Dallas' best known and most powerful divorce lawyers, is run by "CEO" and founder Mike McCurley, who D CEO calls "one of the leading matrimonial lawyers for the executive set."
Most family lawyers are either working at a full-service law firm, solo practitioners who handle divorces along with whatever else comes in the door, or mid-sized "law firms" that are actually a "loose collection of sole practitioners working under the same roof, each of whom work on his or her own docket of cases," McCurley told the magazine.
In contrast, McCurley Orsinger "employs a team approach where all members enjoy a working familiarity with each case, embracing an interactive structure in which all lawyers ... are able to communicate at any given moment about a case," the article says.
"We meet every week, discussing every case," McCurley says. "I don't know any other firm that does that."
The all-hands-on-deck approach was born out of the firm's need to service an increasingly sophisticated client base, McCurley says.
"We're a 24/7 law firm because CEOs expect that," he said.
In addition, many of their lawyers have undergrad degrees in business economics, math or accounting-again, because their client base consists primarily of business people with frequently complicated financial dealings.
"Why would you put the dissolution of your most important asset-your marriage-in the hands of people who don't understand business?" McCurley asked.

by Robert Tharp at 11:58:04 am

An interesting piece in Corporate Counsel highlights  Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy's latest game-changing defense verdict. Earlier this month, a federal jury in Natchez, Miss., found that two Mississippi plaintiffs' attorneys committed fraud and breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing by misrepresenting two asbestos claims against Illinois Central Railroad. According to Corporate Counsel, the March 8 ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi marks the first time that plaintiffs' lawyers under these circumstances have been held accountable for fraud at trial.

The jury found that the law firm of Guy & Brock of McComb, Miss., committed fraud by trying to hide the fact that their clients' had been involved in a previous asbestos claim, which would have disqualified them from pursuing new claims against Illinois Central Railroad. The jury awarded Illinois Central full repayment of the $210,000 paid on those earlier claims plus an additional $210,000 in punitive damages.

Corporate Counsel describes how Illinois Central embarked on a long-term strategy more than seven years ago to combat what they saw as frivolous asbestos claims.
The lawyer who had the broadest perspective on the events in the federal courtroom in Natchez, Miss., was Janet Gilbert, who is Illinois Central's national coordinating counsel for asbestos. Now in private practice, Gilbert was an in-house lawyer for Wisconsin Central System for 14 years before it was bought in 2001 by the Canadian National Railway, which also owns Illinois Central. So she had the perspective of an inside and outside counsel.
Gilbert remembers the dark days of 2003, when the company was routinely settling asbestos claims, feeling it had little choice. That was the year she met with Hunter Harrison, CN's chief executive, and proposed a tough new approach. She told him it would take patience and money, and it could take five years to see a return on investment. They would take hits in courtrooms, she warned him -- particularly in plaintiff-friendly venues like Jefferson County, Miss. But she felt it was important to let plaintiffs know that "the candy store" was no longer open for business.
Harrison, who retired last year, gave her the go-ahead. He was originally from Memphis, Gilbert said, "and he smelled a rat in Mississippi."
The railroad's message has apparently been received. After plaintiffs realized cases were going to be reviewed and investigated and put to the test, hundreds were dismissed without payment. A full third of Illinois Central's cases disappeared rather quickly, she said. And the new cases dried up even more dramatically. In 2003, 1,200 new cases were filed. In 2009, just 29 were.
Forman Perry partner Daniel Mulholland tells Corporate Counsel that companies often targeted for asbestos claims have become more willing to stand up against what they perceive as litigation abuse. "I think this new attidude is a healthy change, he says.

Forman Perry is building on a string of toxic tort defense wins. Last May, the firm earned the first take-nothing silica-exposure verdict to come out of a Port Gibson, Miss., courtroom, a venue that the American Tort Reform Association has twice included as among the nation's "judicial hell holes" based on its perceived plaintiff-friendly record.

by Robert Tharp at 4:43:03 pm

You have to clear a pretty high legal hurdle to be able to sue police officers and prosecutors for things they do in the official capacity of their jobs. So it's no small feat that Mark Werbner and the rest of the legal team representing Donald Wayne Good have received the blessing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to proceed with a lawsuit against a retired Irving police detective.

Mr. Good was sentenced to life in prison and spent more than nine years behind bars before DNA tests determined conclusively that he is innocent of a 1983 sexual assault. Following his exoneration, Mr. Good sued Fred Curtis, charging that the former Irving detective intentionally altered evidence that led to his arrest and conviction. The 5th Circuit denied an appeal from Curtis, who claimed he was shielded from civil action by the doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects government workers performing their official duties. Writes the Associated Press:

Lawyers who work on innocence cases said the ruling was significant because of the difficulty in successfully suing police and prosecutors. "This case is definitely progress," said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas. "It's very useful for other people who want to go after the government for framing them. It's important because it helps open the door for more of these claims."
Donald Wayne Good was convicted of burglary with intent to rape in connection with a 1983 assault of a suburban Dallas woman. He served nine years of a life sentence before his 1993 release. In 2004, a DNA test cleared him of the crime.
According to the lawsuit, Good says he was framed by Irving police detective Fred Curtis, who suspected Good in a series of burglaries. Frustrated by Good's refusal to admit his role in the burglaries, Curtis is accused of doctoring his suspect's mug shot to match a sketch of a rape suspect. Curtis then included the mug shot in a lineup in the unrelated rape case, according to Good. The rape victim identified Good, and he was convicted after three trials.

As noted in Texas Lawyer's Tex Parte Blog, the 5th Circuit judges agreed that qualified immunity does not protect police officers against allegations relating to violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments:

"We find that any reasonable official would know that framing an individual for a crime they did not commit by securing such an identification represents a constitutional violation," wrote Judge Catharina Haynes in an opinion joined by Judges Carl Stewart and James Dennis, noting in a footnote that the court was not passing judgment on the facts in the case as presented by either side.

"It's very significant in our case, in particular, because it means we will be going to trial to show the violation of Mr. Good's constitutional rights," says Mark Werbner, a partner in Dallas' Sayles Werbner, who represents Good. "But it's extremely important beyond this case because of Dallas County's long history of wrongfully jailing people innocent of serious crimes."

by Robert Tharp at 3:44:08 pm

Loyal Dallas Business Journal readers no doubt did a double take at the story about Level 2 Review's big time move into Dallas. At a time when it's hardly news when a law firm cuts dozens of attorneys at a time, the Tyler, Texas-based e-Discovery and document review firm opened a 4,500-square-foot office in Richardson and - just like that - added 50 lawyers to their team.

DBJ writer Jeff Bounds notes that the company is using the Richardson office on a project basis for now, opening the offices in about a week based on the need to accommodate a client's large project. But Level 2 president and CEO Joey Seeber adds that the company expects consistent demand for their unique services. "Right now, they are working on one large project," Seeber told the DBJ. "But we consistently have projects requiring that many people, which was the reason for moving ahead with that space."

Located in the heart of Richardson's Telecom Corridor, the company's new office is equipped with the latest technology and security features. With 4,500 square feet, high-speed fiber connectivity and the technology infrastructure to deploy more than 80 attorneys, the space provides the document review team with the tools to quickly, accurately and securely meet the needs of law firms and corporate legal departments.

The new office continues the recent growth of Level 2 Review, which has expanded greatly since 2009. With room for dozens of additional reviewers, the company offers scaled solutions to handle any client project, regardless of size. "We started Level 2 Review to help law firms and corporate legal departments that demand efficiency, strict cost controls and the highest commitment to quality," says Eric Findlay, Founding Director of Level 2 Review. "With our expansion into Dallas we continue this mission, and expand our ability to handle projects of any size."

by Robert Tharp at 3:26:37 pm

The Sunday morning car crash that killed three in St. Paul back in June 2006 was horrific by any standards. But in a postmodern twist, real questions have surfaced questioning whether technology is to blame - not the Minnesota driver serving a 8-year prison term for causing the crash.

Momentum is increasing to grant Koua Fong Lee a new trial and free him from prison. On Monday, attorneys Robert Hilliard from the Corpus Christi, Texas-based law firm of Hilliard Muńoz Guerra LLP and Brent Schafer of Minneapolis, filed a motion officially asking that Mr. Lee receive a new trial, citing new evidence and sworn testimony that Mr. Lee's 1996 Toyota Camry was prone to mechanical and electro-mechanical defects. The motion is supported by more than a dozen affidavits from owners of the same Toyota model who have experienced sudden acceleration. An additional seven similar affidavits are expected from drivers who contacted authorities after hearing accounts of Mr. Lee's case.

In June 2006, Mr. Lee was driving his Toyota Camry when it unexpectedly accelerated before crashing into another car and killing Javis Adams, 33, his son Javis Adams Jr., 10, and his niece Devyn Bolton, 7. Mr. Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in October 2007 and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Writes the St. Paul Pioneer Press: At his trial in 2007, Lee testified he could not stop his 1996 Camry, which reached an estimated speed of 90 mph. However, a jury determined that the crash resulted from Lee's "gross negligence."

Mr. Lee's legal team welcomed a pledge by Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner to review the the documents. "On numerous occasions, County Attorney Susan Gaertner has publicly said, if we show her the evidence she will immediately act on it," says Mr. Hilliard. "Here it is, it is time for her to act. We've now given her more than enough evidence to join with us in asking the Court to grant our client an immediate new trial, and we hope they move quickly to release Koua and this time allow a fair trial where the jury hears all of the evidence."

Even survivors of the crash and jurors who sent Mr. Lee to prison are now asking that he be let out of prison, according to the Pioneer Press.

Quincy Adams was a passenger in the car that was hit by Lee's Toyota. Adams lost a son and two grand children to the crash, and suffered a serious head injury himself, but he also wants to see Koua Fong Lee out of prison. "I think he was telling the truth," Adams said. "If something was wrong with the car, I don't think he should be in jail, because he got a family just like I did."

Juror Danny Buechler of St. Paul says he would like to see the man get out of prison within three months. Juror Margaret Race of White Bear Lake told the Pioneer Press she cried after reading a news story about Lee. She says the trial focused just on the Camry's brakes.

by Robert Tharp at 11:41:30 am

Farrar & Ball, LLP Wins $32.8 Million Verdict in Rollover Case Against Cooper Tire
Handing a $32.8 million verdict agaisnt Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. last week, a jury in Des Moines, Iowa, has found that Cooper Tire's Lifeliner Classic II tire is defective and responsible for a 2007 vehicle rollover that killed one person, paralyzed another and seriously injured four more. The jury found that Cooper Tire defectively designed and manufactured the Cooper Lifeliner Classic II tire, and evidence at trial showed that the rollover was caused by a defect in the tire that allowed part of the steel belt to rust and weaken over time. Jurors also heard evidence that despite safer alternatives, Cooper Tire executives delayed necessary changes in order to avoid additional costs of updating the tire's design.

The crash killed Assata Karlar, paralyzed Ivon Toe, and severely injured Josephine Cole, Sekou Jai, Jailah Nayou and Achol Deng Mawien. According to Bloomberg, the award was spread among the seven plaintiffs and their relatives, mostly for medical costs, pain and suffering, lost income, and other legal damages.

The largest share, $28.4 million, went to lead plaintiff Ivon Toe, who was paralyzed in the crash and now lives in a nursing home in Norwalk. Jurors also declared that the company should pay $1.5 million in punitive damages, to deter Cooper and its competitors from any future similar manufacturing flaws.

Jurors deliberated four days before deciding that the tire was defective, with a chemical flaw in the rubber that allowed part of the tire's steel belt to rust and weaken. Attorneys Kyle Farrar and Wesley Todd Ball of the Houston trial law firm Farrar & Ball, LLP served as lead counsel for the six passengers involved in the car wreck and their families. They were assisted at trial by Fred James of the James Law Firm in Des Moines. This isn't the first, or even the second, favorable outcome that Farrar & Ball attorneys have secured for plaintiffs injured by defective Cooper Tire products.

"This is a case of a large corporation putting profits over people," says Mr. Ball. "We have documents in which the company's executives openly discuss the costs of improving the design of this tire, and unfortunately they decided that saving money was more important than saving lives."

"We are grateful to the jury for making Cooper Tire take responsibility for their negligence," says Mr. Farrar. "Although nothing can make up for the terrible tragedy our clients have suffered, our hope is that this verdict sends a message to the entire industry that vehicle and passenger safety should be the number one priority."


by Robert Tharp at 11:36:52 am

The lawyers at McKool Smith have had an incredible string of court victories no matter how you look at it. For two years straight, the national trial litigation firm has scored more Top 100 verdicts than any other firm of any size, while Law 360 named the firm among its "IP Firms of the Year." The big verdicts come from a spectrum of defendants and practice areas, but Microsoft in particular has been the subject of several headline-grabbing and industry-changing jury awards.

Last year, the firm helped i4i Inc. secure a $290 million patent infringement judgment and an injunction blocking Microsoft from distributing its flagship software, Microsoft Word. And just this week, a Tyler, Texas, jury agreed that Microsoft had infringed on a patent owned by Scotts Valley, Calif.-based VirnetX Holding Corporation and awarded a $105.75 million patent infringement verdict.

From the LA Times blog: The trial lasted for a week in Tyler, Texas, and dealt with Microsoft products including Windows Vista and XP. The award involves $71.7 million for one patent and $34 million for another, the company said.
The jury also found that the Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth willfully infringed on the patents. The patents deal with methods of creating virtual private networks, or VPNs, between computers and for establishing VPNs using secure domain names.
VirnetX spokesman Greg Wood said company executives were "obviously just overjoyed."
"Yesterday, the foundation of the tech world shifted," he said. "We are sitting on a goldmine. We probably have the most important patent portfolio in history in regards to security, and yesterday was instrumental in validating that." 

by Robert Tharp at 2:38:59 pm

Lowly natural gas was recently called "the biggest energy innovation of the decade," and big-time investors are really starting to take notice. Investment is pouring into natural gas plays around the country, thanks to advances in drilling technology that make it possible to extract gas trapped in shale formations. The latest head-turning deal involves the Marcellus Shale found throughout much of the Appalachian Basin.

This week, the global law firm of Thompson & Knight LLP has assisted Mitsui & Co. Ltd. ("Mitsui"), through its subsidiary Mitsui E&P USA LLC, in a $1.4 billion deal with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. ("Anadarko") to jointly explore for and develop natural gas in the Marcellus Shale Formation.

Writes the Associated Press of this deal: Mitsui said Tuesday that it expects to invest up to $4 billion in a venture, which it hopes will produce as much as 460 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. "This just validates that everybody around the world is interested in this play," Anadarko CEO Jim Hackett said Tuesday on CNBC. Last month, Chesapeake Energy Corp., based in Oklahoma City, and a subsidiary of France's Total SA formed a $2.25 billion joint venture that gives Total access to the Barnett Shale natural gas field in north Texas.

Daniel Yergin, author of the Pullitzer-winning "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power," predicted in the Wall Street Journal last November that advances in natural gas recovery techniques developed mostly by smaller production companies operating in the Barnett Shale in Tarrant County are poised to revolutionize energy use and domestic policy.
The critical but little-recognized breakthrough was early in this decade-finding a way to meld together these two increasingly complex technologies to finally crack the shale rock, and thus crack the code for a major new resource. It was not a single eureka moment, but rather the result of incremental experimentation and technical skill. The success freed the gas to flow in greater volumes and at a much lower unit cost than previously thought possible.
In the last few years, the revolution has spread into other shale plays, from Louisiana and Arkansas to Pennsylvania and New York State, and British Columbia as well. The supply impact has been dramatic. In the lower 48, states thought to be in decline as a natural gas source, production surged an astonishing 15% from the beginning of 2007 to mid-2008. This increase is more than most other countries produce in total.


by Robert Tharp at 3:53:56 pm

The March 2004 explosion at Control Solutions Inc. rattled Pasadena residents. More than 100 firefighters struggled more than 10 hours before containing the blaze, while state, local and federal environmental authorities worked to prevent air and groundwater contamination.

Six years later, a Harris County jury has ruled that an India-based chemical manufacturer, Gharda Chemicals LTD, and its U.S. subsidiary were to blame for the fire by selling metal drums containing components used to make pesticide that were contaminated with a flammable solvent. The jury issued an $8.37 verdict on behalf of Control Solutions Inc., which included $6.2 million in damages and $2.1 million for environmental cleanup costs.

 According to the Houston Chronicle:
Shortly before the blaze, 32 drums of Chlorpyrifos were placed in a "hot box" in the Houston company's Pasadena warehouse for melting, based on procedures provided by the manufacturer, the statement said. During the melting process, the contaminated chemicals exploded and caught fire.
The flames spread quickly throughout the warehouse and Control Solutions' nearby office building, destroying virtually everything inside, attorneys for the company said. Harris County fire investigators determined the "hot box" to be the ignition source.
The fire not only destroyed the buildings, "but also threatened the health and safety of the surrounding area," said attorney
George H. Lugrin, IV of Houston trial law firm Westmoreland Hall Maines & Lugrin, P.C., one of those who helped win the $8.37 million verdict. "Hopefully companies will now think twice before selling products that put us all at danger."
Mark Boyd, president of Control Solutions, also expressed his appreciation for the jury's decision.
"There are few things worse than watching your buildings go up in smoke," Boyd said in the prepared statement. "We have worked extremely hard to rebuild and grow our company and are looking forward to putting that terrible day completely behind us."
The fire took more than 11 hours to control with help from nearly 125 firefighters from the Pasadena, Seabrook, Deer Park and La Porte fire departments. Because the warehouse stored hazardous chemicals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency along with state and local environmental officials became involved in efforts to prevent groundwater contamination and to monitor air pollution.
Control Solutions continued its business operations following the blaze and has since rebuilt its production facilities and offices.

by Robert Tharp at 4:05:58 pm

The time-tested vow for married couples to stay together "until death do us part," is increasingly colliding with social media networks. One recent study of 5,000 divorce filings found that one in five lawsuits mention Facebook. Brad LaMorgese of Dallas-based McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing says Web sites such as Facebook provide wayward spouses an easy way to rekindle with former flames, while online communications create digital trails of deceit. And after a breakup, couples often tussle over who gets to maintain shared networks of online friends and acquaintances.

"Social media is becoming really relevant to our practice," says LaMorgese. "We see people trying to lock their spouses out of their online networks. We'll get discovery to see what they've done to their pages and find that they're posting updates about their new boyfriends or girlfriends while they're still married."

Writes Time magazine: Battles over finances and custody remain the Iwo Jima and Stalingrad of divorce cases. Opposing lawyers will press any advantage they have, and personal information on sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn is like decoded bulletins from enemy territory.

Half the fun of social-networking sites is the posting of personal news. The other half is the posting of personal opinion, something spurned spouses typically have in spades. MySpace and its ilk offer the giddying cocktail of being able to say something in the privacy of your home that will be publicly accessible, along with a chaser of instant gratification. All this at a time when people are often less than their best selves. On the walls of two Facebook groups - I Hate My Ex-Husband and I Hate My Ex-Wife, which together had been joined by 236 Facebook users as of early June - posts include all manner of (often misspelled) vitriol, including some colorful British slang: "my husband is ... a dirty smelly chavvy theivin alcoholic drug addict selfish scum bag" and "my ex wife is a no good lieing slag," each of which was posted alongside a smiling photograph of the commenter.


by Robert Tharp at 2:57:56 pm

Amid thousands of accounts of sudden acceleration involving Toyota vehicles are tragic stories like that of 22-year-old University of Texas student Anna Pham. Pham's mother, a Vietnamese immigrant, saved for years to purchase the 2008 Toyota Camry for her daughter. In December, Anna was backing out of a parking space at an Austin shopping center when the accelerator revved, causing the car to shoot backward and crash into another car. Anna suffered injuries to her face, chest, shoulder and leg.

Attorneys with The Lanier Law Firm and The Tammy Tran Law Firm have filed a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corp and the dealership where the car was purchased, The Auto Spot. "A car is not a cheap little piece of equipment," says attorney Mark Lanier, founder of The Lanier Law Firm. "It costs a lot of money and it ought to at least have the same safety features that you have in a blowdryer to keep it from frying you if it drops in a bathtub."

The Lanier Law Firm is handling more than 300 cases against Toyota for clients in California, New York and Texas. Mr. Lanier has served as a national commentator on Toyota's problems on both CNBC's "Squawkbox" and Fox Business Network's "Varney & Company," where he stated, "Juries tend to penalize corporations when they place profits ahead of the consumer's safety." His views also have been featured in a commentary published by FOX News.

Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles covering 17 different models, including recalls based on unexpected acceleration, faulty floor mats, brake problems, drive shaft malfunctions, and other problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recorded 34 deaths attributed to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. Mr. Lanier says Toyota has not responded to his call for an investigation of whether the recalls are a process problem, such as malfunctioning electronics, rather than a parts problem like faulty floor mats.

"There are a lot of the same issues in this case," says Mr. Lanier. "We have a company that knew it had a problem and did little to nothing to fix it while customers suffer the consequences."




by Robert Tharp at 11:32:43 am

The details surrounding the horrific crash that killed Fort Worth mother Sonia Baker were terrible from the start ... a young mother picking up breakfast for her family before going to work died when her car was struck by a drunk driver. 

It was later revealed that the drunk driver was a Fort Worth police officer and the SUV he was driving was a city-owned undercover police vehicle. But that was just the beginning. A internal police revealed that officer Jesus Cisneros had started drinking that night while he was still on duty, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. After completing his on-duty "bar detail," the undercover narcotics officer drove to a birthday party at The Pour House, where he drank about four more beers and four shots of alcohol. His blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he got behind the wheel and caused the crash that killed Ms. Baker before dawn on Dec. 9, 2009.

Cisneros has since been charged with intoxication manslaughter. On Thursday, The Rasansky Law Firm filed a dram shop lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Baker's family, charging that Fort Worth bar, The Pour House, shares responsibility for continuing to serve alcohol to Cisneros and letting him leave the bar too drunk to drive. In addition to The Rasansky Law Firm, Ms. Baker's familiy is also represented by Charles M. "Chuck" Noteboom of The Noteboom Law Firm in Hurst

 The Star-Telegram also uncovered details showing that this was not Cisneros first serious infraction as a Fort Worth police officer: Civil service records show that in August 2006, he accepted a 20-day suspension in lieu of indefinite suspension after an internal investigation of two incidents.
The first, in March 2006, involved allegations that Cisneros, while intoxicated and a passenger in his own car, fired a single shot through an open sunroof. Records show that Cisneros did not report the incident but later admitted to it during an administrative investigation.
The second incident, in April 2006, involved allegations that Cisneros, while off duty, drove a city vehicle to an Arlington pub, then drove an unauthorized female passenger to a Mansfield home.

"Sonia Baker died because The Pour House lived up to its name and kept pouring drinks for Mr. Cisneros even though he was so drunk he could hardly stand up and should never have been driving," says Mr. Rasansky. "Sonia had a loving family and a great career ahead of her before she was killed because The Pour House wanted to serve more drinks."

by Robert Tharp at 4:44:00 pm

At first glance, Hurricane Katrina's path of destruction seemed to create fertile ground for communities to test climate change public nuisance laws. Litigation was duly filed seeking to recoup storm damages by blaming businesses including insurance, oil, coal and chemical companies that emit greenhouse gases for creating a "public nuisance." According to this theory, greenhouse gases produced by these businesses contributed to climate chang and intensified the storm's magnitude and destruction. Thousands of claimants who suffered storm damage joined the fray.

In one of those cases, Comer v. Murphy Oil, et al, the trial court initially dismissed the lawsuit over concerns about causation and questions about whether the plaintiffs had proper standing, among other things. In October, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit reversed the ruling and allowed the case to proceed, a notable victory for the plaintiffs. The ruling followed a landmark Second Circuit decision that many observers felt would open the doors to such climate change torts.

But action by the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit this week now calls the case's viability into question once again. The entire Fifth Circuit ordered reconsideration of that earlier ruling. Texas climate change lawyer Richard O. Faulk, who chairs the Litigation Department and Environmental Practice of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, says that the Fifth Circuit's decision to allow the court's complete complement of judges to reconsider the case is a "significant blow to the progress of climate change and public nuisance litigation."

Although Faulk acknowledges that the case's "ultimate resolution cannot be predicted with certainty," he stressed that "the original panel's original decision now has no value. Clearly, a significant number of the court's judges believe the case deserves a closer look, and plaintiffs' counsel cannot be comforted by that development. Indeed, since no judge on the original panel dissented from the decision, the decision to reconsider suggests that the rest of the court may be seriously interested in changing the result."

by Robert Tharp at 2:16:45 pm

There's no shortage of twists and turns relating to Toyota's troubled acceleration system and massive vehicle recall - just ask attorney Robert Hilliard , who has received national attention for his involvement in several high-profile Toyota sudden acceleration cases. In a week when Akio Toyoda made an unprecedented appearance on Capital Hill to apologize for the automaker's serious problem, Hilliard has been front-and-center in news stories, including a fascinating development relating to three Minnesota residents killed in a 2006 crash involving a runaway Toyota Camry.

This story is particularly interesting because a so-called "Toyota Defense" could free a man now serving prison time after he was blamed for causing the wreck and convicted of criminal vehicular homicide. Newspapers nationwide and Good Morning America have already weighed in this story.

Writes the Associated Press:
Koua Fong Lee's accident is among a growing number of cases, some long resolved, that are getting new attention since Toyota admitted its problems with sudden acceleration were more extensive than originally believed. Numerous lawsuits involving Toyota accidents have been filed over the recent revelations, and attorneys expect the numbers will climb.
A jury didn't believe him, and a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. But now, new revelations of safety problems with Toyotas have Lee pressing to get his case reopened and his freedom restored. Relatives of the victims - who condemned Lee at his sentencing three years ago - now believe he is innocent and are planning to sue Toyota. The prosecutor who sent Lee to prison said he thinks the case merits another look.
"I know 100 percent in my heart that I took my foot off the gas and that I was stepping on the brakes as hard as possible," Lee said in an interview Wednesday at the state prison in Lino Lakes. "When the brakes were looked at and we were told that nothing was wrong with the brakes, I was shocked."

"Toyota sat idly by while a potentially innocent man took the blame for this tragic incident," says Mr. Hilliard, co-founder of the Texas-based law firm of Hilliard Muńoz Guerra LLP.  "My clients now believe that Mr. Lee tried to stop the car, but that Toyota's faulty throttle and braking systems are the true culprits in this case."

Hilliard and his firm are handling several cases involving people hurt or killed by runaway Toyotas, including a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Texas residents who have purchased Toyota and Lexus vehicles with faulty electronic throttle control systems.

by Robert Tharp at 1:41:30 pm

D Magazine dubbed it "The Good Ol' Girls Club" when some of the city's most talented big-law-firm attorneys(who happened to be female) got together and hung a shingle back in 2008. Wrote D Magazine at the time: Even in 2008, a woman-owned firm in the male-dominated Dallas legal landscape is notable. The ladies' new venture is one of only a handful of women-owned firms in the state and an anomaly locally.

Who knew what was on the economic horizon for new businesses in 2008, but Taber Estes Thorne & Carr charged through 2009, steadily adding new attorneys and clients along the way. The firm reached an important milestone this month - with the addition of associate Kevin Muenster, Taber Estes is no longer a law firm composed solely of female lawyers. Firm co-founder Jessica Thorne says Muenster's arrival should be a surprise considering they've been committed to diversity from the start.

A graduate of Sam Houston State University and Baylor Law School, Mr. Muenster previously served as a judicial law clerk to the Hon. Anne Gardner of the Second Court of Appeals of Texas in Fort Worth. He also worked at two respected Dallas-area firms prior to joining Taber Estes Thorne & Carr. "We know that great lawyers come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, colors, nationalities and backgrounds, and we never intended this to be an all-female firm," says Thorne.


by Robert Tharp at 4:24:54 pm

As Toyota scrambles to repair manufacturing defects responsible for sudden acceleration, not to mention the automaker's reputation for quality products - the latest "mechanical solution" doesn't get to the heart of the matter, says Texas attorney Bob Hilliard, who filed a class-action lawsuit against the carmaker last week. Instead of focusing on a perceived mechanical flaw in the gas pedal mechanism, Toyota engineers should instead be looking at the vehicles' electronic controls. The concerns have resulted in a recall of millions of vehicles -- the largest safety recall ever mounted by an automaker.

"Toyota has known about this problem far too long, but inexplicably has not chosen to address what appears to be the true culprit, electrical problems in the faulty throttle controls," says Hilliard, who represents a couple whose Toyota Avalon crashed after unexpectedly accelerating through a stop sign last month. "First Toyota said it was the floor mats, and now they claim it is the gas pedal. Perhaps they'll fix the problem some day, but my clients and I aren't holding our collective breath."

Despite assurances from Toyota that there is a mechanical fix to the sudden acceleration problem, federal regulators have launched a probe into the electronic throttle system, the Washington Post reports. The government's review will look at the electronics systems across all manufacturers as well as the possibility that engine operation could be disrupted by electromagnetic interference caused by power lines or other sources. The automaker, meanwhile, attributed incidents of unintended acceleration to improper floor mats and sticky gas pedals, and it has issued recalls involving millions of vehicles.




by Robert Tharp at 3:30:13 pm

Ten U.S. citizens now face criminal charges and up to 15 years in the Haitian prison system after they tried to transport 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic. The group, most of whom belong to a Baptist congregation in Idaho, have come to personify Haitian unease and concerns about loss of sovereignty following last month's devastating earthquake.

The Americans were arrested on Friday as they tried to take 33 Haitian children to what they had said was an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. A Web site for the orphanage said that children there would stay in a "loving Christian home-like environment" and be eligible for adoption.

While the church members say their good intentions were misinterpreted, family law attorney Elizabeth Durso Branch says it was poorly thought out to transport children out of the country with consent from Haitian authorities. "There was no true urgency to remove these children from Haiti," says Branch, who focuses on child-related issues as a partner at the Family Law firm of McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, L.L.P. "While Port-au-Prince is devastated, there are other physically safe locations within the country to set up an orphanage or refugee camp. The group may have had good intentions, just far too little guidance."

by Robert Tharp at 2:43:44 pm

Forbes has an interesting take on how the need for companies to protect brand reputation has become increasingly important in this information age. Consider this little factoid courtesy of Thomsn Reuters and Interbrand: in the 1970s, 95 percent of a corporation's value consisted of tangible assets, compared to just 25 percent today. In other words, a business's most valuable asset is its good name, its brand and reputation. In a recent survey released jointly by the World Economic Forum and the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm, three-fifths of chief executives said they believed corporate brand and reputation represented more than 40% of their company's market capitalization.

But along with that shift in value away from assets, there are now more opportunities than ever for a company's hard-earned reputation to come under attack more than ever.

Consider the nearly 370 million users of Facebook and Twitter alone. Corporate America can no longer afford to sit on the social media sidelines, hoping their intellectual poperty is not being compromised. Increasingly, IP owners are monitoring social content for keywords attributable to their companies. If abuse is detected, the owner should take immediate action, says Jason Fulmer of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. "There are legal remedies to pursue, but it often is more effective to approach the specific social media site to try to settle the matter under the site's own dispute-resolution procedures," says Fulmer. "These sites all have different policies, but all operate under a common desire not to be sued because of a user's infringing content." If a company fails to act, the site could be charged with being complicit in the infringement.


by Robert Tharp at 4:52:54 pm

After nearly a decade of intense opposition, one of the country's highest-profile and most controversial wind energy projects - a wind farm just offshore from Cape Cod -- may be poised for approval to move forward. The long and difficult path faced by the project provides some teaching opportunities as renewable energy projects pick up momentum with the vocal support of the Obama administration. Attorney Scott Deatherage of the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight says that the Cape Wind project illustrates the need to mitigate any environmental concerns or perceived intrusions by offshore wind farms. To assuage neighbors' concerns, Cape Wind developers have proposed painting the massive wind turbines so that they will blend in with the horizon, among other things.

"Increasingly both the public and the government want to promote renewable energy and address concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Projects like Cape Wind and what we're seeing along the Texas Gulf Coast suggest that wind energy production and any impact on aesthetics and the environment can be balanced," Deatherage says. 

Indeed, the U.S. wind power industry grew by a staggering 39 percent in 2009, according to the New York Times.

by Robert Tharp at 4:04:00 pm

Elizabeth Durso Branch was well on her way to making a name for herself in the world of Family Law by the time she arrived at McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing in 2004. By then, she had already put in time as a prosecutor in Bexar County, an assistant county attorney in Guadalupe County and served more than four years as an assistant attorney general in the AG's child support litigation division. At the AG's office Elizabeth penned the brief that led to the adoption of a com community caretaking exception by the 4th Court of Appeals in Ortega v. State, 974 S.W.2d 361 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 1998).

At McCurley Orsinger, Betsy has built a strong practice, often focusing on cases that include issues involving the well-being of children caught in the middle of divorce disputes. She and other McCurley Orsinger attorneys took the lead in the unprecedented pro bono effort representing hundreds of minors removed by authorities following the 2008 federal raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas. Firm founder Mike McCurley announced today that Betsy is the firm's newest partner. "Betsy has always been a staunch advocate for her clients in and out of the courtroom," McCurley says. "That tenacity has earned her the respect of her clients and peers, and helped make her an invaluable member of our firm. We are very pleased to be able to introduce her as a partner."







by Robert Tharp at 2:49:18 pm

If you needed any additional reason to worry about the state of the commercial real estate market, consider today's bipartisan statement from 79 U.S. House members to the Federal Reservey. The statement urges the Fed to take a more active role in propping up the commercial real estate market and averting an economic disaster.

According to the New York Times, the congressmen are calling for the agencies to make clear public statements encouraging lenders to continue to make credit available for performing assets, even if the value of the property has taken a hit in its value. More than $1.4 trillion in commercial mortgages will come due by 2013, and as much as 65 percent of those deals will have trouble getting refinanced because of the drop in property values, according to Deutsche Bank. By encouraging lenders to refinance the deals, the lawmakers are hoping that commercial real estate values will stabilize. But that assumes commercial real estate owners will even want to refinance their properties. In many cases, the debt payments exceed the rent roll, making it uneconomical to hold on to the property.

Commercial real estate attorney Thad Armstrong, a partner in Thompson & Knight'sHouston offices, says that while 2009 was the year of residential foreclosures, the boton is passing to commercial real estate. "As loans mature and lenders and borrowers fail to reach agreements on modifications, extensions or workouts, more large-scale, high-value retail and office developments are being faced with foreclosure, and we expect those numbers to continue to rise for the next 12 to 24 months," Armstrong says. "With the sheer number of properties that will be changing hands, there will be attractive business opportunities for investors, tenants, property managers, brokers, and title companies." Armstrong notes that lenders should engage legal counsel with particular expertise in foreclosure laws, which can vary by state. "One misstep could jeopardize the validity of an entire sale."

by Robert Tharp at 1:09:16 pm

As Toyota scrambles to fix an accelerator defect that has idled manufacutirng plants and caused sales of popular models to come to a screeching halt, a Texas law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a Corpus Christi man whose January 2010 crash has been blamed on the faulty pedal.

Attorney Robert Hilliard of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based law firm of  Hilliard Muńoz Guerra LLP represents Slyvia and Albert Peña III. Mr. Peña was driving his 2008 Toyota Avalon last month when the car crashed after suddenly accelerating through a stop sign.

The lawsuit charges that Toyota used defective "Electronic Throttle Control"(ETC) systems in its Toyota and Lexus vehicles. These faulty ETC systems cause sudden acceleration. Mr. Hilliard says that Toyota has long been aware of the problem and even installed a mechanical failsafe device to prevent the unintended acceleration, but discontinued the practice in 2001.

The New York Times notes today that Toyota has known about the problem with the gas pedals for some time, but only last week did the company finally appear to come to terms with the scope of the problem - after expanding a series of recalls to cover millions of vehicles around the world, incalculable damage to its once-stellar reputation for quality and calls for Congressional hearings.

At almost every step that led to its current predicament, Toyota underestimated the severity of the sudden-acceleration problem affecting its most popular cars. It went from discounting early reports of problems to overconfidently announcing diagnoses and insufficient fixes. As recently as the fall, Toyota was still saying it was confident that loose floor mats were the sole cause of any sudden acceleration, issuing an advisory to millions of Toyota owners to remove them. The company said on Nov. 2 that “there is no evidence to support” any other conclusion, and added that its claim was backed up by the federal traffic safety agency.

But, in fact, the agency had not signed on to the explanation, and it issued a sharp rebuke. Toyota’s statement was “misleading and inaccurate,” the agency said. “This matter is not closed.” The effect on Toyota’s business is already being felt. Its sales in the United States in January are expected to drop 11 percent from a year earlier, and its market share in the United States is likely to fall to its lowest point since 2006, according to, an automotive research Web site.

“Toyota has long known about the defect with their throttle control, and has done too little, too late to correct it,” says Mr. Hilliard. “Much like their cars, this problem is speeding out of control and Toyota is having a hard time slamming on the brakes.”

by Robert Tharp at 2:46:40 pm

The battle for a competitive edge among rivals in the highly competitive luxury hotel market has turned ugly between Starwood Hotels and Hilton Worldwide, and shines an important light on the value that businesses place on trade secrets and the lengths they'll go to protect them.

Last April, Starwood sued Hilton for bringing in two former Starwood executives who reportedly defected from Starwood with more than 100,000 internal documents. Starwood claims that Hilton executives at the highest levels condoned the use of the stolen information as Hilton worked to create a luxury hotel to compete with Starwood's `W' hotel chain. Additionally, federal prosecutors are reportedly considering whether Hilton and two former executives should face criminal charges for stealing trade secrets. The Wall Street Journal reports that Starwood's demands go beyond monetary damages and also wants to place Hilton in a "penalty box," preventing the company from developing its own luxury brand for a period of time.

Key employees at successful companies will always be highly coveted hires by industry rivals, but as the Starwood/Hilton saga shows, a worker's knowledge may prove invaluable to their new employers but bringing along actual company secrets can spell real trouble. "When you leave a job, especially when you work in an industry in as much turmoil as the hospitality industry, you have to leave all the confidential material behind," says attorney Richard Barrett-Cuetara of Dallas' Cowles & Thompson.. "And if you learn your new employee has ‘hot goods' you must contact the former employer immediately and quarantine the data until you can return it. A delay on any of those fronts may only help ensure that you will find yourself embroiled in a lawsuit."

by Robert Tharp at 4:38:03 pm

Media outlets devoted to the video game industry are lit up today over a bitter contract dispute unfolding in a Dallas County courtroom. On Friday, following a 12-day trial involving claims of fraud, tortious interference and breach of contract, a jury ordered casual game maker PopCap to pay $4.6 million in damages to former business partner, MumboJumbo.

Writes Gamasutra: The two companies signed a game retail distribution agreement in July 2006, in which Dallas-based MumboJumbo was meant to provide sales and distribution services for PopCap and its games. That deal eventually went sour, with PopCap suing MumboJumbo for payments allegedly owed under the agreement, and MumboJumbo countersuing.

The jury found PopCap liable for fraud, tortious interference, and breach of contract, according to the lawyers for MumboJumbo, which is responsible for games such as Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy and Luxor Adventures.

Through the use of trial testimony and exhibits, MumboJumbo's attorneys from Dallas-based Rose•Walker showed that PopCap committed fraud and tortious interference when it severely damaged a key business relationship between MumboJumbo and a key retailer. Rose•Walker attorneys Marty Rose, Mike Richardson, Ross Cunningham and Bryan Rose used PopCap's own internal e-mail communications to show jurors how PopCap employed a calculated use of false and misleading statements to sour that relationship.

The jury's verdict includes $4.6 million in actual damages, and a separate hearing will be held to decide on the amount of attorneys' fees to add to the damages.

"The law allows you to do plenty of things to be successful in business," says Rose•Walker co-founder Marty Rose. "However, it does not allow you to commit fraud or interfere with a company's business relationships. The jury's verdict is a clear signal that this type of business conduct is not going to be tolerated."

Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, MumboJumbo LLCTM ( is a worldwide publisher, developer and mass marketer of premium casual games for PCs and game consoles. MumboJumbo games are downloadable at its website as well as key game portals, or purchased at retail through mass merchants, computer retailers and specialty outlets.

by Robert Tharp at 3:48:06 pm

New Braunfels resident Ernesto Tamez was supervising a job at BP America's refinery in Texas City, Texas, when the unthinkable happened. A crane operator lifted a heavy oil burner without waiting on a signal from workers on the ground that the area was clear. The oil burner struck him, causing serious crushing injuries to his ribs, back, neck and shoulder.

On Friday -- more than four years after the tragedy -- a Galveston County jury found that Bridgeville, Pa.-based Maxim Crane Works was completely liable for causing the injuries that Mr. Tamez suffered. Jurors found Maxim Crane Works 100 percent liable for the injuries sustained by Mr. Tamez. The $1.72 million verdict includes $300,000 in lost wages, $550,000 in medical expenses and $170,000 to the injured worker's wife. Prior to trial, Maxim Crane Works made no settlement offers. Attorneys for Houston trial law firm Arnold & Itkin LLP presented evidence that the crane operator lifted the oil burner before receiving any signals from workers on the ground that the area below was safe. Additionally, trial evidence revealed that the crane's boom had been moved in such a away that it was no longer aligned. Mr. Tamez and his wife were represented by Arnold & Itkin attorneys Cory Itkin and Michael Pierce.

"Maxim Crane Works' Web site says ‘zero accidents is the only goal,' but sadly in this instance they failed," says Mr. Itkin. "It has taken four years to get to this point, but our hope is that this verdict will help our client and his family move on with their life."

"The greatest tragedy of this case is that the pain and suffering experienced by Mr. Tamez and his wife easily could have been prevented," says Mr. Pierce. "We are pleased that the jury stood up and held this company accountable."


by Robert Tharp at 4:26:55 pm

A plucky response has been filed in one of the most unusual trademark infringement lawsuits of 2009. Apparel manufacturer The North Face has sued 19-year-old University of Missouri freshman James Winkelmann for trademark infringement and dilution. At issue is James Winkelmann's small business, The South Butt, which utilizes a logo and tagline that are similar to -- and arguably parodies of -- The North Face's marks.
As The American Lawyer notes: Last week Winkelmann and his attorneys filed an irreverent reply brief along with a motion to dismiss the suit. According to his filing -- as well as his Web site and his attorney, Albert Watkins of St. Louis firm Kodner, Watkins, Muchnick, Weigley & Brison -- Winkelmann started the clothing line as a joke. Winkelmann says he was inspired to do so after noticing that all his friends were buying North Face gear even though they weren't mountaineers. He decided to poke fun at the idea by coming up with a "South Butt" logo; slapping it on T-shirts, jackets and sweatshirts; and selling the clothes via a Columbia, Mo., pharmacy and the Web.
North Face didn't find the joke funny. The company learned that Winkelmann had moved to trademark the South Butt name, and in August sent him a cease-and-desist letter. Winkelmann -- who Watkins claims had sold less than $5,000 worth of South Butt merchandise by that point -- ignored the demand.
Winkelmann's answer is clearly intended to play to the sympathies offered by the particular defendant, referred to in the filing as "Little Jimmy Winkelmann." It's also intended to draw smiles.
Trademark attorney  Dyan House of Munck Carter in Dallas says that while there is a parody defense, it may not be successful in this case. "What makes this different is that The South Butt sells fleece jackets and other clothing and therefore competes directly with The North Face. That may be reason for a jury to go against the defendant." By contrast, House says Louis Vuitton lost to a company making "Chewy Vuiton" toys primarily because the latter company makes pet toys and not designer handbags. In this case, the relatedness of the goods offered under the marks will likely be a key element in the analysis.

by Robert Tharp at 11:32:31 am

The Psychology Today blog has an interesting take on the perennial uptick in divorce filings every January.
It may be because the holidays are over or that people want a fresh start at the New Year. Some couples who've been planning to break up choose to avoid disrupting their families during the holidays. Others may be hoping that their situation or their partner's behaviors will change, and when nothing shifts, they opt for dissolution, which at best is a sad thing.
Family law attorney  Brad LaMorgese from the Dallas office of McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, agrees. "People make it through the pressures of the holidays, then decide that they don't want to face those same arguments or disappointments again," says LaMorgese. "There are greater opportunities for conflicts involving finances or relatives this time of year, plus it's also a time when it's normal to think about and make plans for the future."

by Robert Tharp at 4:42:08 pm

Beginning next year, the Internal Revenue Service plans to regulate paid tax preparers by requiring them to register with the government, pass competency tests and commit to a code of ethics. The agency's stated goal is to reduce the chance of errors and fraud by tax preparers, and provide an increased assurance of proper advice in preparing returns. "This represents a major expansion of the IRS role as a regulator of tax preparers," says Emily Parker of Thompson & Knight, a former IRS Acting Chief Counsel and Deputy Chief Counsel. "But there are also significant challenges due to the large number of preparers and the limited resources the IRS inherently has to enforce such regulations." It's estimated that as many as 1.4 million people work as paid tax preparers, and most are unregulated.

According to the New York Times, more than 80 percent of taxpayers use a paid tax preparer or tax software to complete their yearly returns. However, paid tax preparers are unregulated in many states, unless they are also lawyers, certified public accountants or enrolled agents who represent taxpayers before the I.R.S. Lawyers, certified public accountants and enrolled agents will not be affected by the new regulations. Though the new regulations will not be in place this year, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said the I.R.S. was stepping up enforcement of preparers this tax season. He said the agency would send notices to 10,000 preparers who had had frequent errors. He said agents would also visit thousands of tax preparers. Some of the visits will be announced ahead of time; others will not. In some visits, agents will pose as taxpayers to see if they get accurate advice from preparers, Mr. Shulman said. Mr. Shulman said taxpayers should avoid preparers who promise larger refunds, or those who charge fees based on the size of the refund.

by Robert Tharp at 4:09:11 pm

John Reed Stark, the former Chief of the SEC's Office of Internet Enforcement, has been named Managing Director and head of international digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg LLC.
As Securites Docket recently noted, Stark played a central role in bringing the SEC into the digital age: Stark was among the first at the SEC to identify the imminent, newfangled threat of online securities fraud. He was instrumental in establishing the SEC's first informal "office" of people interested in Internet-related investigations and litigation, and became the first Chief of the SEC Office of Internet Enforcement when it was created in July 1998. The OIE evolved over time to handle cases running the gamut from conventional manipulation and insider trading to sophisticated account intrusions, hedge fund short sale violations, major offering disclosure violations, and violations of anti-money-laundering rules.
Mr. Stark successfully oversaw scores of investigations and dozens of major Internet and online-related securities prosecutions at the SEC. "We pioneered the Internet Sweep and cracked some of the online world's most challenging cases," he notes, "including groundbreaking matters involving network hacking, identity theft, unauthorized intrusions into brokerage accounts, and money laundering matters, while also handling an array of traditional SEC cases such as those involving insider trading, hedge fund fraud, violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and market manipulations." Additionally, Mr. Stark is a preeminent commentator on securities, cyberspace, and other technology issues pertaining to white-collar crime and to regulation and cyber law.
Stroz Friedberg is the leading global consulting firm for managing digital risk and uncovering digital evidence. The company specializes in digital and mobile device forensics, electronic discovery, data breach and cybercrime response, anti-money laundering, and cyber and traditional investigations. Working at the cutting edge of law, policy, and technology, we provide technical assistance and strategic advice to help clients effectively manage electronic information: its sources, its trails, and its implications.  

by Robert Tharp at 3:06:46 pm

We all know what they say about death and taxes, but there is now some question about whether the estate tax will or won't be around for 2010. As of now, there is no estate tax after Congress failed to extend the Tax Act for 2010, allowing the estate tax to lapse. But Allen B. Craig III, head of the tax practice group at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, says it is certain that Congress will seek a retroactive amendment in 2010, however any such amendment will likely result in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of retroactivity for transactions and deaths that occurred before enactment

The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 imposes a 45 percent tax on estates valued over $3.5 million($7 million per couple). If Congress fails to amend the law in 2010, the Tax Act will automatically reinstate the estate tax in 2011 with an exemption amount of $1 million, not $3.5 million, and a maximum tax rate of 55 percent.

Writes the Wall Street Journal yesterday:
President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders plan to move soon to block the estate tax from disappearing in 2010, suggesting the levy might outlive the "Death Tax Repeal" movement that has tried mightily to kill it.
The Democratic stance on the estate tax contrasts with Mr. Obama's reluctance to press forward with his campaign pledge to raise income-tax rates on top earners, which he worries could have an adverse economic impact during a recession.

But Democrats are determined to act quickly to prevent the estate tax's scheduled repeal. Elimination of the levy on big inheritances was approved by Congress under President George W. Bush in 2001, with rollbacks phased in slowly and its full elimination slated to take effect next year.
The Senate Finance Committee will move within weeks on legislation to reverse that law, and Mr. Obama is expected to detail his estate-tax preservation proposal in his budget next month, congressional tax writers said.


by Robert Tharp at 4:39:29 pm

Dallas law firm  Shackelford, Melton & McKinley, LLP is expanding its corporate transactions and corporate securities practice with the addition of attorney  Henry Exall IV. Exall joins the firm with more than two decades of corporate and legal experience. He will assist clients with corporate transactions and negotiations, as well as matters involving financial and operational issues. Mr. Exall previously worked as a managing director at a merchant banking corporation where he was responsible for all in-house legal matters, including contracting, capital raising and corporate structuring.

Many industry watchers expect corporate trasactions and securities cases to be legal industry bright spots in 2010. Law 360, among many others, reports an expected uptick in litigation in the coming year:
With U.S. stocks rising and jobless claims down, legal industry experts are cautiously optimistic that a return to normal levels of business activity will translate to a modest increase in litigation spending after more than a 10 percent dip in 2009.
"Our research shows that litigation spending is going to go up only slightly," said Michael B. Rynowecer, president of BTI Consulting Group Inc. "That's good news, because it was down last year."
Overall, spending on corporate litigation could increase by about 2.3 percent this year, according to data on corporate litigation spending compiled in BTI's Premium Practices Forecast 2010, and litigation attorneys would welcome such results.

by Robert Tharp at 4:07:44 pm

Take a look at oil well and pipeline inspector John Williams' time cards and pay stubs and two things quickly become apparent: 1) Williams keeps an exhausting work schedule, often working as much as 160 hour in a single pay period and 2) His employer, Moody International Americas Inc., rarely pays him any overtime compensation. Last week, Williams and two former co-workers filed a federal class-action lawsuit charging that Moody International required them to work more than 40 hours per pay period but failed to pay them overtime as mandated by federal law.

Dallas attorney Charles W. "Trey" Branham III of the Law Offices of  Charles W. Branham, III, L.P. filed the Fair Labor Standards Act class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Lufkin on behalf of Williams and former co-workers Herbert "Jay" Fontenot and Tye Adair. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that employers pay overtime to non-exempt hourly employees who work more than 40 hours per pay period at a rate equal to one-and-a-half times their regular straight-time pay rate. Mr. Fontenot and Mr. Adair worked as inspectors and technicians for the company, and have asserted similar claims. Moody International is a subsidiary of UK-based Moody International Limited, which provides services to companies in oil and gas, power, mining and other industries.

"I'm concerned that what happened to John and the others in this case happened to other Moody International employees as well," Mr. Branham says. "With thousands of technical workers in the U.S., it could be that these three are just the tip of the iceberg."

Mr. Branham says Moody International's own employee handbook may become a key piece of evidence, including statements about the payment of overtime that may run counter to federal law. More information is available at


by Robert Tharp at 3:27:46 pm

Law firms fortunate enough to find themselves on The American Lawyer's short list for "IP Litigation Firm of the Year" can typically point to a certain case or a specific line of work that is responsible for the national recognition. Some score gigantic monetary awards against household name corporations, some post a consistent string of legal victories or take the lead in litigation that ends up setting precedent or influencing policy. Finally, some firms successfully defend corporations against IP attacks.

The editors at The American Lawyer cited a little of everything in selecting Fish & Richardson as a finalist for the 2009 award.

The judges singled out the "extraordinary perseverance its lawyers have shown in turning big verdicts against its clients to dust," and specifically its success in reversing over $2 billion in damages awards against Microsoft Corp. According to the magazine, Fish's "2007 obliteration of Alcatel-Lucent's $1.5 billion win against Microsoft for allegedly infringing MP3 digital music patents" was upheld on appeal in 2008, which "started a series of defense wins that effectively ended Alcatel-Lucent's patent war against Microsoft - with the latter clearly on top." Fish also reversed a $388 million jury verdict against Microsoft in a patent infringement suit brought by Uniloc Corp.

The publication also highlighted Fish & Richardson's strong performance before the International Trade Commission, where the firm won five cases in the last two years and played a role in roughly one in every four cases filed in 2008. Finally, the publication recognized Fish's impressive work in the U.S. district court for the Eastern District of Texas, where the firm was responsible for two rare summary judgment motions. The magazine concluded that Fish is "on track to dominate two of the nation's hottest patent venues."

Also this month, the firm has been recognized by Law 360 as one of only six finalists for its "IP Law Firm of the Year" awards. Editors at Law 360 praised Fish for "setting the pace with massive verdicts and settlements, and key roles in policy changes." In addition to the reversals of the verdicts against Microsoft, Fish played an important role in creating new law through its defense of Bose Corp.'s WAVE trademark before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and the Federal Circuit. The appellate court determined that in order to force the cancellation of a trademark alleged to have been obtained by fraud, plaintiffs need to prove intent to deceive the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This precedent-setting case established a clear standard in a controversial, grey area of trademark law.

Meanwhile, IP Law & Business has named F&R a top IP law firm in its "Who Protects Innovation in America" survey of law firms used by Fortune 100 companies. Fish ranked second overall - with one less mention than the top firm - meaning that the firm is one of the most sought-after firms for both patent prosecution and patent litigation services among the Fortune 100.

by Robert Tharp at 10:39:24 am

McKool Smith's patent litigation on behalf of i4i Inc. literally brought Microsoft's flagship software, Microsoft Word, to its knees in the last half of 2009. Just days before Christmas 2009, a federal upheld the judgment, tacked on an additional $90 million in damages and interest and ordered an injunction on the sales of Word.

That monumental case alone may have been enough to place McKool Smith on Law 360's list of the top six IP Firms of the Year. But as is custom for this growing and dynamic firm, 2009 was full of important patent cases. Besides the Microsoft verdict, Law 360 also noted the firm's $139 million verdict for Versata Software Inc against enterprise software provider SAP, a $267.5 million settlement for Visto Corp. against Blackberry maker Research in Motion and a $19 million verdict for OPTi Inc. against Apple Inc.

The Law 360 selection is only the latest honor for McKool Smith, which also represents clients in commercial litigation, white collar investigations and defense, and bankruptcy matters. The firm recently was recognized in Corporate Counsel magazine as a 2010 "Go-To Law Firm" for Fortune 500 companies. McKool Smith also was named to the inaugural "Midsize Hot List" published in The National Law Journal, and recognized in the same publication for winning more of the Top 100 U.S. Verdicts than any other law firm in the nation during the most recent survey period.

by Robert Tharp at 3:57:15 pm

San Antonio attorney Allan B. Polunsky has been appointed to a new six-year term on the Texas Public Safety Commission, the state board responsible for formulating and overseeing enforcing criminal, traffic and safety laws, for preventing and detecting crime, for apprehending law violators and for educating citizens about laws and public safety.

Mr. Polunsky is the only person to serve as chairman of the state's top two criminal justice agencies - the Texas Public Safety Commission and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. He has served as Chairman of the Public Safety Commissoin since 2007. He previously served 13 years on the state Board of Criminal Justice, including five years as chairman.

"The safety and security of our state is a key concern of Gov. Perry and Texans everywhere," says Mr. Polunsky. "I am honored to assist the governor and law enforcement officials in assuring that all our resources are properly supported and coordinated in making Texas the safest state in the nation."

Mr. Polunsky is managing partner and founder of Polunsky & Beitel, LLP, a law firm that specializes in real estate and mortgage lending with offices in San Antonio and Dallas. He was among the first 50 attorneys in Texas to be Board Certified in both Residential Real Estate Law and Commercial Real Estate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Mr. Polunsky also has served the City of San Antonio as Chairman of the city's Zoning Commission, President of the Industrial Development Authority and member of the Planning Commission. He also served on the San Antonio River Authority Board of Directors for 12 years. Mr. Polunsky is a past board member of the Texas Lyceum Association, Special Olympics of Texas and San Antonio Food Bank.



by Robert Tharp at 1:59:23 pm

White-collar defense attorney Bill Mateja has penned an interesting op-ed analysis published in the Dallas Morning News regarding the federal honest services statute. Following oral arguments earlier this month in which the Supremes expressed grave concerns about the statute's constitutionality, it's widely believed that the Court will strike down this widely used statute.

Mateja, a former head of the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force and now in practice at Fish & Richardson's Dallas offices, writes: What began in 1988 as a law targeting mail and wire fraud by making it a crime to deprive an employer or the government of the "intangible right of honest services" quickly has become a favorite tool of federal prosecutors targeting not just public officials but employees in the private sector.
In many cases, it's the charge prosecutors turn to when nothing else will stick, a way to secure a fraud conviction without proving financial gain or any quid pro quo deal. And, it's been used to criminalize conduct that could be construed as nothing more than self-serving acts, conflicts of interest and slight ethical transgressions, including failing to give your employer an honest day's work.
Undoubtedly, were the Supreme Court to strike down the statute, defendants previously convicted under the statute would come out of the woodwork asking to have their convictions overturned. Additionally, prosecutors who depend on the statute to prosecute worthy public corruption cases would be hamstrung.
In Dallas, the statute was used just last October to obtain high-profile convictions against some of those involved in the Dallas City Hall corruption scandal, although those convictions were coupled with other charges that are safe from Supreme Court review. Striking down the statute, however, would have voided convictions obtained against three Baylor men's basketball coaches in the mid-1990s for scheming to obtain credits and scholarships for junior college transfers. The coaches' actions may have violated NCAA rules, but no law was broken except for this so-called honest services statute.
Notwithstanding these potential shockwaves, the Supremes should strike down the honest services statute because its use leads to selective prosecutions and makes federal prosecutors omnipotent in interpreting the law. When a prosecutor's mere discretion (or whim) wields that kind of power, it can hardly be said that the rule of law is alive and well.
While we're at it, our justice system should revisit the more than 4,000 federal offenses scattered throughout the federal criminal code, as well as untold numbers of federal regulatory criminal provisions. Enforcement of this ever-growing criminal code has contributed to a backlogged judiciary, overflowing prisons and the incarceration of innocent individuals who are persuaded to plead guilty not because they are guilty, but because exercising their constitutional right to a trial is all too risky.
To this end, Congress heard testimony last summer from strange bedfellows who have formed a coalition to bring "overcriminalization" to lawmakers' attention, namely, the American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Cato Institute, Constitution Project, Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Washington Legal Foundation.
Unquestionably, neither fraud nor public corruption can be tolerated, but relying upon flawed laws and an overcriminalized justice system are not solutions we can live with.


by Robert Tharp at 11:38:08 am

As a noted appellate attorney working for a highly respected Texas-based appellate firm, you'd expect Ryan Clinton of Hankinson Levinger to be the kind of guy who has passion for a cause. That drive extends outside the courtroom as well. Clinton has been named one of just six people nationwide honored by a national animal welfare organization for his work promoting no-kill animal shelters.

No Kill Advocacy Center, an organization committed to ending euthanasia at animal shelters, conferred its Henry Bergh Leadership Award on Mr. Clinton and five other individuals at animal welfare organizations across the country. The award is named for the 19th century animal advocate who founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Among other things, Clinton was instrumental in the movement to place a no-kill item on the Austin City Council agenda. As a result of his work, the elected officials voted unanimously to direct the city manager to formulate a plan for Austin to implement no-kill policies and procedures.

"This is a tremendous honor, especially when you consider the other people that were named and the outstanding work they have done," Clinton says. "My hope is that this award will help inspire animal lovers all over the country to demand the enactment of life-saving policies and programs at their community animal shelters."
Mr. Clinton is the founder of, a grass-roots, non-profit organization dedicated to ending the killing of lost and homeless pets in Austin. The group has served as a national model for other such efforts in California, Florida, Oregon and North Carolina. Mr. Clinton also serves as volunteer legal counsel for Austin Pets Alive, a non-profit pet adoption group responsible for saving 2,500 lost and homeless pets from the city's shelter in less than two years.
Prior to joining Hankinson Levinger, where he provides appellate services to a wide range of business clients, Mr. Clinton served six years as an Assistant Solicitor General for the State of Texas. He has successfully argued cases in state and federal appellate courts, including four arguments before the Supreme Court of Texas. He also has been named as one of the top young lawyers in Texas five different times in the Texas Rising Stars list published in Texas Monthly magazine.


by Robert Tharp at 3:40:13 pm

While the Seattle Post Intelligencer rates it as only the No. 7 biggest Microsoft-related news story of 2009, the stunning David vs. Goliath patent case involving i4i Inc.(represented by McKool Smith and Tyler, Texas-based Parker, Bunt & Ainsworth) is certainly one of the top IP stories of the year.

Writes the Seattle PI: Though the lawsuit was filed in 2007, the hubbub started in August when a judge slapped Microsoft with an injunction that said it could no longer sell Word. i4i Inc. had sued Microsoft for patent infringement, alleging the ubiquitous word-processor incorporated custom-XML technology owned by the small Canadian company. A Texas jury agreed that Microsoft was liable for willful infringement and awarded i4i $200 million in damages.
Microsoft, determined to prove i4i's patent invalid, was granted an appeal and a temporary stay on the injunction. In September, the companies fought over the case in a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court - Microsoft arguing that i4i was out for easy money, and i4i arguing that Microsoft killed its business model. Just days before Christmas, a three-judge panel upheld the Texas ruling, reinstating the injunction and imposing $290 million in damages after fees and interest. Microsoft has until Jan. 11 to strip the custom-XML editor from Word - or stop selling Word altogether.


by Robert Tharp at 3:14:18 pm

Thanks to the recession and heightened vigilance following Bernard Madoff's 2008 arrest, Ponzi scheme investigations really spiked in 2009, according to an excellent Associated Press analysis. In fact, the AP is declaring 2009 the year of the Ponzi scheme.
The AP reports that 2009 saw four times as many Ponzi schemes unravel than in 2008. Writes the AP: Tens of thousands of investors, some of them losing their life's savings, watched more than $16.5 billion disappear like smoke in 2009, according to an Associated Press analysis of scams in all 50 states.
In all, more than 150 Ponzi schemes collapsed in 2009, compared to about 40 in 2008, according to the AP's examination of criminal cases at all U.S. attorneys' offices and the FBI, as well as criminal and civil actions taken by state prosecutors and regulators at both the federal and state levels.
A Ponzi scheme depends on a constant infusion of new investors to pay older ones and furnish the cash for the scammers' lavish lifestyles. This year, when the pool of people willing to become new investors shrank and existing investors clamored to withdraw money, scams collapsed across the country.
They're also resulting in a spike in federal class-action filings. "Increasingly common are class actions based on what a bank should have known, even if the institution acted as a passive custodian of the funds," says  Kenneth Johnston of Dallas's Kane Russell Coleman & Logan. "Banks may face costly claims for failing to identify that, for example, one of its customers was in fact a Ponzi scheme." Johnston also notes that SEC receivers and bankruptcy trustees are aggressively pursuing fraudulent transfer claims against both banks and investors who merely held or received Ponzi scheme distributions.

by Robert Tharp at 2:04:41 pm

Social media guru Brian Solis posts some very interesting numbers regarding the explosive growth and our collective embrace of social media networks. Time spent on social networks tripled over the last year and now accounts for 17 percent of the time we spend online. As a result, we are now spending more time on social networks and blogs than e-mail.

Writes Brian: As a result of our online interaction, advertisers are following our activities attempting to capture our attention where it is focused. The same report also found that online display advertising in top social networks has more than doubled year-over-year, increasing 119 percent. The jump represents an increase in spending from approximately $49 million in August 2008 to roughly $108 million in August 2009. Also of note, the share of estimated spend in social networks as also increased, expanding from seven percent in August 2008 to 15 percent in August 2009.


by Robert Tharp at 3:41:06 pm

Commercial bankruptcy has been one of 2009's hot spots in the legal industry, and McKool Smith's new bankruptcy practice group continues to expand with some of the industry's top legal minds. After forming its bankruptcy group and opening Houston offices led by noted bankruptcy specialist Hugh Ray, the firm has hired bankruptcy litigator Basil A. Umari

Umari, who comes to the firm from Andrews Kurth, represents debtors, creditor committees, secured and unsecured creditors, and other parties in virtually every type of bankruptcy proceeding. He has represented clients from a variety of industries, including banks, oil and gas producers, healthcare entities, ship manufacturers, and many others.

Items 501-550 of 815