March 31, 2010 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.
March 29, 2010 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.
March 29, 2010 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.
March 26, 2010 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."
March 26, 2010 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."
March 25, 2010 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.
March 24, 2010 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."
March 19, 2010 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."
March 18, 2010 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.
March 10, 2010 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.
March 5, 2010 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.
March 4, 2010 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."
March 4, 2010 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."
March 2, 2010 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."
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