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Androvett Blog

The Androvett Blog

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:50:00 am

Many employers received a last-minute reprieve from new federal overtime rules that would have gone into effect Thursday, Dec. 1, entitling thousands of previously “exempt” workers to overtime pay. But the Texas federal judge’s temporary injunction creates uncertainty for businesses preparing for the employment compliance playing field going forward.

In a client alert, employment attorney Audrey Mross of Dallas’ Munck Wilson Mandala notes that many employers had already revised workers’ pay to comply with the Department of Labor’s overtime rule. Businesses that have not yet implemented changes now have breathing room to wait for a final ruling from the courts. However, those that have already altered employee pay should think carefully before reversing already announced pay changes.

“If a pay increase was already announced or implemented, and you are considering putting it on hold, there are further considerations that may not apply such as employee relations, an angry or confused employee seeking legal counsel, state laws requiring written notice prior to reducing pay, and collective bargaining on pay issues,” Ms. Mross says.

For more information, contact Robert Tharp at 214-559-4630 or robert@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:40:00 am

Dallas-based litigation consulting and support firm Courtroom Sciences Inc. (CSI) is suing its competitor DecisionQuest for allegedly plagiarizing a CSI paper on trial tactics. CSI was co-founded in 1990 by TV psychologist and daytime talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw, but he is no longer affiliated with the firm.

The paper in question is called “A Brief Primer on the Reptile Theory of Trial Strategy: Plaintiff Psychology and the Defense Response,” which DecisionQuest’s Ann T. Greeley presented at a 2015 American Bar Association conference. That paper includes key phrases and sentences that also appear in two CSI papers titled “Derailing the Reptile Safety Rule Attack: A Neurocognitive Analysis and Solution” and “Debunking and Redefining the Plaintiff Reptile Theory.” CSI Senior Litigation Consultant and Vice President Bill Kanasky Jr. wrote and published the content in 2014.

“I think it’s rather stunning,” says Dallas attorney Rogge Dunn of Clouse Dunn, who represents CSI. “All of us learned in elementary school that you don’t copy someone else’s work. Copying to this degree is extraordinary.”

The case is CSI Litigation Psychology, LLC vs. DecisionQuest, Inc., No. 3:16-cv-03255-G in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

For more information, please contact Mark Annick at 800-559-4534 or mark@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:17:00 am

A federal judge in Dallas has ordered the attorneys general of two Northeastern states to come to Texas next month to be deposed in a lawsuit brought by Exxon Mobil. The company has accused Massachusetts AG Maura Healey and New York AG Eric Schneiderman of unlawfully using their powers to investigate  whether the oil giant misled investors and the public by downplaying the impact of global warming. The company is seeking an injunction barring the attorneys general from demanding internal documents relating to climate change research and investor communications stretching back decades.

“These investigations could have a potentially catastrophic effect on Exxon, based on the documents and information that have been made public so far,” says attorney Chris Hamilton of Dallas’ Standly Hamilton. “However, allowing a company that is the subject of investigations to take depositions of elected state officials regarding their motivations is highly unusual and problematic. What would happen if a criminal defendant sought the deposition of a district attorney regarding the motivation for prosecuting a case? The precedent for a court to allow this type of tactic is concerning.”

The judge’s order advised the officials to reserve Dec.13 for giving testimony in Dallas.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:11:00 pm

The $100 million discrimination lawsuit filed against the New York-based international law firm Chadbourne & Parke over claims that female partners are paid less than their male counterparts is less about gender than employment status, according to Sarah Bradbury, senior counsel at Dallas litigation boutique Estes Thorne & Carr PLLC.

“While it is becoming increasingly easy to create an employment relationship and characterize an independent contractor as an employee, an equity partner cannot be categorized as an ‘employee,’ making it very difficult to prevail in this case. However, if a similar lawsuit were brought by income level partners, it becomes a very different case.

“Gender pay disparity may be real at this particular firm specifically or within the legal profession generally. However, even if the disparity exists, in this instance, because the attorneys are not employees of the firm, they simply have no employment discrimination route to pursue,” adds Ms. Bradbury, who is Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

For more information, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:26:00 am

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has himself in an ideal succession situation. He waited to draft the perfect candidate – Dak Prescott. He can now let potential future star quarterback Prescott learn while aging star Tony Romo still has the ball, said Joe Ahmad, a founding partner in Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing P.C. or AZA.

On his blog Legal Issues in the Executive Suite, Mr. Ahmad says Boards and C-Suite folks should think like Mr. Jones.

“Keep your stars in place, but keep an eye on the future of the company. A CEO can fall at any time, be it from a physical problem like the cancer that took Apple’s Steve Jobs, a sexual harassment scandal like the one that felled Fox News’ Roger Ailes or a government investigation like the New Jersey inquiry that caused United Airlines to drop Jeff Smisek.

“Certainly the NFL may not always get it right or do it smoothly. Just look at the Indianapolis Colts; they couldn’t afford Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, so they tossed their older star. Of course, corporate America doesn’t have to deal with NFL salary caps. Nor does corporate America have to bench one player for another to be useful. A CEO successor can be the COO or president or serve some other role in the corporation while being groomed to take the helm should there be a natural succession or a sudden need for a replacement.

“A 2014 study by the National Association of Corporate Directors showed that two-thirds of U.S. public and private companies reported they still have no formal CEO succession plan in place. Even though it can be awkward to plan for a company leader’s exit, having no plan is bad for shareholders, bad for employees and bad for business. This can be especially devastating to a smaller business. Even family businesses can have this problem as The Economist notes in discussing a lack of succession planning in family oil businesses in the Arabian Gulf.

MIT Sloan Management Review this summer cited the example of Surveymonkey whose CEO died unexpectedly last year. There was no succession plan. The company looked at 75 candidates before making a choice two months later, only to have that person be replaced six months after that. That uncertainty and tumult had to cost them.

“Apple did it right when the company knew Steve Jobs would be leaving, as I wrote back in 2012. Warren Buffett has been careful about this too. He realizes that such a plan allows people to stay invested and believe that things are, and will be, under control. Boards and incumbent CEOS owe it to their constituencies inside and outside the company to deal with the sensitive subject of passing the baton. Just as a smart company buys insurance for unforeseen problems, a smart company has a succession plan even if it seems the CEO is in great health and the horizon appears to be without scandal. Accidents and quarterback sacks happen.”

For more information, contact Mary Flood at mary@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:50:00 am

Twitter recently suspended accounts of users it said were promoting hate speech, including those with an alt-right think tank. At the same time, Facebook is struggling with whether it should exert more control over fake news that exploded over the social media site during the presidential campaign.

Houston attorney Chip Babcock of Jackson Walker LLP, a prominent First Amendment authority, says the social media giants have a right to suspend accounts and control their platforms, but there are limits.

“The more Twitter or Facebook exercise editorial control, the more liability they will create for themselves. They’ve been able to say we don’t edit content. It’s like the supermarket with a bulletin board where individuals can post notices for babysitting services. The supermarket isn’t responsible for what somebody tacks up on the bulletin board.

“Also, Twitter suspending accounts is not a classic First Amendment issue because the First Amendment is directed at the government, not private business. Twitter has the right to suspend accounts. But the more any social media platform gets into editing its content, the weaker their defamation protections become.

“In the early days of the internet, some providers faced questions about content control. There has been some legislation since then protecting those service providers. But today, there are new questions given the tremendous power and influence of social media.”

For more information, contact Kit Frieden at 800-559-4534 or kit@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 4:15:00 pm

Two Texas lawmakers have filed a bill cracking down on cyberbullying. Called “David’s Law,” it’s named in honor of a San Antonio teen who was bullied and committed suicide earlier this year. If adopted during the 2017 Texas legislative session, the law would make it a misdemeanor to harass or bully anyone under the age of 18 through text messages, social media and apps. The bill would require school districts to include cyberbullying policies, develop a system to anonymously report bullying and threats and give districts authority to investigate bullying off campus, collaborate with law enforcement and allow officers to target anonymous social media users who send threatening messages.

Dallas attorney Shonn Brown of Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst says it’s important to provide consistent guidance to schools because they must remain current with technology to help control student behavior on campus and during school-related activities. 

“Schools must be vigilant about monitoring and controlling student behavior particularly as it relates to bullying and technological advances. The schools could probably use some guidance from the legislature in order to police such activities and develop appropriate remedies within the school disciplinary system. Making bullying a crime goes beyond school enforcement and takes it outside the school environment. It will be interesting to see how the legislature addresses that issue and how that may affect students, possibly subjecting them to a criminal record.”

For more information, please contact Sophia Reza at sophia@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:35:00 pm

The lawyers at Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett are once again providing financial aid for college to Dallas County students whose lives have been affected by cancer. The firm will provide scholarships, which students can use for tuition, books and fees during the 2017-18 academic year.

This will be the third year the firm has provided the scholarships, through the Communities Foundation of Texas, bringing the total amount donated to $150,000. So far, scholarship recipients have gone on to attend Purdue, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Collin Community College, Samford University, Texas A&M Commerce, the University of Texas at Arlington and Austin College.

“We have seen – through the experiences of our clients – what cancer can do to an individual, to a family,” says founding shareholder David Greenstone at the firm. “This is just a small way for us to help.” 

The Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett Scholarship Benefitting Families Impacted By Cancer provides multiple, single-year scholarships to graduating high school seniors from any Dallas County public or private school, and previous scholarship recipients, who:

  • Have an immediate family member (mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, brother or sister) who is under a current cancer diagnosis and/or treatment for cancer;
  • Have an immediate family member who passed away within the last two years from cancer: or
  • Are themselves under a current cancer diagnosis or treatment for cancer.

Those interested may apply online through the Communities Foundation of Texas.

For more information, contact Mark Annick at mark@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:36:00 pm

A change.org petition encouraging electors in the Electoral College to switch their votes from President-elect Donald Trump to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making the rounds of the internet and gaining supporters by the minute. But ultimately, appellate lawyer Chad Ruback in Dallas doubts it will bring about a different result.

“If a significant number of electors from states won by Trump chose to disregard the outcome in their states and instead cast their Electoral College votes for Hillary Clinton, she could win the election. It would not be unprecedented for electors to do that even though taking that action is a misdemeanor in 29 states. In fact, in the history of the Electoral College, 157 electors have voted for a different candidate than the one who won. 

“If the two candidates were separated by only a few Electoral College votes, the prospect of a handful of electors reneging on their commitments might worry the Trump campaign.  However, because so many Electoral College votes separate Trump from Clinton, a few rogue electors would not be enough to affect  the outcome of the election.”

For more information, contact Mark Annick at mark@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:11:00 pm

Donald Trump told CNBC in a 2012 interview that “this country is absolutely crazy” to prosecute alleged violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in places like Mexico and China. He said the anti-bribery law puts U.S. companies at a huge disadvantage, according to Houston lawyer, author and compliance consultant Thomas Fox.

“Dismantling the 39-year-old law against bribing foreign businesses and governments is a terrible idea,” said Mr. Fox, who operates the FCPA Compliance Report website. “Not only does it ensure that American companies are operating honestly, it also is an effective tool to promote U.S. business overseas. And the settlements and fines paid by companies caught violating it help pay for the enforcement of this program. At the same time, the FCPA is used along with another federal law to combat terrorism.

“In reality, it is doubtful that Trump would seek to outright reject the FCPA. What seems more likely is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and similar business interests will seek to limit the reach of the law by amending it to add a defense for better compliance and perhaps limit the use of the law against state-owned enterprises.”

For more information, contact Kit Frieden at kit@androvett.com or 800-559-4534. 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 4:19:00 pm

Real estate and energy partner David Drumm at Carrington Coleman in Dallas says the election of Donald Trump as president could weaken the U.S. economy in numerous ways.

“To the extent tax cuts are put in effect and combined with ‘feel-good’ spending policies on things like border walls and creating obsolete and inefficient factory jobs that the market economy does not want, we risk an increase in the federal budget deficit, when debt-to-GDP ratios are already at all-time highs,” Mr. Drumm says. “Weakening the U.S. federal treasury will also inevitably weaken the U.S. economy, because the debt rating on government bonds will deteriorate and we will have to apply more of our GDP to interest on the national debt.

“On the energy side of things, I fear that a weakening of the economy will ultimately weaken demand for energy and thereby drilling activity.”

For more information, contact Mark Annick at mark@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 4:05:00 pm

While a protectionist trade position has been the chorus of the Trump campaign, little is known about the president-elect’s views on intellectual property rights. Increasingly burdened U.S. patent holders are hopeful for an ally who supports the enforcement rights of small patent holders.

“We know he favors companies in the U.S. versus their foreign counterparts, so it seems likely that he is going to favor strong IP protection to prevent foreign companies from improperly incorporating U.S. technology into their products,” says noted patent litigator Michael Heim of Heim, Payne & Chorush in Houston. “The open question in the U.S. and in foreign treaties is, ‘What is going to be done with regard to the enforcement of IP rights?’ Patent enforcement actions in the U.S. have become a game of kings.  If you are not a large, wealthy corporation with a valuable product line, the deck is stacked against you.  Rules enacted to reduce the number of nuisance-value filings have had the unfortunate impact of making it difficult for all patent owners, especially smaller companies and individuals, to enforce their rights.

“In addition, courts are killing computer-related patents by the hundreds and maybe even thousands, using recent rulings from the Supreme Court to dismiss cases before they can even get started.  We don’t know where Trump stands on these issues, but given his stance on other issues, the hope is that he is going to level the playing field for patent owners.”

For more information, contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 3:40:00 pm

Before mounting his presidential campaign, President-elect Trump indicated support for certain gun regulations, including a ban on assault weapons, but he’s more likely to stay true to recent campaign promises regarding gun rights, says Dallas white-collar defense lawyer Bill Mateja, a shareholder at Polsinelli and noted Second Amendment expert. Mr. Mateja notes that as the election approached, Mr. Trump declared himself a strong Second Amendment supporter, specifically stating that restrictions on guns and ammunition magazines have been a total failure. “The Second Amendment is going to enjoy even more vitality under a Trump presidency – whether it be in using the Second Amendment as a litmus test for selecting federal judges or in emboldening the Justice Department to not reflexively defend the constitutionality of gun statutes that defy common sense, such as the interstate handgun ban,” he said. “Mr. Trump will likely be the Second Amendment’s new Charlton Heston.”

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Mike Androvett at 800-559-4534 or mike@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 3:23:00 pm

Daniel Charest, a partner at Dallas’ Burns Charest, says the Trump victory points to good news for domestic energy producers and pipeline companies.

“I think you’ll see an uptick in energy prices in the near term due to uncertainty and, depending on his willingness to follow up on his promises, a continued increase in energy prices. Meanwhile, he’ll do his best to crush regulations that impose costs on domestic production and development, and as a result make those areas more profitable, at least to some extent.”

For more information, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:07:00 pm

With Houston’s close geographic ties and economic nexus to Mexico, a Trump presidency is certain to cause some anxiety due to his hatred for free-trade agreements, especially NAFTA, said Houston lawyer Ashish Mahendru of Mahendru, P.C.  “If NAFTA goes away, the attendant uncertainty in those transactions will cause parties to re-negotiate their agreements and require more definite terms, which may ultimately lead to broken agreements,” Mahendru said. “That creates more opportunities to advise and litigate on behalf of my foreign-trade oriented clients. Additionally, Trump’s isolationist campaign promises could give us an advantage over cautious or scared foreign parties who face litigation in our backyard.”

For more information, contact Mary Flood at 800-559-4534 or mary@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:55:00 am

Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor and founding partner of Houston-based Hilder & Associates P.C., sees a Trump administration, possibly with Rudy Giuliani as attorney general, being heavy-handed in prosecutions, focusing on terrorism and potentially setting a tone that could keep investigations into Donald Trump and Republicans tamped down and investigations into Hillary Clinton and Democrats encouraged. “It’s not that the Justice Department has been particularly light-handed under President Obama, but it may become stricter and less open-minded under the Trump administration if it adopts the tone the candidate and Giuliani have used in the campaign,” he said.

For more information, contact Mary Flood at 800-559-4534 or mary@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:46:00 am

Trial and appellate lawyer Brian Lauten at Deans & Lyons predicts that under a Trump Administration, civil liberties and constitutional protections will erode. 

“Specifically, Mr. Trump will attempt to use the courts and the Department of Justice to curtail the rights of legal immigrants, criminal defendants and civil libertarians,” says Mr. Lauten. The Dallas lawyer, who has previously argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, predicts that the court's “lurch to the right” will be reinforced and enhanced by Mr. Trump’s ability to nominate staunch conservatives to openings on the court.    

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Mike Androvett at 800-559-4534 or mike@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:34:00 am

Dallas lawyer Trey Branham of Dean Omar Branham says Donald Trump’s election could mean Texas-style tort reform at the federal level. As an example, he expects a revival of the FAIR Act – Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2006 – which was narrowly defeated.

“The essence of the bill was that it would end asbestos lawsuits on both the state and federal level and set up a federal ‘trust fund’ funded by industry to pay asbestos lawsuit claims. The idea was to set up a complex set of medical and factual criteria that a claimant would have to meet to be eligible for compensation and compensation levels were capped without regard to income, loss or facts. Additionally, fees would be capped at 5 percent of recovery. The practical effect of this would be that asbestos victims would not be able to engage counsel and would be forced to negotiate the medical and factual criteria alone and, if they were successful, would get far less compensation than the tort system generally permits.”

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Mark Annick at 800-559-4534 or mark@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:24:00 am

Houston lawyer James Prappas of Jackson Walker LLP, who advises clients on strategic immigration planning and related transactional matters, looks for an increased focus on legal immigration during a Donald Trump presidency:

“Mr. Trump will rely less on executive action. Congress will become more involved. The EB-5 program, which permits an individual to invest $500,000 or $1 million, will remain and could be expanded to create more U.S. jobs,” he predicts.

“Mexican companies will establish U.S. operations to increase exports due to the favorable exchange rate. This will increase demand for U.S. work visas.

“There will be a rise in naturalization applications because of (i) Mr. Trump’s victory; (ii) the Republican Congress; and (iii) the upcoming $45 filing fee increase on Dec. 23 from $595 to $640 per person.”

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Kit Frieden at 800-559-4534 or kit@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:15:00 am

Chris Johns, partner at Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP in Austin, said that since Donald Trump promised huge spending increases for infrastructure, including on new roads, bridges, and other systems, there could be a lot of land taken by the government through eminent domain. “If he makes good on that campaign promise, lawyers who handle eminent domain cases like those at our firm will see a large influx of new clients. We’ll see cases protecting landowners whose land is taken for public use and ensure they receive the constitutional guarantee of just compensation,” he said.

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Mary Flood at 800-559-4534 or mary@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:09:00 am

Houston immigration lawyer Gordon Quan, founding partner of Quan Law Group PLLC, expects panic and a rush of new clients reviewing their options under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other regulations. “While U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and ICE will not change overnight, I see a big push in filings of both relative and employment-based visas prior to any regulatory or statutory changes as a way to establish some grounds for an equitable basis to stay or immigrate,” he said. “Eventually Mr. Trump must deal constructively with the undocumented as they are essential for any economic growth.”

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Mary Flood at 800-559-4534 or mary@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:44:00 am

David Coale, a partner at Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst in Dallas, says last night’s presidential win by Republican Donald Trump could have an impact on vacancies that exist in the federal judiciary.

 “I’d expect a swift and smooth SCOTUS nomination process with a Republican president and Senate. But there are also a lot of vacancies at the district and circuit levels -- the normal vacancies that turn up over time, compounded by a lack of action during the last several months. President Trump has an opportunity to fill those vacancies swiftly and smoothly as well, and I don't think a President has had an opportunity like that since Reagan.”

For more information or to setup an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:55:00 pm

A new class-action lawsuit seeks damages for severe allergy sufferers who have been subjected to outrageous price hikes for the EpiPen injector. The lawsuit filed by The Lanier Law Firm charges that pharmaceutical giant Mylan Inc. implemented a series of aggressive price hikes and unconscionable sales tactics after acquiring rights to sell the EpiPen in 2007. The price of the EpiPen has increased from $57 in 2007 to more than $600 today.

“Mylan CEO Heather Bresch knows that good hardworking Americans will do anything to protect loved ones from a deadly allergic reaction that could happen at any time,” said attorney Mark Lanier, founder of The Lanier Law Firm. “This company’s attempt to saddle consumers, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid with the bill for its outrageously overpriced product is indefensible.”

Mylan closely protects its monopoly on the EpiPen, which delivers life-saving medicine to fend off allergic reactions and generated nearly 4 million prescriptions last year. According to the lawsuit, the company’s pricing scheme results in excessive out-of-pocket expenses for the uninsured and those with high-deductible health insurance. Mylan is currently under investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Securities and Exchange Commission and state regulatory authorities for its EpiPen pricing scheme.

For more information, contact Robert Tharp at Robert@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:25:00 pm

A California casino could be held responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen casino customers following the crash of a charter bus with a questionable safety record, says Dallas bus crash lawyer Frank Branson.

Even though the bus involved in the California casino crash was owned and operated by an independent charter company, casinos have been held liable for passengers’ safety based on incentives and control exercised over the charter company and scheduling of charter trips.

“Casinos depend on these charter buses to bring in business,” says Mr. Branson. “They negotiate with charter bus companies to receive the cheapest price and pay little attention to safety. The end result is poorly maintained buses and overworked drivers to transport patrons.”

Mr. Branson’s input comes after the deadliest bus crash in California in decades early Sunday morning near Palm Springs. A USA Holiday tour bus returning from the Red Earth Casino slammed into a tractor-trailer, killing 13 people - including the bus driver - and injuring 31 others.

“The speed of the bus was so significant that when it hit the back of the big rig…the trailer itself entered about 15 feet into the bus,” according to the California Highway Patrol. There were no signs of the driver applying the brakes.

As the NTSB investigates the cause of the crash, early reports indicate the bus owner and operator had been sued twice for negligence involving previous crashes, including one that killed three people.

In May of this year, Mr. Branson won a $4.9 million judgment against the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma for the family of an 83-year-old woman killed in a 2013 casino charter bus crash.

“If casinos are going to charter the buses to bring gamblers, they should make sure the buses and drivers are safe,” says Mr. Branson.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Sophia Reza at sophia@androvett.com or 800-559-4534.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:45:00 am

The announcement Wednesday of a federal investigation of Baylor University after a complaint filed by Patty Crawford, its former Title IX coordinator, makes it clear that her allegations have merit, her attorney says.

Ms. Crawford resigned her post earlier this month, saying university leaders undermined her efforts to investigate sexual assaults on a campus scandalized by years of rape allegations against football players. The coach and athletic director were fired, and the president was removed.

Ms. Crawford’s lawyer, Rogge Dunn of Clouse Dunn in Dallas, says she filed her complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Sept. 26. She resigned her position the following week and told CBS in an interview that she did so because the harder she worked to enforce Title IX, the more resistance she faced from Baylor. Ms. Crawford says when she brought her concerns to the school and made it clear the university was violating Title IX, her working environment became worse.

“Patty tried to work within the Baylor system and told her boss about her concerns,” Mr. Dunn says. “When that didn't work, in July 2016 she sent a lengthy written memo to her boss detailing Baylor's failure to comply with Title IX regulations. After she sent the memo, Baylor’s retaliation against her increased. She then filed her complaint with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.”

“Last week, Patty was interviewed by the federal Investigator. It is significant that a formal investigation was opened, which indicates that the Office of Civil Rights found Patty's claims credible and that her Title IX complaint warranted further investigation.

“In all the other cases involving people in the know or on the inside – former Baylor University President Ken Starr, former athletic director Ian McCaw, former head football coach Art Briles – Baylor has bought the participants’ silence. Patty is the first person to reject Baylor’s confidentiality agreement and step forward to expose what happened.”

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Sophia Reza at 800-559-4534 or sophia@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:25:00 pm

Starting next year, the federal government will require that all new or replaced gas lines for hundreds of thousands of apartments and small businesses across the U.S. must be equipped with special valves that can shut off gas automatically when a line is ruptured. The government’s Oct. 11 announcement expands the mandatory installation of excess flow valves beyond new single-family homes. The valves, priced at around $30, don’t prevent gas lines from being ruptured, such as when a backhoe accidentally hits one. But by limiting the amount of gas that escapes, federal regulators say the valves can prevent a buildup of fuel that can contribute to explosions or fires.

“These simple and inexpensive devices can save dozens of lives and millions of dollars in property damage each year,” says Dallas attorney Tom Carse. “But gas companies, contractors and consumers need to understand how and where the valves should be located. Otherwise the devices will provide very little or no protection.”

In August, Mr. Carse filed suit against Atmos Energy on behalf of 20 people who suffered physical and emotional injuries and property damage after a 2015 gas explosion destroyed four homes and heavily damaged nine others in their Waxahachie, Texas, neighborhood. The lawsuit claims that Dallas-based Atmos Energy was negligent in how it located and installed the excess flow valves during construction of the subdivision. Court documents claim that the explosion occurred when an Atmos gas line was cut by contractors who were working to install underground fiber-optic cable.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:30:00 pm

A San Antonio law firm has announced its decision to “significantly downsize” in the face of a proposed class action that claims the firm conspired with public adjusters, estimators and roofers to take advantage of consumers. That filing alleges that for several years the firm of Speights & Worrich has unlawfully used contractors in a door-to-door sales scheme, inducing homeowners with damaged roofs to file insurance claims with the promise of gaining additional payments from their insurance carriers. The lawsuit alleges that deductions taken by the lawyers and others involved often reduce the insurance payment to less than the amount needed to fix a homeowner’s roof or repair other damage.

“It is gratifying to learn that this lawsuit is already making a positive difference by altering the practices of those who have preyed on and deceived thousands of Texas homeowners for many years," says Dallas attorney Mark Ticer. “This litigation was filed to support transparency and accountability in the insurance claim process, and establish a legal precedent that will prevent conspirators and con artists from gaming that system.”

It is estimated that in 2016 more than 10,000 hail damage lawsuits will be filed in Texas, while litigation rates for hail damage insurance claims have jumped from 2 percent to nearly 40 percent in the past several years.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:05:00 pm

Patty Crawford, the Baylor Title IX coordinator who recently resigned from the university, says Baylor set her up to fail from the beginning. Ms. Crawford appeared on "CBS This Morning" with her attorney Rogge Dunn of Dallas’ Clouse Dunn LLP to discuss her decision to leave.

“Ms. Crawford wants to make sure her story is told so the public knows what is really going on at Baylor and women there can receive the protection they deserve,” says Mr. Dunn.

Ms. Crawford claims Baylor didn’t allow her to fulfill her responsibilities as Title IX coordinator then retaliated against her for fighting discrimination.

“I continued to work very hard, and the harder I worked the more resistance I received from senior leadership,” Ms. Crawford told CBS.

Baylor University hired Ms. Crawford in November 2014 to handle Title IX directives and the university’s sexual discrimination policies, including sexual assault complaints. The university faced multiple lawsuits and accusations of ignoring sexual assault claims. Baylor’s Board of Regents hired Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct an investigation that led to a scathing report blasting the university for failing to adequately respond to the complaints. In response to the report, university president Ken Starr and head football coach Art Briles were removed, and athletic director Ian McCaw resigned. Pepper Hamilton gave the university more than 100 recommended improvements to its Title IX policies, which the university has adopted as mandates.

“Patty is justifiably proud of what she was able to accomplish, but also profoundly troubled by what she views as Baylor’s efforts to impede her ability to fully perform her Title IX responsibilities,” says Mr. Dunn.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Bruce Vincent at 800-559-4534 or bruce@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:45:00 pm

A new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule that bans pre-dispute binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts has, at least for now, “put a nail in the coffin of nursing homes that sought to limit exposure to high-dollar jury awards and punitive damages,” says one Austin health care attorney.

“Nursing homes have taken the position that these arbitration clauses were inserted into the admission agreements in good faith, to ensure that residents and their families were not coming to the facility with the intent of later suing and reaping financial benefits,” says William "Bill" Hopkins of the Austin office of Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP. Mr. Hopkins advises both individual health care providers and institutional health care clients on matters involving administrative law, regulatory defense and litigation.

“Nursing homes argue that the use of these clauses was out in the open and fully disclosed prior to admission. Therefore, residents and family members who signed the agreement were doing so of their own free will. The homes believe that without these agreements, they are completely vulnerable and subject to the unpredictable whim of a jury and the jurisdiction they are in, which could result in multimillion-dollar lawsuits and verdicts that could close the facility.

“On the other side, consumers see these arbitration clauses as the ‘fine print’ that is rarely noticed, let alone disclosed and discussed. The argument is that if this agreement is so reasonable and harmless to the consumer, then why do the nursing homes make residents and their family members sign it prior to admission to the nursing facility. Admission into a nursing facility is already a difficult and traumatic time, where emotions are running high and families are just looking to get through the process. As a result, they may not be as diligent in reviewing all of the admission documents. Even if they see the arbitration clause, they might not have a true appreciation of what it means or what they are giving up.”

Mr. Hopkins adds that since such agreements are a part of the admission packet, and failure to sign typically prevents admission, it is “coercive by definition” since it is often presented in a “take it or leave it” manner. “If this type of coercion would not be permitted in other contractual situations, why should it be allowed here?”

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:00:00 pm

Beer maker Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) recently paid $6 million to the government to settle charges it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and shut down a whistleblower. Houston independent lawyer and consultant Thomas Fox, who operates the FCPA Compliance Report website, had these observations:

“This matter has all the ingredients one needs to tell a tale over a ‘cold one.’ The company got into trouble for a joint venture in India where that operation allegedly paid bribes to government officials literally to keep the lights on and the beer brewing after hours, violating local regulations. The company also was accused of paying bribes to make sales. And there also was destruction of evidence and company lawyers involved in other shenanigans.

“There was a whistleblowing employee who first alerted ABI officials about what was going on, but who the company believed was muzzled by a non-disclosure agreement, one the government says was illegal. Given the nefarious conduct, ABI is lucky there were no criminal penalties levied – at least none yet.

“What’s remarkable is that ABI apparently allowed the illegal payments to continue in the joint venture, even after a whistleblower brought forward information. The company audited the Indian unit and found deficiencies in its internal controls and failures to follow the FCPA policy. But even after that, ABI allowed these violations to continue.

“This enforcement action drives home several points. First, companies must take their FCPA and Dodd-Frank obligations seriously as they apply to foreign joint ventures. This case also demonstrates that bribes paid for routine regulatory matters can get companies in as much trouble as paying bribes to makes sales. Not only did ABI put forward a less than rigorous audit, it did not follow through to correct things.

“Next, there’s the role of in-house counsel. The SEC specifically called out these lawyers for attending meetings where document hiding and destruction were discussed. Someone in the legal department had to have drafted or at least approved the illegal language of the employee/whistleblower’s separation agreement. I hope that ABI is brewing up some stronger legal ethics and FCPA training for its in-house counsel.”

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Kit Frieden at 800-559-4534 or kit@androvett.com

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 3:00:00 pm

Houston attorney and corporate compliance consultant Thomas Fox recently spoke about the Yates Memo one year after the Department of Justice issued the memorandum. That document advised federal prosecutors to hold individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing and ordered companies to provide “all relevant facts” on culpable individuals in order to get credit for cooperating with the government. Mr. Fox is the former general counsel for an international oilfield services company and now works as an independent consultant advising companies on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Listen as he discusses the Yates Memo and its impact on corporate corruption.

 

 

Tom Fox explains additional changes in the original article here.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:35:00 am

New legal challenges are impacting the ongoing probate process stemming from the death of former Chesapeake Energy founder Aubrey McClendon. Attorneys representing Ryan Turner, an executive for American Energy Management Services, have filed claims against the McClendon estate seeking to uphold profit-sharing agreements made by Mr. McClendon to key executives at the firm, including Mr. Turner. American Energy was formed by Mr. McClendon in 2013, after he left Chesapeake.

Daniel Charest, co-managing partner of Burns Charest in Dallas and attorney for Mr. Turner, says:

“As chief investment officer, Ryan Turner played an essential role in building the value within the American Energy structure and seeks the benefits he earned from his hard work.”

The probate action is pending in the State District Court of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. To date, the Court has approved some asset sales and scheduled evidentiary hearings related to distributions from the McClendon estate.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:37:00 pm

The iconic jewelry store Tiffany & Co. is a model for trademark enforcement by aggressively and successfully policing its brand in the courts. Last year Tiffany & Co. filed litigation against Costco, claiming that the warehouse giant sold more than $6 million of ersatz Tiffany engagement rings and improperly used the jeweler’s name on at least 200,000 in-store signs. That trial began this week in federal court in New York. 

Chris Schwegmann, a partner at Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst in Dallas, who focuses his practice on intellectual property litigation, says:

“This type of litigation not only discourages counterfeiters, but also ensures that Tiffany’s luxury brand doesn’t get diluted over time. I find it interesting that Costco argued that ‘Tiffany’ represents a generic term used to describe a ring setting, and not just a brand name. That’s a tough case to make against a company that aggressively defends its brand.

“If this case goes as I expect, it is unlikely that other companies in the industry will try to make the same the same arguments against Tiffany & Co., which is a benefit of aggressive trademark enforcement.”

Read more about the case here.

For more information or to set-up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:42:00 am

Amid reports that Brad Pitt is being investigated for some form of alleged child abuse, there are clues in Angelina Jolie’s divorce paperwork that may be consistent with such an allegation, says Dallas Family Law attorney Keith Nelson, a partner in the Family Law boutique Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP. Chief among them is Ms. Jolie’s request for sole physical custody of the couple’s six children, while allowing joint legal custody.

“These are two very specific distinctions. With sole physical custody, although there will be visitation, the child resides primarily with one parent. With joint legal custody, both parents will likely have a say in decisions related to education, health care and general welfare.

“Many of the initial media reports made it clear that it was the well-being of the couple’s six children (ages 8 to 15) – not infidelity or other issues – that was the primary concern. The fact that she included a request for sole physical custody should be a bit of a red flag that she may not consider him a proper influence on the children or she may claim that he is engaging in risky behaviors – such as substance abuse – that could potentially put them in danger. Her request for sole physical custody, may also signal a desire on her part to have the right to live with the children without any geographic restriction."

If Mr. Pitt wants to counter this request, one of his first moves, says Mr. Nelson, could be to ask for a full-scale custody evaluation, which could include a psychological and substance abuse assessment of both parents.

“Sometimes, the parent asking for sole custody will have mitigating issues of their own that will be vetted out in such a custody evaluation, which can impact the evaluator’s ultimate recommendations to the court.”

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:08:00 am

Mexico’s energy reform has opened that country’s oil and gas sector to private companies, generating widespread interest among U.S. oil and gas companies and other businesses. But working under a foreign legal system can cause some unexpected snags for U.S. companies that are not properly prepared.

Houston-based, Mexican-licensed lawyer Jaime A. Treviño of J.A. Treviño Abogados, or JATA, which is headquartered in Monterrey, Mexico, represents U.S. businesses in their dealings in Mexico. His firm has produced a “Practical Handbook” outlining that country’s energy reforms and some of the challenges confronting foreign-based companies. Mr. Treviño explains:

First, most land in Mexico is not private property, so it cannot be easily sold. Much of Mexico’s territory is classified as an ‘ejido,’ a collective group of people that live and work as a community. This land first must be converted into private property before it can be sold, and special negotiations with a whole community are often required. There are horror stories in which communities refuse to cooperate and halt entire projects, or cases where investors have taken advantage of people, particularly indigenous communities. It is critical to have expert legal advice to deal with these situations and negotiations properly.

“Second, much is made of Mexico’s cheap labor. But job protections are ironclad for virtually all full-time Mexican workers. It is difficult to fire an employee, but most of all, it’s costly. Mexican law requires 90 days of paid salary for an employee, even if he or she has worked just a single day. It is critical to structure labor relationships in a manner that is best for each company or project, and in compliance with Mexican labor law.

“Then, there are the excruciatingly detailed requirements of the Mexican legal system when a company is dealing with the government. Every form must be filled out in an exacting way. Simply abiding by the spirit of the law does not cut it. For example, something as seemingly simple as a company director needing power of attorney must comply with requirements that are not standard when doing business in the U.S.

“It is essential to have the legal advice of a lawyer who completely understands the formalities of the Mexican legal system. That is what led us to produce our energy reform handbook.”

For more information about Mr. Treviño and JATA, please contact Kit Frieden at 800-559-4534 or kit@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 3:40:00 pm

Dallas attorney and private investigator Wes Bearden says actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will need some particularly creative evidence if they decide to fight for custody of their six children.

Ms. Jolie reportedly cited irreconcilable differences in a court filing yesterday that seeks to end the couple’s two-year marriage. The actress is requesting sole physical custody and joint legal custody of their six children, giving Mr. Pitt visitation rights.

Mr. Bearden, founder of the Bearden Investigative Agency, says one of the more intriguing parts of the superstar divorce can be found in the unique lifestyles of the couple’s children, including the role their parents play in their less-than-traditional upbringing.

“Since both Jolie and Pitt are involved in the movie business and face many of the same time-away-from-home issues, they could arrange a 50/50 agreement,” says Mr. Bearden. “But if they decide to wage a custody fight, then they will both have to come up with some pretty compelling arguments for why one would be a better custodial parent than the other. These are two of the most famous actors in the world who are consistently on movie sets and probably not taking care of their children all the time. More issues will develop as this case moves along in terms of not only who will be taking care of the kids, but where they will live and where they go to school.”

 

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:09:00 pm

Two Gulf Coast oilfield services and marine staffing firms recently agreed to pay more than $500,000 in fines to settle federal lawsuits that alleged they skirted employment rules and overtime laws by improperly paying workers as contractors to reduce overtime costs. The penalties are the latest reminders to Texas employers of the consequences of a continued federal and state crackdown on employee misclassification, says Dallas attorney Audrey Mross, who leads the Labor & Employment section at Munck Wilson Mandala.

Such enforcement efforts have gained steam in 34 states, including Texas. These states signed on to an initiative to share information and aid the feds in identifying and punishing employers who fail to properly classify workers as employees. In addition, the National Labor Relations Board recently found that a trucking company improperly classified its truck drivers as independent contractors, which interfered with their rights to join labor unions.

“Businesses that are not on top of this issue are operating in perilous territory,” Ms. Mross says. “Any employer using independent contractors should analyze whether workers are properly classified and regularly re-evaluate those relationships. Violators face a long list of economic penalties, including fines, back pay, IRS penalties and legal fees.”

For more information, contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:54:00 am

It’s been a year since the Department of Justice issued the Yates Memo. That document advised federal prosecutors to hold individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing and ordered companies to provide “all relevant facts” on culpable individuals in order to get credit for cooperating with the government. Houston attorney and corporate compliance consultant Thomas Fox says the jury is still out on the Yates Memo’s impact on corporate corruption. Mr. Fox is the former general counsel for an international oilfield services company and now works as an independent consultant advising companies on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“First, there’s the corporate response,” says Mr. Fox, who also founded and operates the FCPA Compliance Report website. “In a speech in May, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates said companies are now presenting ‘Yates binders’ when meeting with the government. The binders hold information on individuals that the government can use in prosecutions.

“While some general counsel are uneasy having to investigate their own employees and turn over that information to the government, a positive effect has been that corporations set their investigation protocols to more quickly and efficiently respond to allegations of wrongdoing. Many companies are now moving to use outside counsel, who generally are more seasoned than in-house counsel when dealing with internal investigations.

“The government’s response has been equally interesting. It’s too early to see a trend, but the recent prosecution of Volkswagen engineer James Liang and his guilty plea for helping create the device that cheated air pollution tests may be a harbinger for the impact of Yates. It will be instructive to see if the U.S. government continues to prosecute others at VW for their conduct.

“The key will be whether the government is willing to prosecute a senior manager or board member for their role. If the Yates Memo is only going to be used to go after the little guy, then it will be seen as a meaningless gesture by corporate America.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:00:00 am

When a 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Oklahoma shook that state and several others over Labor Day weekend, regulators in the Sooner State ordered 37 oil and gas wastewater disposal wells to shut down because of previous connections to quakes.

There also have been earthquakes in Texas that some researchers believe are tied to disposal wells used for wastewater fluids resulting from hydraulic fracturing/fracking operations. While state regulators continue to question a definitive link between these wells and earthquakes, some major oil and gas producers are already taking steps to try to avoid problems.

“The more sophisticated producers are already beginning to use technologies to recycle water used in fracking and to develop new formulas that substantially reduce both water usage and the amount that must be disposed by subsurface injection. Those changes will provide numerous benefits, which may include reducing the potential for seismic activity,” said Leonard Dougal, an environmental lawyer with Jackson Walker LLP in Austin who is also a former petroleum engineer.

“In most cases, however, the disposal of wastewater is contracted out to other service companies, and many producers aren’t involved in decisions about where those wells are drilled or how they are operated. But that separation may not totally free producers from a potential lawsuit given the recent widespread publicity about earthquakes. Producers also should take steps to reduce liability by avoiding use of disposal wells or contractors working in areas of known seismic activity.” 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:35:00 am

 

The billion-dollar Bayside resort development at Lake Ray Hubbard in Rowlett, Texas, has been partially held up for more than a year as part of a lawsuit filed by a marina operator. But now, the project is moving forward after attorneys from Fish & Richardson led by Dallas managing principal Tom Melsheimer recently convinced a Dallas state district court to throw out the lawsuit. Melsheimer’s client, Bayside Land Partners, purchased the marina property in 2015, but the operator refused to leave even though his prior concessions contract with the city of Dallas had expired years earlier. Melsheimer, fellow firm principal John Sanders and co-counsel filed a motion for summary judgment. The judge agreed with their arguments and ruled in favor of Bayside, dismissing every claim filed by the marina operator and ordering him to pay court costs. “This is a victory for the citizens of North Texas who will enjoy the tremendous benefits of a world-class recreational, retail and housing development for years,” Melsheimer says.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:37:00 am

The producers of motion picture “Middle Men,” a drama about the birth of the business of internet pornography, filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Paramount Pictures claiming the movie studio failed to properly promote, distribute, and pay royalties on the film. 

The movie was set up for success with director George Gallo and well-known actors Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, and James Caan. Despite buzz around the film at Cannes, the lawsuit explains that Paramount purposely depressed the film’s box office performance by withholding marketing and only releasing the movie in limited cities – showing only one screening of the movie in New York City on a Sunday afternoon for opening weekend.  

In addition to failing to fully uphold a $7 million marketing agreement, Paramount sold the movie to the premium cable channel EPIX for streaming to services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. Paramount holds a 43-percent stake in EPIX. The lawsuit says that Middle Pictures Inc., the film’s producers, have not received their fair share of the profits from streaming “Middle Men.”

“We plan to prove that when Paramount agreed to distribute ‘Middle Men’, it only saw the film as an opportunity for their own financial gain at the expense of the independent film company,” says Jeffrey Simon of Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, PC, which represents Middle Pictures Inc. “Evidence shows us that the studio simply bundled the critically-acclaimed film with other Paramount products.”

Simon says the movie studio giant either can’t or won't show auditors in full detail  if, or how, the $6.8 million that Middle Pictures provided for marketing was spent. 

For more information on this lawsuit and to request an interview with Jeffrey Simon, contact Mark Annick: mark@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:35:00 pm

Dallas employment attorney Rogge Dunn says Fox News’ quick resolution of Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit shows how eager the network is about distancing itself from former chairman Roger Ailes.

21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, has offered a public apology and announced a settlement with Carlson for a reported $20 million. Carlson filed her claims in early July, and Ailes was fired nearly two weeks later. Now her case is off the books altogether.

“Given how quickly this case was settled, Fox News obviously is eager to put the Roger Ailes era behind them. These kinds of cases can go on for years, but this one settled in two months, which is significant on several levels,” says Mr. Dunn of Dallas’ Clouse Dunn LLP. “Ms. Carlson has been the most visible among those who have accused Mr. Ailes of inappropriate conduct, so resolving her case was very important for Fox News in terms of public perception.”

To interview Rogge Dunn, please contact Sophia Reza at 800-559-4534 or Sophia@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:40:00 am

Two years after the disappearance of 23-year-old Christina Morris from a Collin County shopping mall, investigators are treating the mystery like a homicide investigation. But when 12 Collin County jurors convene next week for the trial of Enrique Arochi, the charge facing the 26-year-old will be kidnapping – not murder.

The lesser charge resulted from the fact that Ms. Morris’ body has not been found. But Dallas criminal defense attorney John Teakell says a lot people don’t realize that Texas law applies the same range of penalties for both murder and first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping – up to life in prison.

Mr. Teakell, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in this case, says prosecutors likely felt pressure to provide a speedy trial for Mr. Arochi, who was indicted last December. And since there is no statute of limitations for a murder charge, authorities can always choose to refile charges should Ms. Morris’ body be found.

“With Christina still missing two years later, prosecutors will use all of the forensic evidence and surveillance footage they have collected to build a case highlighting Mr. Arochi’s conflicting statements while attempting to draw a straight line between him and this suspicious disappearance,” he says.

To interview Mr. Teakell, contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:40:00 am

Atmos Energy failed to properly locate and install a device that would have prevented a natural gas explosion last year in Waxahachie, Texas, according to a lawsuit filed in Ellis County by more than 20 homeowners. That explosion, which destroyed several homes and caused multiple other severe injuries and damage, resulted from an Atmos gas line being cut by contractors installing underground fiber optic cable. The lawsuit claims that an excess flow valve should have immediately shut off the leaking gas when the break occurred, but Atmos did not place the valve close enough to the gas main, allowing the deadly gas to escape. The company then didn’t respond when neighbors reported a gas disruption to their homes more than four days prior to the explosion.  

“This disaster was totally preventable. It’s clear from the information we’ve uncovered that Atmos failed to comply with federal law governing the location of excess flow valves, and provided no degree of oversight in an active construction area,” says Tom Carse of Dallas’ Carse Law Firm. “Atmos personnel violated the company’s policies and procedures at multiple steps leading to this tragedy.”

The explosion occurred on the morning of September 21, 2015, when Adelmira Chavez turned on her electric cooktop to prepare breakfast, unaware of the gas line break and the concentrated fumes in her home that had been deodorized by the surrounding soil. Ms. Chavez was severely injured in the resulting blast, suffering second- and third-degree burns on her face, arms, stomach, back and legs, as well as a broken arm. Her brother, Jamie Rodriguez, also suffered severe burns to his face and arms. In addition to Ms. Chavez’s home, three other residences in the path of the explosion are considered total losses, while seven others were significantly damaged.

“Atmos has never warned its millions of customers that deodorization can and will occur when escaped natural gas passes through soil, although there are low-cost and readily available monitors for home use that can detect leaking natural gas in any form,” says Mr. Carse. “It’s a miracle that Ms. Chavez and her brother survived this explosion.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:08:00 am

The daughter of Antoinette Brown, the woman who was fatally mauled by dogs in a South Dallas neighborhood in early May, has sued a Dallas City Council member and a Georgia-based attorney based on claims that they improperly solicited her on the day after her mother was buried in hopes that she would file a wrongful death claim against the city.

In the lawsuit, Matisha Ward alleges that Dallas City Councilwoman Tiffinni Young repeatedly contacted her with text messages and told her during a private meeting that she had legal claims against the City. The day after Ms. Brown’s funeral, Ms. Young contacted Ms. Ward by text and arranged a phone call involving Atlanta personal injury attorney Christopher Chestnut. Ms. Ward recorded that conversation, and submitted a transcript as part of her lawsuit.

On the call, Ms. Young asks Ms. Ward if she had spoken to an attorney. When Ms. Ward says she had not, Ms. Young introduces Mr. Chestnut.

“I have one sitting right here,” Ms. Young says on the recording. “Do you want to talk with him?”

At the conclusion of the five-minute call, Mr. Chestnut indicates he will forward his contact information and that the councilwoman “will call you back.” Ms. Ward was never contacted again by Ms. Young or Mr. Chestnut, and she never initiated any contact with either.

“It is shocking and disheartening to have this level of collusion between an elected official and an attorney not even licensed to practice law in Texas,” says attorney Tom Carse of the Carse Law Firm, who has filed a barratry action on behalf of Ms. Ward. “My client was frustrated and grieving, but understood that something was wrong about that conversation.”

Under Texas law anyone can face a barratry claim for the improper solicitation of legal representation, even those who are not licensed attorneys. Other attorneys representing Ms. Ward later issued a demand letter to the City of Dallas seeking $5 million based on the negligence that led to her mother’s death.

To speak with Mr. Carse or Ms. Ward, or for more information, please contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:26:00 am

The preliminary injunction issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth that temporarily blocks the Obama Administration's instructions for public schools to accommodate transgender students has intensified the national debate over students’ use of bathrooms and other facilities.

“The nationwide aspects of the injunction will be interesting to watch because there are limited circumstances where that is appropriate, and this injunction only applies to those states that recognize the directive from the DOJ under their own state laws,” says Dallas attorney Shonn Brown of Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst. “The big question is what does ‘sex’ mean. The differentiation between ‘biological’ and ‘identity’ will likely be interpreted differently by other courts, which will ultimately require an opinion of the Supreme Court to resolve. Also, this is a temporary order, which places a lower burden on the plaintiffs to show ‘likelihood’ of prevailing, whereas at the permanent injunction phase there is the higher standard of a trial on the merits.”

Federal officials interpreted the word "sex" in anti-discrimination statutes to also cover gender identity. They also argued that the lawsuit was filed too soon because the transgender policy isn't binding and no enforcement action has been taken. Attorneys representing Texas, however, said the guidelines "obliterate" past rules, putting Texas and other states at risk of losing millions of dollars in education funding if the new guidelines were not followed.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:25:00 am

Attorneys for Texas State Sen. Royce West are asking a Dallas judge to sanction lawyers for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant for making false and baseless claims in a lawsuit accusing Mr. West of mismanaging the player’s business affairs.

“Dez has been known to trash talk on the field, but you can’t trash talk your way through the courts,” said Mike Gruber of Dallas-based Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank, who represents Mr. West, who is also a lawyer. “He and his attorneys at Reed Smith should know that you cannot make accusations that aren’t supported by any facts and expect there won’t be consequences. Our motion is the first of those consequences.”

Earlier this year, Mr. West sued Mr. Bryant for $60,000 in damages for trashing a rental house that Mr. West had provided to him. In response, Mr. Bryant’s lawyers accused Mr. West of absconding with funds, which the filing claims is ludicrous given that those funds were forwarded to creditors to settle lawsuits against Mr. Bryant.

Mr. West’s sanctions motion filed August 17 in Dallas County District Court states that Mr. Bryant and his new attorneys acted in bad faith in their claims against Mr. West, managing partner of Dallas law firm West & Associates, L.L.P.

According to the motion, Mr. West’s attorneys immediately pointed out the “legal and factual deficiencies” in Mr. Bryant’s claim and demanded that they withdraw the false and baseless pleading. Yet Mr. Bryant and his lawyers persist, despite their inability to provide a single piece of evidence.

Mr. West is seeking dismissal of Mr. Bryant’s counterclaim, attorneys’ fees and other expenses, and a $500,000 sanction payment to be made to the United Negro College Fund.

Mr. West is represented by Dallas-based Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank; Mr. Bryant is represented by attorneys with Reed Smith.

The case is Royce B. West v. Desmond D. Bryant, No. DC-16-07364, in the 101st State District Court in Dallas County.

For more information, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:00:00 pm

Tougher greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards are coming for new large and heavy-duty vehicles, such as buses and tractor-trailers. The package of regulations announced this week represent the latest effort by the Obama administration to produce cleaner and more efficient vehicles after 2018. In the final rule, the Environmental Protection Agency tightened carbon dioxide emission standards while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration imposed fuel consumption measures.

“The goal of reduced carbon emissions is laudable, but fuel efficiency typically means less power from engines that are more expensive to purchase and operate,” says H. Peyton Inge IV of Dallas’ Chamblee Ryan Kershaw & Anderson, who represents trucking companies on operational and litigation matters. “The long-term environmental effects of the regulations are likely to be positive, but they are also likely to hit truckers in the pocketbook when they purchase a new rig, with costs ultimately passed along to the consumer.” 

The standards also require that truck manufacturers follow an expanded and improved compliance simulation model to test drivetrain and powertrain performance during the vehicle certification process and use. In addition, since refrigerants used in these vehicles’ air conditioning systems are also extremely potent greenhouse gases, the final rule includes standards to control leakage of hydrofluorocarbons. The rule also includes more stringent nitrous oxide standards for heavy-duty engines.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:43:00 am

This week health officials reported the first spread of the Zika virus from state to state when a Texas man got the disease after visiting a section of Miami where mosquitoes have been spreading Zika.

The Zika virus can cause brain damage and other birth defects in infants if the mother is infected during pregnancy. While its dangers first appeared in Brazil, its spread to the U.S. has magnified questions about risk, including to workers whose employers want them to travel.

For example, what steps are employers legally required to take if they need an employee to travel to a hot zone? What is the liability if an employee contracts the disease, which also can be sexually transmitted and spread when a mosquito bites an infected person and carries it to someone else?

“Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees may refuse to work in certain circumstances when working conditions are dangerous,” says Justin Markel, a labor and employment lawyer in the Houston office of Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC. “Among other things, the employee must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists, and there must be a real danger of death or serious injury. Because of the way Zika is transmitted and the availability of preventive measures, it is unlikely that an employee could refuse to travel on this ground – unless the employee is pregnant.

“However, employers should be cautious when an employee refuses such a work assignment,” Mr. Markel says. “An employee could argue that she is protected by OSHA and is shielded from adverse employment actions.”

Mr. Markel says that employer liability depends in part on participation in the worker’s compensation system. In Texas, employers have the option of whether to participate, he notes. “If the employee is covered by workers’ comp insurance, and if it could be proven that the employee contracted Zika while working, then the employee may have a workers’ comp claim. That would also mean that workers’ comp benefits are the employee’s exclusive remedy.

“If the employer does not subscribe to workers’ comp, then the employer may be liable for failing to provide a safe work environment if the employer does not take reasonable precautions to protect against Zika exposure.”

Mr. Markel says employers with workers in affected areas should focus on educating their workforce about precautionary measures. OSHA has published helpful guidance here. Employers should try to limit standing water near worksites, and employees working outside should use mosquito repellant and wear long sleeves and pants.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:02:00 am

Four workers injured in a flash fire last week at the Sunoco Logistics terminal in Nederland, Texas, remain hospitalized with severe burns and related injuries. Two of the workers have retained Matthew Matheny and Edward Fisher of the Provost Umphrey law firm to represent their interests, and the attorneys have already secured a preservation agreement covering the accident site and will be leading an investigation on behalf of their clients.

“It’s important to preserve the location and allow investigators and experts to better determine the causes of the accident and what might have prevented this tragedy,” says Mr. Matheny. “We’ll be talking to witnesses and examining any records of safety and maintenance procedures at the facility. Obviously this horrible accident should not have happened, and we’re prepared to find out why.”

According to initial reports, at the time of the accident the workers were doing some welding at the Sunoco facility, which handles crude oil, condensate, naphtha, base and extract oils.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com

 



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