HOUSTON – Texas Lawbook chose the top 10 commercial litigation moments of 2020, and work by AZA trial lawyers was front and center in three of those cases.
In the news story, Top 10 Commercial Litigation Moments of 2020 (subscription required), Texas Lawbook notes what a strange year 2020 was and how brave lawyers were able to try cases in person as AZA lawyers did in a healthcare case, or by Zoom, which AZA lawyers did in an energy sector case.
“Many of the lawyers and parties involved in the matters below demonstrated an additional sense of bravery: They pioneered the uncharted territory of litigating online — even as the stakes remained high. Others played a role in shaping what a safe, socially-distanced in-person jury trial looks like — even as there were no guarantees that they would be 100% bulletproof from contracting COVID-19,” reporter Natalie Posgate wrote in the article.
“While other firms slowed down, we sped up and forged ahead during 2020,” said AZA co-founder John Zavitsanos, noting that the firm had no furloughs, layoffs, or staff cuts, but instead hired eight new lawyers. “Included in this story is a case in which we parachuted into a live jury trial six days before jury selection. The story also mentions a full case we tried on Zoom to a Harris County judge. And we were part of a giant energy sector litigation settlement on the ‘courthouse steps.’”
The full in-person jury trial was first covered in Texas Lawbook in Six Days Notice, Six Witnesses, Six Jurors, 150 ER Doctors, Two Ticked Off In-House Counsel and a $9.4M Verdict (subscription required).
A six-person jury awarded a $9.4 million verdict on behalf of Southeastern Emergency Physicians, LLC, an affiliate of TeamHealth Inc., finding that Centene Corporation and its subsidiaries Ambetter, NovaSys Health and Celtic systematically tried to strip the 120 emergency clinicians in the physician’s group of most of their pay. Mr. Zavitsanos and his team came on as lead counsel only six days before jury selection and changed the legal strategy on the eve of the trial. Client TeamHealth plans to use AZA for other trials it has pending around the country.
The “courthouse steps” settlement was previously covered by Texas Lawbook in Cheniere and ex-CEO Souki Walk Away From Legal Battle on Eve of Trial and Texas-Sized Breakup Over a Handshake Deal (subscription required for both). AZA represented Parallax Enterprises in a long-running multimillion dollar tangle of allegations between Cheniere Energy, founder-turned-ex-CEO Charif Souki and two other companies he was associated with, including Parallax. A much-anticipated five-week trial featuring a roster of great lawyers ended suddenly in a settlement in January 2020. At stake in the argument over what was a loan and what was an investment, were claims of $46 million and $400 million. The parties didn’t realize at the time of the settlement that the case might have had them in the courthouse right up through the time Covid-19 appeared in Houston.
The Zoom bench trial was covered by Texas Lawbook in Vitol Scores $147M Verdict in Marathon Zoom Bench Trial (subscription required).
The $147 million dispute between Vitol Americas Corp. and Targa Resources Channelview was likely the longest Zoom trial held in Harris County. Texas Lawbook stated that at the time of the October ruling from the bench, “the five-week trial was believed to be the longest bench trial conducted over Zoom in Texas state courts — and certainly the longest Zoom bench trial involving a corporate dispute.” Presiding Harris County District Judge Larry Weiman concluded the trial with high praise for the lawyers on both sides, which were AZA and Smyser Kaplan & Veselka. “I’ve never had finer counsel on both sides of the case,” the judge said. “I’ve never had a case that’s been better tried, prepared or better advocacy for each of your clients than I’ve seen during the trial.”