HOUSTON – A Harris County judge has taken the unusual step of awarding AZA client Dr. Steven Hotze and his fellow defendants more than $2 million in attorneys’ fees after a jury decided in their favor and delivered a take-nothing verdict.
Attorneys’ fees are often awarded to plaintiffs who prevail in a lawsuit, but the awarding of legal fees to defendants in civil suits is exceedingly rare. The statute that allows it in this case is the Texas Theft Liability Act.
“This case was tried under an unusual Texas law that allows those who are wrongly accused to get their legal fees back,” said John Zavitsanos, a founding partner of AZA who represented Dr. Hotze. Assisting in the trial were AZA lawyers Jason McManis and DJ Ringquist.
“This lawsuit went from the plaintiffs’ claim of $30 million to their paying out more than $2 million to the people they accused,” Mr. Zavitsanos said. “That’s true justice.”
The lawsuit involved a contentious dispute over a family business. Two of Dr. Hotze’s brothers alleged that nearly every transaction over the past four years had been handled improperly. They claimed that Dr. Hotze and two other brothers, Mark and Richard, breached their fiduciary duty when they saved Compressor Engineering Corp. (CECO) from foreclosure.
The jury had a 65-page charge and 45 questions to answer after a five-week trial. The jury awarded the plaintiffs nothing.
State District Judge Fredericka Phillips awarded $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees to the accused brothers and $817,000 in fees to other co-defendants. If the case is appealed, the defendants would have to pay additional attorneys’ fees of up to $55,000.
The case is David Hotze v. IN Management, LLC et al. No. 2016-36300 in Harris County’s 61st District Court.
Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by Chambers USA 2018 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for seven years running including 2019; and previously by Law360 as a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000.