Winning Litigators Tell What They Learned in 2014
Mike Lynn, a partner at Dallas' Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox, won a $535 million final judgment in July in a Dallas court for his corporate clients Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Fuels.
Lynn: "In every compelling story there must be a hero; the novelists tell us this hero is called the protagonist. It is someone in the story who stands up to evil and resolves the problem presented in the trial drama. For years I searched in vain for the perfect protagonist in my clients' office who I could then present as the hero of my story, generally only finding imperfect human beings. All my advisers, forensic helpers and teachers, as it turned out, were wrong, in my opinion, in telling me to look for the hero in my clients' office. It has been my recent epiphany that the real hero, in any jury trial, is the jury itself. It is the jury that must right the wrong and it is the jury that must defeat evil. Every jury trial, then, is about enlisting that hero, your jury, to your cause and hence, the real and simple question a jury asks itself as the hero in your trial drama is: 'What would John Wayne do?' Trying cases then becomes a much simpler and more direct exercise."
Alistair Dawson, a partner in Houston's Beck/Redden, along with cocounsel, defended and won a take-nothing jury verdict in October for his client, a South Korea-based valve manufacturer that had been sued by an Anchorage-based oil refinery.
Dawson: "I believe it is important to tell the jury at the outset the three or four points that you intend to prove in trial. Hopefully, the evidence proves those points and then you can tell the jury in closing: 'I told you during opening statement that the evidence would prove these four points and it did.' It is important, however, not to lose sight of your strongest point. During our trial this year, I asked my legal assistant after week one how she thought things were going. She told me the evidence clearly supported us on point 1, but she wasn't so sure on points 2, 3 and 4. It reminded me that we needed to focus more attention on our strongest point and not get bogged down trying to win the other points, which were much less significant. When we interviewed the jury after trial, they found for us on the point that my legal assistant said we had the best evidence. Focus on your strengths."
Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and his cocounsel represented Manuel Alvarez, who was awarded a $2.3 million final judgment by a federal judge on Oct. 15 after he alleged the city of Brownsville allowed its jailers to beat him in 2005, when he was 17, and then falsely charged Alvarez with assaulting the guards.
Lucio: "I learned that two good litigators are better than one. I learned that a good litigator should not dwell on his victories or his losses. I learned that a good litigator must realize that sometimes the verdict is not a reflection of his skill or lack thereof, but just good or bad luck. I learned that a good litigator must realize that sometimes getting a jury to like him may be more important than evidence. I learned that a good litigator must keep his personal feelings out of his case. I learned that a good litigator strives to be an excellent litigator. I learned that a good litigator ceases to be a good litigator the moment he starts believing he is a good litigator."
Chris Panatier, a shareholder in the Dallas office of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, won a $18.6 million verdict in September for his clients, surviving family members of a tire maker who died after he was allegedly exposed to asbestos at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Tyler.
Panatier: "I guess every trial teaches me some lesson that I try to take forward to future trials. Here's what I learned this year: Always listen to every minute of any video deposition you have cut to play at trial, even if it's really long. Here's why. I took the corporate representative's deposition by video. He was extremely evasive and nonresponsive as these guys tend to be. After going back and forth with him for what seemed like hours on what should have been very simple points, he answered one of them with 'OK, I'll give you that one.' My response was, 'Thank you so much for being so generous.' My response as written was a justified retort based on the context of the deposition and wasn't overly glib. The way it sounded on video however was as follows: 'Thank you SOOOOOOO much for being SOOOOOOOOO generous.' My statement dripped with disdainful sarcasm. I am aware of my propensity for glib commentary, which I usually cut from any deposition I play. In this case I had not included it in our cuts but the defendant counter-designated it and I didn't catch the addition. So imagine my horror as I heard myself speak those words on the video during our first full day of evidence. Talk about a bad early impression. Luckily any negativity the jurors may have felt was forgotten by the time they delivered a very favorable verdict two weeks later! Always watch your videos!"