I have spent most of my career litigating cases whose most prominent feature was complexity—legal complexity, factual complexity, or both. Winning these cases depended upon mastering and organizing large amounts of information and presenting it in a way that a judge or jury could understand it. To take but a few examples:
- Valero Transmission Co. v. Mitchell Energy Corp., 743 S.W.2d 658 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, no writ) – In this take-or-pay case, I studied in detail the intricacies of Texas’ natural gas production rules and regulations and then worked with our expert witness to convince a trial court to enter, and an appellate court to uphold, a preliminary injunction requiring the purchaser to take natural gas from the wells in question pending trial on the merits. In those days, preliminary injunctions requiring the purchaser to pay for natural gas pending trial on the merits were fairly common; preliminary injunctions requiring the purchaser to take natural gas pending trial on the merits were not.
- Apache Corp. v. Moore, 891 S.W.2d 671 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 1994, writ den.), vacated, 517 U.S. 1217 (1996) (case sent back to court of appeals for reconsideration of amount of award of exemplary damages) – This case involved one of the largest blowouts of a natural gas well in the United States. There was testimony that so much gas shot out of the well so high and so fast that you could hear the blowout from miles away, long before you got close enough to see it. The primary dispute involved which downhole pipe failed and why. I mastered the relevant physics, mechanical engineering, and materials science principles and worked with expert witnesses to convince a jury to agree with our clients’ position on the cause of the blowout.
- In re Air Disaster at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 81 F.3d 570 (5th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1028 (1996) – In a case involving the crash of a military aircraft, I pored over a mountain of technical documents, including blueprints, electrical schematics, and governmental contracting and inspection documents. I then worked with expert witnesses to explain in detail (i) the complicated interaction among the mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical parts of a key component on the aircraft, and (ii) the United States military’s involvement in the design of those parts so as to convince a district court to dismiss, and an appellate court to uphold the dismissal of, products liability claims pursuant to the government contractor defense.
- Bailey v. Mitchell Energy Corp., No. 02-97-00301-CV (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1999, pet. denied) – This case involved the alleged pollution of fresh water wells by our client’s natural gas operations. The plaintiffs contended that the “chemical fingerprint” of natural gas in the water wells matched that of the natural gas produced from the gas wells, which allegedly meant that natural gas from the gas wells had contaminated the plaintiffs’ fresh water wells. I read extensively about the principles of petroleum geochemistry and located one of the leading experts in the world on the subject. He was initially reluctant to testify in the case, having never been an expert witness before. I flew to Boston and met him in the early morning hours as he came off a “red-eye” flight at Logan Airport. We talked over orange juice at the airport, and I talked him into looking over the data I had brought with me. A few days later he agreed to testify, and at trial he explained to the jury the principles of gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) so as to enable them to find that the natural gas in the plaintiffs’ water wells had a different chemical fingerprint and did not come from our client’s natural gas wells.
- Swank v. Sverdlin, 121 S.W.3d 785 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2003, pet. denied), cert. denied, 544 U.S. 1033 (2005) – This was post-trial and appellate representation in a case involving an approximately $1.5 billion jury verdict in 1998. The largest portion of the jury verdict was for the plaintiff’s usury claims. I immersed myself in the complex principles of Texas usury law so as to help convince the appellate court to reverse the trial court’s judgment and render a “take nothing” judgment instead. The plaintiff then unsuccessfully appealed that decision first to the Supreme Court of Texas and then to the Supreme Court of the United States. This case was so hotly contested on appeal that the plaintiff even argued to the Supreme Court of the United States that reversing the trial court’s judgment violated the Magna Carta, which is the only time I have had the opportunity to discuss the Magna Carta in an appellate brief in my career – so far, anyway.
Great advocacy is not about persuading a judge that you are brilliant. It is about persuading a judge that the two of you are working together to reach the right result.