Butler Snow Expands Austin Office with Hire of Attorney

Butler Snow has expanded its attorney base in Austin with the addition of attorney Gary W. Davis.

“Texas is an important strategic market for the firm and we believe this team will position Butler Snow for even further growth there in the future. They will certainly strengthen our existing finance, bankruptcy and restructuring, and product liability practices but also help attract others seeking the unique culture of teamwork our firm offers,” said Donald Clark Jr., chairman, Butler Snow.

Davis is a first chair trial lawyer with experience and expertise in product liability litigation and commercial litigation, focusing on the motor vehicles, aviation, medical equipment, agricultural,  construction and industrial equipment industries. He has been recognized by Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Davis is admitted to practice in Texas and Colorado. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and his Juris Doctor from the University of Texas. Davis is a member of the International Association of Defense Counsel.

Austin Attorney Appointed Chair of Winstead’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution Department

Winstead PC has appointed shareholder James Ruiz as the firm’s new chair of the litigation and dispute resolution department.  The department has over six practice groups with more than 100 attorneys.  The practices under Ruiz include: commercial litigation, energy, intellectual property, labor & employment, public, regulatory & environmental, and construction law. jamesruiz-4x5

With more than 25 years of experience, th Austin-based Ruiz represents clients in complex commercial litigation and arbitration cases in a variety of disputes, including banking and real estate, intellectual property, securities, insurance, corporate, partnership and franchise issues and governmental enforcement actions.

Winstead’s litigation and dispute resolution department provides legal and business advice to a diverse list of clients, including national banking institutions, real estate companies, government entities, private and public corporations, and high-tech businesses. Ruiz previously served as a member of the firm’s board of directors and stepped down to take this new leadership role.  Additionally, Ruiz serves as chair of Winstead’s commercial litigation practice group and financial services industry group.

In the community, Ruiz is a board member of the YMCA of Austin, metropolitan board. He is a former board member of the March of Dimes and the state executive committee, the Ballet Austin, and Planet Cancer. Ruiz also serves as a member of the American Bar Association, State Bar of Texas, Austin Bar Association, and the City of Austin’s Ethics Review Commission. He is a Founding Life Fellow of the Austin Bar Foundation, and a Life Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation. Fluent in Spanish, Ruiz received his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.

Appeals Court: Kearney’s Discrimination Lawsuit Against Texas Can Continue

(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from an article that appears in May issue of Legal Issues in Collegiate Athletics. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit http://www.hackneypublications.com/lica.php)

A Texas state appeals court has handed a partial victory to a former track coach at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), who sued the flagship university for discrimination after it sought to terminate her contract three years ago.

In short, the justice found that the university failed to present “any evidence whatsoever” in trying to overturn the trial court’s ruling that the claim of former UT track coach Bev Kearney could continue based on disparate treatment, or that she was treated more harshly than “similarly situated employees.”

The university, however, did secure a small victory when the appeals court reversed the lower court’s finding that Kearney had presented enough evidence to show that UT retaliated against her during the winter of 2012-13.

The impetus for the lawsuit was the athletic administration’s decision to place Kearney on paid leave in November of 2012, shortly before she was to receive a substantial raise. UT’s decision was reportedly fueled by a revelation that Kearney had engaged in what she termed to be a “consensual intimate relationship” with an “adult student-athlete” in 2002.

UT cited a provision in its Handbook of Operating Procedures, created in 2001, which states: “In the event that a consensual relationship exists or begins to develop, the individual in the supervisory, teaching or advisory position shall immediately notify his or her immediate supervisor of the relationship and cooperate with that supervisor in making the arrangements necessary to resolve the conflict of interest.”

Incensed with UT’s decision and the rationale for it, Kearney wasted little time securing counsel and ultimately filing her lawsuit, which alleges the school discriminated and retaliated against her based on gender and race.

Kearney is seeking $1 million in damages, arising from lost and future wages, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish and court costs.

The core of Kearney’s legal argument was …

UT Law School Alum Brings Expertise as Mediator, Arbitrator and Special Master to JAMS

JAMS, the largest private provider of mediation and arbitration services worldwide, has announced the addition of Jeffrey G. Benz, Esq. to its panel. Benz, who received his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law, will be based in the JAMS Century City Resolution Center, and is available nationwide as well as internationally. He will serve as a mediator, arbitrator and special master in a variety of disputes including Business/Commercial, Employment, Entertainment and Sports, Insurance, Intellectual Property, Maritime/Admiralty, Personal Injury/Torts, Real Property and Telecommunications.Benz-Jeffrey-900x1080

Benz has extensive experience as a litigator, in-house counsel, transactional attorney, outside counsel and arbitrator or mediator in hundreds of matters, spanning more than two decades of practice. He also benefits from his experience as an executive decision-maker and general manager. Benz also joins JAMS with significant experience serving as a neutral across a wide range of professional, amateur, Olympic and international sports disputes. Benz’s experience in these diverse roles affords him a distinct and well-rounded perspective on the genesis of business disputes and the broad array of possible options available to resolve them, with a unique ability to connect with business owners, executives, and others, in both emerging and established businesses.

Benz has served on numerous specialty ADR panels including international, sports, technology and entertainment panels. His sports and entertainment background is deep and hands on, having been General Counsel of the U.S. Olympic Committee (where he negotiated billions of dollars in deals and managed hundreds of millions in litigation), a boxing and television executive, film production and financing counsel and a former internationally-ranked athlete. He also has extensive international experience and has lived in the UK and China, with service as counsel, arbitrator and mediator in a wide variety of international cases.

“Jeff is known for his creative solutions, unflagging persistence and is widely respected by both sides of the bar,” said Chris Poole, JAMS president and CEO. “We’re thrilled to have him join our panel in Southern California.”

“I pride myself on working with parties to collaboratively find a resolution that works for all those involved, no matter the complexities and sensitivities,” said Benz. “I look forward to joining JAMS and working alongside the talented panel and the excellent case management team.”

Charles Schwab Seeks Director, Legal Counsel to be Based in Austin

Charles Schwab is seeking a Drector, Legal Counsel in its Austin location. The description follows:

Our Opportunity:

The Corporate Legal Services Department provides legal advice to all aspects of Schwab’s business. This in-house counsel position will support Schwab’s Advisor Services business and its alternative investment products.

What you’ll do:

The primary responsibilities of the Director, Legal Counsel will include providing advice in connection with legal matters arising out of Schwab’s Advisor Services business, including product support for Advisor Services’ alternative investment offer. Additional responsibilities will include:

  • Working independently to quickly answer numerous alternative investment questions presented in day to day work flows while exercising discretion and keen judgement.
  • Advising on projects and initiatives designed to build new offers, programs and technology solutions.
  • Providing legal support and guidance to business accommodation requests of independent investment advisors.

This Legal Counsel Director will also be expected to assume other assigned tasks and projects in addition to his or her regular work schedule and to assist other attorneys on the team as circumstances may dictate.

What you have:

  • J.D. degree
  • Bar admission
  • 5-7(+) years, minimum, of law firm, in-house counsel experience with a financial services company, or experience with an industry regulator, that includes broker-dealer and investment adviser matters, and alternative investments / private placement work.
  • Strong working knowledge of:
    • Investment Advisers Act of 1940
    • Securities Act of 1933 (including Reg D)
    • Securities Exchange Act of 1934
  • Background and experience with fiduciary activities and FINRA rules.
  • Excellent verbal and written briefing skills.
  • Abilities to advise on day-to-day issues in a fast-paced environment with an eye on regulatory changes and risk management are important skills for this position.

What you’ll get:

  • Everyday Wellness: Healthy Rewards, Onsite Fitness Classes, Healthy Choices, Wellness Champions
  • Financial Fitness: 401k Match, Employee Discounts, Personalized advice, Brokerage discounts
  • Work/Life Balance: Sabbatical, New Mothers returning to work Program, Tuition Reimbursement Programs, Time off to volunteer
  • Inclusion: Employee Resource Groups, Commitment to diversity, Strategic partnerships
  • Not just a job, but a career, with an opportunity to do the best work of your life.

Learn more about Life@Schwab.com at http://www.aboutschwab.com/careers/lifeatschwab/”

Texas Study: A Sixth Sense Protects Drivers Except When Texting

While much has been made about the dangers of texting and driving, less attention has been focused on the age-old distractions of being absent minded or upset while driving. A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) focused on all three of these important factors.

Led by Ioannis Pavlidis from UH and Robert Wunderlich of TTI, the research studied how drivers behave when they are absent minded, emotionally charged or engaged in texting. The work was funded, in part, by the Toyota Class Action Settlement Safety Research and Education Program.*

The study looked at 59 volunteers who were asked to drive the same segment of highway four times – under ‘normal conditions’ of being focused on driving, while distracted with cognitively challenging questions, while distracted with emotionally charged questions and while preoccupied with texting trivialities. To avoid bias, the order of the drives was randomized.

In all three interventions – absent minded, emotional and texting – the researchers found that the drivers’ handling of the wheel became jittery with respect to normal driving. This jittery handling resulted in significant lane deviations and unsafe driving only in the case of texting distractions. In the case of absent-minded and emotionally charged distractions, jittery steering resulted in straighter trajectories with respect to a normal drive and safer driving.

“A likely explanation for this paradox is the function performed by a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC,” Pavlidis said. “ACC is known to automatically intervene as an error corrector when there is conflict. In this case, the conflict comes from the cognitive, emotional and sensorimotor, or texting, stressors. This raises the levels of physiological stress, funneling ‘fight or flight’ energy to the driver’s arms, resulting in jittery handling of the steering wheel.”

What happens when the brain’s ACC automatically intervenes, Pavlidis said, is that it counterbalances any strong jitter to the left with an instant equally strong jitter to the right and vice versa. The end effect of this forceful action is nullification of any veering to the left or the right of the lane and, thus, very straight driving.

For ACC to perform this corrective function, it needs support from the driver’s eye-hand coordination loop. If this loop breaks, which it does when the driver texts, then ACC fails and the jittery handling of the steering wheel is left unchecked, resulting in a significant lane deviation and possible accident.

“The driver’s mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course,” Pavlidis said. “What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense. Self-driving cars may bypass this and other problems, but the moral of the story is that humans have their own auto systems that work wonders, until they break.”

Pavlidis and Wunderlich think the scientific and manufacturing community can benefit from their team’s study. They posit that the question of what happens when self-driving cars experience failures needs to be asked now rather than later. Case in point, their research uncovers the mechanism that makes moderate cognitive and emotional distractions relatively safe, but only as long as the driver’s natural tendency to handle multiple tasks is not overwhelmed.

“Following up on the results of our science study, we are currently looking into the development of a car system to monitor outward driving behaviors, such as steering jitter or lane deviation, as well as the internal state of the driver that causes them,” Pavlidis said. “This system, which I call ‘stressalyzer,’ a play on the word breathalyzer, may serve not only as a ‘black box’ in car accidents, but also as a driver alert and prevention mechanism, since it will continuously sense a driver drifting to distracted mode.”

Lawyers for Lloyd Change of Venue for Tonight

Due to inclement weather, the location of the event, scheduled for tonight at 5:30, has been moved to the 21st floor of McGinnis Lochridge at One American Center, 600 Congress Ave. Tickets may still be purchased at the door. the event is a celebration to honor the life-time achievements of Lloyd Lochridge, and to raise funds for the Austin Bar Foundation’s Legal Assistance Projects:

  • Free Legal Advice Clinic for Veterans
  • Austin Bar in Action’s Self-Represented Litigant Project

Henrichson Becomes Named Partner at Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson

The newly named Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson, LLP has announced that attorney Kevin Henrichson has become a named partner with the Austin law firm.

Henrichson focuses his practice specifically on cases involving vehicle accidents, aviation accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice and product defects.

Henrichson comes from a family of lawyers. His father, Preston, practices law in Edinburg, Texas, working in the same building where his grandfather, E.G. Henrichson, practiced law for more than 40 years.

Schwertner to File Legislation Legalizing Ridesharing Statewide

Texas Senator Charles Schwertner, MD (R-Georgetown) announced today he will file a bill in the upcoming legislative session designed to establish consistent and predictable statewide regulation of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, also known as transportation networking companies (TNCs).  The 85th Session of the Texas Legislature convenes in January 2017.

“It has become increasingly clear that Texas’ ridesharing companies can no longer operate effectively through a patchwork of inconsistent and anti-competitive regulations,” said Schwertner.  “Any legitimate safety or liability concern regarding ridesharing clearly deserves to be addressed, and I welcome all parties to engage productively in that discussion.  But as a state with a long tradition of supporting the free market, Texas should not accept transparent, union-driven efforts to create new barriers to entry for the sole purpose of stifling innovation and eliminating competition.”

In a few short years, ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft have contributed to a dramatic reduction in both drunk driving accidents and arrests in cities where they’ve been allowed to operate.  As a result, ridesharing companies have earned the enthusiastic support of national organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAAD) and local law enforcement officials like Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton.

“As a father of three, I feel like we should be doing everything we can to reduce the number of drunk driving deaths in Texas,” continued Schwertner.  “Ridesharing has proven to be one of the most effective tools against drunk driving and, to me, it defies common sense that anyone would want to make it harder, rather than easier, for people to get home safely.”

The issues surrounding ridesharing have also had a significant economic impact on the citizens of Senate District 5, including approximately 40,000 Austin residents living in Williamson County.  As a source of employment, ridesharing provides fulltime or supplemental income for over 5,000 Uber or Lyft drivers living in Williamson County, and countless other residents of north Austin, Cedar Park, Round Rock, and Georgetown depend on ridesharing services to commute to work, travel to the airport, or get home safely from downtown.

“I’ve heard from dozens of constituents in my district, including many Austin residents, who depend on either the service or revenue that ridesharing provides,” said Schwertner.  “People are free to select whatever method of transportation they prefer, but we shouldn’t be trying to restrict the options available to our citizens when it comes to addressing our transportation needs.”

Austin Attorney Claims Victory for All Texas Property Taxpayers With Court Ruling

Austin property tax law firm Michel Gray has announced the firm prevailed in a precedent-setting appeals case filed on behalf of its client, Sebastian Cotton & Grain Ltd., against the Willacy County Appraisal District (WCAD).

“This is a major victory for all Texas property owners, commercial and residential,” said Michel Gray principal and managing partner Lorri Michel. “The outcome of this case affirms the fundamental rights of every property taxpayer in Texas to fair treatment under the law and full access to justice.”

Sebastian Cotton & Grain Ltd. v Willacy County Appraisal District dealt with an agreement between the South Texas cotton gin and granary and WCAD regarding the ownership of a large quantity of grain. Both WCAD and Sebastian agreed that Sebastian was not the owner of the majority of grain stored at its facility, and entered into a binding agreement allocating ownership of only a portion of the grain to Sebastian. Subsequently, the chief appraiser for WCAD changed his mind and assigned ownership of the grain to Sebastian, citing Section 25.25(b) of the Texas Property Tax Code as authority to “correct” the appraisal roll.

Sebastian Cotton & Grain retained Michel to defend its rights under the tax code. After the trial court ruled in favor of WCAD, Michel appealed that decision. On April 28, the 13th Court of Appeals rejected WCAD’s reading of Section 25.25(b), holding that “While WCAD’s exercise of power may well be convenient for its purposes, WCAD may not contradict the limitations of the Tax Code in order to achieve this convenience.” The court also awarded mandatory attorney fees to Michel Gray, pursuant to Section 42.29 of the Texas Property Tax Code.

“Taxpayers are entitled to rely on agreements with chief appraisers and the provisions of the Texas Property Tax Code in order to achieve finality of their tax liability,” said Michel, who has long advocated for taxpayer rights. “We are pleased that the 13th Court of Appeals affirmed this fundamental doctrine of fairness and rejected the chief appraiser’s strained arguments to the contrary.

“The court’s award of mandatory attorney fees in this case affirms that all property taxpayers who successfully challenge appraisal district actions in this state will have the right of access to the courts.”