“A beauty contest” is how Robert Hilliard described the proceedings held one week ago in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the multidistrict litigation in the General Motors litigation about allegedly defective ignitions.
Spoiler alert: Hilliard, a partner in Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales in Corpus Christi, won the role he sought at that contest as one of three court-appointed colead counsel for the plaintiffs in the MDL.
The only Texan among the appointed colead counsel, Hilliard shares the role with Elizabeth Cabraser, a partner in the San Francisco office of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and Steve W. Berman, the managing partner in Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.
At the Aug. 11 hearing, Hilliard said the competition appeared stiff to him. Notably, he had to beat out high-profile candidates like David Boies, the Armonk, N.Y.-based chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, who was appointed as one of the 10 executive committee members for plaintiffs counsel, who will report to the coleads.
“This was a chance to appear in front of a judge with some of the 40 best plaintiffs lawyers in the country and have them tell him why they think they are the best guy,” Hilliard said. Some lawyers used the opportunity to underscore odd distinctions, such as the word “automotive” in their firm’s name, Hilliard said. Others seized the chance to explain why rivals shouldn’t get picked, he said. “But for the most part, you were listening to the upper-echelon” of the plaintiffs bar, Hilliard said.
How did Hilliard win? The Corpus Christi lawyer, who has some 600 clients with claims against GM related to allegedly defective ignitions, said he used a two-pronged approach. Before the judge focused on the applications for colead and executive committee plaintiff counsel positions, the court turned at the same hearing to an evidence preservation question. Hilliard said he used the opportunity to jump in and show his ability to provide creative solutions: He proposed to allow plaintiffs to receive written confirmation of their right to request to have any ignitions they have kept preserved as evidence, even though GM has said it has a statistically significant sample of such ignitions.
After showing his persuasion skills with that issue, Hilliard said he had four minutes—like the others seeking the positions—to present his colead counsel application. During that short time, Hilliard said he “stayed away from” disparaging his rivals, or “talking about anyone else’s peccadillos.” Instead, he told the judge he had tried 15-20 design defect cases against “the very lawyers” in the courtroom who were representing GM, specifically Kyle Dreyer, a partner in Dallas’ Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer.
Dreyer declined to comment for this story, and referred to GM’s public relations office, which did not respond to an email inquiry and had no immediately available telephone contact.
Here is a complete list of the lawyers appointed to the executive committee for plaintiffs counsel.