During his representation of the plaintiff in Glen Graves v. Jerry L. Starkey, et al., Ross Sears knew he faced some sticky issues: The complex breach-of-contract suit centered on three confusing agreements with subtle differences, he says.

Then there was the length of the trial. Sears, a partner in Houston’s Sears * Crawford, says he told jurors the trial would last two weeks. He says he tried to expedite matters by not calling all his witnesses and limiting his objections. But the trial lasted for six weeks. And once the case went to the jury, the charge it had to wade through was 48 pages long.

Yet his case jelled for the jurors, who after two days of deliberations returned a $1.39 million verdict in favor of Graves, Sears’ client.

The suit stemmed from a dispute between two men who had launched a residential real estate development project known as the Peanut Butter Warehouse Lofts, so named because the building formerly housed a peanut butter manufacturer.

In his Dec. 14, 2010, amended complaint, Graves sued Starkey and three others alleging he entered into a business relationship with Starkey to develop the lofts, but Starkey and two corporate defendants breached their contractual obligations. Among other things, Graves also alleged the defendants breached their fiduciary duties, were negligent, committed fraud and conspired to commit fraud. Graves sought damages and exemplary damages.

In their answers, all of the defendants denied the allegations. Defendant PBW Development Corp. also brought counterclaims against Graves alleging he committed conversion, breached two contracts, unlawfully appropriated property, and breached his duty of loyalty and care. PBW sought damages and exemplary damages from Graves. [See the fourth amended complaint, the PBW answer, the Starkey answer and the TBDL answer.]

On Sept. 28, the jury in Galveston’s 405th District Court returned a $1.39 million verdict in favor of Graves. However, jurors assessed no liability against defendant Elizabeth Starkey and sided with PBW on one of its counterclaims against Graves, awarding the company $5,000.

Among other things, the jury determined that PBW and defendant TBDL LP failed to comply with agreements they had made with Graves; Starkey and TBDL committed statutory fraud; and PBW and Starkey committed fraud and conspired to commit fraud.

Jack Brock, who represents PBW, says about Sears: “He is a very good lawyer and made excellent presentation and was effective.” Brock notes, however, that the jury agreed with PBW’s counterclaim alleging Graves breached his duty of loyalty and care and, as a result, owes PBW $5,000 in damages.

James K. Galbraith, a firm officer in McLeod, Alexander, Powell & Apffel in Galveston who represents Starkey and TBDL, says, “This case isn’t over and this verdict lends itself to post-verdict motions.”

Elizabeth Starkey’s counsel John G.H. Davis, a shareholder in Houston’s Brown Sims, says he is pleased jurors sided with his client.

To suggest a Litigator of the Week,email cmcgushin@alm.com.

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