South Texas College of Law in Houston, TX.
South Texas College of Law in Houston, TX. (Credit: RTex via Wikimedia Commons)

South Texas College of Law Houston has received a $1.27 million gift aimed at launching a criminal defense certification program, which is meant to train defense lawyers to more effectively represent indigent defendants in the city’s courts.

The money came from an anonymous donor, the school said in a statement, adding that it would be the first program of its kind in the state. The program would be geared toward preparing lawyers to meet the minimum experience requirements to be appointed as counsel for indigent defendants, the school said. “Without enough trained advocates to provide quality criminal defense at the trial level, indigent defendants have no real chance at justice and due process,” said Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean and professor of law at the school. “This program aims to increase the number of qualified defense attorneys who can accept court appointments—as approved by local criminal court judges—and provide client-centered representation and ardent defense.”

The school said that in 2016, 451 attorneys accepted about 70,000 indigent appointments of counsel in the district and county courts in Harris County. The top 10 percent of these attorneys accepted indigent court appointments for more than 375 cases each over the course of the year. A report issued by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission in January 2015, “Guidelines for Indigent Defense Caseloads,” suggests an indigent defender’s annual caseload should be closer to between 77 and 236 cases, depending on the level of offenses handled.

To join Harris County’s list for indigent appointments in criminal court, an attorney must have at least four years of practice experience in criminal law, with at least four felony jury trials acting as lead attorney, that are tried all the way to verdict, the school said. The experience requirements have led to the creation of an exclusive list of older attorneys, with younger one disillusioned with the process, the school said. “Clearly, the system is broken,” said Burnett, noting that the Harris County Public Defender’s Office can only reasonably handle about 9 percent of indigent cases. Students in the program also will participate in a yearlong Criminal Defense Clinic and after graduation, they will be mentored by Houston-area criminal defense attorneys in transition into practice.

—Michael Booth

Win Against GE

A Dallas lawyer convinced an Eastern District of Texas federal jury that General Electric had monopoly power over an anesthesia gas machine repair business and won $43.8 million in damages for 17 plaintiffs. Under the Sherman Act, the plaintiffs’ recovery is subject to trebling to $131.4 million. GE is one of the largest manufacturers of anesthesia gas machines in the county. Sam Baxter, a partner in McKool Smith, represented numerous small companies that service and repair GE machines. Baxter’s clients, who offer lower-cost repair services for hospitals, alleged that GE tried to shut them out of the repair business through anti-competitive conduct in the antitrust suit Red Lion Medical Safety v. General Electric.

“They did two things,” Baxter said of GE. “They tried to restrict us on getting parts for the machines. And the most important thing was they found a way to not give us training on new machines—and the hospitals won’t let you work on them unless you’re trained on them. And with two new machines, we’d be out of business in less than five years.”

To convince the jury his clients had been harmed by GE’s conduct, Baxter had to prove the company was trying to seize control of the anesthesia machine business on a national basis. Key to winning the case was Baxter’s argument that GE’s training policy that only allowed his clients to contract for repairs at one hospital at time—or none at all, he said. At one point, a GE executive offered to change the policy while on the witness stand.

“That’s the crux of the case,” Baxter said of the April 26 verdict. “They tried to change their policy during the trial. And they made it worse.” Baxter also plans to ask the trial court for an injunction that restricts GE’s anti-competitive policies.

GE Healthcare spokeswoman Holly Roloff said the company will appeal the verdict. “GE values appropriate market access to our life-saving technologies,” Roloff said. “Although we are disappointed by the verdict, we stand by our values and plan to appeal the decision.”

—John Council

Reviving a Practice

Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr of Dallas is reviving its zoning and land use practice, having hired Angela Hunt as a shareholder. Hunt formerly served on the Dallas City Council.

Hunt said she is excited to work with the “amazing” real estate team at Munsch Hardt. The firm, she noted, has not had a land use section for a decade-and-a-half.

While on the City Council, where she served from 2005 through 2013, Hunt worked on several land use projects, such as the effort to revitalize the Lower Greenville area, and creation of the Trinity Skyline Trail—a path along the Trinity River. She said she understands the political and legal aspects of the zoning process.

Phil Appenzeller, chief executive officer of Munsch Hardt, said the firm has for several years considered adding a lawyer with sophisticated land use and zoning experience. He said Hunt, who joined on May 1, is the right fit.

“Angela’s unique background in real estate law and politics, coupled with her reputation for being transparent, accountable and fiscally responsible, makes her an ideal fit for our firm and for our clients,” Appenzeller said in a statement.

Hunt comes to Munsch from Farrow-Gillespie & Heath in Dallas. Her clients include Alamo Manhattan, Exxir Capital and Flow-Line Construction, she said.

—Brenda Sapino Jeffreys

New Office

Strasburger & Price has opened an office in Beaumont with two lateral partners who do admiralty and maritime law.

Mark Freeman and David James, both former partners at Stevens Baldo Freeman & Lighty in Beaumont, joined Strasburger on April 28.

“With our growing maritime practice, we needed the strength, resources and the diversity of a full-service law firm,” Freeman said.

James described Beaumont as the “epicenter of the maritime world in this region.” It is located within a 90-minute drive of four of the largest ports in the United States: Houston, Texas City and Beaumont-Port Arthur in Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana. Having an office in Beaumont, which is two hours east of Houston, will help Strasburger service its maritime clients, he said.

Freeman said the deal came about because he and James know a number of lawyers at Strasburger in the maritime practice area. Their move to Strasburger makes sense for them and for the firm, he said. James said he and Freeman had been interested in moving to a full-service firm.

—Brenda Sapino Jeffreys

South Texas College of Law Houston has received a $1.27 million gift aimed at launching a criminal defense certification program, which is meant to train defense lawyers to more effectively represent indigent defendants in the city’s courts.

The money came from an anonymous donor, the school said in a statement, adding that it would be the first program of its kind in the state. The program would be geared toward preparing lawyers to meet the minimum experience requirements to be appointed as counsel for indigent defendants, the school said. “Without enough trained advocates to provide quality criminal defense at the trial level, indigent defendants have no real chance at justice and due process,” said Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean and professor of law at the school. “This program aims to increase the number of qualified defense attorneys who can accept court appointments—as approved by local criminal court judges—and provide client-centered representation and ardent defense.”

The school said that in 2016, 451 attorneys accepted about 70,000 indigent appointments of counsel in the district and county courts in Harris County. The top 10 percent of these attorneys accepted indigent court appointments for more than 375 cases each over the course of the year. A report issued by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission in January 2015, “Guidelines for Indigent Defense Caseloads,” suggests an indigent defender’s annual caseload should be closer to between 77 and 236 cases, depending on the level of offenses handled.

To join Harris County’s list for indigent appointments in criminal court, an attorney must have at least four years of practice experience in criminal law, with at least four felony jury trials acting as lead attorney, that are tried all the way to verdict, the school said. The experience requirements have led to the creation of an exclusive list of older attorneys, with younger one disillusioned with the process, the school said. “Clearly, the system is broken,” said Burnett, noting that the Harris County Public Defender’s Office can only reasonably handle about 9 percent of indigent cases. Students in the program also will participate in a yearlong Criminal Defense Clinic and after graduation, they will be mentored by Houston-area criminal defense attorneys in transition into practice.

—Michael Booth

Win Against GE

A Dallas lawyer convinced an Eastern District of Texas federal jury that General Electric had monopoly power over an anesthesia gas machine repair business and won $43.8 million in damages for 17 plaintiffs. Under the Sherman Act, the plaintiffs’ recovery is subject to trebling to $131.4 million. GE is one of the largest manufacturers of anesthesia gas machines in the county. Sam Baxter, a partner in McKool Smith , represented numerous small companies that service and repair GE machines. Baxter’s clients, who offer lower-cost repair services for hospitals, alleged that GE tried to shut them out of the repair business through anti-competitive conduct in the antitrust suit Red Lion Medical Safety v. General Electric .

“They did two things,” Baxter said of GE. “They tried to restrict us on getting parts for the machines. And the most important thing was they found a way to not give us training on new machines—and the hospitals won’t let you work on them unless you’re trained on them. And with two new machines, we’d be out of business in less than five years.”

To convince the jury his clients had been harmed by GE’s conduct, Baxter had to prove the company was trying to seize control of the anesthesia machine business on a national basis. Key to winning the case was Baxter’s argument that GE’s training policy that only allowed his clients to contract for repairs at one hospital at time—or none at all, he said. At one point, a GE executive offered to change the policy while on the witness stand.

“That’s the crux of the case,” Baxter said of the April 26 verdict. “They tried to change their policy during the trial. And they made it worse.” Baxter also plans to ask the trial court for an injunction that restricts GE’s anti-competitive policies.

GE Healthcare spokeswoman Holly Roloff said the company will appeal the verdict. “GE values appropriate market access to our life-saving technologies,” Roloff said. “Although we are disappointed by the verdict, we stand by our values and plan to appeal the decision.”

—John Council

Reviving a Practice

Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr of Dallas is reviving its zoning and land use practice, having hired Angela Hunt as a shareholder. Hunt formerly served on the Dallas City Council.

Hunt said she is excited to work with the “amazing” real estate team at Munsch Hardt . The firm, she noted, has not had a land use section for a decade-and-a-half.

While on the City Council, where she served from 2005 through 2013, Hunt worked on several land use projects, such as the effort to revitalize the Lower Greenville area, and creation of the Trinity Skyline Trail—a path along the Trinity River. She said she understands the political and legal aspects of the zoning process.

Phil Appenzeller, chief executive officer of Munsch Hardt , said the firm has for several years considered adding a lawyer with sophisticated land use and zoning experience. He said Hunt, who joined on May 1, is the right fit.

“Angela’s unique background in real estate law and politics, coupled with her reputation for being transparent, accountable and fiscally responsible, makes her an ideal fit for our firm and for our clients,” Appenzeller said in a statement.

Hunt comes to Munsch from Farrow-Gillespie & Heath in Dallas. Her clients include Alamo Manhattan, Exxir Capital and Flow-Line Construction, she said.

—Brenda Sapino Jeffreys

New Office

Strasburger & Price has opened an office in Beaumont with two lateral partners who do admiralty and maritime law.

Mark Freeman and David James, both former partners at Stevens Baldo Freeman & Lighty in Beaumont, joined Strasburger on April 28.

“With our growing maritime practice, we needed the strength, resources and the diversity of a full-service law firm,” Freeman said.

James described Beaumont as the “epicenter of the maritime world in this region.” It is located within a 90-minute drive of four of the largest ports in the United States: Houston, Texas City and Beaumont-Port Arthur in Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana. Having an office in Beaumont, which is two hours east of Houston, will help Strasburger service its maritime clients, he said.

Freeman said the deal came about because he and James know a number of lawyers at Strasburger in the maritime practice area. Their move to Strasburger makes sense for them and for the firm, he said. James said he and Freeman had been interested in moving to a full-service firm.

—Brenda Sapino Jeffreys