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special to the national law journal After being urged to send a message to domestic abusers, a Texas jury ordered a prison inmate to pay $143 million to a woman he threw off a balcony during a party, leaving her paralyzed. Plaintiff’s attorney Mikal Watts of Corpus Christi, Texas, said he handled the case free of charge and won’t get any of the award. His three expert witnesses-a rehab specialist, an economist and a clinical psychologist-also testified for free, he said. The jury award appears to be the country’s fourth-largest of the year. Watts said, however, that he doesn’t expect his client, Kelley Knight, 31, to see most of the money. He is going after all of the defendant’s assets, from a possible inheritance to his prison spending money, to make sure that anything the man has will go to Knight. According to Watts, of the Watts Law Firm, the defendant, Darcy Julio DePena, is the son of a wealthy heart surgeon who left his son an inheritance when he died. DePena, 32, represented himself in the civil case. He couldn’t be reached for comment because he is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges stemming from the incident on New Year’s Eve 2000. According to John Gilmore, an attorney who represented DePena in his criminal trial, DePena didn’t put up a big fight during the civil trial. “His comments to me during the trial were, ‘It doesn’t matter what the jury does award.’ His intention was to help her any way he can,” Gilmore said. “He truly loved Kelly Knight. He is extremely remorseful for the condition she is in.” The jury award included $50 million for physical impairment in the past, $33 million for physical pain and mental anguish in the future and $25 million for physical impairment in the future. The jury assessed damages of more than $1.1 million for loss of future earnings for Knight, who worked as an interior designer. Knight v. DePena, No. 02-61445-3 (Co. Ct. No. 2, Nueces Co., Texas). New Year’s Eve party According to Gilmore and Watts, the accident happened at a New Year’s Eve party in 2000, at the home of Knight’s new boyfriend. DePena and Knight had dated for a year-and-a-half but had separated. DePena showed up at the party uninvited, got into a fight with Knight and threw her off a second-story balcony. Throughout the criminal trial, DePena alleged that Knight’s new boyfriend gave him a drug that put him in a violent rage and that he didn’t remember anything from that night. Gilmore said that the jury believed DePena’s story because it gave him a 10-year sentence, instead of the 30-year maximum for aggravated assault. “I used the fact that the state had not proven that he wasn’t under the influence of this substance,” said Gilmore of Douglas Tinker & John Gilmore in Corpus Christi. “I mostly blamed it on the homeowner; that if it wouldn’t have been for him she wouldn’t be in this situation.” DePena, he said, “is a good guy who did a bad thing.” At the civil trial, Watts painted DePena as a chronic abuser with an alleged history of hurting women. Watts alleged there was evidence that DePena had exhibited violent behavior toward other women. “I think this was an individual that the jury was very angry at,” Watts said. Ten days before the domestic abuse verdict, Watts persuaded a jury to hit Ford Motor Co. with an $18 million judgment in a rollover case. Castro v. Ford, No. 04-001555-C (Cameron Co., Texas Dist. Ct.). Among other cases, Watts prosecuted a groundbreaking Firestone action in 2001 in which a jury ordered Ford to pay $13.75 million for a rollover accident. Eight months later, he won a jury award of $143 million against Pfizer over the company’s diabetes drug. The case settled the same day for an undisclosed amount. In March, however, he lost a widely publicized Baycol case against Bayer. “I try a lot of cases,” said Watts. “I think there seems to be some emotion in this country that you have to settle cases at all costs . . . .If your client wants to try the case, well then, try the case.” “I think defendants put lawyers in two piles: You’re either in the pile that will try a case or in the pile that won’t try a case. I want to be in the group of lawyers that try cases. Nobody’s going to settle with someone who’s afraid to try a case.” Baldas’s e-mail address is

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