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There’s little doubt that the litigation surrounding COC Services LTD. v. CompUSA, et al. will be a learning experience for every lawyer and party involved in the case. But it also may become a legal classroom of sorts on an international scale. The case is a garden-variety business contract disagreement, but because the case centers on an American company attempting to invest south of the border thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and involves one of Mexico’s richest businessmen as a defendant, COC Services has all the makings of an archetypal Texas-Mexico legal dispute. The $800 million case, which is pending in Dallas County Court-at-Law No. 2, is one to watch for a variety of reasons, international lawyers say. “As far as I know, this is the first really large suit to come about since NAFTA involving American and Mexican businesses,” says Bill Sims, a partner in the Dallas office of Vinson & Elkins. Sims is defending Carlos Slim Helu, chief of Mexico’s Grupo Carso S.A., one of that nation’s leading computer sellers. But for international lawyers, COC Services will probably be most interesting because of the pretrial procedural wrangling, rather than what happens at the scheduled Nov. 13 trial. “I think a lot of people will learn a lot of procedural lessons in this lawsuit,” Sims says. While Sims and his client did not challenge the Texas venue, there are countless other considerations associated with navigating the international aspects of the case, he says. “We’re already fighting over where the deposition is going to be,” Sims says. “There are time limits on depositions. And our clients speak English very well,” he says. “But I’m going to have them testify in Spanish. And what does that do to the timeline on depositions?” The plaintiff, Dallas-based COC Services, alleges it entered into a contract with CompUSA, a Texas computer retailer, to franchise computer stores in Mexico, according to the petition COC Services filed on Feb 9. COC alleges Helu horned in on the deal with CompUSA and cut COC Services out. Helu and CompUSA, through its lawyers, deny the allegations saying there wasn’t a firm agreement between COC Services and CompUSA. This type of litigation will become more common in Texas courts as U.S. businesses continue to investment across the border and visa-versa, international law experts say. “It’s inevitable,” says Richard Graving, an international law professor at South Texas College of Law. The administration of civil justice on both sides of the border is vastly different — an important factor to consider when looking at how multinational parties approach their cases, Graving says. LEGAL DIVIDE Most legal matters in Mexico are decided by a judge through a process of written pleadings, rather than by a jury trial system. Some inherent procedures in the American system that most lawyers take for granted would be unthinkable in other nations’ legal systems. For example, most foreign businessmen are aghast at the American discovery process. “The whole concept of discovery in our courts doesn’t exist anyplace in the world,” says Jay Vogelson, a Dallas international law specialist and a former chairman of the American Bar Association Section of International Law and Practice. That’s the sort of thing that makes most foreigners wary of entering U.S. courts. “A Mexican national who is used to a code system of law can predict with some reasonable certainty the outcome of a dispute,” Vogelson says. That’s not always the case in U.S. courts. “There’s no foreign party that likes being in an American court.” That’s particularly true of Mexican businessmen, says T. Mark Blakemore, a Brownsville international lawyer and partner in Rentfro, Faulk & Blakemore. “They’re not used to being in court at all. And if they’ve been doing business long enough, they’re scared to death of the U.S. legal system because it’s so expensive and it can go on for years,” says Blakemore. “And that can kill a deal.” On the other hand, American plaintiffs try to keep legal disputes at home because multimillion-dollar damage awards are virtually unheard of in Mexico, experts say. “Americans who have attempted to do business in Mexico have gotten annihilated down there,” says Scott Scher, a Dallas solo who’s representing COC Services with Winstead, Sechrest & Minick lawyers. “You’ve got to have some security when going down there.” Beyond that, the exchange of discovery can be the biggest stumbling block of any Texas-Mexico case. “Producing documents and which laws on how you’re going to get documents are different,” says Dennis Drake, a partner in San Antonio’s Shannon, Drake & Estee who is handling a usury suit between Texan and Mexican parties. “My thought is these transnational contracts can be a discovery and procedural nightmare.” Discovery can be exchanged across the border through rogatory letters, a procedure in which a court in one country requests the assistance of a court in another country to gather evidence. There’s also the Hague Evidence Treaty that lays down the rules for discovery between two countries. But it can be difficult to apply, Vogelson says. “Not many lawyers know about it. And not many judges know what to do with it,” Vogelson says of the treaty. DALLAS DECISIONS For the time being, most of the parties involved seem to be happy that COC Services is being litigated in Dallas, particularly in a county-level court that tends to have a lighter docket than state district courts. Moving the case quickly seems to be in the best interests of all parties involved, lawyers on both sides say. “We want a quick trial setting, which we’ve been able to get,” says COC Services’ lawyer Scher. Theodore Daniel, a lead lawyer for CompUSA did not return two phone calls. Sims, who represents the Mexican defendants, says his clients have been cooperative in dealing with the suit and did not contest the American jurisdiction because his clients have significant business holdings in the United States. Except for insisting that Slim’s deposition be taken in Mexico City, Sims says that discovery for the rest of his clients will be easy to handle. Third-party Mexican witnesses may be a different story, Sims says. “As for third parties, if they do not voluntarily appear, we’ll probably go through the letters rogatory procedure,” Sims says. Yet, should the plaintiffs prevail in the suit and win damages, a whole new quandary is presented. Recovering damages in an American suit against a Mexican defendant is extremely difficult, international law experts say. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Scher notes that he hasn’t thought that far ahead. “One of the interesting issues to me is what happens post trial. We haven’t explored it enough to say that every one of our claims would be enforceable down there,” Scher says. “But at least a good chunk of them would.”

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