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On Nov. 16, the Texas General Counsel Forum held its annual conference at the Wyndham Anatole in Dallas. The event featured a luncheon address by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. He discussed litigation filed by government entities against either individual businesses or business enterprises. He described how this type of litigation poses risks to democracy by becoming “regulation by litigation.” “My opinion is that any such lawsuit brought by any government entity ought to be judged first and foremost on the legal merit of the claim, and, of course, on the public interest involved. But if we are to protect the public’s interest in bringing such suits, we must guard against another tobacco fee fiasco,” Cornyn said. He explained how openness in government will help ensure that future government-sponsored litigation actually serves the public interest: “Open government is not just a good idea, it is the cornerstone of our democracy as well as one of the top priorities of my administration. I believe that the people of Texas deserve nothing less.” The conference also featured numerous panel discussions. The topic of the first panel was “Crisis Management: The Court of Public Opinion.” Panelists included Charlie Dana, former vice president of public affairs for Occidental Chemical; Mark Berry, former associate general counsel at Honda North America and current managing partner of Bowman & Brooke’s Torrance, Calif., office; Carlton Chen, vice president, general counsel and secretary of Colt Manufacturing Co. in West Hartford, Conn.; Tim Doke, vice president of communications at American Airlines; and Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communications Inc. in Dallas. Dana discussed the formation of a 10-point plan, featuring free medical exams and daily information updates as a response to an environmental crisis at Occidental’s Rob’s Town, Texas, chemical plant on Oct. 23, 1992. Berry discussed the all-terrain vehicle litigation that occurred between 1982 and 1989. He emphasized the need to form a regional counsel program and the importance of patience in response to an attack on a single product. Chen discussed crisis management in the context of the municipal firearm litigation. When facing a “litigation terrorism” strategy, Chen suggested recognizing the many fronts of the attack: mobilizing the industry, telling your story and making a self-assessment. Doke discussed American Airlines’ management of the crisis on Sept. 11 and following. He emphasized that corporate counsel need to be facilitators, not roadblocks, for crisis communicators and understand that corporate reputation, if not protected properly, can erode quickly and drive a company out of business. Spaeth discussed how television has impacted crisis management and described the skills that corporate attorneys need to learn, and need to encourage clients to learn, for such situations. A second panel addressed legal issues arising in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The panel included Jonathon Wilson, section chair for employment, energy and environmental law at Haynes and Boone; former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins; and David McAtee, firmwide practice manager for the litigation practice at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Wilson discussed the sources of potential claims and hot issues in the area of employment law in the wake of Sept. 11. Coggins discussed the expected growth in cybercrime and cyberterrorism. He emphasized the need to take reasonable precautions to protect the confidential information on computers. McAtee discussed issues of insurance coverage, risk management and the legal implications following the Sept. 11 tragedy. The next panel discussed ways to avoid litigation when making reductions in the company’s workforce. Panelists included Professor Melissa Essary from Baylor University School of Law; Alan Speaker, a consultant for Synergy HR Technologies; and Brad Smith of Drake Beam and Morin. Essary discussed disparate treatment law and disparate impact law in the context of large-scale workforce reductions. Speaker discussed how to best avoid litigation from a human resources executive’s perspective and what corporate counsel should hold their human resource executives accountable for. Smith discussed how proper training for notification managers and the provision of career transition services can limit the company’s post-workforce reduction liability, as well as boost the morale and productivity of those workers who remain. Several additional panels contributed to the occasion. Panelists Linda DiSantis, vice president and managing attorney in the law department at United Parcel Service; Charles Hardy, general counsel of Austin Industries; and Ken Wyker, senior vice present and general counsel at Clear Channel Communications in San Antonio discussed “Chat Rooms and Perils of Life in the Age of the Internet.” This panel discussed chat rooms, electronic boards and e-mail. Another panel focused on doing business over the Internet. Panelists included Peter Vogel, a partner in Gardere Wynne Sewell; Kent Johnson, senior counsel at Texas Instruments; Bob Donohoo, vice president, general counsel and secretary of i2 Technologies; and Bob Marquardt, associate general counsel of Occidental Chemical. The next discussion focused on electronic discovery issues. Panelists included Mike Eberhardt, former general counsel and vice president of E-Systems; Larry Schroeder, senior counsel for intellectual property litigation at Texas Instruments; Mary Tacher, senior associate counsel and vice president at J.C. Penney; and David Schultz, associate general counsel at Bond Track Data. A final panel addressed the legislative process. Panelists included Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, chairman of the Jurisprudence Committee; Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, chairman; and Sandy Sanford, an attorney specializing in legislative practice. The panel discussed how legislation pertinent to corporate practice becomes law, and focused upon two acts that arose during this past session, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (passed) and the codification of the Business Organizations Law (defeated). Michael A. Swartzendruber and Richard S. Krumholz are attorneys with the Dallas office of Fulbright & Jaworski.

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