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A large regional bank is petitioning to have a $9.25 million default judgment against it set aside, arguing it was improperly served and never knew to show up in court to defend itself. Union Planters Bank, one of the 30 largest bank holding companies in the United States, with $32.4 billion in assets and 900 branches, did not learn it was being sued until the plaintiff confronted it with the judgment, including $9 million in punitive damages, said defense counsel Robert Trammell of Little Rock, Ark.’s Trammell Rogers, who was retained by the bank after the verdict was rendered. The judgment is the result of a suit brought by Sam Butler Jr., a Little Rock insurance company executive, in June 2002 for alleged malicious prosecution. According to Butler’s attorney, solo practitioner John Ogles of Jacksonville, Ark., Butler was pulled over for speeding in July 2001 and arrested after the police officer discovered he was wanted on a 1996 bad-check warrant. At least one passing motorist recognized Butler while he stood, handcuffed, on the side of the road. After spending a couple of hours in a holding cell with several “rough individuals,” Butler posted bond and was released, Ogles said. Butler retained a criminal defense attorney and the bank ultimately dropped its complaint. A $125 CHECK Ogles said the arrest warrant stemmed from a complaint brought by a bank employee after someone posing as Sam Butler signed that name to a countercheck for $125 at a Union Planters’ bank branch in Des Arc, Ark., a town Butler claimed he’d never been to. “They signed an affidavit saying my client signed the check, but they made no effort to find out if he did,” Ogles said. Butler sued Union Planters in May 2002 for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, negligence and defamation. Butler v. Union Planters Bank, No. CV 2002-4985 (Pulaski Co., Ark., Cir. Ct.). Trammell alleged that Ogles erred by serving the suit at the bank branch in Des Arc. Under specific state statutes that govern how to serve papers on a national banking association, the suit should have been served on the designated agent for service at the bank’s headquarters in Tennessee, he asserted. “He [Ogles] served the papers on the manager of a small branch of the bank, who faxed it to the corporate office in Memphis [Tenn.], where it disappeared into thin air,” Trammell said. “Anytime a specific statute is in place that is procedural in nature, it always takes precedence over a general statute,” he said. ABSENT FROM COURT Allegedly unaware that it was being sued, the bank did not appear in court during a hearing in June that culminated with Circuit Judge John Ward issuing a default judgment against the bank. In Arkansas, a jury trial is required to determine damages, but no notice for a hearing on damages is required, Trammell noted. Still unaware it was the subject of litigation, the bank was not present in December when the case was brought before a jury. After hearing Butler’s argument and nothing in defense of the bank, the jury awarded Butler $250,000 in compensatory damages and $9 million in punitive damages, according to court records. Ogles maintains service was done correctly. “They didn’t file an answer and I don’t know why,” he said. “But I do know Mr. Butler. He needs his reputation to make a living selling bonding insurance. There is a lot on the line here.” Both sides have prepared voluminous briefs to present at a hearing later this month to determine whether the judgment and verdict will be set aside and the case retried. “Everybody is entitled to their day in court, so every jot and detail must be complied with,” Trammell said. “We’re advising the court to set aside this judgment and start over.”

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