Houston trial lawyer Jimmy Williamson, approaching his 40-year anniversary as an attorney, was dying from cancer.
Just three weeks before he died in 2017, Williamson was hit with a massive lawsuit alleging that he and co-defendants were operating a “barratry pyramid scheme” to solicit clients in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
On his deathbed, Williamson’s good friend, fellow Houston trial attorney John Zavitsanos, made a promise to represent Williamson pro bono to fight the lawsuit by plaintiffs attorney Lance Kassab.
“I gave Jimmy my word this guy would never receive one penny, and that I would protect his children,” Zavitsanos said, the founding partner of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing. “Today, Jimmy Williamson is smiling from up above. I feel like we fulfilled our word to him.”
Kassab didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Over the past two years, Zavitsanos and his associate, Patrick Yarborough, representing Williamson and related defendants, and Houston lawyer Billy Shepherd, who represented Houston attorney Michael Pohl and his firm, have won a series of three summary judgment motions. The last one on Monday wiped out the entire lawsuit.
“We believe the claims were without merit to begin with and [Pohl is] happy now this case, like a related case called Gandy, has been finally disposed of by the trial courts,” said Shepherd, managing member in Shepherd Prewett, explaining that Gandy was a mirror-image case filed in probate court.
The lawsuit, Brumfield v. Williamson, by 272 plaintiffs from Gulf Coast states, sued Williamson, his firm, partner Cyndi Rusnak, his estate and executor, and attorney Pohl and his firm. They alleged the defendants paid $5 million to consultants who paid case runners to solicit 10,000 clients unlawfully. In a third amended petition, the 272 plaintiffs sued the defendants for civil barratry, breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting. In the alternative, they brought a claim for negligence.
The defendants took the case apart bit by bit.
First they argued that the two-year statute of limitations barred some of the plaintiffs’ claims.
Harris County’s 189th District Court agreed with the limitations argument on June 22, 2018, and dismissed 266 of the 272 plaintiffs from the lawsuit.
Next, the defendants argued in another motion for summary judgment that that the plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claim was “nothing more than recast barratry claims” and it was barred by a four-year statute of limitations.
The court granted the motion and dismissed that claim on Nov. 8, 2018.
In April, the court granted the plaintiffs’ notice of nonsuit without prejudice for their alternative negligence claim.
Finally, in late April, the defendants filed a third motion for summary judgment that argued that the six remaining plaintiffs in the case were never clients of Williamson or Pohl, their claims were without merit, and the two-year statute of limitations barred their claims.
That motion was granted June 3, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s website.
Zavitsanos said he felt the lawsuit sullied Williamson’s good reputation.
He said, “I feel Jimmy’s reputation is now back in tact as one of the great trial lawyers of Texas.”