Time to Choose

Fred Baron, a partner in Baron & Blue in Dallas, says he was on the phone with John Edwards on May 14 as the former U.S. senator from North Carolina flew on a plane to Michigan to stand on the podium with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to announce his support for Obama’s White House bid. “He wanted to let a group of us know ahead of time what he was going to do,” Baron says referring to Edwards. Baron, who served as the national campaign finance chairman for Edwards’ own campaign for the presidency before he withdrew from the race on Jan. 30, says he too will support Obama, despite his respect for Obama’s opponent in the Democratic bid for the White House, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. “I’m following John Edwards’ lead. I think the world of Hillary Clinton,” Baron says, “but I think the race is over.” As far as his role in November, Baron says, “I will do whatever I am asked to do by the Obama campaign. I have a very close relationship with people over there.”

Former Associate Wins

Three clients who sued Dallas-based Baron & Budd lost another round in their fight to sustain a jury verdict against a former associate with the plaintiffs firm. On May 8, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s decision to dismiss a case in which a jury found that a former Baron & Budd associate had breached his fiduciary duty to three clients by deliberately lying to them about the status of their asbestos case. In February 2007, a federal jury in Dallas awarded Baron & Budd clients Karin Jacobs, Patria Jacobs and JoeAnn Frost $129,000 against former Baron & Budd associate Ken Tapscott. Specifically the jury found that Tapscott had breached his fiduciary duty when he “deliberately lied” to his clients by telling them that all of the asbestos defendants they sued in 1997 had agreed to settle the case when, in fact, defendant Pittsburgh Corning had not settled. The jury also found that Baron & Budd did not breach its fiduciary duty to the clients by abusing power-of-attorney agreements. In April 2007, U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater granted a defense motion for summary judgment as a matter of law in Jacobs, et al. v. William K. Tapscott Jr. and Baron & Budd, a motion the defendants had filed before the jury returned the verdict. In his opinion, Fitzwater wrote that the plaintiffs had not shown that Tapscott had breached his fiduciary duty by deliberately lying about the settlement. Rather, the judge wrote, the plaintiffs argued that concealment of the truth from them was part of Tapscott’s alleged breach of fiduciary duty, and that is not a claim that survived Fitzwater’s pretrial summary judgment ruling. “Plaintiffs’ counsel maintained that this is a concealment case,” Fitzwater wrote, referring to arguments made opposing the summary judgment motion filed by the defendants. “Although plaintiffs’ claim has a concealment component — that Tapscott did not tell plaintiffs that Pittsburgh Corning had not settled — it functioned as the predicate for the assertion that he had deliberately lied by telling them the entire Jacobs litigation had settled,” Fitzwater wrote. In a per curiam opinion released on May 8, the 5th Circuit agreed with Fitzwater writing, “We agree that the court correctly granted summary judgment as a matter of law.” Tapscott left Baron & Budd after he was elected to Dallas County Court-at-Law No. 4 in 2006. Dallas solo Robert Greenberg, who represents Tapscott and Baron & Budd, says he’s pleased with the 5th Circuit ruling, if only because the decision will protect Tapscott from political attack from a future challenger. Tapscott says he’s not really worried about how an opponent would use the case against him; voters would see through it. Jeff Lynch of Dallas’ Lynch Law Firm, who represents the plaintiffs in the case, says his clients are considering their legal options.

End of Embryo Case

A May 14 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roman v. Roman means the end of the line for Augusta Roman’s attempts to get pregnant with frozen embryos she created with her ex-husband Randy Roman during their marriage. In the couple’s divorce proceeding, Lisa Millard, presiding judge of the 310th District Court in Harris County, had awarded three frozen embryos to the wife as part of a “just and right” division of community property, despite the parties’ prior written agreement to discard frozen embryos in the event of divorce. On Feb. 9, 2006, Houston’s 1st Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, ruling that the embryos should be discarded. The Texas Supreme Court declined to review the case. Augusta Roman filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court because the case’s constitutional issues had not been decided, but the high court did not grant it. Roman then filed a second cert writ, which the high court denied on May 14. Teresa Collett, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis who represented Augusta Roman before the U.S. Supreme Court and who used to teach at South Texas College of Law in Houston, says her client has exhausted her legal options and “at this point, unless her ex-husband has a change of heart, will simply mourn the loss.” Randy Roman’s lawyer, Gregory Enos of Enos Law Firm in Webster, did not return a telephone call seeking comment before presstime on May 15. Neither did Gordon Carver, a shareholder in Kacal, Adams & Law in Houston who represented the fertility clinic, the Center of Reproductive Medicine in Webster, and its medical director, Dr. Vicki Schnell.