Bands of Brothers

"Brothers help brothers, squared" might be one way to capture what’s happening in Waco. Two brothers are plaintiffs in a civil rights complaint filed on March 27 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas there. Roberto and Jaime Moreno-Gutierrez allege that Hill County, its sheriff’s office and the Texas Department of Public Safety violated their civil rights when the pair were unlawfully detained in 2011 for 39 days. Who represents them in the litigation? Two brothers, Cary Toland, a solo in Brownsville, and John Toland of Peek & Toland in Austin. John Toland first began representing the Moreno-Gutierrez brothers after a TDPS K-9 unit agent stopped them en route from their Killeen home to a Plano car dealership, according to the allegations in the complaint in Robert Moreno-Gutierrez, et al. v. Hill County, et al. At the time of the stop, the brothers were carrying $14,000 in cash and checks with the intention of purchasing a new auto. The TDPS agent took the Moreno-Gutierrez brothers to the Hill County sheriff’s office, where they were neither read their Miranda rights nor told why they were being detained, the complaint continues. The brothers’ relatives contacted John Toland for help. His firm made a "series of calls and visits" to Hill County officials, according to the complaint, and underscored for the "jailers" that no charges or probable cause affidavit had been filed, therefore holding them for longer than 72 hours violated Texas Code of Criminal Procedure §17.033(b) and the state and federal constitutions. The complaint cites among its causes of action federal and state constitutional violations, false imprisonment and negligence. Hill County Attorney David Holmes, who represents the sheriff and the county, refers questions to counsel for his employer’s insurer, J. Eric Magee, an associate with Austin’s Allison Bass & Associates. Magee did not return a call to his office seeking comment. Phillip Adkins, the TDPS general counsel, also did not return a call seeking comment. Cary Toland, a personal injury lawyer, says his brother John, who normally handles criminal matters, asked him for help filing the civil rights complaint. He says the facts of the case "are almost hard to believe."

Safety Scholarship

On April 1, Houston’s Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend launched a scholarship program for teens who attend one of four Houston schools and who pledge not to text while driving, according to firm partner Randall Sorrels. The firm launched the scholarship program in honor of April’s designation as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Sorrels says. "We’ve seen a number of cases that involved distracted driving, and the worst injuries have been with texting. We’re hoping that this campaign will help the teens form lifetime habits of not texting while driving," Sorrels says about the inspiration for the program. At stake are four $250 scholarships. Eligible students — sophomores, juniors and seniors at Lamar, Reagan, Austin and Yates high schools — can submit a written pledge about why they will not text and drive to the firm’s Facebook or Google+ page. It can’t be any longer than 150 words. At the end of April, the firm will select one winner from each of the four schools, basing its picks on the quality of the essays, Sorrels says. So far, he says, no students have submitted essays. But Sorrels says, "We are just now getting the word out." With statewide exams are taking place in the targeted schools, he notes, students might have their focus on those for a few more days.

Dentons’ Texas Expansion

With the three-way merger of SNR Denton with European firm Salans and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain complete on April 2, expansion in Texas remains a priority for the newly formed Dentons. "Texas is an important growth market for everything that we are all about," says Joe Andrew, the firm’s global chairman, who said back in November that Houston would be a potential location for a new office. Andrew says a Houston office is a priority, but the firm is also eying San Antonio and Austin as potential office locations. The firm has an office in Dallas, which opened in 2007. Andrew says Houston makes a lot of sense because Dentons has one of the world’s largest energy practices, with 10 offices in the Middle East, and represents a "whole host" of major energy companies. "Unlike other law firms who want to show up in Houston and take, we think we have something to offer, as well. . . ." he says. "We want to be transparent about the process. The best way for us to grow in Texas is for people to know we want to grow in Texas." Andrew says he offices in Washington, D.C., but does a lot of work in Germany and New York City for his clients. He also has been spending a lot of time in Texas lately — not only on client work but also because flights to and from Costa Rica often stop at airports in Houston and Dallas. His wife, Anne Slaughter Andrew, is the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica. With the merger, Dentons has 79 offices and more than 2,500 lawyers.