Jason Bernhardt almost didn't get to take his clients' dispute with their property-owners' association to a jury. The defense won a motion for summary judgment, and a judge dismissed all the plaintiffs' claims nearly a year ago.
But Bernhardt convinced the judge to grant a retrial, and on March 8, his clients won a unanimous jury verdict in Robert Thurmond, et al. v. Southampton Place Extension Property Owners Association Inc., et al.
In a June 14 final judgment, 129th District Judge Michael Gomez awarded the plaintiffs $80,000 in actual damages, $40,000 in exemplary damages and $11,000 in pretrial interest.
In an amended petition filed Dec. 4, 2012, plaintiffs Robert and Valerie Thurmond alleged that the defendants, the property owners association and its authorized agent, who was later nonsuited, approved of a plan to remodel their 1935 home, allowed them to start the work, then reported "the very construction that was authorized" to the city as a violation of deed restrictions. The plaintiffs allege in their petition that the city eventually, with the defendants' support, demolished the home, and they brought negligence and gross negligence causes of action.
In an answer filed March 12, 2012, the property-owners' association denied the allegations and alleged as an affirmative defense that third parties were responsible for the damages.
After a roughly two-week trial, the jury returned its verdict, assigning 50 percent of the negligence to the property-owners' association and 50 percent to the plaintiffs. Based on that charge, the judge issued the June 14 judgment.
Gregory Godkin, a shareholder in Roberts Markel Weinberg in Austin, represents the property-owners' association. He says Bernhardt did an admirable job at a grueling trial but notes that the plaintiffs did not get what they sought in damages.
He also says he and Bernhardt during voir dire identified dozens of prospective jurors with biases against a property-owners' association. Godkin says he respects the jury's decision, noting that it took jurors almost three days to reach it.
Bernhardt believes he conveyed to the jury a key point: "There was something so basic about this case that seemed to address an issue of fairness."
To emphasize that to the jury, Bernhardt used graphics in his closing arguments how many times the property owners association contacted the city (dozens) and how many times it called his client (three).