W. Craft Hughes, a partner in Houston's Hughes Ellzey, won an Aug. 19-issued $117,000 judgment for his client, a machinist who alleges his former employer wrongfully terminated him after he refused to help illegally manufacture AK-47's silencers.
"This is one of the most interesting cases we've ever tried," says Hughes, who served as lead counsel and worked with his partner Jarrett Ellzey on Darryl McKnight v. Team Industrial, Inc. in the 80th District Court in Harris County.
The biggest challenge in McKnight: getting a jury in Texas, a state known for its support of gun owners' rights, to sympathize with his client, says Hughes. But Hughes won the victory for his client at a speed that rivals an automatic weapon's. Hughes moved the court from petition-filing to final judgment in less than one year. This accelerated pace he credited to not requesting many depositions before trial.
"We had all the documentation we needed to prove our case," he says.
In a petition filed Jan. 19, 2012, Hughes' client Darryl McKnight alleged his employer Team Industrial Services, Inc. terminated his employment seven days earlier solely for his refusal to commit the illegal act of manufacturing a firearm silencer. McKnight cited as a cause of action wrongful termination and sought back wages among other damages.
In its answer filed April 26, Team Industrial generally denied the allegations and asserted, among its affirmative defenses, that McKnight's failed to mitigate his alleged damages.
After a three-day trial and one day of deliberations, a jury on May 30 issued a verdict in McKnight's favor. The panel agreed that the machinist was terminated solely for the reason alleged and calculated his lost past and future earnings at $125,000.
When 80th District Judge Larry Weiman issued the final judgment this month in McKnight's favor, he added onto his $117,000 in actual damages 5 percent pre- and post-judgment interest.
Barry Flynn, a partner in the Houston office of Gordon & Rees, who represents the defendants, says his client will appeal on the two grounds. Specifically, Flynn says, "There was no evidence that this man was terminated for the sole reason that he refused to do an illegal act. The district court should have issued a directed verdict." And secondly, Flynn says, "The evidence to support damages was nonexistent."