Chicago law firm asks Court to toss fraud verdict

JACKSON — A Chicago-based law office has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to throw out a jury’s verdict saying it owes $103 million to a businessman who claimed the firm defrauded him.

Oral arguments are scheduled for July 17 in Jackson.

The case is among dozens the court will take up during its July-August term. The docket includes a separate case involving a fee dispute among attorneys involved in a lawsuit over the 2001 death of a top New York Mets baseball prospect that has delayed settlement payments to his family.

The Baker & McKenzie case centers on one of the firm’s lawyers who represented both sides in an oil business deal. The deal turned sour for one client while benefiting the other, according to the original lawsuit filed by Lavon Evans Jr., a principal in the transaction.

A Jones County jury ruled against the law firm in 2010. The firm then filed an appeal.

Baker & McKenzie officials did not immediately respond to telephone calls seeking comment.

Evans filed the lawsuit in 2008 claiming the firm defrauded his oil and gas business. Evans sought $150 million in damages from the firm and attorney Joel Held, who worked at the Dallas office of Baker & Mackenzie.

Evans began a drilling company in 1995 in Laurel, Miss., and four years later began drilling wells for businessman Reed Cagle, whose various businesses were represented by Held and Baker & McKenzie, according to the suit.

Cagle introduced Evans to his attorney, Held, whom Evans retained. And for the next several years, Cagle and Evans engaged in various business ventures, including construction of two drilling rigs while Held represented both men.

What Evans didn’t know, according to the suit, was that Cagle had no real assets to offer the joint business and, despite an agreement that disallowed it, Cagle was using Evans’ assets, with Held’s help, to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

In the lawyer fee dispute case, the Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Aug. 7.

In September of 2010, Ford Motor Co. reached a confidential settlement with the family of Brian Cole after a Jasper County jury had awarded $131 million in actual damages in the case, and before it was to consider possible punitive damages.

Jackson lawyer Wayne Ferrell Jr. sued Arkansas lawyer C. Tab Turner and others in Jasper County Chancery Court, seeking to force Turner to abide by a 2006 attorney-fee sharing agreement.

Ford agreed to place the settlement amount in an interest-bearing account while the dispute is being resolved. The automaker has no role in the fee dispute.

The case came to the Supreme Court on an interlocutory appeal.

Cole was killed March 31, 2001, when he was thrown from a 2001 Ford Explorer. He was driving to Mississippi after spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., when the accident occurred on I-10 near the Florida-Georgia line.

The lawsuit blamed Brian Cole’s death on a defective seat belt and the tendency for that model to roll over. Ford officials said Cole was speeding and not wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred.

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