Eaton petitions court to reinstate $1B trade secrets lawsuit

JACKSON — Attorneys for Eaton Corp. asked the Mississippi Supreme Court today to reinstate its $1 billion trade secrets lawsuit against a rival, Frisby Aerospace.

A Hinds County judge in 2010 threw out the case, saying Eaton knew about and sanctioned secret actions that attorney Ed Peters took to influence former judge Bobby DeLaughter, the initial judge on the case.

Frisby attorneys say Peters worked behind the scenes to influence DeLaughter and give Eaton an unfair advantage in the civil case.

Eaton attorney Luther Munford argued Monday that there was no “clear and convincing evidence” that Eaton was guilty of fraud and the lower court used the wrong standard in dismissing the case and issuing a $1.5 million fine.

“The evidence before the court was not sufficient to support the sanction,” Munford said.

Eaton alleged in its lawsuit that five former Eaton engineers took aerospace information and gave it to their new employer, Frisby. Eaton and Frisby, which is now part of Triumph Group, compete for military and commercial contracts.

Munford also argued that the engineers hurt Eaton’s business by taking 16,000 documents. He said that betrayal would go uncompensated and unpunished if the lawsuit is not reinstated.

Frisby attorney Alan Perry countered that the lawsuit was rightly dismissed for somebody “possibly trying to fix a case.”

Peters and DeLaughter have been close for years. Peters was the Hinds County district attorney and DeLaughter was an assistant in 1994 when they helped convict Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The case was the basis for the 1996 movie “Ghosts of Mississippi,” with Alec Baldwin playing DeLaughter. DeLaughter also wrote a book about the prosecution, “Never Too Late: A Prosecutor’s Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case.”

DeLaughter was convicted in 2009 for lying to the FBI about so-called ex parte communications, or discussions about cases outside of court, and sentenced to 18 months, related to another case that he presided over.

The court didn’t immediately rule after Monday’s hearing.

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