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James Street of the James Street Group Passes Away

Posted on Monday, September 30th, 2013 at 2:55 pm by Williams Hart   

James Street, founder of The James Street Group, former UT quarterback, and colleague of the team here at Williams Hart passed away early Monday morning. We would like to offer our deepest condolences to James’ friends and family members. He will be missed greatly.


Houston Charities Provide Opportunities for Locals to Get Involved

Posted on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 at 2:01 pm by Williams Hart   

At Williams Hart, we are proud to do our part in giving back to the local community in any way we can, from hosting community blood drives to donating time and resources to the Houston Police Department and Police Officers Union.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in the second annual Houston Walk for Mental Health, which helped to raise money and awareness for Houston-area mental health services. This walk is an incredible event that over 300 people participated in this year, and benefits close to 20 valuable mental health agencies in the Houston area. In addition to taking part in this important event, I became a sustaining member of Houston Public Radio, providing monthly financial assistance to ensure that quality radio programming remains available for all Houston residents. Houston Public Radio relies on listener support to fund operations, providing an incredible opportunity for listeners to connect with and help support this valuable station.


The Wisdom of George Patton

Posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 11:24 pm by Williams Hart   

“If I do my full duty, the rest will take care of itself.” – General George S. Patton

George S. PattonPatton’s quote always gave me hope. To me, the quote meant that if I just worked hard, played by the rules, and treated people well then everything would work out okay. To this day I want to believe that concept is true for everyone: that if we just work hard and play by the rules then everything will turn out okay. I suspect most people agree and wish that it were true.

The first time I heard that quote, I was a seventeen year old boy at the United States Air Force Academy. During Basic Cadet Training, all cadets are given a small book containing “knowledge” they must memorize. The book contained many thoughtful quotes on duty, honor, and country, but Patton’s quote on duty was the one I found most memorable. It was as if someone handed me the key to success in only thirteen words. In an artificial world like basic training that quote is entirely true—if you do your job everything runs smoothly. As long as you sound off, march correctly, maintain a sharp uniform, and push yourself physically everything works out well. The instructors don’t yell as much and you get to eat without being harassed.

Sometimes, however, real life is not so simple. Many people work a full day, pay taxes, serve the community, and strive to make their children’s life better than their own. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond their control, and despite their best efforts, not everything works out okay. Other people failed to honor their commitments. A business idea is stolen. An accident happened. A natural disaster occurred. Regardless of the specific situation, these people have been good, solid citizens and have suffered some misfortune. They deserve more than bad luck.

In many cases, the legal system is the only avenue for people like these to make sure “the rest will take care of itself.” For example, a computer programmer that devoted significant resources to design a computer program that is now being used without permission by a rival company can ask a court to order the rival business to fairly compensate the programmer. A woman that suffered a stroke because of a drug defect can use the legal system to compensate her for her injuries if the court or jury determines that the drug manufacturer knew of the risk but failed to properly warn the woman. Without the legal system, these two people would be left footing the bill for situations caused by others.

And that is the reason I left the Air Force to become a lawyer. I thought that I could do more to help people as a lawyer than an Air Force officer. The American legal system is not a perfect animal. The law and justice are not necessarily the same thing. But, sometimes it is the only way to make sure the right people pay for the bill. My goal is to be the part of the system that gives the people that work hard and play by the rules someone who will work as hard as possible for them to make sure “the rest will take care of itself.”


Back to the Future

Posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 10:43 am by Williams Hart   

Back to SchoolSchool is back in session! My reminder is when I see the line of cars waiting to exit Scott Street off I-45 to get to the University of Houston or Texas Southern University. I attended the University of Houston back when our mascot, Shasta, actually resided on campus. By the way, GO COOGS!!! And I grew up in the suburbs of Houston back when life was more simple than it is now.

My childhood friends and I often have conversations about how fun and carefree life was growing up. Remember when you just played outside until it got dark? Or were able to walk or ride your bike to school without much supervision? I have seen it within my own family and with my friends’ children that things are not how it was for me growing up.

With the Internet so easily accessible, cell phones on every hand, Twitter, and other social media outlets, children are so much more exposed to the negatives of the world. It is not enough to arm our youth with affirmations of a positive day. Stories of bullying, suicide, and harmful acts being committed within the student population are increasing at a rapid rate.

I remember when something would happen at school. The worst that would happen is that person would be teased and maybe mentioned in a note that was passed between one friend to another in the hallway. Then it was over. Now, the event can be videoed and uploaded to a site within minutes, someone can tweet about it, it becomes a status update, a text message is blasted to all contacts and that person is also teased or ridiculed. I empathize with what kids these days go through.

What can we do to help? One thing I have learned is communication is paramount. My parents talked to me about “life” often and I have in turn shared what I know with family members and my friends’ children. We can monitor the children’s activities. We can put parental controls on the television and internet sites. We can volunteer at school activities and get to know other parents and children. We have to pay attention for any personality changes or changes in attire or social group.

Basically we have to be present in children’s lives and make time for them. Sometimes we do not want to acknowledge something is going on and turn a blind eye. Or we get so busy in our own lives that we neglect the kids. Who has not been guilty of doing that a time or two? I know I have been. But it is up to us to lift those children up and support them. This does not apply just to parents, but also to anyone who has young family members, is a Godmother/father, has friends who have children, volunteers with kids, or even works with them.

I think when a child learns there is someone available to listen but not judge and to also love unconditionally, a safe haven is created that helps bolster self-confidence and awareness. We all have things going on in our lives, but if we do not help the kids with whom we interact, who will?

Remember that great Whitney Houston song “Greatest Love of All?” If not, look it up. Ms. Whitney sang beautifully about children and what we need to do to empower them. As this new school year gets moving, that song is worth listening to and keeping in the back of your mind.


Pay It Forward

Posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2012 at 2:18 pm by Williams Hart   

John Eddie Williams Donating to the Goodfellows FundRecently it seems I’ve heard more stories of people “paying it forward” than usual, and this has inspired me in a way. I read a story sent by someone close to a former, and now deceased, client about giving school supplies to those who are less fortunate in the Houston area. I had not heard from this church pastor in quite a while, but I was so glad he thought to send such a great story to me. The next morning, I heard a story on the radio about a contest winner who had just won some incredible concert tickets, then turned around and gave them to someone temporarily in the area for treatment at MD Anderson who really wanted to go to the concert.

We should all be paying it forward when we are able. Whether its donating household items or clothes you could sell, or taking care of a small task for someone without asking for a return favor, or picking up breakfast, lunch or dinner for someone who is busy, there are many things that can be done to help someone in one way or another. And if you have kids, you are teaching them a very valuable lesson and setting an example that should make you beam with pride!

There’s no better time than now, as our Louisiana and Mississippi neighbors are dealing with relentless rain and flooding from Hurricane Isaac. Residents of both states are experiencing the devastation of losing their homes and everything inside. They will need new homes, but they will also need things that many of us keep around just in case we need it someday. But would you miss these extras if they were gone? I know there are people who will need them so much more than I would miss them. Find a way to pay it forward, whether it is for the victims of Hurricane Isaac or for a neighbor, friend, co-worker, family member or stranger in need!


Insurance and Lawsuits

Posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 7:09 am by Williams Hart   

Insurance exists in practically every negligence or gross negligence lawsuit filed in this country. A case almost never gets filed unless the wrongdoer has insurance to compensate a person for their wrecked car and body. For example, all drivers in Texas (and most states) are required to have liability insurance. If an automobile collision occurs and the liability for the wreck is disputed, one can guarantee that insurance is somehow involved.

The role of insurance is critical on three different fronts: for the injured family member to received the medical attention they need; for the alleged wrongdoer so their personal assets are protected and lastly for the taxpayers who through Medicare, Medicaid or hospital write-offs, would often have to bear the brunt of a wrongdoer’s negligence or gross negligence.

Under Texas law, juries are deliberately not informed about the role of insurance in the trial. Even though insurance companies will hire attorneys for the defendant or in some cases the defense attorneys are actual employees of the insurance company, the attorneys will have a separate law firm name so if a juror looks them up they will not know the lawyer’s true employer.

The mere mention of the word “insurance” in a courtroom is taboo and trial lawyers collectively panic when “insurance” is mentioned in fear of an automatic mistrial. Even during jury selection “insurance” is not used when asking potential jurors about their jobs or backgrounds. Instead, vague questions regarding “claims handling”, “subrogation” or “adjusting claims” are often asked that hint or tap dance around the real issue.

Most jurors are already aware that in a lawsuit an insurance company is paying for the defense and selecting the experts and deciding the strategy and witnesses for the defense. The perception that a jury will be more likely to find liability on the part of the defendant because they have insurance seems outdated and patronizing to modern jurors so the wisdom of the not being allowed to mention insurance at trial will continue to be debated.


The Importance of Jury Duty

Posted on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 at 3:26 pm by Williams Hart   

Jury DutyJury duty is an obligation of citizenship. Just like paying your taxes or voting, jury duty is an essential part of maintaining the civic infrastructure most of us take for granted. We all have the right to be tried by our peers and the jury system is the best system yet devised; the one most likely to yield just, fair results. Jury service is not perfect but it is meaningful work and one of the best in the world. If jury duty was not mandatory there would be no jurors or at-most very few. It seems to the average American, nothing is seemingly more disliked than receiving a jury summons in the mail. The list seems endless of what people believe they are going to miss or the hardship they will suffer if they have to report to jury duty. As inconvenient as it may seem, jury duty is important for you and is in place to protect you from governmental abuse. It is a common misconception that jury duty is about deciding guilt. The jury system was first formed as a place for review of the law and how it is applied to everyone. There are circumstances in which the law is unjust and it is your duty as a juror to represent the opinion of the people. The next time you think about being inconvenienced by reporting to jury duty, remember that other than voting, acting as a juror is really your only other civic responsibility in this country. In other words, all the work done by the founding fathers, and all the actions of those who fought bravely or died on behalf of this country’s democratic institutions, resulted in a set of freedoms for citizens of this country not seen in other parts of the world. And, after all the sacrifice of those that came before you to ensure that each of us has the right to life, liberty and happiness, all your government really asks of you in return is to vote and show up for jury duty.

Thomas Jefferson once said “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” As a trial lawyer I stand by Thomas Jefferson’s quote. I can’t think of anything more important to my clients than the right to have their cases, whether personal injury or any kind of case, decided by a jury. And even though jury duty does take some amount of time away from what your daily routines would have been, almost every judge I have been in front of has been very sensitive to those facts. While there is no one standard rule as to how long jury service is, one thing is clear, if you sit on a civil or criminal jury, and reach a verdict, you are done.

How Jury Trials Can Differ

As the Texas Judicial Branch notes on its website, jury duty is both a civic duty and privilege, as the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed by both the Constitution of the United States and the Texas Constitution. When you have received a summons for jury duty, you may be able to participate in the jury selection process and could be asked to serve on a jury if you do not seek to be excused or exempted.

Juries can be used in both criminal cases and civil litigation. In a criminal case, a jury decides whether an alleged offender is guilty of a crime being prosecuted by the state, and the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. A civil case will usually focus on an injury to a plaintiff and a defendant’s negligence must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

Civil juries can also differ by subject matter, with personal injury and business litigation being two common examples of cases. Personal injury could include car accidents, slip and fall accidents, or wrongful death cases, while business litigation might involve contract disputes, securities litigation, or intellectual property disputes.

How Jury Duty Works

A person is eligible to serve on a jury in Texas if they:

  • Are at least 18 years of age
  • Are a citizen of the United States
  • Reside in the county of jury service
  • Are qualified to vote in the county of jury service (but do not have to be registered)
  • Can read and write
  • Are of sound mind and good moral character

A person cannot serve on a jury if they served as a juror for six days during the prior three months, have been convicted of a felony or any type of theft, or are under indictment or criminal charges for a felony or any type of theft. A person who is seeking an exemption from jury service must submit the exemption two weeks before the date listed on their summons.

A person can be excused from jury service if they:

  • Are older than 70 years of age
  • Have legal custody of a child less than 12 years of age who would be unsupervised
  • Are a high school student or college student attending classes
  • Are an officer or employee of the Texas Legislature or an agency in the legislative branch of government
  • Are the caretaker of a person unable to care for themselves
  • Have a physical or mental impairment that makes it impossible or difficult to serve on a jury
  • Cannot comprehend or communicate in English
  • Are active duty military deployed away from your home county
  • Were selected to serve on a jury in the previous two or three years

Jurors can also be excused for religious holidays. A person who fails to answer a jury summons or provides false information in a request for exemption or excusal can be fined up to $1,000. People selected for jury service who fail to attend court without a reasonable excuse can be fined up to $500.

How Jurors Are Selected

Jury selection usually takes one day or a part of a day to complete. Groups of 50 to 60 prospective jurors are typically assembled in courtrooms with judges, lawyers, and the parties involved in cases.

The attorneys involved will be able to conduct voir dire, the French phrase for “to speak the truth” that is a process of judges and lawyers asking jurors questions determine their suitability for jury service. Both attorneys involved will have the opportunity to present any challenges to individual jurors and the court will ultimately select a jury with one to four alternates.

Voir dire could last a couple of hours, and jurors are usually given an overview of a case by a judge before they are questioned by lawyers. All prospective jurors will be given an oath in which they swear or affirm to tell the truth when answering questions about their qualifications as jurors.

A summons typically has instructions on how to respond, and some summons may allow people to respond online. The jurors will usually select a foreperson before jury deliberations begin.

How Long Can Trials Last?

The length of a civil trial can vary widely depending on the type of case involved and other specific factors. For example, a single party action will likely be resolved much sooner than a mass tort.

A single party will only be one case involving a plaintiff and the named defendants, but mass tort cases could involve jurors hearing from multiple plaintiffs. A civil trial typically lasts only a matter of days but some can take several weeks and a few could even take multiple months to resolve.

Texas has six different kinds of trial courts: Justice of the Peace (JP) Courts, Municipal Courts, Statutory Probate Courts, Constitutional County Courts, Statutory County Courts, and District Courts.

Why a Person Should Embrace Jury Duty

Having the opportunity to have cases heard by a jury of your peers is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, and you should view your jury summons as a chance to participate in this essential element. The county may compensate you, no less than $40 per day, for your jury service. An employer does not have to pay you for time away from work for jury service but they also cannot fire you for serving on a jury.

Jury service is considered to be one of the highest duties of citizenship. The right to a trial by jury is the only right contained in both the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Your participation in a jury also helps ensure the checks and balances critical to our government. Jurors allow for peaceful resolutions to contested disputes and help participate in the act of governing and enforcement of certain laws.

The opportunity to serve as a juror is a chance that any citizen should relish because it allows them the opportunity to hear all of the facts in a specific case and render a judgment to help ensure that justice is achieved.

So, the next time you get that jury summons, sure it may be an inconvenience, but at the end of the process, you, like so many before you, will have made a huge commitment to our democratic system of government, you will have made a huge difference in resolving a controversy. That small burden is a small price to pay for the privileges and protections of our government. With rights, come responsibilities. Jurors owe it to their fellow citizens to perform this service seriously; justice depends all on the quality of jurors who serve. The survival of your own right to trial by jury depends on the willingness of all to serve, so be part of the system and make a difference.


My Message to My Fellow Victims’ Advocates

Posted on Friday, November 11th, 2011 at 12:54 pm by Williams Hart   

Two thousand years ago a great advocate died to make his case. He could be called the greatest trial lawyer of all time, for his life was a great trial indeed. He litigated the merits of good versus evil, and offered his sacrifice as the ultimate advocacy on behalf of his clients. His resurrection was the ultimate proof of the validity of his claim.

His case was simple. God loves you, and whosoever shall believe in him will never die. He made his argument although he labored under the ultimate burden of proof, “No greater love has one man for another than to lay down his life for him.” His crucifixion and resurrection was a three day summation, the greatest closing argument of all time.

You carry on his work today. You sacrifice your labor, your sweat, and many times your tears, to prove your case and to make the lives of your clients better. We have a great example to follow. You fight the good fight. Your sacrifices are worth it. You make a difference.


To Treat or Not to Treat

Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2011 at 11:00 am by Williams Hart   

I learned this week that my English Pointer, Claire, has a form of cancer.  It cannot be resected from her leg, and it has spread to her lymph node in that leg.  I was faced with 2 options: do nothing and see what happens or put her through chemo.  She is an 11-year-old dog, but as spunky as ever and not in any pain from the cancer.  Before learning that the cancer had spread, I thought chemo would be a bit extreme.  But the fact that it spread concerns me.  Several years ago, our black lab, Katie, died unexpectedly at the age of 3, with no warning.  She just collapsed and died.  There was nothing I could do about it.  Well, there is something I can at least try for Claire.  She was rescued off the street – literally (Westheimer) – when she was about a year old, and has been a sweet girl ever since.  I would like for her to live a long happy life, and to me, that means trying to stop the spread of her cancer.

As I was debating on what to do about my dog, I thought about the decisions our mesothelioma clients must face.  I can only imagine the hours of time these victims’ families spend talking to doctors, researching the internet, talking to other friends and family, and praying for an answer as to what they should do.  Mesothelioma (meso for short) is such a terrible disease.  Some patients respond well to chemo and radiation.  Others are too frail to treat, and are sent home for care with their families or hospice just to make sure they are comfortable.  Dr. Roy Smythe at Scott & White has performed extra-pleuralpneumonectomies on some of our clients, but it is rare for a meso victim to be in a position that such a drastic surgery would be recommended.  It involves removing various organs and tissues in an effort to get rid of the cancer.  It is not a cure, and is painful, but it is also a way to lengthen life for some victims of this terrible disease.

For my dog, chemo will only be a shot, a pill and an IV drip, if I understand correctly.  Side effects are less severe in dogs than in humans.  My decision wasn’t too difficult.  A meso victim has a much more difficult decision to make.  Everyone is different.  As an attorney who represents meso victims every day, I can understand each and every treatment decision made by clients.  There is no right or wrong.  I hope the decision I had to make for Claire will be the only cancer treatment decision I ever have to make.  I wish she could speak and let me know what she wants to do.  Then again, I remember an old Far Side cartoon where all the people were wearing headsets called canine decoders, and all the dogs were just saying “Hey!” “Hey hey hey!”

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