Firm News

Unusual Mediation Leads to Settlement

The lawyers of Cain & Skarnulis, an Austin business litigation boutique, won a settlement in a case following a creative mediation process put together by a federal magistrate judge. T.J. Turner, Pat Fitzgerald, and Steve Skarnulis represented Liberty Steel Erectors in a case involving delays in the construction of a $500 million medical center on Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Liberty, a Florida company specializing in reinforcing steel for concrete, sued Penick Nordic Joint Venture, a California company responsible for the building’s superstructure. Liberty’s claims against PNJV were for unpaid change orders and delays.

Federal Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Manske, in the Western District of Texas, Waco Division, was determined to get the case settled before its scheduled September 1, 2015 trial. The parties had mediated unsuccessfully several times throughout the two year litigation. Judge Manske proposed a last resort: a two day mediation, with a twist. Day One would be a mock trial. Day Two would be a more traditional mediation to discuss settlement based on the results of the trial.

Judge Manske hosted the mock trial on June 11, 2015, with the cooperation of Baylor Law School Professors Gerald Powell and James Wren, both instructors in Baylor’s well-known Practice Court program. Mr. Powell and Mr. Wren served as proctors for the exercise. A focus group was convened for the mock trial, with their socioeconomic, age, and racial mix based on what the parties to the litigation could statistically expect from an actual jury pool in federal court in Waco.

The parties presented their cases in abbreviated form. They called witnesses and showed documentary and photographic evidence to the jurors. After the presentations, the focus group was divided into three juries. The juries then deliberated and the attorneys and the parties’ representatives watched deliberations via closed circuit TV. Each jury deliberated until reaching a verdict.

Steve Skarnulis, attorney for Liberty said, “All three juries took their jobs very seriously. There were heated debates, and the process was very similar to an actual jury trial.”

With the verdicts in, the parties proceeded to mediation the following day. The case settled, with Cain & Skarnulis securing a settlement for their client in the amount of $1.65 million. Undoubtedly, the unconventional process put together by Judge Manske and Baylor Law School had a significant effect in getting the parties to a resolution of a difficult dispute. Cain & Skarnulis thank Judge Manske and Baylor Law for their help in getting a great result for their client, Liberty Steel.