Pearson firm hit with $1.4 million judgment for failing to pay environmental researcher

Marilyn Tennissen Jun. 2, 2009, 4:56am

A Beaumont environmental law firm embroiled in litigation over money owed to an air quality consultant has been hit with judgment of more than $1 million.

Risk Identity Group of Boerne claimed it was never paid by the Pearson & Campbell firm of Beaumont for environmental research it performed for the firm for a pending lawsuit.

On May 4, a judgment of $1.4 million dollars against the law firm was signed by Judge Ken Molberg of the 95th District Court in Dallas (Dallas District Court No. 07-03020-D).

According to a press release from RIG's attorney Rodney Elkins of Dallas, Pearson & Campbell had retained RIG to research the air quality in the Port Arthur area when the firm suspected refineries were releasing harmful pollutants into neighborhoods.

"The Beaumont-Port Arthur area has been called the 'Golden Triangle' because of the lawsuits that have been brought against refineries located there. Several of the country's highest paid lawyers are located in this area, not in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Philadelphia, as you might think," Elkins says.

RIG claimed it worked for more than a year creating air models and risk models, which show the emissions in the air in specific locations and at specific times, and the risks associated with the levels of emissions. The company says it turned down other work assignments to complete the research for Pearson & Campbell.

In addition to a written contract, RIG claimed it also had verbal agreements with Pearson & Campbell made during the course of the work.

However, RIG alleged that the law firm "kept changing their legal strategies and were not paying for work done," the press release states.

Elkins said RIG contacted him after Pearson & Campbell fell behind in payments to RIG.

"When I sat down with the four men whose business was destroyed by continuing to work for a client who was keeping them from other profitable assignments, and yet not keeping up with payments to them, I wanted to help," Elkins says. "I was hoping that we could get an acceptable judgment that would allow them to recover enough money to help rebuild their business. I'm pleased that the jury found the facts favorable to RIG, and Judge Molberg incorporated those findings into his judgment."

Although the case was not specifically mentioned in the press release, the Southeast Texas Record previously reported on a class action by the Pearson firm regarding Port Arthur refinery emissions.

In October 2004, the Pearson firm filed a suit on behalf of plaintiff Crystal Faulk against Premcor, Motiva, Huntsman Petrochemical Corp. and several individual plant operators. The Port Arthur woman claimed the refineries were releasing more emissions than they were reporting, which were in turn causing her young son's asthma to worsen.

The single complaint eventually blossomed into a class action with plaintiffs that included dozens of children. The plaintiffs were categorized by the Port Arthur neighborhood in which they reside, such as West Side, Marion Anderson, El Vista Roosevelt, Lakeside, Port Acres, East Side and others.

The suit also grew to more than three dozen additional defendants, including the Chevron, Texaco and Mobil oil companies.

On Aug. 31, 2007, justices on the Texas Ninth Court of Appeals granted a Writ of Mandamus request by Premcor and Motiva to have the children removed as plaintiffs from the class action.

Jefferson County District Court Judge Gary Sanderson then granted several defendants' no-evidence motions on Oct. 6, 2008, which released more than a dozen oil and chemical companies from the suit.

Nearly all of the defendants in the class action were dismissed, including Chevron USA, Unocal Pipeline, Equistar Chemicals, Millennium Petrochemicals Duke Energy Field Services. (Jefferson County District Court Case No. B173-357)

Reporter David Yates contributed to this story.

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