Texas judge names former law partner to investigate Toyota

Marilyn Tennissen Feb. 8, 2011, 5:00am


A Texas judge has named his former law partner as special prosecutor to look into possible wrongdoing by Toyota in a rollover lawsuit.

On Feb. 3, Johnson County District Judge John E. Neill appointed J. Gregory Coontz to see if Toyota Motor Co. intentionally withheld evidence in a case involving a woman left paralyzed by a car crash, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Neill and Coontz started a law firm together in Burleson in July 1990. In 1998 Neill was appointed judge of the 18th District Court in Cleburne by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Judge Neill said there were questions over whether Toyota complied with the court's discovery order in the case of Pennie Green. In 2005, Green was driving a 1997 Toyota Camry in Johnson County when she swerved and the vehicle rolled over. The vehicle's roof collapsed and broke her spine, leaving her a quadriplegic.

Green was awarded $1.5 million in a 2007 settlement with Toyota.

Neill said he decided to appoint a special prosecutor after he reviewed information from former Toyota attorney Dimitrios Biller. Biller managed rollover litigation for the company and later claimed that the automaker intentionally held back safety data in lawsuits.

In 2009, Green argued Toyota hid information from her during discovery of her lawsuit and filed a motion to hold Toyota in contempt of court. She claims that had she known there was additional evidence, she would have gone to trial or held out for a larger settlement.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected a plea by the automaker in August that the contempt motion be dismissed, remanding it back to Neill.

Toyota emphasized that no wrongdoing has been found in the case.

"We are confident that we have acted appropriately with respect to product liability litigation and our discovery practices, including in the Green case," the company said in a statement. "The recent order by the Texas court is not a finding that Toyota violated any discovery obligation."

Coontz grew up in Burleson and attended Burleson High School. He first received an accounting degree from Texas Wesleyan University and then a law degree from Baylor University in Waco. He began his law career at the firm of Godfrey & Decker in Ft. Worth and then transitioned to the firm of Bourland & Kirkman. In July of 1990, Coontz opened a law practice with John Neill in Burleson.

After Neill's departure, Coontz continued to practice on his own. The Coontz Cochran law firm was formed in 2005 in Burleson.

Coontz is Board Certified in both Civil Trial Law and Personal Injury Trial Law and currently maintains both certifications. He has handled numerous million and multimillion dollar personal injury cases ranging from drunken driving accidents to industrial and construction accidents. He has served as local counsel on numerous occasions for Plaintiff firms and Defense firms, according to the Coontz Cochran website.

Greg is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers, Tarrant and Johnson County Bar Associations, and was Chairman of the Section 7 of the Texas State Grievance Committee.

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