Judge asks lawyers if he needs to 'babysit' them during sanctions, TRO hearing

David Yates Aug. 22, 2012, 5:13am


A recent hearing for sanctions and to renew a restraining order turned into such a posturing match between the attorneys that the presiding judge felt compelled to ask the lawyers "if this was a case" that he "was going to have to babysit."

On May 31 Total Industrial Plant Services (TIPS) filed an application for injunctive relief against Safway Services and Tiodoso Estraca in Jefferson County District Court, claiming the defendants were conspiring to ruin the company.

Court records show Estraca was president of TIPS, a fireproofing company, and a board member from March 2006 to 2012.

According to TIPS' petition, Estraca began conspiring with Safway, a former TIPS customer, in May 2011 to join the company's new insulation and fireproofing division.

"TIPS believes that ... Safway and Estraca conspired not only to openly compete with TIPS ... but planned for Estraca would use his position at TIPS to purposefully weaken TIPS financially, undermine TIPS reputation ... and then become an employee of Safway," the petition states.

To prevent the defendants from committing further alleged conspiracy and theft of trade secrets, TIPS obtained a temporary restraining order on May 31, court papers say.

However, Safway allegedly violated the TRO in July by continuing to contact TIPS customers in order to drum up more business, prompting the plaintiff to file a motion for sanctions on Aug. 10, court records show.

During an Aug. 16 hearing, attorneys for Safway argued the TRO became null and void when TIPS filed a second amended petition on June 19 that did not request injunctive relief.

Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court, did not agree, saying that the original TRO and second amended petition were separate and insulated from each other in his opinion.

He asked the defense attorneys to provide cases supporting their stance.

The attorneys could not provide a related example case.

Following several minutes of heated arguments by both sides over unanswered discovery requests, Judge Wortham asked the attorneys "if this was a case" that he "was going to have to babysit."

Court records show that on Aug. 17 TIPS filed a second amended verified application and petition for injunctive relief.

TIPS is represented by attorneys Greg Dykeman, Daniel Mabry and Martha Campbell of the Strong Pipken Bissell & Ledyard law firm in Beaumont.

Attorneys William Gage Jr. and Vianei Braun of the Houston law firm Buck Keenan represent Safway.

Case No. 192-515

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