By Steve Korris
NEW ORLEANS Ã¯Â¿Â½ Bogus court orders from Mexico satisfied three American federal courts, but a fourth tribunal blew the whistle.
Last year, Fifth Circuit appeals judges in New Orleans dismissed four suits against Ford Motor and Bridgestone Firestone after detecting fraud behind the orders.
The documents purported to prove that Mexican victims of Mexican crashes couldn't pursue their claims in Mexican courts.
Fifth District Justice Jerry Smith wrote that evidence showed fraud "rather convincingly."
He and Justices Carl Stewart and Leslie Southwick overturned a multi district judge in Indiana, a district judge in Texas, and Seventh Circuit appeals judges in Chicago.
"Plaintiffs must litigate in good faith in Mexican courts, and evidence showing otherwise may justify sanctions against plaintiffs and their counsel," Smith wrote.
He aimed the warning at John Merritt of Barbara Merritt of Oklahoma City.
In 2003, the Merritts introduced seven Mexican plaintiffs to national litigation over accidents that happened when tire tread failed and caused vehicles to roll.
They sued in Val Verde County, Texas.
Ford and Bridgestone Firestone removed the suits to federal court in Del Rio, Texas, where they moved to require a more convenient forum.
In 2004, the U. S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation consolidated the suits into national litigation in the Southern District of Indiana.
In 2007, multi district judge Sarah Barker denied the forum motion and remanded all seven cases to Western Texas.
Ford and Bridgestone Firestone moved for reconsideration, but Barker found the point moot because the case had gone back to Texas.
Ford and Bridgestone Firestone petitioned Barker's superiors in Chicago to overturn her, and the Seventh Circuit rejected the petition.
Ford and Bridgestone Firestone sought reconsideration in Western Texas, and District Judge Harry Hudspeth denied it in 2008.
"There is no evidence, argument, or suggestion that the defendants or the plaintiffs cannot receive a fair trial in the Western District of Texas," he wrote.
"Furthermore, this court takes with a large grain of salt the defendants' contention that they truly desire to subject themselves to the justice system of Mexico," he wrote.
"It seems more probable that their stated desire for a Mexican trial is motivated by tactical considerations," he wrote.
As Hudspeth prepared for trial to start in four remaining cases this February, Ford and Bridgestone Firestone petitioned the Fifth Circuit to overturn him.
They pleaded to present new evidence of fraud.
After oral arguments in New Orleans last July, Ford and Bridgestone Firestone asked Hudspeth to stay the trial pending a decision from New Orleans.
Hudspeth denied a stay, but in August the Fifth Circuit called off the trial.
In a substitute opinion in December, Smith rejected a claim that the Fifth Circuit could not consider new evidence.
He found the Mexican orders "suspiciously similar" to those in a similar case, titled Manez, where Barker sanctioned plaintiff expert Leonel Pereznieto.
He wrote that in Manez, Barker described Pereznieto as "the apparent mastermind behind these frauds on the U. S. and Mexican courts."
He found inconsistencies between treatment of Manez and these plaintiffs.
He wrote, "Especially in a case such as this Ã¯Â¿Â½ where other similarly situated plaintiffs have acted fraudulently Ã¯Â¿Â½ the MDL court should have asked for orders that were issued in courts in which both parties were present, to ensure there was no fraud."
He wrote that plaintiffs could return to the Western District of Texas upon showing that Mexican courts were unavailable despite the defense's submission to jurisdiction there.