The flagging U.S. economy caught up with several high-profile North Texas companies during the past year, creating a logjam of bankruptcy cases in Androvett Legal Media & Marketing's list of the Top 10 North Texas Legal Stories of 2011. Bankruptcies for American Airlines, Blockbuster and the Dallas Stars earned spots on the annual list of the area's top legal news. Others include the ongoing corruption investigation of a Dallas elected official, a multimillion-dollar verdict against one of North Texas' top private schools, and other important legal events. The complete list:
1. American Airlines Reorganizes to Regain Competitive Edge
The largest private employer in North Texas is taking its place in line with several other airlines that already have reorganized through their own bankruptcies. Analysts predict that American Airlines' employee pension fund contributions will be reduced, creditors will take a bath, and that stockholders in the airline's holding company, AMR Corp., will take a beating before the dust settles.
2. Dallas County Commissioner Price Facing FBI Investigation
John Wiley Price, one of Dallas' top power brokers, is also perhaps its most polarizing public figure. News that the FBI was searching his home and office for evidence of wrongdoing caused celebration among his opponents and rage among his supporters. The investigation has created a lot of billable work for local white-collar defense attorneys, with potential witnesses and defendants scrambling to secure legal counsel. No indictments have been issued, but the Price investigation remains one of the hottest topics among area lawyers.
3. Jury Awards $9.3 Million to Victim in Episcopal School of Dallas Suit
This case rocked the North Texas private education community by pitting an affluent, religiously based school in Preston Hollow against one of the school's former students. Shortly after the jury announced its award in the civil fraud and gross negligence lawsuit, former ESD teacher John Nathan Campbell Ã¯Â¿Â½ who was at the center of the civil case Ã¯Â¿Â½ pleaded guilty to criminal charges of sexual assault of a child.
4. Blockbuster Goes Bust, Purchased by DISH Network
Dallas-based Blockbuster's brick-and-mortar business model officially fell under the weight of competition from Netflix and other entertainment providers in 2011. Stepping into the resulting Chapter 7 rubble was satellite television provider DISH Network, which scooped up Blockbuster's substantial video holdings and other assets. The jury is still out on whether Netflix customer anger over price increases will benefit Blockbuster's new parent company.
5. Feds Claim Texas Lege's Redistricting Discriminates Against Latinos
Despite Texas' booming population Ã¯Â¿Â½ largely fueled by growth in the state's Hispanic community Ã¯Â¿Â½ the state's redistricting plan shows no gain in the number of majority Hispanic legislative districts. The Obama Administration has cried foul in a Department of Justice filing that alleges the Republican-led Texas Legislature took racial data into account when redrafting legislative boundaries. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry deny the charge, and both sides now are squaring off in federal court.
6. Mark Cuban v. Ross Perot Jr.
Dallas billionaires Mark Cuban and Ross Perot Jr. both hold stakes in the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and Perot thinks Cuban is mismanaging the club despite the team's 2011 NBA championship. Cuban responded to Perot's lawsuit with a summary judgment motion that included a photo of the team hoisting the championship trophy. The filing gained international attention as the "Greatest Legal Scoreboard Ever" before Perot's claims were denied by a Dallas court.
7. Criminal Exonerations Continue in Dallas County
The parade of wrongly convicted prisoners got a little longer when state officials released Johnny Pinchback after a 27-year sentence for two rapes that he did not commit, making him the 22nd person to be exonerated in Dallas County based on DNA evidence. Pinchback's conviction was based on faulty eyewitness testimony, and his exoneration has the county examining two other convictions that were thought to be too old to overturn.
8. Collin County Judge Convicted of Taking Bribes, Organized Criminal Activity
In a rare bribery conviction for a sitting Texas judge, a Collin County jury determined that Judge Suzanne Wooten accepted $150,000 from a woman who wanted the judge to provide favorable rulings in a child custody case. Despite Wooten's claims that the prosecution was fueled by a political vendetta, the jury was convinced that the judge's support was secured through checks cut to her campaign manager.
9. Dallas Stars Bankruptcy, New Ownership
While the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers were competing for championships in their respective leagues, the Dallas Stars were playing in a less-glamorous venue: Delaware bankruptcy court. Far removed from their 1999 Stanley Cup, the Stars saw financial troubles surface when owner Hicks Sports Group defaulted on $525 million in loans in 2009. The club was put up for sale in 2010 and eventually handed over to the National Hockey League. Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi skated to the rescue in November, buying the team for an estimated $265 million.
10. Seating Issues Deliver Final Black Eye to Super Bowl XLV
In what was generally considered a disastrous week for North Texas' first Super Bowl at Dallas Cowboys Stadium Ã¯Â¿Â½ thanks a lot, Mother Nature Ã¯Â¿Â½ the capper was the game-day snafu that left the NFL red-faced and caused seating problems for thousands of ticketholders. Some 2,000 fans were relocated to temporary seats, while 475 others were forced to stand during the game. The NFL made what it considered generous offers to compensate the displaced, but unimpressed ticketholders are continuing with lawsuits against the league and the Cowboys.