Vinson & Elkins partner faces $500,000 fine after mistrial

Client faces $900,000 costs payout as lawyer is accused of contempt of court

Vinson & Elkins partner Morgan Copeland has added a mistrial, a potential contempt of court action and a possible $500,000 (£345,000) fine to the beleaguered Houston firm's woes. Vinson has been put on the defensive over Copeland's actions in a Texas court and has had to ask State Judge Craig Estlinbaum not to jail or fine him and his team.
Plaintiff Erin Brunner was left paralysed after an accident involving a vehicle using Firestone tyres. Her relatives claim that a faulty Firestone tyre contributed to the accident. Tyre product liability specialists Tab Turner of Turner & Associates and Mikal Watts at Watts & Heard are acting for Brunner.
Copeland was leading the defence for tyre company Bridgestone/Firestone when he ran into trouble during his opening statements.
Judge Estlinbaum had made clear that a potentially prejudicial issue – the amount of marijuana in possession of the occupants of the car – could only be discussed within certain parameters. He had decided that as there was no evidence of marijuana impairing the driver, it should not be mentioned.
Despite this, Copeland brought up the banned subject and Judge Estlinbaum declared a mistrial. Copeland said: “I would never intentionally violate a court order,” adding that he had misunderstood the judge's words.
Fellow Vinson & Elkins partner Knox Nunnally is representing Copeland as he seeks to avoid punitive action by Judge Estlinbaum. He said Copeland had not deliberately sought the mistrial and the client believed the claim could be defended.
At the time of writing it was not known whether Nunnally had succeeded in persuading Judge Estlinbaum not to penalise Copeland. The judge has set a new trial date for 4 October and has threatened that Firestone should pay the $900,000 (£622,000) costs for preparing the new trial.