In November 2019, Kevin Pennell and Victoriya Vidma of The Pennell Law Firm obtained a multi-million-dollar arbitration award in favor of a prominent family practitioner and his medical research company. The doctor’s former office administrator and her company had embezzled funds and stolen research clients. Despite agreeing to arbitration, the defendants refused to participate at every turn—ignoring discovery, refusing to be deposed, filing another lawsuit on the same claims to circumvent the agreed arbitration, and—ultimately—failing to attend the arbitration hearing on the basis that their counsel was too sick to attend. Given defendants’ pattern of obstruction and failure to corroborate the claimed illness of counsel, the arbitrator properly refused to postpone the hearing and found for plaintiffs after hearing the evidence.
The 240th District Court in Fort Bend County initially confirmed the award and rendered an $8 million judgment, but later granted defendants’ motion to vacate the award and ordered re-arbitration. The crux of defendants’ motion was that the arbitrator had unjustly proceeded with the arbitration hearing when their counsel was too ill to attend. The Pennell Law Firm subsequently discovered, however, that defendants’ counsel had appeared in court and heavily participated in a hearing on another matter on the same day defendants told the arbitrator and the district court that counsel was too sick to attend the arbitration.
Seeking appellate expertise, The Pennell Firm recommended and the plaintiffs hired SKV’s Michelle Stratton. Ms. Stratton filed a motion for reconsideration with the trial court, emphasizing the deferential standard of review that trial courts owe arbitrators and including the court reporter’s transcript showing defendants’ counsel was not too sick to attend the arbitration, but was in court on another matter the same day. After completing briefing, Ms. Stratton argued the motion to the trial court by video conference on April 29. Within hours of the hearing, the trial court granted the motion for reconsideration and reinstated its final judgment confirming the arbitration award in favor of the plaintiffs. This critical victory in the trial court saved SKV’s client the significant time and expense of re-arbitration, as well as the costs of appealing the judgment. It also highlights SKV’s ability, even in the late stages of a matter, to seamlessly partner with arbitration or trial counsel and produce tide-turning results.