Star asbestos lawyer dinged as ‘unprofessional’ in pro hac vice dispute
MAY 14, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAY 14, 2021
You think pro hac vice applications are routine? You might want to think again after hearing the story of Jessica Dean’s ill-fated application in an Iowa asbestos case.
Dean is the lead partner of Dean Omar Branham Shirley, a Texas plaintiffs firm with a solid record of multimillion-dollar asbestos verdicts, including a $32.7 million outcome against the insulation company Covil Corp in 2018. The firm is relatively small, but according to the defense consulting firm KCIC, accounted for 8% of all asbestos verdicts between 2017 and 2109.
Last January, Dean sought pro hac vice admission in Iowa’s Pottawattamie County in a case against 3M Co and several other defendants, including Ford Motor Co and Honeywell International Inc. Judge Richard Davidson quickly approved the application.
Then Ford and Honeywell got involved. On Feb. 25, the companies’ lawyers at Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave and Bassford Remele informed the Iowa judge that Dean’s application was not accurate. Specifically, Ford and Honeywell said, Dean stated in her Iowa application that she had not previously been denied pro hac vice admission in another state when, in fact, a judge in Bridgeport, Connecticut, rejected an application from Dean in 2015 after Dean failed to disclose her admission in a previous Connecticut case.
Moreover, Ford and Honeywell said, Dean’s Iowa filing stated that she had not recently been sanctioned, but that wasn’t true.
In December 2019, a Minnesota state court judge ordered Dean’s firm to pay about $78,000 in defense fees and costs after a plaintiff’s witness violated an in limine order and the judge declared a mistrial.
Ford and Honeywell asked Davidson, the Iowa judge, to require Dean to refile a corrected pro hac vice application. That might not seem like a big deal, but their motion touched off what one of Dean’s colleagues would later describe as an “ordeal” for her and her firm.
In a response to the Ford and Honeywell motion, Dean Omar told Davidson that a misguided paralegal had filed the Dean pro hac vice application and several others that contained erroneous information without obtaining the lawyers’ approval for the filings.
This employee, the firm said, had disregarded Dean Omar policy, sometimes filing applications that were purportedly signed by firm lawyers without even informing the lawyers of the filings.
None of the six lawyers who sought pro hac vice admission from Davidson – including Dean – even knew those applications had been submitted, let alone that three of their filings were inaccurate, according to the firm.
Judge Davidson, Clarinda, was appointed to the bench in 2009. He attended Drake University where he earned a Bachelors of Arts Degree in 1981 and a Juris Doctorate in 1984. He then moved to Washington D.C. where he served as a Trial Attorney for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until May 1986. In June of 1986, he joined the law firm Wright and Talisman. In 1991, he returned to Clarinda and practiced law with Bailey and Davidson, later known as Davidson Law Firm. In addition to his private practice Judge Davidson served as Page County Attorney from 2001 until his appointment to the bench. He is a member of the Iowa State Bar and Iowa Judges Associations. He is married and has three children.
The firm said it had reviewed dozens of pro hac vice applications filed across the country and had discovered additional problems in filings by the rogue paralegal. Dean Omar said it was acting to correct those errant applications, including two errant filings for admission in a different Iowa case.
Dean Omar said it had fired the paralegal and instituted firmwide training to assure that the problems didn’t recur. The firm offered its apologies to Davidson.
The Iowa judge was not appeased. At a hearing last week, he accepted apologies from Dean, Trey Branham and Ethan Horn, the lawyers whose pro hac vice applications included inaccurate information. Davidson also agreed that the lawyers did not intend to deceive the court and said he appreciated the firm’s remedial response. But the problem wasn’t just a matter of process, he said.
Dean Omar lawyers, the judge said, should be filling out and filing their own pro hac vice applications, not relying on paralegals.
“This is poor practice, It’s unacceptable practice. I think it’s unprofessional,”
“I’m so frustrated to get my head around why someone would draft something to the court or present something to the court that wasn’t their word.”
The judge said it was “just beyond belief” that the firm had to call a meeting to remind staff that when a lawyer’s name is affixed to a document, that had better mean that the lawyer has reviewed and approved the filing.
Davidson said he would allow Branham and Horn to appear in the case before him – but not Dean.
“This cannot happen again,”
he warned her.
“And you’ve got to realize that if it ever did, you wouldn’t be practicing in this state or other states. I hope you appreciate where this puts you professionally.”
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Dean told me she was sincere when she told the Iowa judge she was grateful to Ford and Honeywell for forcing her firm to conduct an investigation that revealed the flaws in its pro hac vice process. After devoting “scores of hours” to reviewing the firm’s filings and retraining lawyers and staff, she said, she is confident the problem won’t recur.
She’s also hopeful, she said, that her apology and fulsome disclosures to Davis will limit the impact of the pro hac vice denials in Iowa and Connecticut when she applies for admission in other courts going forward. The firm has already sought to correct flawed applications in South Carolina, she said, in new filings at the state supreme court. “I think courts are mostly interested in you being transparent,” she said.
Judge Marra’s lyin’ written words were completely removed on appeal – by 11th Cir. in their biased opinion dated 2 Nov. 2020, 19-13015. You can’t erase https://t.co/ac40Ah2sCP, and you can’t erase the criminal actions you took in that decision Outlaws in Robes. #OperationWhiteout https://t.co/YMfuQwpG7r pic.twitter.com/DrM6zKRxza
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) May 12, 2021
Dean said she believes Ford and Honeywell – frequent asbestos defendants – targeted her as a matter of strategy.
“It’s very out of the ordinary for pro have vice applications to be disputed, especially in asbestos litigation,”
“It feels a little personal…. There’s definitely this effort to highlight to judges everything in my career (that defendants) find to be negative.”
The Ford and Honeywell lawyers who notified the Iowa judge of errors in Dean’s filing did not respond to my request for comment.
But it’s a near certainty that asbestos defendants are going to be quoting the judges ruling in Dean Omar cases around the country.
That’s how a routine filing can become an extraordinary problem.
Opinions expressed here are those of the author. Reuters News, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence and freedom from bias.
JESSICA M. DEAN
I have been practicing law since 2003. I want to give you some background about my life, my education, and my work experience. If there is anything else you want to know about me before choosing a lawyer, please call.
Ms. Jessica Michelle ‘Jessica’ Dean
Eligible to Practice in Texas
Dean Omar Branham Shirley LLP
Bar Card Number: 24040777
TX License Date: 11/06/2003
Primary Practice Location: Dallas , Texas
302 N Market St Ste 300
Dallas, TX 75202-1814
Practice Areas: Litigation: Personal Injury
University of Texas
Public disciplinary history
State of Texas
No Public Disciplinary History
None Reported By Attorney
Jessica Michelle Dean #260598
License Status: Active
Address: Dean Omar Branham Shirley LLP, 302 N Market St, Ste 300, Dallas, TX 75202-1814
Phone: 214-722-5990 | Fax: 214-722-5991
Email: JESSICADEAN@GMAIL.COM | Website: Not Available
License Status, Disciplinary and Administrative History
All changes of license status due to nondisciplinary administrative matters and disciplinary actions.
12/2/2008 Admitted to the State Bar of California
United States Supreme Court
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas
I am one of eight kids. My mom stayed home to raise us. My dad built planes for McDonnell-Douglas, working over 80 hours a week. My grandfather served in the Army during WWII on both fronts. He was quiet. My grandmother was the local door-to-door Avon lady. She was not quiet. I was raised Southern Baptist and went to church three times every week. I spent most of my time in church or playing outside with my brothers and sisters and a few neighborhood kids in our St. Louis neighborhood. My dad worked long hours at McDonnell-Douglas and, although I did not appreciate it until I was much older, he instilled in me his work ethic and drive. My mom and grandparents taught me the difference between right and wrong and always provided unquestioned love and support.
At 16, I started my first job as an IHOP waitress. I was terrible but energetic. When I wasn’t in class or working, I spent my time competing on the swim and debate teams. My debate coach introduced me to a world where a college education was expected and forced me to apply for scholarships. I was accepted and went to school at Boston University. There was an IHOP on campus, so I continued waitressing. Boston was eye-opening – I met people from all over the country and world.
Law school was hard, but I loved the way I was trained to think and evaluate problems. I also got to meet interesting people. Amin Omar was one of them. Amin is one of the people who helped me survive my first year in law school. The next year we were mock trial partners; we trained with amazing lawyers and worked together in a trial setting. We knew before we finished law school that we wanted to start a firm; about a decade later, we finally made it happen.
I moved to Dallas to start my legal career. Early on, most of my time was spent taking depositions (recorded interviews) of our clients. Most of my work involved representing people who were hurt in nursing homes or hospitals or helping people who were not paid for work they had done. The people I represented had never needed a lawyer in the past and were dealing with a really difficult time in their lives. I tearfully celebrated with the family after the first case I won. I took the first case I lost very hard. But more than anything, I felt lucky to have a job where I worked with “normal” people, got to use my brain and voice, and where the work left me with friends, and sometimes even family, for life.
After three years, I decided to look for a new job. Trey Branham interviewed me for that job. I knew the firm he was at represented people who had cancer from working around asbestos, but I didn’t have any appreciation for how terrible the disease was or how many people had died from asbestos. When Trey hired me, he gave me a bunch of books and articles to read showing that company after company knew for decades that asbestos could cause disease but kept using it anyway. The more I read, the more I knew I wanted to be involved in these cases.
One of every three people who die from an occupational disease in the United States died because they were exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma is cancer in the lining of the lung. It is not caused by smoking. It has nothing to do with how well you take care of yourself. It is caused by exposure to asbestos. Companies knew this but hid this information for many years from the people whose jobs required them to use asbestos products. Mesothelioma cannot be cured. A family can fight it with chemo, radiation, or invasive surgeries, but the best-case scenario is slowing it down for a few years.
When I got my first case, I was motivated. My client, Charles, was 62 when he was told he had mesothelioma. He made signs for a living. He retired when he found out he had mesothelioma but still made signs for his church when he could. He was exposed to asbestos from gaskets and packing in the equipment he repaired for a naval shipyard when he was a young man. He had no idea the work he was doing was dangerous.
My job was to figure out what the companies knew about asbestos and what decisions they made when they found out about the diseases caused by asbestos. This type of investigation takes months, if not years. You have courtroom fights where companies object to giving you their documents. When you get the documents, you are often buried in paperwork. It is hard, tedious, and expensive work. While all of this was going on, Charles lost weight, battled chemo, started two trial drugs, and started to live his life under the constant influence of pain medication. We were lucky to finish his case before he died, but barely.
Charles’ motivation for pursuing his case was his wife – even in sickness, he was determined to take care of her. Others are motivated for different reasons. They did things right – worked hard, followed the laws, paid their taxes – and they are angry that they have a cancer that could have been prevented.
Some people want to make sure that companies that choose to ignore basic safety rules in this country are held accountable. Some people want to use the money to donate to research. I get to represent and learn from all of these people.
One of the lawyers I worked with the most from the beginning of my career is Lisa Shirley who is the head of the firm’s motion and appellate practice. In many cases, she and I fought together to help a family against a team of lawyers for the companies. Her understanding of the law, ability to get to the heart of a conflict and her soft but powerful presence has strengthened me in the hardest trials and has led to powerful results against companies that worked hard to hide their actions.
Since I have teamed up with Trey, Lisa and Amin, I feel more empowered to fight these fights. People have all sorts of thoughts about lawyers, just as I did before I was ever around them. My hope and prayer is to be the kind of lawyer who always seeks justice, helps people when they need it the most, and looks for chances to make our community better.
I have seen companies that inspire me; they understand their mistakes, apologize for them, and do what they can to right their wrong. I have seen companies that refuse to acknowledge fault and commit a second wrong in how they treat the family that they poisoned. I have seen companies that want to do right but are hostage to their insurance company which fights everything because every month it can hold on to the funds and invest them means more money for the insurance company. Most companies are in the middle; we find a way to resolve the dispute and the family gets some peace.
But some – usually led by insurance companies – repeatedly create delay, ignore accountability and view life and suffering only as a cost of business. This mentality is dangerous. If these companies are not held accountable, they are empowered and emboldened to make choices that result in harm.
I want to live in a community where the law is used in limited circumstances and as a last resort.
I want to use our justice system to enforce rules that are broken, important rules that are in place to protect people from serious harm.
While I have taken a path different from that of my parents and grandparents, I want to honor what they taught me in the work I do.
University of Texas School of Law, Austin Texas JD, 2003 Cum laude
Boston University, BA in Economics; BA in Political Science, 1999 Magna cum laude
American Board of Trial Advocates – This group’s stated goal is: “Educating the American public about the history and value of the right to trial by jury.” I am honored to be a member. The jury system is a fundamental right in this country and the power of this right and its importance to our democracy and safety is something I believe is worth fighting for.
International Academy of Dispute Resolution – This group’s stated mission is: “To encourage society to resolve differences and disputes in a more sensitive and compassionate manner; and to promote peace and civility in human behavior.” While I am passionate about the need for trials to protect our rights, I am a huge advocate for finding a way to resolve problems creatively and without the need of the huge legal expense involved in the judicial system. This organization also is meaningful to me because of all the work done to teach and inspire college and law school students. I judged a competition put on by this organization and had a chance to evaluate young talented students. It was these types of programs that inspired me to go to college and I am grateful for any chance to offer similar opportunities to others.
American Association for Justice
Texas Trial Lawyers Association
Dallas Trial Lawyers Association
National Law Journal: Top 100 verdicts Nationwide 2017 and 2018
Texas Super Lawyers, Rising Stars 2009-2017, Thomson Reuters Legal
Top Young Lawyers in Texas, March 2010
Top 40 Under 40 Lawyers in Dallas
Fair Labor Standard Act, Updates in the Law, 2005
Failure to Warn Case Involving Injury to Members of the United States Military, 2012
Legal Updates and Emerging Issues in South Carolina Asbestos Litigation, 2014
Mesothelioma Mock Trial Exercise, Opening Statements, 2015
The Top Emerging Trends in 2015 Asbestos Litigation, 2015
Toxic Torts & Environmental Law, Plaintiffs Perspective on Trial Strategies, 2015
How to Build and Keep Trust with Your Clients, 2016
Ethical Duties in Asbestos Litigation, Seminar, 2017
The Long Tail of Discovery Obligations: What are the Current Ethical Responsibilities of Litigants and Their Attorneys?, 2017
Cosmetic Talc Mock Trial Exercise, Opening Statements, 2018
How to Survive a Four-Month Trial, Seminar with Washington State Association for Justice, 2018
American Board of Trial Advocates South Carolina Mock Trial Seminar, 2018