Suit: Recording Shows Jackson Lewis Dallas Partner Going ‘From Lawyer to Liar’
The lawsuit probes the correct application of the attorney immunity doctrine, which protects attorneys from being sued by third parties over legal advice they gave their clients.
Feb 11, 2020
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An Austin journalist has sued Big Law firm Jackson Lewis and one of its Dallas-based principals, alleging the lawyer conspired with a news station to concoct a plan to terminate the journalist in retaliation for filing a discrimination claim.
The lawsuit tests the line between valid—versus unethical or illegal advice to clients—probing the correct application of the attorney-immunity doctrine, which protects attorneys from being sued by third parties over legal advice they gave their clients.
The plaintiff, Brian Collister, alleged in a petition filed Monday that he recorded a phone call that captured the lawyer, William L. Davis, instructing KXAN-TV’s top managers how they could launch a false narrative about job performance issues to terminate Collister in January 2018.
Collister alleged the station terminated him in retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that claimed that KXAN didn’t make reasonable accommodations for him under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The whole point of my case is to get someone to listen to the facts of what he was saying and say, ‘Yes or no,’—that he was committing something outside the bounds of what an attorney was supposed to do,” said Collister, who is representing himself pro se. “They said, ‘We want to fire this guy. He’s got a disability. How do we do it?’ And he said how to do it.”
Collister alleged that Davis gave legal advice to KXAN that was outside the scope of an attorney’s duties, and had “stepped over the line from lawyer to liar” by taking actions to further a “criminal and civil conspiracy,” said the Feb. 10 original petition in Collister v. Davis, filed in Travis County district court.
Davis didn’t immediately respond to a call or email seeking comment. Jackson Lewis spokeswoman Kendall Melidosian also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
KXAN Vice President and General Manager Eric Lassberg and News Director Chad Cross each didn’t immediately respond to a call or email seeking comment. However, in the district court case over the arbitration award, court records show that the KXAN defendants have denied Collister’s charges and stated that there was no fraud, collusion or misconduct on their part. They also claimed that Collister “illegally recorded” their conversation with Davis.
In December 2017 when the KXAN general manager asked for a meeting with Collister, he turned on an audio recorder, because his EEOC representative had instructed him to record conversations, the petition said. When Collister arrived for the meeting, the door was closed and he could hear a conversation inside between the general manager, news director and Davis on a speakerphone, the petition said.
“Attorney William L. Davis was loudly and clearly heard speaking in detail of his plot to create fake ‘cause’ to terminate plaintiff, with specific instructions on how to go about the plot,” the petition alleged. “Davis, and his clients, can be heard discussing how they believe plaintiff’s disability is ‘fake’ and Davis instructing the best way to retaliate for plaintiff’s EEOC complaint.”
Collister alleged that the KXAN managers followed Davis’ advice when they terminated him.
Among other causes of action, Collister is suing Davis and Jackson Lewis for tortious interference with an existing contract or employment relationship and civil conspiracy.
Collister said that KXAN won in an arbitration proceeding over his discrimination claim, and a district judge recently decided to affirm the station’s arbitration award. Collister said he plans to appeal. He added that both the arbitrator and district judge didn’t want to hear about Davis’ conduct, and he felt that to be heard, he had no choice but to sue Davis and try to prove his case to a jury.