Our litigation practice began 62 years ago when Jason Honigman, one of the premier trial lawyers in the state who authored the Michigan court rules, which were in force for more than 20 years, helped found the Honigman law firm in 1948. Jason Honigman believed that all firm lawyers -- regardless of where they ultimately sought to concentrate their practice -- should begin with experience in the trial courts, because developing the rigorous and lightning-quick analytical thinking and the common sense and good judgment required for the successful management of courtroom disputes would serve a lawyer in any area of practice well. While the ensuing years have spawned increasing concentration in specialty areas of practice and not all of our lawyers now gain experience in the trial courts in the first instance, the litigation department -- the largest department in the firm, with more than 50 professionals -- continues the tradition of devoting lawyers with sophisticated judgment and pragmatic, proactive approaches to achieving our clients' objectives in the litigation arena. We counsel our clients on how to avoid litigation; we provide our clients with prompt and timely advice about how best to maximize their litigation prospects in the most cost-efficient manner when litigation begins; and we counsel clients and try cases in commercial litigation settings, including appearing in federal and state trial and appellate courts throughout the country, in arbitrations, in dispute-resolution forums and in administrative proceedings nationwide.
Our trial lawyers -- and we pride ourselves on calling ourselves "trial lawyers," not simply "litigators"; trying cases is a regular part of the practice of our senior litigation department members -- have earned significant successes and accolades. More than half of our senior trial lawyers have been named Best Lawyers in America
. More than half of our senior lawyers have been named Michigan Super Lawyers
, and two were named among the top ten Super Lawyers
in the state. Four have been named a Best Lawyer
in bet-the-company litigation. One of our department members was named a Best Lawyer
in eminent domain and condemnation litigation; less than a half dozen lawyers in the metropolitan Detroit area earned that honor. In turn, Chambers USA
has honored us as having the best litigation department in Detroit for the fourth straight year, and five of our senior trial lawyers have been named by Chambers
as leading trial lawyers in Michigan -- the most of any law firm in the state.
While we are appreciative of our plaudits, we are most appreciative that it is our continued litigation successes that have led to the accolades. Our successes in 2009 ran the gamut from arbitrations to bench trials and jury verdicts, from administrative proceedings to appellate arguments, from pre-litigation out of court settlements to post-judgment collection of judgments rendered. The practice areas in which we have achieved these successes have occurred, among other places, in our core areas of general commercial practice: intellectual property disputes; divorce and probate litigation; e-Discovery litigation; election and gaming litigation; securities litigation; mass tort litigation; First Amendment practice; and white collar investigatory litigation. An illustrative example of our recent successes and cases includes:
- We obtained a judgment pursuant to a jury verdict of $20,000,000 in favor of our clients in a commercial dispute involving the transfer of a commercial dealership following a two-week jury trial in November 2009.
- We obtained a judgment pursuant to jury verdict of approximately $7.5 million in favor of our clients in a commercial dispute involving the termination of a dealership following a month-long jury trial in February 2010.
- On behalf of our client The Detroit Free Press, we sued the City of Detroit under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that the City had withheld public records pertaining to a secret $8.4 million settlement of a whistleblower lawsuit by police officers against the City, then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and others. The City Law Department denied the existence of any secret agreements. In the course of the FOIA lawsuit, the Free Press uncovered secret agreements signed by the Mayor and others misappropriating City funds to cover up and destroy text messages that revealed a romantic affair between the Mayor and his chief aide, and their perjury about it and other matters that occurred in the whistleblower trial several months earlier. As a result of those lawsuit disclosures, the Mayor and his aide, Christine Beatty, were charged with multiple felonies, later pled guilty and were forced from office. The Free Press prevailed in the FOIA lawsuit and obtained a judgment for approximately $450,000 in attorney fees.
- We successfully obtained the dismissal of various claims and successfully opposed certification of a putative class of investors who allegedly purchased securities through an unregistered broker.
- We negotiated a multimillion dollar settlement of a legal malpractice claim in favor of a client.
- On behalf of our client Almetals, Inc. in a lawsuit against a German supplier (Wickeder Westfalenstahl GmbH) for breach of a supply agreement worth an estimated $80,000,000, we obtained a favorable partial summary judgment ruling and, following trial, a ten-year injunction against Wickeder prohibiting it from imposing new payment terms.
These are just a few examples of cases that we have commenced, managed, handled and won. Some of them had national publicity; many -- indeed most -- were resolved quietly and anonymously in accordance with our clients' wishes. Whether the cases we handled were of substantial significance to national jurisprudence or were simply the resolution of purely private disputes between private parties with no consequences beyond the immediate result of the case, we strove in each and every case to provide the very best legal representation and to obtain the best result possible.
The department attorneys believe that one of many keys to litigation success is being extremely knowledgeable about the judge to whom a case has been assigned, since the judge will render crucial pretrial rulings which may dispose of a case in its entirety and will also render important rulings in cases which go to trial, whether the trial is before the judge or before a jury. There are more than 40 former law clerks from all areas of federal and state trial and appellate practice who now practice with the firm, to give the department even more vast, direct experience with the judges in these courts.
Our successes and plaudits have also occurred outside the courtroom since, as a department and as a firm, we pride ourselves on contributing to the legal community at large. Several of our partners are members of the adjunct faculty of law schools throughout Michigan and have contributed to the community through these volunteer teaching efforts. In addition to formal adjunct roles, our partners have lectured and taught at the University of Michigan's Institute of Continuing Legal Education and at the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University in the areas of civil procedure, courtroom practice and evidence and deposition skills. Our partners, past and present, have written the definitive courtroom textbooks in the areas of Michigan state court civil procedure and evidence. Our pro bono program for the year 2009, enlisted the efforts of dozens of our professionals who worked on numerous litigation matters in courts throughout Michigan, including consumer disputes, landlord-tenant matters and probate and quiet title matters through our affiliation with the Detroit Legal Services Clinic, Community Legal Resources, Legal Aid and Defenders Association and other groups which protect the legal rights of indigents. We remained active members of state and local bar associations; we served as court-appointed facilitators and arbitrators for numerous judges and in securities industry arbitrations; we served as adjunct faculty members at several law schools, where one of our senior members received the adjunct faculty of the year award; and we participated actively again this year in the Oakland County Inns of Court program which teaches young lawyers in the metropolitan Detroit area the skills that are necessary to practice successfully before our judges.
We have handled most types of commercial lawsuit, from breach of contract to secured transactions to bankruptcy proceedings. For example:
- We represented the trustee in bankruptcy in a case establishing the principle that the Barton doctrine requires a suit against counsel to a trustee to be brought in the appointing bankruptcy court;
- Defended the finance unit of an automaker against a $40 million lender liability claim, obtaining affirmance of a judgment of no liability by the Third Circuit;
- Obtained an $8.6 million jury verdict for an exclusive distributor for breach of its distribution agreement;
- Represented a manufacturer of wireless digital telephone systems in a suit to recover amounts owed under a contract, obtaining a judgment in excess of $7 million;
- Represented a robot manufacturer in defense of a $3 million suit for tort, breach of contract and UCC warranties arising out of the construction of an automotive assembly plant, obtaining dismissal of tort claims under the economic loss doctrine;
- Obtained a jury verdict of $3.1 million for a bank against its borrower's insurer after the borrower destroyed the bank's collateral in successive arson fires;
- Obtained a jury verdict of $5.5 million for an automotive supplier against a steel mill that breached a requirements contract;
- Represented an insured and obtained a $1.7 million jury verdict for fire loss in a second trial against the insurer after prior counsel had lost the first trial; and
- Defeated class certification in numerous cases.
While our experience and expertise touches on most facets of commercial dispute resolution, we focus our efforts in the practice areas below:
- Antitrust and trade regulation
- Class action litigation
- Copyright, patent and intellectual property litigation
- Divorce and family law
- Election litigation
- Gaming litigation
- Mass tort litigation
- Media and entertainment law
- Securities and corporate governance litigation
- White collar criminal defense and investigation