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Attorneys continue winning streak at annual OCBA Chili Cook-off

Phillips Murrah attorneys team up for OCBA’s annual chili cookoff

Another year, another recipe vying for a coveted trophy at the Oklahoma County Bar Association’s annual Chili Cook-off.

Phillips Murrah attorneys competed against local law firms in OCBA’s Young Lawyers Division on Feb. 28 at the Leadership Square Atrium in downtown Oklahoma City.

Representing Phillips Murrah were attorneys Cody J. CooperC. Eric DavisMark E. Hornbeek, Kara K. Laster, Martin J. Lopez III, Phoebe B. Mitchell, Ashley M. Schovanec, and Molly E. Tipton.

“I always love participating in the chili cook-off, not just because I am a very competitive person (and not a sore loser at all),” Tipton said. “I always find myself making new acquaintances that I look forward to seeing again in the court house or out and about!”

Attorney Phoebe Mitchell poses with her prize-winning chili and “Hottest Chili” trophy

The Firm’s team continued their winning streak, scoring the “Hottest Chili” prize with Mitchell’s recipe.

“The secret ingredient to my chili was definitely the spicy Mexican chocolate,” she said. “We had so much fun participating in the OCBA YLD chili cook-off. It is always great to come together and compete to raise money for a worthy cause like the Regional Food Bank.”

Phillips Murrah has had at least one team compete in the Chili Cook-Off each year since it first started more than ten years ago.

In 2019, the OCBA YLD named Phillips Murrah “Friend of the YLD” for the Firm’s consistent support of their charitable efforts.

To learn more about the YLD, visit OCBA’s website here.


See more: Phillips Murrah’s Commitment to the Community

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Court to interpret provisions of gaming compact

This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 20, 2020.


Attorney Ashley Schovanec Web

Ashley M. Schovanec is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Ashley M. Schovanec

On Dec. 31, the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations filed suit against the governor, asking a federal judge to determine whether Oklahoma tribes have the right to continue gaming activities under the tribal-state gaming compact offered by the state of Oklahoma to the tribes in 2004.

What is the tribal-state gaming compact?

In 1988, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to create a framework for states and Indian tribes to cooperate in regulating on-reservation tribal gaming. The IGRA provides a tribal-state compact as the mechanism for facilitating the unusual relationship in which a tribe might affirmatively seek the extension of state jurisdiction and the application of state laws to activities conducted on Indian land. The tribal-state compact provides the state with the only lawful means for directly asserting any governmental interests related to tribal gaming activities.

Absent a negotiated compact between the tribes and the state, Class III gaming (casino games, slot machines and horse racing) is forbidden by the IGRA. While tribes are incentivized to negotiate compacts to gain permission to conduct Class III gaming, the state is incentivized to negotiate compacts to gain a share of the gaming revenue.

In 2004, Oklahoma and the tribes entered into a compact that would allow the tribes to conduct Class III gaming activity on Indian lands in exchange for the tribes’ disbursement of periodic revenue-share payments to the State. Part 15.A. of the compact sets forth the requirements that must be met for the compact to go into effect. Part 15.B. provides that the compact’s initial term will expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and “shall automatically renew” for successive 15-year terms on that same date, if at that time “organizational licensees” (e.g. horse race tracks and others) are authorized to conduct certain electronic gaming pursuant to any governmental action of the state or court order following the effective date of the compact. Part 15.C. states that the compact will remain in effect until either its term expires without renewal or it is terminated by mutual consent of the parties.

What is the central issue of the dispute?

The tribes are seeking a declaratory judgment on the single question of whether the compact was renewed on Jan. 1 for another 15-year term. The tribes argue the state has taken actions that satisfy Part 15.B.’s conditions for automatic renewal – through the actions of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission’s issuance of licenses for electronic gaming and the state’s enactment of changes in state-regulated electronic gaming. On the opposite side, Gov. Stitt believes that the requirements that allow for automatic renewal have not been met. Since the summer of 2019, Stitt has maintained the compact would expire Dec. 31, 2019, and gambling at tribal casinos would become illegal as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Why is this a high-stakes lawsuit?

The dispute between the state and the tribes is significant. In Fiscal 2018, 31 tribes operated 131 facilities offering Class III games and collected $2.3 billion in revenue, with approximately $139 million paid to the state. If Chief Federal Judge Timothy DeGiusti determines the compact was not renewed, the future of Class III gaming is unclear. While the tribes would absorb the brunt of a non-renewal declaration, those that conduct business with the tribes and gaming facility patrons would likely see substantial changes to the gaming landscape they once knew – whether it be an elimination of Class III gaming in Oklahoma or an alteration of the terms of the 2004 compact. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the court’s declaration will likely have a lasting effect upon the tribal-state relationship.

Ashley M. Schovanec is an attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

OK Supreme Court rules cap on noneconomic damages unconstitutional

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages violates the Oklahoma Constitution because it singles out for different treatment less than the entire class of similarly situated persons who may sue to recover for bodily injury.

Attorney Ashley Schovanec Web

Ashley M. Schovanec is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

In plain terms, the court found the statute is a “special law” that limits a living plaintiff’s right to recover noneconomic damages to no more than $350,000 and cannot be reconciled with the provision of the Oklahoma Constitution that expressly forbids any statutory damages limitation for injuries resulting in death.

Oklahoma’s statutory cap provides that in any civil action arising from claimed bodily injury, the trier of fact may award a plaintiff for noneconomic loss no more than $350,000, regardless of the number of parties against whom the action is brought or the number of actions brought—unless the claimed bodily injury is the result of more than mere negligence (i.e. reckless disregard for the rights of others, gross negligence, fraud, intentional injury, or malice).

The statute defines noneconomic damages as “nonpecuniary harm that arises from a bodily injury that is the subject of a civil action” and includes damages for, among other things, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, companionship, mental anguish, etc.

In Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, Incorporated, an employee was injured while operating a crane in his employment with I.E. Miller Services. As a result of his injuries, the employee underwent two amputations on parts of his arm. The employee and his wife sued I.E. Miller in a personal injury action. The matter went to trial in Oklahoma County and the jury awarded the employee and his wife a combined total of $15 million – $6 million of which was allocated as noneconomic damages. Applying the statutory cap, the district court reduced the jury verdict to $9.7 million, as the noneconomic damages to plaintiffs was lowered to $700,000, or $350,000 per person. On appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, plaintiffs challenged the damages cap.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court held the statutory noneconomic damages cap is unconstitutional for one reason: the statue purports to limit recovery for pain and suffering in cases where the plaintiff survives the injury-causing event, while persons who die from the injury-causing event face no such limitation under Oklahoma Constitution Article 23, section 7 (“The right of action to recover damages for injuries resulting in death shall never be abrogated, and the amount recoverable shall not be subject to any statutory limitation . . . . ”).

The court explained that “[b]y forbidding limits on recovery for injuries resulting in death, the people have left it to juries to determine the amount of compensation for pain and suffering in such cases, and no good reason exists for the Legislature to provide a different rule for the same detriment simply because the victim survives the harm-causing event.”

Moving forward, the court noted that if the people of Oklahoma believe the jury system and judicial review are no longer effective in deciding compensation in private personal injury cases, then constitutional amendment is the proper way to make such a change, “not a special law.”

The impact of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in Beason is profound.

Now, after Beason, with the statutory damages cap removed, an unemployed, catastrophically injured plaintiff, and a defendant, may be looking at a substantially different recovery and exposure.  Consequently, and somewhat counter-intuitively, because the risk of large verdicts just went up, cases may settle earlier because of the uncertainty associated with leaving a damages calculation up to a jury.

Ashley M. Schovanec is a litigation attorney with the law firm of Phillips Murrah.

This article originally ran as a guest column on Apr 26, 2019 in The Journal Record.

 

Phillips Murrah sponsors OU Law’s 2019 Best Brief Award

Best Brief Award Winners

Attorneys Ashley M. Schovanec and Erika K. Halley presented the Best Brief award to winners in the 1L Class.

The University of Oklahoma’s Competitions and Clinic Awards Luncheon offered first-year law students the chance to compete and show how their studies have paid off on April 18.

“We celebrated the hard work our students have put into our competitions and clinic programs,” said Camal Pennington, Director of Annual Giving at OU College of Law.

Attorneys Erica K. Halley and Ashley M. Schovanec presented the $5,000 Best Brief Award sponsored by Phillips Murrah law firm. The Firm also sponsored the award in 2018. 

“The First Place award is granted to one student from each of the four sections in the 1L Class for best written brief,” Pennington said. “$500 is awarded to each of the First Place winners.

“Phillips Murrah also grants a $250 award to the second place brief for each section.”

OU Law competition teams traveled all over the U.S., from New York City and Albuquerque to Dallas and Washington, D.C. to Denver, San Diego, and Chicago, he said.

“Faculty members, alumni and outside attorneys helped coach these teams,” Pennington said. “For two consecutive years, OU Law has been ranked in the Top 5 in the country for our competitions program.

“OU Law competition teams have won four national championships in the last two years including the 2019 Federal Bar Association Moot Court National Championship.”

Halley and Schovanec are OU College of Law alumni. Halley represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters, and Schovanec is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters.

Click here to learn more about the OU College of Law.