Phillips Murrah voted 2020 Reader’s Choice Best Local Law Firm

The Oklahoman newspaper’s readers named Phillips Murrah law firm a winner of Readers’ Choice Awards in two categories for 2020.

Phillips Murrah P.C. was voted Best Local Law Firm, and Director Elizabeth K. Brown was chosen as Best Business Attorney.

Remaining nominees from the Firm were voted into the Top 3 of their respective categories:

Readers of The Oklahoman chose nominees in May and voted on winners in June.

The winners were recognized at the Readers’ Choice event on Aug. 27.

NewsOK Q&A: Data on your personal phone may be available to your employer

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: July 19, 2016
Click to see full story – Data on your personal phone may be available to your employer

Click to see Kathy Terry’s attorney profile

The emphasis of Kathryn D. Terry’s litigation practice is in the areas of insurance coverage, labor and employment law and civil rights defense.

Q: What are personal electronic devices and why do they matter?

A: The use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) in the workplace is commonplace, but it’s not without risk for both the employer and the employee. If not managed properly, employers risk the dissemination of their confidential information and employees, perhaps rightly, have privacy concerns.

Q: What can an employer do to protect its business information?

A: Employers need a written PED, or bring your own device policy, signed by employees. Your policy should address several matters: the employer’s information always belongs to the employer; upon termination, it must be deleted immediately in the presence of the employer’s representative; all communications that go through the employer’s server are fair game for the employer and the employee has no expectation of privacy in those communications; only approved websites can be accessed via the employer’s server and accessing an unapproved website may result in severing of the server access and/or deletion of data, even the employee’s personal data, from the phone electronically; and the company always should have access to/be informed of the employee’s password for connectivity between the company server and the PED.

Q: So personal data, including contact lists, phone numbers and pictures, can be deleted from the employee’s own phone? 

A: Yes, though this area is evolving almost daily nationwide. There are lots of different federal laws and statutes in every state, including common law, which could be implicated. Please consult an attorney before charging ahead. Large companies are moving toward policies that give advance notice to an employee that upon termination if he/she fails to cooperate in the deletion of company information, the company can and will wipe all data from the phone (or other PED) and return it to factory settings. Most of the recent case law out there comes down in favor of the employer and rejects claims by employees under various federal laws, like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Q: Don’t employees have a right to privacy in their own communications, on their own phones?

A: So far, there’s no case out there that has found an employer can’t, under any circumstances, search a PED for data. Courts looking at whether a private employer has overstepped by searching PED communications do emphasize privacy concerns and they recognize each case is fact specific. But, typically, if that data is coming through a company server, the company can take a look. We recommend the employer narrow any such search to work related/topic specific communications.

Q: Are the rules the same for government employers?

A: Not really. Governments have to worry about the Fourth Amendment, unreasonable searches and seizures, and more often than private employers, union contracts. So far, most court and administrative rulings favor the government employer who searches a PED, but those cases get close factual scrutiny. Also, in the case of public employees (elected officials included), the Freedom of Information Act and, here in Oklahoma, the Open Records Act, are applicable. Work-related communications, even on a PED, are public records. If a government employer needs to search for and retrieve communications that are work related from a PED, that search is going to be permissible.

Q: What about quality of life and working after hours?

A: If your employees aren’t overtime exempt, after-hours texting and emailing should be included in the employees’ time records, and they should be paid for it, even if it results in overtime pay at a higher rate. Employers concerned about the increased wage expenditures should consider limiting PEDs use to only overtime-exempt employees. If this isn’t possible, a policy should be written and adhered to that results in very limited after-hours communications, and includes clear guidelines on how to account for the time and resulting compensation when those communications do occur.

Q: Do we have to reimburse employees if they use PEDs for work?

A: In some states, the answer is yes. Here in Oklahoma, we don’t have a bright line rule requiring reimbursement for an employee who uses a PED to conduct work-related tasks. However, many Oklahoma employers are moving toward reimbursement, or partial reimbursement at minimum.

Q: What about litigation holds on electronic data that may be discoverable?

A: If you’ve ever had to produce electronic data during the course of a lawsuit, you know that can be very burdensome. You also know that if you’re on notice of a potential claim against your company, you will need to be sure the company has policies and practices in place that work to preserve potentially discoverable documents, communications and data. Certainly, if your company’s employees are communicating and working on PEDs, there needs to be a process in place designed to reasonably capture and preserve that information, communication and data that may be stored or saved to PEDs, as opposed to a company network server.

NewsOK Q&A: High court’s tie in assault affirms tribe’s self-determination right

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: June 30, 2016
Click to see full story – High court’s tie in assault affirms tribe’s self-determination right

Click to see G. Calvin Sharpe’s attorney profile

G. Calvin Sharpe has 30 of years of experience in Oklahoma courtrooms, representing a diverse list of business clients in matters relating to medical malpractice, medical devices, products liability, insurance and commercial litigation.

Q: Generally speaking, what was the Dollar General case about, originally?

A: In the original case, there was a Dollar General store operating within the Reservation of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. A 13-year-old boy, a tribal member, was working at the store as a part of a youth opportunity program. In 2005, a suit was brought by the boy’s parents that alleged that the boy was sexually assaulted by the store’s nontribal manager in the summer of 2003. In the binding contract with the tribe to operate on tribal land, Dollar General agreed to tribal court civil jurisdiction, so the case went to a tribal court. The Choctaw courts denied a motion to dismiss the case due to lack of jurisdiction citing a 1981 Supreme Court Case, Montana v. United States, which held that a “tribe may regulate, through taxation, licensing, or other means, the activities of nonmembers who enter consensual relationships with the tribe or its members.” Dollar General subsequently sued in federal court to clarify the terminology, “other means.” (Dollar General Corp. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians)

Q: The Supreme Court decision was tied, 4-to-4, which means that the lower court decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is upheld. What was that Fifth Circuit’s upheld decision?

A: At the heart of this decision is the question of whether tribal courts have the right to exercise civil authority over people who are operating within tribe’s jurisdiction, but who aren’t tribal members. In the federal case subsequent to the tribal rulings in Choctaw courts, Dollar General petitioned for certiorari, which means they asked a higher court to review the determination of a lower court. In the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Indian tribal courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate civil tort claims against nonmembers, including as a means of regulating the conduct of nonmembers who enter into consensual relationships with a tribe or its members.

Q: How has this Supreme Court ruling, essentially allowing the lower court decision to stay, changed the nature of tribal jurisdictional authority?

A: In the decision of the appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, the high court was deadlocked, which allows the decision of the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to stand. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court, (which) allows the case to proceed to resolution in tribal court without further appeals regarding authority. However, there’s the likelihood that, in a similar case, the Supreme Court would grant another certiorari when the Senate confirms a replacement for Justice Scalia.

Q: Why is this viewed as a success for tribal sovereignty and tribal governmental authority?

A: Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling served as a significant win in the fight for native tribal court authority. The Supreme Court tie affirms native groups’ right to self-determination. This allows federally recognized tribes to continue developing their own governmental bodies.


Phillips Murrah recognized as a Top Workplace by The Oklahoman

Top Workplaces finalOn Sunday, The Oklahoman Newspaper published their annual list of Oklahoma’s Top Workplaces. Phillips Murrah takes pride in our healthy, positive workplace, and the Firm is honored to be on the 2015 list.

“We are excited to be recognized as having one of Oklahoma’s Top Workplaces,” said Phillips Murrah President and Managing Partner, Tom Wolfe. “We do a lot of serious, complex work at our Firm, and we strive to make sure to provide a positive, balanced atmosphere for our attorneys and staff.”

Phillips Murrah is the only Law Firm on the Oklahoma’s Top Workplaces list.

To learn more about the workplace culture at Phillips Murrah, visit our Careers page


This is excerpted from an article written by Doug Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics:

To create the 2015 Top Workplaces list, The Oklahoman partnered with Philadelphia-based WorkplaceDynamics, a research firm that specializes in employee surveys and workplace improvement.

Read more about the methodology here. Below is a quick rundown of how surveys were presented:
Top Workplaces paper

The employee survey included 22 questions measuring seven different factors. Three My Job factors measured how employees feel about their day-to-day job:

My Work: training, work/life balance

My Manager: cares about concerns, helps employees to learn and grow

My Pay & Benefits: Three OrgHealth factors measured whether or not employees are working together toward a common goal:

Direction: where the company is headed, its values, and its leaders

Execution: how the company will get to where it wants to go

Connection: feeling appreciated and work is meaningful

Lastly, the survey measures Engagement, which includes retention, motivation, and referral.

rowing pic from Top Workplaces

From The Oklahoman 2015 Top Workplaces special section published Dec. 6, 2015. (from left:) Marketing Director Dave Rhea, Legal Secretary Deena Baker, Billing Specialist Monica Ball, Director Jennifer L. Miller and Director Jason Kreth compete in the Corporate Regatta at the Oklahoma Regatta Festival on Oct. 2, 2015.

With the correct tools, financially stressed firms can avoid bankruptcy

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: May 19, 2015
Click to see full story – With the correct tools, financially stressed firms can avoid bankruptcy

Click to see Stephen W. Elliott’s attorney profile

Oklahoma bankruptcy litigator Stephen Elliott, an attorney with Phillips Murrah, talks about dealing with market vulnerability and how to avoid bankruptcy.

Stephen W. Elliott is a director and shareholder of the firm. He represents creditors and debtors in out-of court workouts, litigation and bankruptcy in addition to representing clients in general litigation matters.

Stephen W. Elliott, a director at Phillips Murrah, represents creditors and debtors in out-of court workouts, litigation and bankruptcy in addition to representing clients in general litigation matters.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about low oil prices and how it may affect the business community in Oklahoma. Do you foresee trouble?

A: While Oklahoma’s economy is more diversified than it was during past downturns in the oil and gas industry, it’s hard to imagine current prices won’t adversely impact the Oklahoma business community. Oil and gas is still the dominant industry driving the Oklahoma economy. When the oil and gas industry suffers, we all suffer. For example, some oil and gas companies have reportedly reduced their capital expenditure budgets, reported substantial losses, and are selling off assets. Service and drilling companies have announced major layoffs. Among other things, with increased unemployment, mortgage foreclosures are likely to increase. With a materially increased number of foreclosures, real estate values typically drop. If oil prices don’t rebound soon, fallout seems inevitable. How bad the fallout may be depends largely on how debtors and creditors choose to address the current circumstances. In many instances, working together is likely to yield better results for both groups.

Q: If a company is experiencing financial stress, how can they avoid bankruptcy, and what is a “workout?”

A: In my experience, candid communication is often the key to avoiding bankruptcy and resolving financial issues through a workout. If a company is having trouble meeting its obligations, creditors want to know why, what is being done to address the situation and, ultimately, what their overall prospects for recovery are, both outside and through bankruptcy. A workout is an out-of-court process through which the parties try to reach an agreement to modify the terms of their original transaction. Workouts may involve debt forgiveness, and frequently involve changes in amortization, changes in interest rate, and changes in principal or interest payment due dates. The ultimate goal of the workout is to reach an agreement that puts the relationship on a footing consistent with existing financial conditions without the costs, delays and potential uncertainties frequently inherent in bankruptcy. If the workout would be as or more beneficial to both parties than a bankruptcy would be, bankruptcy can often be avoided.

Q: What is the best course of action when considering restructuring?

A: Accept the reality of the situation quickly and address it rapidly. To do so, the company must know its current revenue and expenses, be able to credibly project future revenue and expenses, and reasonably quantify the current and estimated future value of its assets. Once the company has that information, a pragmatic approach to dealing with its liabilities can be formulated. Denial or inaction can result in a needless loss of value and potentially impair the reorganization alternatives that may have otherwise been available. Communication is also very important, and generally the earlier the better. The failure to communicate will often result in creditors assuming the worst and taking collections actions they might not have taken if the debtor had simply communicated appropriately. Once those collection actions have begun, the prospects of avoiding bankruptcy are frequently reduced.

Q: Under what circumstances is bankruptcy preferable?

A: The potential benefits of bankruptcy are wide-ranging. For example, the debtor and its assets are protected by the automatic stay, which stops collection efforts outside of bankruptcy court, and keeps a debtor and its assets from being picked apart piecemeal. Bankruptcy also provides the possibility of being able to rapidly sell assets free and clear of liens and over creditors’ objections, which under some circumstances may be the only way to realize fair value of certain types of assets. Bankruptcy also provides the opportunity to bind creditors involuntarily to reorganization plans through which obligations are restructured and debt is discharged. This can be critical if efforts to put a workout together failed because some creditors refused or because there are too many creditors to deal with through a workout. Court supervision of the debtor, its property, and its actions, and ready access to a judge, also tends to be viewed by most as a benefit of bankruptcy.

Read the Q&A at NewsOK here.