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Phillips Murrah attorneys team up to win big at annual chili cook-off

Phillips Murrah chili team

Phillips Murrah’s chili cook-off team celebrates another successful year.

The new year signals a new race to claim a trophy at the annual Oklahoma County Bar Association Chili Cook-Off.

Phillips Murrah attorneys competed in teams against local law firms in OCBA’s Young Lawyers Division to show off their chili-making prowess Jan. 25 at Twisted Spike Brewing Co.

Representing Phillips Murrah were attorneys Hilary Hudson Clifton, Cody J. Cooper, C. Eric DavisTravis E. Harrison, Mark E. Hornbeek, Martin J. Lopez IIISamuel D. Newton, Morgen D. PottsAshley M. Schovanec, and Monica Y. Ybarra.

The competition formally kicks off the YLD’s year-long commitment to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, raising funds and awareness within the community to support the mission of the Regional Food Bank and the Oklahomans who rely on its services.

Attorneys Travis Harrison, Mark Hornbeek, and Ashley Schovanec

Attorneys Travis Harrison, Mark Hornbeek, and Ashley Schovanec get festive for the annual chili cook-off.

“This year’s chili cook-off was a huge success for the OCBA YLD and its year-round fundraising efforts for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma,” Clifton said. “It’s always a fun event with a great turn-out, and this year Phillips Murrah definitely showed up.”

Teams were judged in different categories including Best Overall, Traditional, Non-Traditional, and Hottest Chilis.

“In addition to having two serious chili contenders, Ashley Schovanec brought a smorgasbord of sides and toppings, Mark Hornbeek kept it festive with a light-up chile necklace, and we had an awesome turnout of other associates there wearing PM aprons and talking up our entries,” Clifton said. “It seems like our team gets bigger and more enthusiastic every year, which is awesome, because it’s a really fun event for a great cause.”

Potts won the Best Non-Traditional Chili category on behalf of Phillips Murrah’s teams at this year’s cook-off with her and her husband’s recipe which includes elk, deer, chorizo, coffee, molasses, and different types of peppers.

Attorney Morgen Potts and her husband John

Attorney Morgen Potts and her husband John hold their trophy for Best Non-Traditional Chili.

“The chili was inspired by all the hunting trips my husband and my brother-in-law take together,” Potts said. “The unique flavors of the different types of wild game combined with coffee and molasses always make their long days of hunting worth it.”

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.

Cooper and Ybarra currently serve on OCBA’s Board of Directors.

For more information on the OCBA and the Young Lawyers Division, click here.

OKC Beautiful appoints Newton treasurer

Sam Newton

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Oil and Gas, Construction, and Healthcare Law.

OKC Beautiful, Oklahoma City’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to the beautification of Oklahoma City, elected Phillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton to its Board of Directors to serve as the organization’s treasurer.

“I feel that, at some point in the not too distant past, aesthetics gave way to efficiency,” Newton said. “Cities and towns often fail to think about how the atmosphere of the city helps attract businesses and promote civic involvement.

“Coming from Austin, where the city is very deliberate about growth, I was heartened to see that Oklahoma City also had an understanding of the importance of atmosphere and aesthetics in an overall plan.”

Newton said Attorney Mary Holloway Richard suggested he consider OKC Beautiful. He met with Carla Sharpe, past OKC Beautiful President, to discuss the organization and how his skills and abilities could be of use and was nominated to be on the Board.

“As treasurer, I will be responsible for working with the Executive Director and Finance Committee to ensure that budgets are met and kept,” he said. “More importantly, for my new role, I want to work to increase the OKC Beautiful endowment to ensure sustainable growth and future successes.”

Newton’s appointment comes at the same time as Attorney Ellen K. Spiropoulos’s role as President of the organization comes to an end.

“Finishing my two year term as President of OKC Beautiful is bittersweet since it also means I will soon be leaving the Board per our mandatory term limits,” she said. “I have been privileged to be President as the organization prepared for and celebrated its 50th anniversary, which was a great opportunity to reflect on all the individuals and achievements of our past and how the mission of OKC Beautiful continues and into the future.

“Sam will bring to his new position as Treasurer all the qualities that he make him an outstanding lawyer—attention to detail, strategic insights and problem solving skills. When you add to that his passion for Oklahoma City, he was a perfect choice for the OKC Beautiful board and now its executive committee.”

Newton will begin his role next year.

“Coming from a small town that didn’t put much stock in beautification and being a big proponent of the ‘broken windows’ theory, the mission of OKC Beautiful speaks to me as does its inter-meshing of educational and beautification programs,” Newton said. “So, I look forward to working with the organization and our other board members as we strive to build our endowment and grow our programs.”

To learn more about the organization or make a contribution, please visit the OKC Beautiful website here.

Newton presents on preemptive business practices for ASA-OK

ASA LogoPhillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton gave the last presentation for a Fall educational series on Nov. 2 for members of the American Subcontractors Association of Oklahoma.

Newton’s presentation was entitled “Protect and Preserve: Considerations and Implications of Business Practices on your Company’s Future” and follows presentations given by Attorneys A. Michelle Campney and David A. Walls in September and October, respectively.

“In the discussion, we covered maintaining corporate best practices to preserve the corporate shield, non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, discussed the implications of the Oklahoma Uniform Trade Secrets Act and how it works with confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements and how they all apply to protecting your business,” Newton said. “I switched to discussion of preserving businesses either through succession planning or selling the business.

“With succession planning, I discussed the importance of seeing the truth of the situation and not the idea (ie, who really is most apt to take over your business) and how to implement such changes, like through a buy-sell agreement or the organizational documents. I then gave a basic overview of a sale and the initial documents owners may be confronted with (letters of intent, confidentiality agreements) as well as the importance of preparing for due diligence.”

Newton, Campney and Walls will continue the series and each give presentations to ASA-OK in the Spring.

For more information about ASA, visit their website here.

Attorneys prepare educational presentations on construction law

ASA LogoPhillips Murrah Attorneys A. Michelle Campney, Samuel D. Newton, and David A. Walls explore facets of construction law as a part of an educational series for members of the American Subcontractors Association of Oklahoma.

The team has planned six presentations, three in the fall and three in the spring, with the first topic covering the “Do’s and Don’ts of Bidding” on Sept. 7. Subsequent presentations by Walls and Newton are planned for Oct. 5 and Nov. 2, respectively.

“In the past, we have spoken about different provisions in the typical construction contact,” Campney said. “The presentations are new material on different topics important to subcontractors and construction.”

For more information about ASA, visit their website here.

An alternative to federal funding

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 2, 2018.


Sam Newton

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Oil and Gas, Construction, and Healthcare Law.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton

Efforts made this year to move forward with a federal infrastructure bill have stalled. Now, with the state budget strained and federal dollars unlikely, the legislature, counties, and municipalities will likely need to look at alternative methods to deliver needed infrastructure enhancements and repairs without additional tax funding.

Public-private partnerships provide a viable alternative. Using a P3 structure, a state will turn over one of its essential services, such as highway construction, to a private developer.

When people think of P3s, they generally imagine large-scale infrastructure projects. However, bundling smaller projects has shown promise that allows benefits to flow to smaller projects or rural communities. For example, Pennsylvania awarded a multi-year contract for a developer to finance, design, construct, and maintain 558 bridges that otherwise would have had to wait until the budget constraints allowed for repair. P3s have also been used on other public works projects such as wastewater treatment centers, schools and hospitals.

In 2017, the Oklahoma Public and Private Facilities and Infrastructure Act was enacted, authorizing a governmental entity to enter into P3s. While the act appears to be more focused on utilizing the P3 scheme for non-highway infrastructure projects – it exempts the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority – it does allow for ODOT and the OTA to utilize its general scheme for awarding road infrastructure projects. Most importantly, it provides a ready framework for identification and implementation by examining, among other factors, the project’s ability to improve public operational efficiencies, promote public safety or attract private investment in the state and minimize governmental liabilities.

However, P3s aren’t a panacea. One of the oft-cited concerns of using P3s is turning over an essential government service to a private corporation that isn’t subject to the same oversight and accountability standards as a public agency. This concern is addressed in the contractual documents surrounding the P3 project, with the government generally having significant oversight rights. The agency that would generally be responsible and the partnership committee established under the act will need to engage in significant analysis prior to deciding on a P3, and both the parties have to be able to work together in the spirit of the project with awareness as to its respective rights and responsibilities.

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney with the law firm of Phillips Murrah, practicing in construction, oil and gas, and health care law.

Q&A: Medical Marijuana and the Construction Industry

Sam Newton

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Construction, Health Care, and Oil and Gas Law.

In this article, attorney Samuel D. Newton discusses procedures Oklahoma construction industry employers need to develop with the legalization of medical marijuana.

With the passage of State Question 788 and the decision by the Governor not to call a special session, many of the ancillary questions regarding the impact of medical marijuana will remain unanswered until the next legislative session in 2019. But, in jobs where safety is key, such as construction, employers will need to develop procedures now to ensure that they are complying with safety rules and regulations as well as not stepping on an employee’s rights.

Q: How does the passage of State Question 788, medical marijuana, affect my safe work site and drug free policies?

A: The provisions of State Question 788 provide that an employer can take action against an employee who uses or possesses medical marijuana at the place of employment or during work hours. Thus, a contractor’s safe work site policy that prohibits the use of drugs or alcohol on the job is allowable under the law. However, unless an employer can show an imminent risk of losing a monetary or licensing benefit under federal law or regulation, an employer cannot refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise discriminate against an employee simply because the employee has a medical marijuana card.

Q: If one of my employees with a medical marijuana card is “high” on the job can I still terminate him or her?

A: Maybe. Contractors will need to carefully differentiate between being impaired at work (ie, under the influence of marijuana and its attendant effects) and testing positive for marijuana although the employee may not be impaired. Unlike alcohol, scientific research has not been able to put a specific number on the THC levels (the compound in marijuana that makes one “high”) that impairs a person’s ability to drive or work safely—and THC may appear in a blood or urine screen well after it is consumed. So, unless the legislature choses a legal level of THC, the key will likely be whether, based on an objective observation, the employee was able to safely function.

Q: My company is working on federal projects, how can I mesh the state law requirements and federal law requirements?

A: Federal law still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I Narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act. Thus it is against federal law to consume or possess marijuana, medical or not. Additionally, most, if not all, federal projects are subject to the federal Drug Free Workplace Act which requires employers to have a drug free work place policy prohibiting the unlawful possession or use of drugs in the workplace and make an ongoing good faith effort to maintain a drug free workplace. These policies include requiring the employee to report to the employer and the employer to report to the contracting agency any workplace criminal drug conviction. However, the distinctions are fine and the interplay between federal law and the imminent risk of losing federal contracts or licensing has yet to be defined by Oklahoma or Federal courts and not by the federal or state government.

Phillips Murrah healthcare attorneys to address nation’s opioid epidemic

Oklahoma healthcare attorneys Mary Holloway Richard and Samuel D. Newton

Phillips Murrah attorneys Mary Holloway Richard and Samuel D. Newton

Phillips Murrah Healthcare attorneys Mary Holloway Richard and Samuel D. Newton will be featured presenters for a program exploring the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma and across the country.

“Our purpose is to provide information to the attendees about different policies and programs across the country, which is extraordinarily helpful in tailoring responses that will be effective in our state and in explaining policies and programs to everyone they impact,” Richard said.

The program will be presented for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit by the Oklahoma Bar Association Health Law Section at noon on April 11 via live webcast.

“This program has been designed for policy makers, attorneys, healthcare professionals, regulators, law enforcement, patients and their families and community advocates,” Richard said.

Participants can expect the program to cover the statutes, regulations and policies being implemented to combat this epidemic by making services more available, detecting abuse and misuse within the healthcare system, and supporting enforcement and remedial processes, according to the Oklahoma Bar Association.

“The opioid epidemic touches every quadrant of our society with high costs to addicted individual and their families and presenting an unsustainable financial drain on our local communities, state and nation,” Richard said. “The presenters offer information about the depth and breadth of this problem in Oklahoma, responses from across the nation, and the programs that are in place in Oklahoma.”

Those interested may click here for more information and to register for this program.

Mary Holloway Richard is a healthcare lawyer who has written extensively in this area and has published a review of state programs across the nation.

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney who represents healthcare providers and practitioners with a special focus on long term care and licensure.

Click here for more information about Phillips Murrah’s Healthcare Law practice. 

Avoiding construction contract litigation

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 15, 2018.


Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Oil and Gas, Construction, and Health Care Law.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton

Oklahoma heavy civil and oil and gas construction will likely increase in the near term due to increased activity in the oil and gas fields and President Trump’s proposed $1.5 trillion investment in infrastructure.

Often seen as a heavily litigious industry, construction projects don’t have to end in litigation if contracts are carefully drafted and parties enforce the provisions during the course of the project. Here are some points to consider when drafting and/or reviewing.

Know your deadlines. Most construction contracts impose liquidated damages in the event of delay. While substantial/final completion is likely non-negotiable, (sub)contractors should raise, and try to draft around, any potential milestone concerns during negotiations to prevent the assessment of liquidated damages or exercise of the contract default provisions. Additionally, all parties need to be aware of the timeline for making claims or submitting change orders. Both are often waived under the contract if the proponent of the claim/change doesn’t submit the appropriate notice to the appropriate person in the requisite period of time.

Know the payment scheme. Payments are also often a litigious issue in construction. All parties should be aware of lien and, if applicable, bond claim rights, as they vary based on who the contracting entity is and where the project is located. Additionally, “pay if paid” and “pay when paid” clauses should not be confused. “Pay if paid” clauses shift the risk for nonpayment to lower tiers if payment is not received from higher tiers. “Pay when paid” generally only acts to give the (sub)contractor time to pay after it receives payment. Case law suggests that “pay if paid” clauses would need to be explicit to be enforceable in Oklahoma, though no cases directly examine the clause.

Know your contracting partners. Conduct due diligence to ensure that those you are contracting with – at each tier – have the skills and financial stability to complete the project. Consider including (or modifying) clauses that allow suspension and/or termination of the contract, if the representations and warranties you relied on when deciding to enter into the contract were untrue or grossly overstated.

Know your contract. Finally, don’t simply sign the contract and put it in a drawer. All parties should know the provisions and educate their employees about provisions relevant to their scope of work.

Samuel D. Newton practices construction and oil & gas law at Phillips Murrah P.C.