John Zavitsanos is a widely regarded trial lawyer who loves trying cases and loves winning. He has achieved success for a multitude of clients – both defendants and plaintiffs, from big energy companies to lone whistleblowers battling the odds.
He has tried more than 75 cases to verdict in litigation that runs the gamut: financial services, oil and gas, construction, complex commercial disputes, director and officer liability, non-compete and trade secret disputes, and defamation/business disparagement. He is the primary author of O’Connor’s Texas Rules * Civil Trials 2018, the premiere civil trial rules guide for Texas lawyers and judges.
He has learned from every jury trial by surveying the jurors after the case and learning what conventional wisdom has outlived its usefulness. That’s a lot of input since in 2016 alone he tried six cases each taking at least three weeks.
And his willingness – delight, actually – at trying a case with confidence has impressed numerous heavyweight clients. As one happy customer put it, “I find that many large law firms are willing to capitulate too quickly and pressure me to settle too soon.” He said he knows that Mr. Zavitsanos is “serious about going to trial.”
Mr. Zavitsanos’ considerable talents have been recognized by every possible legal rating service. For 13 consecutive years, he’s been listed by Best Lawyers in America. He’s recognized for his General Commercial Litigation work in Texas by the highly respected Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, published by London-based Chambers and Partners. He was also named a Benchmark Litigation Star in 2016-2018.
He has achieved the highest possible peer rating, AV Preeminent, by Martindale-Hubbell, the premier legal directory, for his Business Litigation practice. He’s been named by his peers as one of the top 100 Texas Lawyers on the annual Texas Super Lawyers list for the past eight years. And he is board certified in civil trial law by both the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the National Board of Trial Advocacy, an accomplishment held by less than 2 percent of all practicing lawyers in the state of Texas.
Mr. Zavitsanos co-founded the firm with Joe Ahmad in 1993 in a creaky building with a leaky roof. From that beginning, they built a firm that was dubbed a “Texas Powerhouse” by the national online legal publication Law360.
In growing his firm to more than 40 lawyers, Mr. Zavitsanos has hired carefully. Many on his hardworking team are self-made people like himself, who had to work their way through school and managed to graduate from some of the best law schools in the country.
Early on, it was clear that Mr. Zavitsanos would be a trailblazer. In 1998, he tried to verdict what is believed to be the first same sex harassment case, recovering more than $1 million in damages and fees for his client. In 2002, he won a month-long business tort case involving 1,000 exhibits that he managed to turn into a “paperless” trial by using the latest technology. It was the first such complex 100 percent paperless case in the Dallas district courts.
Since then, the firm has stacked up increasingly bigger wins in disputes involving hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. A particularly tangible example of the firm’s success came in 2009 when the general counsel of National Oilwell Varco, a company that had lost a trial to Zavitsanos a year earlier, hired the firm. “It was the first and only time I’ve ever hired a law firm that had beaten us in court,” the GC said.
These are some of the results of Mr. Zavitsanos’ cases:
- In 2017, Mr. Zavitsanos successfully tried a breach of contract and bad faith insurance case for client Prime Natural Resources which owned an offshore oil well damaged in Hurricane Rita. After six weeks in trial, AZA obtained a $41.6 million jury verdict against certain underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, that included $27.3 million in punitive damages and $10.9 million for bad faith.
- In 2016, Professional Janitorial Services of Houston hired Mr. Zavitsanos to end a nearly 10-year-old case against a union that lied about the cleaning business and cost the company to lose business. He stopped the stalling, got it to trial within a month and obtained a judgment of almost $8 million. This was the first case in the country to successfully go through a full trial that called into question the heavy handed tactics of SEIU, one of the three largest unions in the U.S.
- In 2016, Mr. Zavitsanos represented a client sued by the trustee for a bankrupt company who decided to drop his lawsuit against AZA’s client after watching his expert witness cross examined by Mr. Zavitsanos. The legal dispute that never got to the jury even though it was three weeks into the trial involved a series of shopping centers and other properties worth more than $30 million and the question was whether company assets were divested improperly by AZA’s client.
- In 2015, National Oilwell Varco was sued for $120 million by eight former employees claiming they were treated differently because of their race. Mr. Zavitsanos was hired after his client offered a substantial settlement that was refused. Instead he got on a take nothing verdict for NOV in this hard-fought case in which plaintiffs were represented by high-profile civil rights lawyer Angela M. Alioto of San Francisco’s Law Offices of Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto.
- In 2014, Enterprise Products Operating LLC hired Mr. Zavitsanos in a $45 million pipeline case when it became clear this case was going to trial. He and AZA replaced a BigLaw firm. He immediately shifted the pre-trial strategy to focus on destroying the defenses arising out of the failed construction of underground pipelines designed to carry gasoline and other products. AZA successfully settled the case on favorable terms for its clients less than two months before trial.
- In 2014, Mr. Zavitsanos and partner Elizabeth Fletcher won a take-nothing verdict from a Harris County jury for a Houston businesswoman, defeating multi-million dollar claims that she had received money from allegedly fraudulent commercial property sales.
- In 2013, Mr. Zavitsanos represented Plains All American Pipeline in a pipeline dispute with BP Oil Pipeline Company in which BP had obtained summary judgment against Plains before AZA got involved in the case. With colleague Lizzie Fletcher, Mr. Zavitsanos petitioned for reconsideration, got the summary judgment reversed, and won summary judgment for Plains, obtaining substantial attorneys’ fees for Plains for defending the lawsuit.
- In 2013, Mr. Zavitsanos prevailed for a client with $115 million at stake in an energy sector lawsuit filed by more than 100 oil and gas producers. He represented Plains All American Pipeline after SemCrude, a major midstream oil and gas company, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 without paying the oil and gas producers who sold to SemCrude in the preceding months. AZA participated in over 225 depositions in the case and convinced a key opponent to drop out just before a summary judgment hearing.
- In 2012, Mr. Zavitsanos with partner Todd Mensing and firm attorneys Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher and Jane Robinson, garnered a defense win for Mistras Group Inc. in federal court by not only beating a competing company that sought $8 million in damages and was awarded nothing, but by also getting the trademark at issue dissolved. AZA lawyers won over both the judge and jury. It was the judge who granted Mistras the win on the $8 million trademark claim and the jury that found the mark was generic or descriptive.
- In 2011, Mr. Zavitsanos and Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher secured a defense verdict for Mistras Group Inc. following a trade secret case that included an award of $750,000 in attorneys’ fees. Mistras, a New Jersey-based company that assesses the safety of large corporate and infrastructure components such as refineries and bridges, was wrongly accused by Texas-based Sentinel Integrity Solutions of interfering with an employment agreement and obtaining confidential information when it hired a former Sentinel employee. According to Texas Lawyer’s verdict list, this was the fourth largest defense win in Texas in 2011.
- In 2011, Mr. Zavitsanos, along with Todd Mensing of the Firm, represented a man defamed by The Fort Bend Star and a reporter at the paper and won both in an interlocutory appeal and a jury verdict. In this case the Houston Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the trial court’s denial of the Fort Bend Star’s Motion for Summary Judgment and rejected the Star’s argument that Texas should expand the “limited purpose public figure” doctrine. The jury later returned a remarkable $1.1 million verdict for the client over an article that made false allegations about his behavior and falsely claimed his father, a law enforcement officer, covered for him.
- In 2008, Mr. Zavitsanos was retained in a $40 million “bet the company” case involving claims brought against A&B Valve and Supply, an oilfield supply company by National Oil Well Varco. He was hired three months prior to the scheduled trial date. Shortly before Zavitsanos was hired, the trial court had entered a temporary injunction prohibiting A&B from doing business with a substantial number of its customers. This resulted in millions of dollars of losses. Within thirty days of being hired, Zavitsanos successfully obtained a writ of mandamus against the trial court and reversed the temporary injunction. They then proceeded to trial in March 2008. After five weeks of evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Zavitsanos’ client on all claims. This case received national and international attention and was featured in the National Law Journal, the Texas Lawyer, and over 25 newspapers around the world.
- In 2007, Mr. Zavitsanos was the lead trial counsel in a three-week trial involving a $150 million contractual dispute about a jointly owed offshore gas pipeline. Following a successful decision in favor of the Firm’s client, the plaintiff immediately launched settlement discussion and resolved the dispute by paying a substantial amount to Zavitsanos’ client in exchange for the acquisition of certain assets.
- In 2005, Mr. Zavitsanos was one of the lead attorneys representing over 63 plaintiffs in an accounting malpractice jury trial involving over $30 million in actual damages. The case was covered by the national media extensively. Shortly after trial began, the defendant settled for a confidential amount.
- Mr. Zavitsanos was statewide counsel for Mercedes-Benz USA for more than 25 year starting in 1990. During this time, Mr. Zavitsanos tried a number of cases to verdict and never lost a jury trial defending Mercedes-Benz.
- In 2003, Mr. Zavitsanos represented a national pharmacy company as a plaintiff in a significant breach of contract case. Following the completion of the evidence, the defendant agreed to settle the case for 95% of the damages and attorney’s fees incurred by Mr. Zavitsanos’ client.
- In 2002, Mr. Zavitsanos was the lead lawyer for the defense in an $8 million business tort case. The trial lasted over one month and included over 1,000 trial exhibits. Because of the voluminous number of documents and witnesses, Mr. Zavitsanos and his trial team utilized the latest technology to present the case to the jury. The trial was completely “paperless.” Immediately prior to trial, Mr. Zavitsanos’ client offered nearly $1 million to settle the case, which the plaintiff company rejected. Following the month- long trial, the jury found in favor of his client on every single claim.
- In 2001, Mr. Zavitsanos obtained a seven-figure jury verdict against a publicly traded company in a fraud claim brought by the company’s former director of Mergers and Acquisitions.
- In 1997, Mr. Zavitsanos defended a Fortune 100 chemical company in a multimillion-dollar toxic exposure case. The plaintiff claimed that he was completely disabled due to being exposed to toxic substances. The plaintiff’s “bottom line” settlement demand was over $4,000,000. The case went to trial and, following the cross examination of the plaintiff by Mr. Zavitsanos, the case settled for a small fraction of the plaintiff’s final demand and the amount that Mr. Zavitsanos had offered more than 18 months previously.
- In 1996, Mr. Zavitsanos was the lead trial lawyer on behalf of seven police officers who filed suit alleging that they were terminated because of their political expression. The case was followed nationally by a number of police organizations and, following a successful appeal; it is now considered one of the leading decisions in this area of the law. Brady v. Fort Bend County, 145 F.3d 691 (5th Cir. 1998).
- In 1995, Mr. Zavitsanos represented an oil and gas limited partnership that was a defendant in a suit involving allegations of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. The plaintiff sought $8 million in damages against Mr. Zavitsanos’ client and several other defendants. Following a lengthy jury trial, Mr. Zavitsanos’ client was exonerated on all counts, even though the other defendants were found liable.
Mr. Zavitsanos’ fast paced trial practice has not stopped him from finding time to serve his community. He is a member of the Archdiocesan Council of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, as well as a member of the executive committee of the Order of St. Andrew. Mr. Zavitsanos was recognized as an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church in 2004. An Archon is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a member of the laity within the worldwide Greek Orthodox Church. There are less than 750 Archons in the United States. In 2014 he was on a five-lawyer international team that represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The Ecumenical Patriarchate successfully sued the government of Turkey and reclaimed an orphanage it had owned since 300 A.D. just outside of Istanbul. The victory over this largest wooden structure in all of Europe was unanimous and precedent setting.
He has served as a board member of the Houston Lawyer Referral Service and has worked on a number of pro bono cases over the years, including working on a prisoner abuse case that involved (at that time) one of the largest settlements with the state of Texas in Texas history for a single plaintiff. Mr. Zavitsanos also was a board member of the Menil Art Museum’s Byzantine Fresco Chapel in Houston. Mr. Zavitsanos has been married for over 25 years and has four children.
Prior to forming the firm in 1993 with Joseph Ahmad, Mr. Zavitsanos was with the Houston office of Baker & Botts, L.L.P. in their trial department. While at Baker Botts, Mr. Zavitsanos tried many cases and obtained a verdict in excess of $1 million as lead trial counsel during only his third year of practice.
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