16th Largest Verdict in 2001
Testimony of Erich Speckin in part results in jury verdict over $100 million in Laredo, Texas
BY ERICK SANTOS
Times staff writer
An expert witness for the plaintiff testified on Tuesday at the 341st District Court that the scientific examination that he performed on a signature on a $34 million note had been signed prior to 1996.
Forensic chemist Eric Speckin told the jury that a signature by Ana Maria de la Fuente de Brittingham was placed on the $34 million promissory note and guaranty in 1996.
Ana Maria is being sued by stepdaughter Cristina Brittingham Sada de Ayala, daughter of the late Don Juan R. Brittingham, on a $34 million promissory note, which had not been paid, according to court documents.
Don Juan, a successful Mexican businessman who married Ana Maria in 1986, died Jan. 14, 1998.
Ana Maria had filled a counter suit against Cristina alleging the falsification of the promissory note and guaranty.
Speckin’s conclusion, during his testimony, did not coincide with Monday’s testimony from defense expert witness, Albert Lyter of the Federal Forensic Association Inc.
“There is no indication that the ink (signature) was put prior to 1996,” Speckin told the jury. “I didn’t find anything like, ‘this is really old.'”
During testimony, Speckin drew a diagram to demonstrate to the jury the different “drying” stages of Bic black ballpoint ink in the duration of zero to six years.
Speckin also testified that plaintiff attorney Carlos Zaffirini approached him in March. 1999 to perform examinations on the both signatures. However, Speckin did obtain enough samples at a Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico courtroom to conduct an accurate examination. Speckin also testified that he was allowed to take samples from one document only.
However, Speckin returned to Monterrey on Apr. 2000 to obtain more samples of the ink on the signatures, Speckin testified. On the second trip, he was able to obtain samples from both documents, Speckin testified.
Speckin also told the jury that Bic ink usually dries in three years. After the three years, there would be no difference in change of the ink, he testified.
However, Speckin testified that the ink on the pen was, in fact, Bic black ball point ink.
Part of Speckin’s examinations included infrared lighting, to determine the difference in chemicals used in the ink, microscopic testing and visual examination, Speckin testified.
Speckin also concluded that both documents were stored together, possibly stapled but not signed while the forms were stacked.
In other testimony, Cristina’s nephew, Daniel Milmo Brittingham, told the jury that he was present when Don Juan, his grandfather, Ana Maria Cristina and Alonso Ayala, Cristina’s husband and Eduardo Angel Marroquin convened at Cristina’s house on Nov. 28, 1996, for a meeting to discuss the $34 million promissory note.
Daniel testified, under direct examination from plaintiff co-counsel Peter Houtsma, that he saw Don Juan enter Cristina’s home with the promissory note in hand, inside a folder. Daniel also testified that the discussions of the note were held in the “TV” room at Cristina’s house.
Daniel told the jury that he had seen Ayala with a notepad, which contained written notes.
Under cross-examination by defense co-counsel Alberto Alarcon, Daniel told the jury that he had not seen the guaranty of the promissory note, in detail, until his deposition was taken at an undisclosed time.
Alarcon then asked Daniel if he knew that the account numbers, which belonged to Ana Maria’s companies, on the guaranty, did not exist on Nov. 28, 1996, the day the documents were allegedly signed.
Daniel replied that he had no knowledge of the account numbers.
Alarcon then asked Daniel if had testified, in a Mexican court, if he had any knowledge of one of Don Juan’s accounts.
Daniel testified that he did not know the names of the individuals that make up the corporation, only the shareholders.
Alarcon also asked Daniel if had also testified in a Mexican court if he had not received assets from Don Juan.
Daniel testified that he had “not received anything, personally.”
Alarcon suggested that Daniel was not coinciding with the testimony he gave to the Mexican court.
“Are you asking the jury to believe your story,” Alarcon asked Daniel.
Daniel testified that he was there to tell the jury what he had seen.
In other testimony, Raul Hernandez’ video deposition was shown to the jury. Hernandez, Don Juan’s accountant from Jan. 1, 1994 until Sept. 1998, testified in his deposition that he did not have any knowledge of the promissory note until 1999.
Hernandez testified that in 1996, Ana Maria asked him to work on her will. Hernandez testified that he told Ana Maria to include assets, personal jewelry, liabilities and debts in the will before notarizing the document.
There was no mention of owing Cristina $34 million, Hernandez testified. Hernandez also testified that he did not see any record of debt to Cristina in Ana Maria’s accounts.16th Largest Verdict in 2001
BY ERICK SANTOS
Times staff writer
A 341st District Court jury Thursday found for the plaintiff, a Monterrey heiress, in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff was seeking payment of $34 million from a promissory note.
The jury of 10 men and two women found for Cristina Brittingham Sada de Ayala and awarded her $108,240,000 from the defendant, Ana Maria de la Fuente de Brittingham.
In a unanimous decision by the jury, Cristina was awarded compensation for damages in the amount of $47 million, which includes interest; for the defendant’s failure to comply with the agreement, $59,490,000 for damages resulting from fraud; $1.5 million for fraudulent transfer and $250,000 for exemplary damages.
Lawyers on both sides took more than three weeks to present their cases and final arguments before 341st District Court Judge Elma Salinas Ender. The jury received the court’s charge late Wednesday and began deliberations.
The jury determined that the defendant, Ana Maria, had a promissory note and guaranty agreement with the plaintiff wherein she agreed to repay Cristina $33.9 million.
Cristina was suing her stepmother, Ana Maria, over the $34 million promissory note which had gone unpaid for several years.
Another issue throughout the proceedings was Ana Maria’s claim against Cristina in a counter-suit alleging falsification of the promissory note and the guaranty agreement.
Ana Maria is the widow of the late Mexican industrialist, Don Juan R. Brittingham, the father of the plaintiff. Brittingham married Ana Maria in 1986. He died in Monterrey on Jan. 14, 1998.
After Judge Elma Salinas Ender read the first few answered questions of the charge, plaintiff co-counsel Carlos Zaffirini gave a thumbs-up gesture to Cristina and her other attorneys as the findings of the jury were announced in open court.
“We are delighted with the outcome,” an elated Zaffirini said. “We felt that Ana Maria and her attorneys came up with multiple excuses.”
Zaffirini also commended the jury for its commitment to the case.
“We had an excellent jury that paid very close attention,” said Zaffirini.
The plaintiff, Cristina, gave sighs of relief and said that justice was served.
“I have a lot of compassion for her (Ana Maria),” Cristina said as she conferred with her attorneys and immediate family members. “We have so many lessons to learn and I just hope that she has learned from this.”
Ana Maria and her attorneys, Horace Hall and Alberto Alarcon, were not present at the reading of the jury’s verdict. However, defense co-counsel Gustavo Quintanilla and Guillermo Alarcon were present. They commented that in their opinion, the jury “equivocated their verdict.”
Testimony showed that in 1990 Cristina had given Don Juan about $34 million to invest on her behalf. However, on Nov. 28, 1996, Ana Maria, through a promissory note, acknowledged having received $34 million as a loan from Cristina. The note was due and payable on Sept. 28, 1998, and bears past due interest at the rate of 1.5 percent per month.
Along with a note was a guaranty, signed by Ana Maria, which would guarantee payment of the loan with money she had in several accounts. The jury heard testimony that the documents were presented to Cristina at her home in the presence of her father, Don Juan, Ana Maria, Cristina’s husband, and two of Ana Maria’s nephews.
Throughout the course of the trial, Ana Maria repeatedly denied that she signed a promissory note and guaranty agreement. She claimed that letterheads bearing her signature were stolen from her office. Cristina and other plaintiff witnesses, however, discounted the defendant’s claims of the stolen documents throughout the days and weeks of testimony.16th Largest Verdict in 2001