Heiress wins big in court

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