Hepworth Holzer, LLP (www.hepworthholzer.com) partners John Janis and John Kluksdal received a $500,000 verdict on May 3 in a dispute over a severance agreement. Andrew E. Hawes, former general counsel at Western Pacific Timber, LLC was the plaintiff. The case was tried for 5-days in front of an Ada County jury and Senior Judge Gerald F. Schroeder.
In 2005, Mr. Hawes was a partner at Elam & Burke, PA. He was retained by Tim Blixseth of Montana to perform legal work related to a 175,000 plus acre land purchase in Idaho. After having worked with him, Mr. Blixseth made an offer to Mr. Hawes to become in-house counsel with Western Pacific Timber, LLC a company of which he was then sole owner. To induce Mr. Hawes to go in-house with the company and leave the law firm, Mr. Blixseth offered a special severance agreement. Under the terms of that agreement, upon departure from Western Pacific, Mr. Hawes was promised he would receive $100,000 for each year of service at the firm. The deal capped out at $500,000.
Some other people became part owners of Western Pacific Timber in 2006. After 2012, Mr. Blixseth was no longer an owner or involved with the company at all. In 2017, the entire Western Pacific Timber in-house legal team was eliminated. The owners of Western Pacific Timber refused to honor the oral severance agreement Mr. Hawes had with Mr. Blixseth. There was some documentary evidence that implied that although Mr. Hawes had the severance it was with companies Mr. Blixseth owned other than Western Pacific Timber. The defense relied on those documents to argue against the existence of the oral contract.
“Andy worked at the Western Pacific Timber offices, and had the title of WPT’s ‘General Counsel’ from day one of his employment,” said John Kluksdal. To us it was evident that his deal was with WPT. And the jury agreed.” The jury verdict was 11 to 1 in favor of Mr. Hawes.
Western Pacific Timber was represented by lawyers from Givens Pursley, LLP.
“The greatest thing about this case was getting to represent Andy Hawes,” said John Janis. “A former state bar commissioner, Andy is as ethical and decent a guy as you would ever meet. Having the chance to do right by a good man, and showing a company worth a hundred plus million dollars it can’t get away with breaking its word is very rewarding. I believe in the adage ‘a deal’s a deal’.” Under Idaho’s wage claim statute, the damages will be tripled.
With roots back to 1952 when John C. Hepworth opened the Hepworth Law Firm in Buhl, Idaho, Hepworth Holzer, LLP is one of Idaho’s premiere litigation firms. From that time to today, the firm has built a reputation for legal excellence, professionalism, and integrity.