$900,000 Verdict Returned Against Bully Bank

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Noteboom The Law Firm: An East Texas man is vindicated after winning a decade long battle to clear his name of false charges brought by City National Bank of Sulphur Springs.

Late Thursday, an East Texas jury returned a $900,000 verdict against City National Bank of Sulphur Springs for the malicious prosecution of one of its customers, John Alexander Smith. Mr. Smith, represented by Mark Sudderth and Brian Butcher of Noteboom The Law Firm in Hurst, Texas, finally received justice after years of litigation to clear his name in the small East Texas community of Sulphur Springs. “After fighting almost ten years to clear his name of these false charges, Mr. Smith feels vindicated by the jury’s verdict and hopes it sends a strong message to this bank and any other creditors who would misuse the criminal statutes in an effort to collect a debt. One person standing up for his rights can make a huge difference,” said Sudderth.    

Court documents show that in 2005, Mr. Smith departed on a fishing trip with a friend when a routine traffic stop for a seatbelt infraction landed him in jail in Athens, Texas. The reason for the arrest was unclear to Smith, but he soon learned that City National Bank was accusing him of hindering a secured creditor, a violation of the Texas Penal Code.

According to court records, several years earlier, Smith received a loan from City National Bank in order to purchase a commercial embroidery machine with hopes of launching a business. After the business failed to take off, Smith voluntarily delivered the machine to the bank for it to sell and the bank agreed to apply the proceeds to his loan. The bank sold the machine for far less than Smith had agreed, and the proceeds were not applied to his loan. Despite Smith’s cooperation and surrender of the machine, the bank’s vice president then filed a felony complaint against him, claiming the collateral had not been returned.

Based on the bank’s report to the police, Smith was arrested and indicted for allegedly selling the machine himself and keeping the money. He spent a week in jail, made over a dozen court appearances, and endured an indictment lasting almost two years. In 2008, the district attorney dismissed the criminal case against Smith, but the bank continued to claim he was guilty (Cause No. 0618569, 8th Judicial Court, Hopkins County).

Mr. Smith sued City National Bank for malicious prosecution in order to clear his name, seeking justice for all he had endured. Smith knew the odds were stacked against him as he sought relief against the 125-year-old City National Bank, the oldest institution in Hopkins County. After several years of litigation, the case was called to trial on November 17th in the 62nd District Court in Hopkins County before Judge Will Biard (Cause No. CV 40681). Lead attorney Mark Sudderth, along with attorney Brian Butcher, represented Smith at trial. After a week of hearing the evidence, including testimony from bank officials, Smith, and law enforcement officials, the jury returned the verdict in Smith’s favor.

The jury awarded $150,000 for physical pain and mental anguish, $250,000 for the damage to Smith’s reputation, and $500,000 in punitive damages for the false accusations and bully-like tactics used by bank officials. The verdict amounted to $900,000 for the plaintiff and sends a strong message to banks and creditors who employ unjust and illegal tactics against debtors. “This jury understood that justice for one means protection for all. By rendering a verdict in John Alex Smith's favor, the jury let this bank and others like it know that violating the law and trampling people's rights will not be tolerated,” said attorney Brian Butcher. Maliciously prosecuting an individual can cause serious damage, and as the jury in this case found, deserves serious consequences.

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